The intent of the questions and answers below is to provide clarification on the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program Rules and Information page and answers to frequently asked questions about safe rooms and FEMA safe room guidance. Please contact the Ohio EMA Mitigation Branch if you have questions or need additional information.
Q1. What is a safe room? What are the design requirements for a FEMA safe room?
A1. A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. The level of protection provided by a safe room is a function of its design parameters, specifically the design wind speed and resulting wind pressure and the wind-borne debris load resistance. To be considered a FEMA safe room, the structure must be designed and constructed to the guidelines specified in FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (FEMA, Fourth edition, 2014) (for home and small business safe rooms) and FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (FEMA, Third edition, 2015). Additionally, all applicable Federal, State, and local codes must be followed; this includes the Ohio Residential Building Code and ICC 500-2008 (ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters). All pre-manufactured safe rooms must include specific language or a notification in the engineered building drawings that certify that the safe room has been designed in compliance with FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361.
Q2. Should I have a safe room?
A2. Pages 5 through 11 of FEMA 320 provide background information to help homeowners decide if a safe room is needed in their home. Homeowners should also refer to the Safe Room Risk Based on Wind Zones Table (Table 2-1) in FEMA 320 ; this is an easy-to-use matrix that helps users decide whether a safe room is a matter of preference, should be considered, or is the preferred method for protection from extreme winds.
Q3. My house has a basement. Do I need a safe room?
A3. Some strong tornadoes have resulted in loss of floor framing, collapse of basement walls, and death and injuries to individuals taking refuge in a basement. What constitutes an acceptable level of protection is an individual decision. A basement may be the safest place to seek shelter for homes without a safe room, but it will not provide the same level of protection as a safe room unless it has been designed and constructed to provide the level of protection in accordance with FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361
A basement is a good location to install a shelter or build a safe room, but access for handicapped or physically challenged individuals may be limited. The flood risk of your location may also affect whether it is appropriate to place a safe room in your basement. If your house or neighborhood is prone to flooding, the basement may not be an appropriate location for taking refuge.
Q4. Are community safe rooms eligible for a rebate through the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program?
A4. Community safe rooms are not eligible for a rebate through the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program. However, community safe rooms are eligible for funding through the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant program. HMA funds are available on an annual basis. Additional information about these grant programs can be found at the following link: http://ohiosharpp.ema.state.oh.us/OhioSHARPP/Grants.aspx#unifiedHmaGrants.
Q5. Can I still apply for funding through the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program after I have begun construction of a safe room or purchased a safe room?
A5. No. You must apply for funding, and receive a written notice to proceed with construction/installation from Ohio EMA before the purchase of a safe room or beginning any construction. Since Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds are used in the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program, the requirements of this federal program apply. Section E-2, Part III of Hazard Mitigation Assistance Unified Guidance (FEMA, 2015) states that costs related to projects for which actual physical work (such as groundbreaking, demolition, or construction of a raised foundation) has occurred prior to award or final approvals are ineligible.
Q6. How is the rebate calculated?
A6. . Homeowners who are selected for the program are eligible for a rebate of 75% of the eligible cost to install/construct a safe room up to a maximum of $5,250. The table below estimates the homeowner rebate amounts and homeowner contributions based on sample safe room costs.
Q7. What costs are eligible for a rebate under the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program?
A7. The Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program utilizes funds from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant program. Allowable costs for safe room projects funded under HMA are those components related to, and necessary for, providing life safety for building residents in the immediate vicinity during an extreme-wind event. The funding covers design and building costs related to structural and building envelope protection. The funding covers both retrofits to existing facilities and new construction projects, and applies to both single- and multi-use facilities. The funding covers the purchase and installation of manufactured or pre-fabricated safe rooms that meet FEMA 320 and FEMA 361 criteria. Eligible costs are only those consistent with FEMA-approved performance criteria as provided in FEMA 320 and FEMA 361. These criteria are summarized below.
Q8. Does FEMA or Ohio EMA approve, endorse, or certify any products?
