Posted by: prepare4 | March 25, 2009

Safe Havens and Safe Rooms

Safe Havens and Safe Rooms
By Carolyn Nicolaysen

Tornadoes terrorize the Southern states while recovery from Hurricane Katrina is still a fact of life — more than a year later — across

Louisiana and Mississippi. Is this a good time to examine safe rooms?

A safe room has traditionally been defined as a place where the family can gather and wait out a storm under the safest possible conditions.

In recent years we have seen the evolution of the safe room. A safe room is now defined as a concrete or reinforced “bunker” in your home, basement or garage. Homes in tornado- and hurricane-prone areas are now often built with a concrete safe room in the center of the home.

For this article, we make a distinction between a safe haven and a safe room as this — a space in a home or business not specially built for this purpose that satisfies most of our requirements is a “safe haven,” and an area designed and built for this purpose is a “safe room.”

Extreme windstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes in many parts of the country pose a serious threat. A residence or office building may be built “to code,” but that does not mean it can withstand extreme wind conditions. During severe weather, wind speeds rapidly increase and then just as rapidly decrease. Winds change direction and vary in power from moment to moment. Additionally, anything in the path of the wind — a building, trees, land formations — can cause the wind to change direction again. 

The combination of all these rapid changes creates stress on building materials as they are twisted and turned beyond the parameters for which they were designed. This increased stress causes structural failure. To protect its occupants, a safe room or safe haven should be available to withstand high winds and flying debris, even when the rest of the residence suffers damage or is destroyed.

Concrete safe rooms can be expensive to add to an existing home. As you save to build your bunker, there are some immediate steps you can take to improve your chances of surviving a weather emergency. Nothing will protect you completely or under all circumstances, but your chances for survival are greatly improved if you have a well-equipped safe haven.

These rooms may also be used during power outages.  In winter, as you assemble your family in a small room your body heat will help provide you with a warmer place to spend a cold night. During ice storms as tree limbs fall, during wind storms, or a chemical spill across town, they will provide a place of reassurance and security.

Building a Safe Haven

Begin by choosing an area in the center of the house that has no windows. A bathroom or large closet under a staircase will work well. A basement is the best location in tornado or hurricane country, but only if you are located away from a storm surge area or flood plain. You should also take into account which room will be the quickest room to seal in order to prevent chemicals from entering the area in the event of a spill or terrorist event.

Reinforcing the structure of your safe haven is definitely something you should consider doing now. Remove the sheetrock and bolt the framing to the floor and to each other where the corners of the room and the ceiling meet. Add more bracing between the studs.

In extremely high winds, debris can be thrown at a building with enough force to penetrate even masonry walls, so our objective is to protect the room against penetration. Adding sheets of plywood to the walls will greatly increase the safety of your safe haven since most injuries during a storm are caused by this flying debris. Although plywood is not going to completely prevent debris from penetrating your haven, it will provide greater protection than sheetrock alone.  Don’t forget to re-enforce the ceiling, because debris can be forced through the ceiling as well. Remember high winds cause the twisting of building components, so your job with all this reinforcement is to help minimize that twisting.

If you have hollow core doors, you will also want to replace these with solid wood or metal doors. Do a little research and get the one with the best wind resistance rating. Once the room is repainted, no one will notice the precautions you have taken. It seems like it would be a great selling point when you are ready to move on to a new home!

You will want to consult with an expert for more ideas, but with the help of family and friends you should be able to make most of these changes yourself. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has some great information at: http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/

Using a Safe Haven

Before entering your safe room or safe haven, close all doors in your home. Close and lock all windows in your home, too. Lower all blinds, and close all of the drapes. Shut off the air conditioner and heater. We used to believe opening a window would help in a storm. It does not. Any time you invite air into your home you increase the damage.

Equip your safe haven or safe room with the following items:

A safe room has traditionally been defined as a place where the family can gather and wait out a storm under the safest possible conditions.

In recent years we have seen the evolution of the safe room. A safe room is now defined as a concrete or reinforced “bunker” in your home, basement or garage. Homes in tornado- and hurricane-prone areas are now often built with a concrete safe room in the center of the home.

For this article, we make a distinction between a safe haven and a safe room as this — a space in a home or business not specially built for this purpose that satisfies most of our requirements is a “safe haven,” and an area designed and built for this purpose is a “safe room.”

Extreme windstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes in many parts of the country pose a serious threat. A residence or office building may be built “to code,” but that does not mean it can withstand extreme wind conditions. During severe weather, wind speeds rapidly increase and then just as rapidly decrease. Winds change direction and vary in power from moment to moment. Additionally, anything in the path of the wind — a building, trees, land formations — can cause the wind to change direction again. 

The combination of all these rapid changes creates stress on building materials as they are twisted and turned beyond the parameters for which they were designed. This increased stress causes structural failure. To protect its occupants, a safe room or safe haven should be available to withstand high winds and flying debris, even when the rest of the residence suffers damage or is destroyed.

