Expansion and maturation of the storm shelter industry are robust!  Although the concept of the above ground storm shelter has been around since the 1970’s, the last two decades saw a rapid ascent in the:

·       number and variety of storm shelters installed

·       their quality

·       professional personnel involvements

·       standards and guidelines

·       governmental , state,  and jurisdictional initiatives

·       code requirements

FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program  (HMGP) and Pre Disaster Mitigation Grants provided partial funding for storm shelter construction, fostering rapid growth in the number of storm shelters installed—especially residential shelters. Recent tornado-related school fatalities have resulted in increased emphasis on community shelters in schools and helped precipitate initiatives such as the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) requirement to include shelters in new schools and first-responder facilities in high-risk tornado regions.

FEMA designates as safe rooms those buildings or portions thereof that comply with FEMA P-3611, which requires 250 mph design wind speeds. The National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) requires of its producer members that all their residential tornado shelters (movable) also be designed for 250 mph wind speeds. FEMA P-361 includes a few design and performance criteria that are more conservative than those in NSSA/ICC 5002, thereby distinguishing safe rooms from other storm shelters.

Development and adoption of storm shelter standards such as NSSA/ICC 500 and the FEMA Guidelines including FEMA P-3203 and FEMA P-361 provide guidance to the industry to produce high-quality shelters. NSSA requires of its Producer Members that they follow the Safe Room Standards Compliance Verification Process, unique to their association, before affixing a seal to each shelter produced.  A Commentary to the NSSA/ICC 500 Standard, published in February 2016, adds clarity and understanding to storm shelter design and construction issues, further enhancing shelter quality.

FEMA published several guides related to shelter quality including guides on residential safe rooms4, tornado safe room doors5, foundation and anchoring criteria6, and flood hazard elevation and siting7. One of the greatest shelter quality challenges remaining is to see the quality in construction and installation practices more closely resemble the sophistication in design exhibited by design standards and FEMA guidelines. This gap will narrow as more professional people become engaged in permitting and inspection processes. Fortunately, this is a current trend. Greater emphases on shelter installation and inspection in the latest editions of ICC Standards and FEMA guidelines are expected to help. The NSSA is considering adding the membership grade of Inspector to their current grades of Producer, Professional, Installer, Associate, Third Party Evaluator, Media Partner, and Corporate Sponsor.

Shelter producers and installers are best positioned to ensure standards compliance of the construction/production and installation of storm shelters, especially residential shelters where limited professional input or construction scrutiny is practicable. Post installation inspections – familiar phenomena in construction – are often viewed as hurtles rather than quality aids or producer support. Shelter producers dare not overlook life safety aspects of their products nor should they depend upon building officials to ensure quality of the storm shelter. Life safety is at stake and is best controlled by the producer complying with standards and guidelines available to them. NSSA can help. That’s our mission!  Give us the opportunity: contact us at www.NSSA.cc .

The shelter industry has seen extraordinary growth and maturity in its short history. Robust shelter sales and construction – especially community shelters – and further quality enhancements are expected for the foreseeable future.


1. FEMA P 361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms


2. ICC 500-2014, the ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters


3. FEMA P 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm, Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business


4. FEMA Fact Sheet on Residential Safe Rooms, February 2015


5. FEMA Fact Sheet on Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors, September 2014


6. FEMA Fact Sheet on Foundation and Anchoring Criteria for Safe Rooms, October 2015


7. FEMA Quick Guide for Flood Hazard Elevation and Siting Criteria for Residential Safe Rooms