A8. No. FEMA and Ohio EMA do not approve, endorse, certify, or recommend any products. While a product may be in compliance with FEMA design guidance, any language from manufacturers stating their product is "FEMA approved" or "FEMA certified" is not authorized or correct.
Q9. Does FEMA or Ohio EMA verify or certify design calculations published by manufacturers for their products?
A9. No. FEMA and Ohio EMA do not verify or certify design calculations for any product. The contractor who signs the required Certificate of Installation attests that the product in question will meet the requirements specified on the certification. The contractor should be licensed and bonded. Note that any product must be properly installed for its intended use(s) only.
Q10. Can a contractor be certified by FEMA or Ohio EMA to install FEMA safe rooms?
A10. No. Policy does not allow Federal or state agencies to endorse, approve, certify, or recommend any contractors, individuals, or firms. Any contractors, individuals, or firms who state they are "FEMA approved" or "FEMA certified" are incorrect.
Q11. What are FEMA 320 and FEMA 361
A11. FEMA 320 provides safe room designs that will show you and your builder/contractor how to construct a safe room for your home. Design options include safe rooms located in the basement, in the garage, or in an interior room of a new home. Other options also provide guidance on how to construct an exterior safe room, either buried underground or attached to the existing building, or how to modify an existing home to add a safe room inside. These safe rooms are designed to provide near-absolute protection for you, your family, or employees from the extreme winds expected during tornadoes and from flying debris that tornadoes usually generate. The safe room designs presented in this publication meet or exceed all tornado and hurricane design criteria of the ICC-500 for both the tornado and hurricane hazards.
FEMA 361 presents design, construction, and operation criteria for both residential and community safe rooms that will provide near-absolute life safety protection during tornado events. It provides guidance for architects, engineers, building officials, local officials and emergency managers, and prospective safe room owners and operators about the design, construction, and operation of community safe rooms in extreme-wind events.
Q12. What is the recommended square footage per person for a residential tornado safe room?
A12. For residential safe rooms, the usable tornado safe room floor area should be the gross floor area minus the area of sanitary facilities, if any, and should include the protected occupant area between the safe room walls at the height of any fixed seating, if it exists. The minimum recommended safe room useable floor area per occupant for residential tornado safe rooms is 3 square feet per occupant. Additional space may be needed for handicapped occupants. The safe room must be sized for the maximum number of people that could reasonably occupy a residence. The Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program assumes two occupants per bedroom.
Q13. What is the cost of installing a safe room in a new home?
A13. Costs for construction vary across the United States. The cost for constructing a safe room that can double as a master closet, bathroom, or utility room inside a new home ranges from approximately 8,000 to $9,500. This cost range is applicable to the basic designs in FEMA 320 for an 8-foot by 8-foot safe room (approximately 64 square feet of protected space). Larger, more refined designs for greater comfort cost more, with 14 foot by 14-foot safe rooms ranging in cost from approximately $14,000 to $17,000. The cost of the safe room can vary significantly, depending on the following factors:
For additional cost information for small safe rooms in a home, see FEMA 320, Chapter 3, section 3.10, page 32. Furthermore, see High Wind Safe Rooms.org for sample remodeling costs for an 8-foot by 8-foot safe room and a 14-foot by 14-foot safe room.
Q14. Can I install a safe room in an existing home?
A14. Yes, you have two options for installing a safe room in existing home. The first is to install a pre manufactured safe room, which would typically be installed in your basement or garage. You can also build a safe room in an existing house; though installing such a safe room typically is more expensive and challenging than installing a pre manufactured one. Typically, constructing a safe room in an existing home costs 20 percent more than installing the same safe room in a home under construction or using a pre manufactured safe room. Due to the technical challenges involved in retrofitting an existing home for a safe room, an architect or engineer should be consulted to address the structural issues and the wind-borne debris protection criteria. For more information on retrofitting existing buildings with a safe room, see FEMA 320 Chapter 3, section 3.3, page 17, and FEMA 361 Part A3.1.3, page A3-3. Foundation and Anchoring for Safe Room Fact Sheet
Q15. As a homeowner, can I build the safe room on my own?