Concrete safe rooms can be expensive to add to an existing home. As you save to build your bunker, there are some immediate steps you can take to improve your chances of surviving a weather emergency. Nothing will protect you completely or under all circumstances, but your chances for survival are greatly improved if you have a well-equipped safe haven.

These rooms may also be used during power outages.  In winter, as you assemble your family in a small room your body heat will help provide you with a warmer place to spend a cold night. During ice storms as tree limbs fall, during wind storms, or a chemical spill across town, they will provide a place of reassurance and security.

Building a Safe Haven

Begin by choosing an area in the center of the house that has no windows. A bathroom or large closet under a staircase will work well. A basement is the best location in tornado or hurricane country, but only if you are located away from a storm surge area or flood plain. You should also take into account which room will be the quickest room to seal in order to prevent chemicals from entering the area in the event of a spill or terrorist event.

Reinforcing the structure of your safe haven is definitely something you should consider doing now. Remove the sheetrock and bolt the framing to the floor and to each other where the corners of the room and the ceiling meet. Add more bracing between the studs.

In extremely high winds, debris can be thrown at a building with enough force to penetrate even masonry walls, so our objective is to protect the room against penetration. Adding sheets of plywood to the walls will greatly increase the safety of your safe haven since most injuries during a storm are caused by this flying debris. Although plywood is not going to completely prevent debris from penetrating your haven, it will provide greater protection than sheetrock alone.  Don’t forget to re-enforce the ceiling, because debris can be forced through the ceiling as well. Remember high winds cause the twisting of building components, so your job with all this reinforcement is to help minimize that twisting.

If you have hollow core doors, you will also want to replace these with solid wood or metal doors. Do a little research and get the one with the best wind resistance rating. Once the room is repainted, no one will notice the precautions you have taken. It seems like it would be a great selling point when you are ready to move on to a new home!

You will want to consult with an expert for more ideas, but with the help of family and friends you should be able to make most of these changes yourself. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has some great information at: http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/

Using a Safe Haven

Before entering your safe room or safe haven, close all doors in your home. Close and lock all windows in your home, too. Lower all blinds, and close all of the drapes. Shut off the air conditioner and heater. We used to believe opening a window would help in a storm. It does not. Any time you invite air into your home you increase the damage.

Equip your safe haven or safe room with the following items:

  • Ready-to-eat foods, including snacks.  Some suggestions: Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, canned cheese spreads, granola bars, canned meats, canned fruits, canned vegetables, sweetened cereals, trail mix, hard candy, lollipops. Any food that is salty such as, salted nuts and jerky, will increase thirst and should be avoided. Guard against infestation with proper air-tight containers of plastic or metal (not glass), and rotate your goods for freshness.
  • Can opener.
  • Water (take care not to underestimate your needs for the time the storm is passing plus a few days after the storm while relief is on its way).
  •   Canned juices — no carbonated or caffeine drinks as these will increase thirst.
  • Food for pets.
  • Baby food and diapers.
  • Change of clothes for each family member.
  • Sturdy shoes.
  • Paper plates, cups, bowls and utensils.
  • Pet dishes.
  • Wet wipes.
  • Sanitation facility (camping or emergency style porta-potty pail with chemicals).
  • Toilet paper.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • AM/FM radio — battery or crank operated.
  • Flashlight.
  • Batteries (stored outside of the radio or flashlight).
  • Glow sticks — NO CANDLES (for safety in case of gas leak).
  • Pillows.
  • Blankets.
  • Toys, books, scriptures and games.
  • Your 72-hour kits, for use after the storm has passed.
  • Important documents, which should already be in your 72 hour kits.
  • First aid kit.
  • Medication such as pain relievers and anti-diarrhea.
  • Land line phone with cord, as well as cell phone. (Cell phones will probably not work after a natural disaster.  Sometimes land line phones will be working.)
  • Personalized phone directory with local emergency numbers as well as the numbers for out of state contacts. Local lines may not be available and your only communication option may be out of state or out of the area contacts.
  •   If you have walkie-talkies, use them if you must be separated after the storm or event – phones may not be working.
  •   Fire extinguisher.
  • Folding shovel and axe to help you dig out.

Although most storms pass fairly quickly and you may not need all these items, they will become very valuable after the storm has passed. During the storm, cover family members with blankets and pillows to protect from debris.

When you are sure the storm has ended, be careful when exiting your room. There may be unexpected debris as well as rodents, snakes and insects that are not normally present. Never exit without shoes on. Watch for downed power lines and stay at least 30-feet away from any you encounter. Remember that water conducts electricity.

If it is night and you are confident there are no gas leaks or danger of further collapse, wait until there is light outside before leaving the immediate area. If you do smell gas or your home is unstable, take your 72-hour kit and leave the area. Listen to the radio for directions to shelters or other information to determine which areas are safe to evacuate to and which are not.

If you are in the center of a tornado or hurricane, nothing except a concrete safe room will completely protect you. If you are outside the center of the storm a safe haven may well save your life.

So how we fare when the Big Event comes to our town, may well rest upon what we do about it today. As Leo Tolstoy said: “Remember then: there is only one time that is important — now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”

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