How To Plan A Shelter In Place Safe Room
A safe room is a dedicated reinforced and a well provisioned secure room where you can shelter in place in case of emergency. Such as a terrorist threat, home invasion, hurricane, tornado or a chemical or biological attack.
Some people incorporate safe rooms into their plans when building a new property. Others who have not had this opportunity can retrofit an existing room as a dedicated safe room. Either by doing it themselves or getting a professional company to do it for them.
Safe Room Research
As with all areas of emergency preparedness you need to do your research. Carefully planning and researching all aspects of building and or retrofitting a safe room will help you to understand how best to design and build a room that will provide the best protection. You should also research the building regulations required by local authorities.
You also need to give thought to the type of emergencies you are planning to use the safe room for. This could range from a belt and braces approach trying to cover all scenarios including the risk of chemical or biological attack. Or you may be planning a safe room because you live in an area prone to tornadoes or hurricanes.
Carrying out your research and making a proper plan for your safe room will not only save you time. It can also save you from making costly mistakes.
Choosing A Location For Your Safe Room
A key area you will need to consider as part of your research is the location of your safe room. Whilst at first this may sound like a simple decision to make. You will need to give this area some serious consideration with regard to the emergencies that you’re planning for and your location. For example, if you live in a flood risk area a basement safe room may not be such a good idea.
Consider the number of people who will need to use the safe room taking into consideration their specific needs. For example, if a family member is disabled you need to consider how they will get access to the room.
Also, consider whether your safe room will be located inside or outside of the property. Your decision may be based on whether you are building your safe room from scratch or utilizing an existing room such as a basement.
Depending on your plans and budget you may decide to have more than one safe room. This is because the measures you need to take can differ depending on the emergency type.
For example, advice surrounding hurricanes often suggests the use of underground shelters or basements. Whereas in the event of a chemical or biological attack if your safe room does not have an air filtration system installed. It is recommended that your safe room is located on the first floor of a building or higher. This is because chemical agents sink.
If your budget won’t stretch to installing an air filtration system. There are ways to seal rooms to help protect you from a chemical or biological attack. See the section on using an existing room in the event of a Biological or Chemical Attack towards the end of this article.
Building Your Safe Room
Before building a safe room there are many factors you need to consider such as the square footage of the building. This will depend on factors relating to the number of people using the shelter and their personal needs. A shelter will need to be bigger if a family member is bedridden or disabled.
The foundations of the area you plan to build on must be strong and up to the job. Although you can build from scratch there are some pre-fabricated safe rooms on the market that requires less building experience to install.
For the belt and braces approach consider installing an air filtration system designed to filter out radioactive fallout, biological and chemical toxins. Such systems can also create and maintain positive pressure in your safe room, relative to the outside pressure. This is called overpressure and It compensates for any small leaks in your safe room because all the air is flowing outward.
Other Factors To Consider
- Materials used to build the safe room must be able to withstand heavy debris and high winds.
- Doors should open inwards so you are not trapped by debris blown against the door.
- The door should be reinforced so it can’t be blown in by a storm or forced by an intruder.
- Ideally, the room should not have any windows, but if it does, they should be very small with reinforced glass.
- The room must be anchored securely to its foundation so that it does not lift or overturn in high winds.
Are Building Inspections Required?
FEMA state that obtaining the proper building permits and inspections are important for all constructions. They also state the following:
- The builder or homeowner should ensure the safe room is built according to the plans in FEMA P-320
- Or for plans that, through testing and engineering, have been determined to meet the safe room design criteria in FEMA P-361.
- The level of construction needed for a safe room typically requires a permit from the local building department.
- Additional quality control inspections may be needed.
Safe Room Supplies
Another area you will need to take care of is to fully stock your safe room with all the supplies you may need to survive whilst you are sheltering in place. All of your supplies should already be stored in the safe room ready to use. Give some thought to the items that will help you survive. Remember to include any items you need that are specific to you such as medication. Here is a list of some of the standard supplies you will need:
- Enough food and water for a minimum of 3 days.
- First aid kit.
- Keep inexpensive breathing filters in the room, rated at N95 or better for each family member.
- Mobile phone and back up battery.
- Duct Tape.
- Battery-operated or hand-cranked radio.
- Personal medication and over the counter medication such as aspirin.
- Battery powered lighting and spare batteries.
- Wind up or hand crank radio.
- Portable toilet.
- Toilet paper.
- Personal hygiene items.
- Refuse bags.
- Items for any infants like diapers.
- Any items for your pets like medication.
- Blankets and pillows for comfort.
- A change of clothing and underwear.
- Prepare a 72 hour Go bag and keep it in the room.
Testing Your Safe Room
Once your safe room is complete you need to test it on a regular basis. Devise a plan on how you are going to make your way to the room. Have regular family drills to practice sheltering place so everyone knows what to do. This will help you to reach shelter in the quickest possible time if an emergency occurs. It will also help you to get used to spending time in a small space with others.
Maintaining Your Safe Room
Once you have built or prepared your safe room it’s important to keep it well maintained and stocked. Carry out regular maintenance checks for all equipment and check expiration dates of all supplies. Charge any batteries and maintain generators.
Using An Existing Room In The Event Of A Biological or Chemical Attack
If you don’t have a safe room that has an air filtration system or equipment installed you can do the following:
Decide on a room in your property that you would use in the event of a chemical or biological attack. Choose a room that has no windows or if not possible the fewer windows the better. Ideally, you should choose a room that also has water, toilet facilities. In this room keep enough supplies of duct tape and polyethene to seal all doors, windows, and vents.
Keep some basic supplies in the room like those mentioned earlier such as food, water, first First aid and a 72 hour go bag.
In the event of a possible chemical or biological attack first shut off all air intakes into the property. If your property home is heated with gas or uses gas appliances, shut off the gas. Get to your chosen safe room taking your gas masks if you have them.
Once in the room use duct tape to seal any windows where the glass joins the sill, where the sill meets the frame, and window seams and joins. Then cover the windows entirely with polyethene sheeting, securing the sheeting to the walls on each side of the windows with the duct tape.
This article merely scratches the surface on the subject of safe rooms. In order to create a safe room with the best level of protection, further research will need to be carried out. There’s a lot of information on building a safe room available online which will help you to understand the full extent of whats involved. Below are some links to articles that can help you to get started with your research.
Recommended Reading and Research Credits
FEMA – Design Guidance for Shelters and Safe Rooms (This is a PDF Manual)