FEMA describes a safe room as a room that offers “near-absolute protection” from winds up to 250 miles per hour, remaining intact, even if the rest of your house or office building is destroyed. A safe room can be an already-existing room such as a closet or bathroom reinforced to protect against severe winds due to tornadoes and hurricanes, or a room build inside the house specifically to be a safe room. A shelter is a room outside the home, such as an underground space “hardened” to sustain winds in the basement, attached garage or a separate underground room outside. You can read more about the FEMA-approved safe room in its free literature and even download plans to build your own.
Since new construction might be cost-prohibitive for you and your family, you can also designate one room in the house or office building as the “safe room.” Start by picking an interior room on the lowest floor of the building, preferably without windows. Usually this is a basement, bathroom or closet. Remember to pick a room that fits the entire family. The main objective is to put as many walls between you and the severe weather event as possible.
If you do not have a reinforced safe room or outside storm cellar, the safest area in the home is in the basement. Designate an area inside the basement as your tornado shelter. Make sure the area is away from the west and south walls. Not always, but generally, tornadoes move southwest to northeast or west to east. Keep a piece of heavy furniture in the area, such as a large table or workbench to sit under. A closet under the stairs works well, too. Keep the space above your safe area free from heavy furniture such as a china hutch, piano or dining room table. These large pieces of furniture cause a safety hazard during a tornado or hurricane and may break through the floor.
In homes without basements, experts believe that a bathroom is safer than a closet due to the pipes surrounding it. Some experts theorize these pipes add protection to the room. However, most bathrooms have a window. If you choose the bathroom, have everyone climb into the bathtub and cover yourself with blankets or a mattress.
If intended to protect against tornadoes, FEMA writes your safe room should provide enough room for everyone in the family to stand up comfortably for two hours. For hurricanes, FEMA says that the room needs to be larger. Hurricanes last longer than tornadoes and you and your family might have to stay in the safe room for days. For infants or elderly and ill individuals, special precautions might need to be made. For example, a chair so one can sit down, medications and formula for a baby.
What to Keep in the Safe Room
Store one gallon of water per person, per day for emergencies. One case of 12-ounce filled plastic water bottles should suffice for a tornado-only safe room. If you are planning to shelter in for a hurricane, then keep a three-day supply of water. In that case, you need three gallons of water per the number of members in your household.
Food isn’t a necessity in your tornado safe room, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a few granola or energy bars in there just in case. For a hurricane-safe room, just like your water supplies, store enough food for three days. A family of four will need at least 36 servings of food for three days. The easiest way to do this is by purchasing three 72-hour emergency food kits or a case of MREs.
You will need a way to see. Flashlights also come in handy in finding your way out of the debris. Hands free lights, lanterns and spotlights are best for longer stays inside your safe room. For tornadoes, store flashlights and a few white APALS sticky lights for each member of the family. Periodically check the batteries to make sure your lights still work. Alternative-powered flashlights such as the Energizer Weatheready series uses crank power.
- First aid kit
- Signaling device
- Weather-alert radio
- Fire extinguisher
- Sturdy shoes
- Work gloves
What else will you put in your safe room? Tell us in the comment section.