A15. Homeowners applying for a rebate through the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program must hire a contractor or company to construct/install the safe room. Safe rooms constructed/installed by homeowners are not eligible for a rebate due to potential conflict with certifying compliance with FEMA P-320 and/or FEMA P-361.
Q16. Where is the best location for the safe room?
A16. There are several possible locations in or near your home for a safe room. The most convenient location in many homes is in the basement or garage. There are types of prescriptive designs in FEMA 320 for such safe rooms. There is also various type of FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361 compliant pre manufactured safe rooms available for installation in both your basement, garage, above ground outside your home, or buried outside your home. For more information on selecting the location of a safe room within your home, see FEMA 320, Chapter 3, section 3.6, page 23.
Q17. Is an underground safe room safer than one above ground?
A17. According to FEMA 361, as long as a safe room is designed to meet or exceed the criteria in FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361, it will offer the same near-absolute protection whether it is above or below ground. Some people prefer to construct a safe room within their home (rather than outside within 150 feet) so they have some level of protection while attempting to access it. For more information on selecting the location of a safe room within your home, see FEMA 320, Chapter3, section 3.6, page 23.
Q18. Are there any restrictions for the location of a FEMA residential safe room?
A18. Yes. FEMA provides guidance on the location of residential safe rooms in relation to flood hazards mapped by FEMA. Flood hazards must be considered when designing a residential safe room. Flood loads acting on a structure containing a safe room will be strongly influenced by the location of the structure relative to the flood source. Residential safe rooms must be located outside of the following high-risk flood hazard areas:
A residential safe room, as prescribed in FEMA 320 or designed to the criteria presented in B4.2 of FEMA 361, should not be located within the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) if at all possible. If it is not possible to install a residential safe room outside of the SFHA, the residential safe room must be placed outside of the high hazard areas identified above, and the top of the elevated floor of the safe room should be designed and constructed to the highest elevation specified in B4.2.2 of FEMA 361. The safe room must comply with local flood damage reduction regulations. For information on the lowest floor used for safe room space or safe room support areas, see FEMA 361, Part B4.2.2.
Q19. Besides FEMA guidance, what other codes and standards apply to safe rooms?
A19. In August 2008, the International Code Council (ICC), with the support of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), released a consensus standard on the design and construction of storm shelters, Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, also known as the ICC-500. This standard codifies many of the extreme-wind shelter recommendations of editions of FEMA 320 and 361 published prior to 2008. The ICC-500 standard has been adopted as part of the Residential Building Code of Ohio as of January 1, 2013. You will be required to obtain a building permit and zoning permit (if required locally) as part of the installation of your safe room. If you live in an area which does not have a certified local residential building department, arrangements will be to have your safe room inspected by the Ohio Board of Building Standards for compliance with FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361.
Q20. What design guidance should be used when questions arise pertaining to criteria or requirements not addressed by FEMA 320, FEMA 361, or ICC-500?
A20. When a question arises regarding design guidance not covered in FEMA 320, FEMA 361, or International Code Council (ICC)-500 (ICC 2008), the most current International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings (IRC) (with references to the most recent versions of American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE] 7-10, Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures and ASCE 24, Flood Resistant Design and Construction) should be used as the design and construction criteria. When these codes and standards have conflicting criteria, the most conservative criteria should apply. At a minimum, compliance with the 2006 IRC, 2006 IBC, and ASCE 7-10 must be attained. A detailed comparison of these codes, standards, and guidance can be found in FEMA 361.
Q21. Where can I download the prescriptive design drawings referenced in FEMA 320?
A21. FEMA P-320 can be downloaded from the FEMA library Web site. The safe room design drawings are also available for download with FEMA Publication 320. If these drawings are modified, or other drawings are used, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure the proposed product meets FEMA 320 and FEMA 361 criteria.
Q22. Where can I find additional information and plans for safe room construction?
A22. Additional information is available at:
Q23. Can I change the prescriptive plans in FEMA 320 to meet my specific needs?
