The National Weather Service has just announced that a tornado may hit your neighborhood in the next 15 minutes. Or maybe hurricane force winds and rain are pounding your home. Or a stranger has broken in. Where do you and your family go to protect yourselves? Increasingly, American families are choosing to equip their homes with safe rooms.
A safe room (also known as a “panic room”) is a hardened structure designed to give its occupants a very high probability of being protected from injury or death during extreme weather events. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed specific criteria for safe rooms. For example, doors and walls must be able to withstand the impact of a 15 pound two by four inch wood board traveling at 100 miles per hour. FEMA credits the existence of 6,000 safe rooms in Moore, Oklahoma with preventing any deaths from occurring during a 2003 tornado.
There are multiple ways to add a safe room to a home. The easiest and least expensive time to do it is when the home is first being built. However, if the foundation can adequately transfer the load of the safe room to the ground, a safe room can be added to an existing home. It can be located inside or outside and above or below ground. However, it should not be more than 150 feet from the home. Also, it should not be located below ground in areas at special risk of flooding.
A safe room should contain an emergency supply kit that includes:
- A three-day supply of nonperishable food that does not require cooking
- One gallon of water per person per day
- Disposable plates, utensils, cups and napkins
- Medical supplies (prescriptions, first aid, bandages, etc.)
- Flashlights, radios, TV’s, and cell phones, and batteries to power them
- Hand tools for turning off gas and water and for opening jammed doors
- Clothing, bedding, portable toilet, hygiene supplies, and outerwear
- Pet supplies
- Items to entertain children
- Items for baby needs, such as diapers and bottles
- Other items such as fire extinguishers, dust masks, extra cash, and matches
Once the safe room is ready, the owners should notify emergency responders (police, fire fighters), extended family and friends about the safe room. When construction is complete, register the entrance’s latitude and longitude with local officials, so that they can quickly locate and free the occupants after a storm that blocks the exit.
In addition, they should practice getting to the room in a hurry. Every member of the household should understand what he or she must do if an emergency occurs.
FEMA estimates the cost of adding a safe room to a home under construction at between $8,000 and $17,000, depending on its size, construction, location, foundation and amenities. Adding one to an existing home will cost more. However, if you live in an area with a higher than normal risk of windstorms, floods or burglaries, a safe room will protect you and those you love until help arrives.