Tornado Shelters Provide a Different Kind of Home Insurance: Your Safety

Category: Homeowners and Renters Insurance

#A deadly tornado outbreak killed more than 320 people in the Southeast in April 2013, with another particularly deadly storm in May 2013 killing 24 in Moore, Oklahoma. Many wondered why so many homes in tornado alley lacked basements or sufficient storm shelters.

Unfortunately, the rocky soil and high water table found in many tornado-prone areas make building and maintaining basements nearly impossible. And the next best thing—an interior room or closet—is simply not effective enough to withstand the extreme winds and flying debris that come with the worst storms.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages homeowners in tornado prone regions to build safe rooms or underground shelters as an alternative to basements.

A storm shelter is a structure designed to protect people from tornado strength winds and flying debris. According to National Geographic, there are several types:

• Underground tornado shelter. These shelters are made from reinforced steel or concrete and installed underground in your yard or under your garage. Because both the walls and ceilings are made from reinforced material, these structures are resistant to winds and debris. The downside: they might not be accessible during a storm if you wait too long and the storm is already bearing down on your home.

• In-home safe room. Soil and water conditions may prohibit you from building underground. The alternative is an in-home safe room, which is a structure that is placed inside a new home as it is being built. These structures should be made from reinforced concrete or wood and steel. It should be self-contained and anchored to the home’s foundation to ensure that wind cannot get underneath and lift or flip the shelter.

• Pre-built safe room. Owners of existing homes can purchase pre-built shelters that are installed inside the home. These typically come in the form of a welded steel box, a steel skeleton with steel panels, or a prefabricated unit that is then bolted together. These types of shelters also must be anchored to the foundation.

Experts advise that no clear best alternative has been established, but you can make sure that the product you choose has been tested to meet FEMA’s safety guidelines. FEMA does not officially approve any tornado shelters, but it has established safety standards for shelters and their components. In addition, the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) has established standards, and the Wind Science Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University performs tests on shelters and the materials used to construct them to see if they meet both FEMA and NSSA guidelines.

The FEMA publication, FEMA P-320, contains extensive information about guidelines and includes building plans.

Information about storm shelters and guidelines is also available from the NSSA at

Tornado Shelters and Home Insurance

Tornado shelters are like an insurance policy for your safety and peace of mind. While your chances of surviving a tornado increase exponentially if you ride out the storm in a proper shelter or safe room, home insurance companies do not provide any additional discounts or coverage for homeowners who have one. Why? A shelter provides personal protection. It will not protect your entire home from damage or destruction, and it will not reduce the likelihood of avoiding a tornado or limit the cost of rebuilding your home.

Are you considering a tornado shelter for your home? What type of shelter will you build? 

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