A Guide to Storm Shelters

Tornadoes are still one of the most unpredictable and dangerous weather events on the planet. Warnings, at best, arrive minutes early giving you precious little time to react. It is therefore imperative that you understand exactly what to do and where to go.

The Oklahoma Tornado Safety Guide recommends that you do three things in the event of a tornado:

  1. Get in: find a safe place inside of a hardened building. Stay as far away as possible from doors and windows.
  2. Get down: proceed to the lowest floors in the building.
  3. Cover up: use whatever is available to shield yourself from falling and flying debris.


If those guidelines lead you to a basement, you would be right. Basements are, generally, one of the safest locations you can hide during a tornado event. Ideally, every home in Tornado Alley would have a basement. Unfortunately, many homes are not equipped with basements due to the high water table and poor soil conditions present throughout Tornado Alley.

Also, consider that you may survive the tornado in a basement, but if the entrance is blocked you could become trapped. Basements are also below ground, and therefore flooding is an ongoing risk.

Interior Rooms

If a basement is not a realistic option for your home, the next best location is to hide in a closet or interior room. But these rooms are often inadequate for high wind-speed tornadoes. That is why FEMA and many Oklahoma cities recommend hardened safe rooms. In fact, Moore, Oklahoma, a town that was hit in 2013 by a severe tornado, passed an ordinance requiring a hardened storm shelter in all new residential construction.

There are two types of in-home storm shelters, those that are built as part of the house and those that are pre-fabricated and assembled into the home. Both rooms can double as additional closet or storage space. These shelters can also serve safe rooms for any number of situations, including home break-ins.

 FEMA estimates that a standard storm shelter in Oklahoma City should cost between $6,600 and $8,700. There are federal rebate programs to offset part of the cost.

Incorporated Into the Home

These rooms resemble bank vaults and are anchored directly to the foundation. They are built out of reinforced concrete, wood, or steel. But these rooms must be built during construction, and generally cannot be added later. These shelters can dramatically increase the cost of a home and, unfortunately, cannot be taken with you should you move. On the other hand, they are very secure and incorporated into the home organically.

Prebuilt Shelters

Prefabricated shelters are built out of interlocked pieces of steel. They can either be locked into place as steel plates or welded together. These units should be placed on the first floor and anchored to the foundation.

Anchoring is critical to avoid rollover or flipping due to the high wind speeds. These shelters, while perhaps, not as securely anchored as an incorporated safe room, do allow you flexibility in construction and placement. Moreover, you can pack up and take some prebuilt shelters with you, should you move.


Tornado safety extends beyond outfitting your home. You are not always at home when tornado strikes, therefore, you must think and act quickly to find shelter before the tornado makes landfall. Never forget to get in, get down, and cover up and you will be prepared. 

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