Create a Safe Room or Storm Shelter

Where is a good place for a safe room? Do you need a storm shelter? What should be stored there?

Storm Shelters Save Lives
Storm Shelter in Oklahoma Tornado

Your home is one of the safest places to be during a tornado or severe storms, but most homes aren't built to withstand sustained winds exceeding 90 miles per hour.

If you live in an area where tornados, or severe lightening storms frequently occur, you may want to consider building some kind of cement or underground shelter.

One of our readers asked:

"How and what should one build in terms of a shelter if you live in the desert southwest. We do not have basements here only garages. What materials should we use to enclose or support a wall, what about windows?"

So let's address her question:

Choosing a Safe Room Area

The purpose of a shelter or safe room is to provide a space where you and your household can seek refuge that provides a high level of protection.

There are several areas of your home that would be a good safe room:

    safe room
    This is a safe room
    built in a garage.
  • In your basement
  • Beneath a concrete slab-on-grade-foundation or garage floor
  • In an interior room on the first floor. Shelters built below ground level provide the greatest protection, but a shelter built in a first-floor interior room can also provide the necessary protection. Below-ground shelters must be designed to avoid accumulating water during the heavy rains that often accompany severe windstorms.

To protect your family, a safe room within your home must be built to withstand high winds and flying debris, even if the rest of the residence is severely damaged or destroyed

Here are some important criteria for the space you choose:

  • The shelter must be adequately anchored to resist overturning and uplift.
  • The walls, ceiling, and door of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by wind-borne objects and falling debris.
  • The connections between all parts of the shelter must be strong enough to resist the wind.
  • If sections of either interior or exterior residence walls are used as walls of the shelter, they must be separated from the structure of the residence, so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the shelter.

Just like a shelter area in your home, this room should be stocked with supplies to last for at least 3 days (72-hour kit).

If your chosen room has no windows, you'll definitely need a good, reliable source of temporary light.

Create a Safe Room

  • Cover all doors, windows and vents with 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting.
  • Cut the plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings and label each sheet.
  • Duct tape plastic at corners first, then tape down all edges.
creating a safe room

What about oxygen?

Now that you've built your safe room and everything is sealed up tight, what about oxygen to breathe? Well, if there is a need to tape up all windows, doors, and vents, there is probably a chemical or biological reason to do so. Therefore, you do not want outside air coming into your safe room.

Knowing that you want to keep outside air from infiltrating your room, you will need to take into consideration how many people are going to be in that room and allow 10 square feet of space per person to provide enough oxygen for each person for approximately five hours. (Five hours is just a guide.)

When you will run out of air in the room depends on how big the room is, how many people (or pets) are in it, the lung condition or capacity of the occupants, and whether someone is prone to panic or hyperventilate in a crisis situation.

While confined in your safe room, make sure to take everyone's pulse every 10-15 minutes and write it down for each person. Even though your pulses will probably be a bit higher from stress or from rushing to get into the room and tape it up, what you're watching for is a sudden spike in anyone's pulse, especially after the 5-hour mark. That would signify that you're running out of air and would need to make a decision on whether it is safe to leave the room or not.

I hope you never have to make that decision but it may come down to breathing contaminated air or slowly be unable to stay awake and eventually pass out - and die. A helpful item to have to prevent breathing contaminated air is a respirator mask. These will protect you from germs (like swine flu, etc.) and particles in the air that might be left from a tornado or earthquake.

I'm sure that's not what you wanted to read, but this situation is a good reason to have a working radio, TV, or short wave radio in the room with you so you will know when authorities announce that it's safe to come out (hopefully they would).

Storm Shelter

in ground safe room
This in-ground storm
shelter is made of
10-gauge steel.
All seams are seal-
welded for both
structural integrity
and leak resistance.

A storm shelter that is below ground may or may not be connected to the house. It is especially useful in areas where it is not safe to be above ground during a storm, such as tornados. They can be built of concrete or steel as the photo on the right shows.

You may live in an area where building a concrete storm shelter would be overkill or do no good at all. I live in an earthquake-prone area. Even an underground shelter may break in pieces during a severe earthquake.

We have had exactly one tornado here (Utah) in the recorded history of our state, and hurricanes will never happen here. However, a safe room may be necessary for other types of disasters.


Whether you create a safe room in your home or build a storm shelter is considered a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between your family and potentially contaminated air outside as well as protection from flying or falling objects. It is a type of sheltering in place that requires preplanning.

You might be interested in . . .

Top of Pagetop of page