FEMA Storm Shelter | Demystifying Storm Shelters

The Federal government has FEMA storm shelter funding available to help schools offset the cost of constructing safe rooms.

FEMA Storm Shelter Requirements


FEMA Storm Shelter Grants and Funding is Available

If your school is planning to build a storm shelter, financial help is available. The Federal government has FEMA storm shelter funding available to help schools offset the cost of constructing safe rooms. More information can be found on the FEMA fact sheet on the hazard mitigation grant program link, FEMA Fact Sheet.

The one catch to remember is that the FEMA storm shelter funding is only available for safe rooms that not only meet the ICC-500 requirements but also the FEMA P-361 guidelines. The main differences have to do with coastal flooding and first aid kits, but it is important to ensure that any component of the storm shelter meets both the ICC-500 requirements as well as the FEMA P-361 guidelines.

FEMA Storm Shelter Requirements can be difficult to understand

There are many different requirements based on the type of storm shelter being constructed. For instance, Occupancy Load and Duration can be different for a tornado shelter as compared to a hurricane storm shelter. As a school official, you’re likely familiar with maximum occupancy requirements by code. The International Building Code stipulates that the maximum load in a space designed for educational use is 20 square feet per person. So, let’s say that we have a gymnasium that has 120’x80’ of usable floor area for a safe room. In normal educational scenarios, the maximum occupancy load of that gymnasium is 480 people. However, that same gymnasium uses specialize tornado doors to turn the windowed gymnasium into a FEMA storm shelter. At that time, the maximum occupancy load increases to 1,920 people, because the square footage requirement drops to 5 sq-ft per standing person during a safe room scenario. This difference in occupancy load can be confusing, but proper signage is key— posting one max occupancy for normal use and one for storm shelter use is advisable.

Occupancy requirements are just one factor when constructing a school storm shelter. Our FEMA storm shelter e-book is here to help you navigate a few key areas of storm shelters and make a more informed decision about storm shelter closures. There are many FEMA requirements to follow


Download our free storm shelter ebook now!


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Pressure equalizes more during a hurricane while tornadoes come on more instantly. Storm shelters for hurricanes require you to build for duration more than intensity. Generally, tornadoes are quicker with high winds, spewing projectiles at high speeds.




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It is required for an area with an increased risk of tornadoes or any state or locality that has adopted IBC 2015 or newer to have a storm shelter meeting the FEMA-361 requirements for all K-12 schools with 50 or more occupants, 911 call stations, police stations, fire, rescue and ambulance stations and more.




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An inside area within a building, or a separate building altogether, which is created to protect occupants from tornadoes or hurricanes. Some of the most common areas to be converted are gymnasiums, classrooms and cafeterias.




How much wind does your area need to withstand?


FEMA Storm Shelter ICC500 250mph zone map


Wind zones are areas of the United States that get (on average) different maximum speed winds. The higher the winds, the higher the chance of a tornado or hurricane and the more damage it can do. This does not mean, however, that the surrounding areas are not of concern. Even in the 160 mph zone, tornadoes can develop and cause devastating damage to the area. 160 mph can still tear off roofs and turn over cars. These areas are generally less prepared for a storm of this magnitude, since they are less likely. When you are underprepared it can, in turn, have a greater impact on the people and the possessions in that area.