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The beginning of a new school year for teachers means lesson planning, purchasing new pens and highlighters, and researching fresh perspectives and class topics, among many other duties.
For facility managers, a new year translates into double checking the over-the-summer maintenance went well and continuing plans for upkeep and updates to the building, along with other duties that may arise through daily use and unexpected damage.
What may not be included on a facility manager’s checklist or a teacher’s lesson plan, though, is preparing for hurricane and storm season. While this should be part of school administrators’ plans and built into in-service days and informational sessions for staff, this is not always the case due to time constraints or budgeting. We’re here to help with our FAQs below.
Who needs to be aware of K-12 storm shelters?
Everyone from school architects and designers to administrators, teachers, and facility managers should know about storm shelters. Students should also be aware of where their school shelter is located and their fastest route to it in a severe weather emergency. They’re life-saving structures that can make a huge difference in the amount of stress everyone feels if a tornado or hurricane touches down by your school.
This is especially true if you live in a region “with a disproportionately high frequency of tornadoes.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) considers two regions in the U.S. prone to this higher frequency: Florida and “Tornado Alley” in the southern plains. However, this doesn’t mean a tornado won’t touch down by your school if you’re outside this range.
What is a storm shelter?
Also called a “FEMA Safe Room,” FEMA defines it in its publication FEMA P-361 as “an interior room, a space within a building, or an entirely separate building, designed and constructed to provide near absolute life-safety protection for its occupants from tornadoes or hurricanes.”
For more information on storm shelters, the FEMA P-361 Standards for Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes is a great place to start.
Where should storm shelters be located?
According to the article “Shelter from the Storm” in American School and University, school corridors are actually not ideal as makeshift storm shelters. You may remember the drills from your grade school days where everyone piled into the hallways to curl up against the lockers or walls. However, authors Schultz and Metz point out: “school corridors typically have construction features that make them unacceptable as storm shelters. The walls are usually not constructed to resist winds from a tornado …and have many doors that lead into spaces that are not capable of withstanding wind forces and missile impacts.”
In fact, the piece mentions that you’re better off heading to a locker room or basement area that’s been modified (with roof replacements and other improvements) if you’re in a bind and your school doesn’t have an actual storm shelter in place.
If you’re in a zone that’s been mandated to have a storm shelter based on ICC 500 or FEMA P-361, the guidelines in those documents and advice from your architects, designers, and building owners should lead you to an ideal location, even if, like most educational facilities, it pulls double-duty as a storm shelter and a classroom, gymnasium, cafeteria, or other area.
When should storm shelters be in place?
Storm shelters and doors must be in working condition all the time. The next best time to get a storm shelter in place is now (and after you know more about their necessary safety and building code requirements). While the actual design and build process of a storm shelter may not be in your hands as a facility manager or educator, being aware that guidance is out there and letting your officials know about it can help
Why should I know about storm shelters as a facility manager, school official, or teacher?
As a facility manager, you should be aware that mandates may exist for your K-12 school building based on ICC 500 and FEMA P-361 standards. There may also be FEMA funding available based on meeting the FEMA P-361 standards and other requirements.
As a school official or teacher, the standards for construction of a storm shelter may not be as prevalent on your radar. But other ways to prepare your students, staff, and school for an impending severe tornado or hurricane can be considered.
For example, do you have plans in place for before, during, and after a tornado? What does the path to get to the storm shelter look like? Will students be soaked with heavy rain by the time they get there? What can you plan for in advance to make the situation reassuring as possible under very unreassuring circumstances?
Many school districts focus on what to do prior to the event and during the event, but don’t include what staff and students should do after the event. How will they know if it’s safe to exit the storm shelter? What if there are live wires or debris that could cause injuries to the people leaving the shelter? Do you have a reserve of water and non-perishable food that can be accessed for those spending more than a few minutes or hours in the shelter?
To learn more about storm shelters and their requirements, visit:
We know storm shelters are not top of mind for many, especially those who have never experienced the damage and destruction severe weather brings. At CornellCookson, we can assist you with rolling storm doors, such as our StormDefender® Door – designed specifically with life safety in mind for safe room protection. Chat with our Architectural Design Team about StormDefender® by phone: 833.958.1273 or through our contact form: cornelliron.com/contact-us.