A23. FEMA 320 has prescriptive safe room plans for safe rooms sized between 8 feet x 8 feet x 8 feet and 14 feet x 14 feet x 8 feet. However, a safe room can be customized to meet your individual needs. Therefore, a safe room can be sized differently as long as it complies with the guidance in FEMA 361. When changing any details of the prescriptive plans in FEMA 320, it is highly advised you speak with a design professional to guarantee that the modified design meets the near-absolute protection offered by the designs in FEMA320. The design professional should be licensed in Ohio. If you are unsure if a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA 320 or FEMA 361 criteria, you may contact the Ohio EMA Mitigation Branch.
Q24. Is there a FEMA approval process for the construction of safe rooms?
A24. FEMA does not have an approval process for reviewing or certifying the design or construction of safe rooms. The designs in FEMA 320 meet FEMA's goal of providing near-absolute protection through the construction of a safe room. Safe rooms that meet the criteria in FEMA 361 also meet this goal. To determine if your safe room meets these requirements, contact a qualified contractor. Only residential safe rooms that a contractor/company has certified compliant with FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361 are eligible for a rebate through the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program.
Q25. What should I do if I am unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA 320, FEMA 361 or ICC 500 criteria?
A25. If you are unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA 320 or FEMA 361 criteria, you may contact the Ohio EMA Mitigation Branch. If you have specific questions about the Residential Building Code of Ohio or ICC 500 you may contact the Ohio EMA Mitigation Branch or your local building regulations department.
Q26. Are inspections required?
A26. Yes, if you live in a community with a certified residential building department you are required to obtain a building permit and zoning permit (if applicable). If you live in an area which does not have a certified local residential building department, arrangements will be made to have your safe room inspected by the Ohio Board of Building Standards for compliance with FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361. Also, in order to be eligible for a rebate, the Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program requires that the contractor sign the Certificate of Installation. The Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program may require an inspection to verify compliance and installation.
The homeowner must ensure that the contractor builds the safe room according to the plans in FEMA 320 or to plans that, through testing and engineering, have been determined to meet the safe room design criteria in FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361.
Q27. What forces should a safe room door be designed to resist?
A27. In addition to resisting both positive and negative wind pressures, safe room doors must also be able to resist debris impact. Door construction (primarily the exterior skin) has been found to be a limiting element in the ability of a door to withstand missile impacts. Safe Room Door Fact Sheet - September 2014.
The door chosen for your safe room should have been tested to meet the criteria outlined in FEMA 361, B220.127.116.11. A manufacturer should be able to provide documentation to show that their product has passed such testing. The door and door assembly should also have been tested to withstand both positive and negative pressures in addition to debris impact loads. For more information on testing of doors for both missile impact and pressurization, see Chapter 8 of the Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC, 2008), also known as the ICC-500.
Q28. Where do I find the doors and hardware for my residential safe room?
A28. Doors and hardware that provide protection for a safe room may be constructed from common building materials or purchased from manufacturers. Drawing number MS-02 in FEMA 320 shows the details necessary to construct a safe room door using 14- and 12-gauge steel panels. Alternatively, a homeowner may purchase a door that meets the performance criteria set forth in FEMA 320 and/or FEMA 361 from a manufacturer. FEMA does not certify specific products for use, but any manufacturer can have their products tested to demonstrate that the FEMA criteria have been met.
Q29. Should the door of a safe room swing inward or outward?
A29. FEMA has no recommendation regarding the direction of the door swing since wind can create both positive and negative pressures on a safe room. Please contact a local building official or licensed design professional in your area to discuss the applicable building code requirement for the direction of door swing.
Q30. How should I prepare for the possibility of a safe room door becoming blocked by debris after a tornado event?
A30. You should always keep in mind any door can be obstructed by debris after a tornado event; an operations and communication plan should be in place to guide actions should this occur. You should consider having several forms of communication within the safe room to allow you to call for help if the door becomes blocked. Having a jacking mechanism in the safe room to pry the door open is also prudent. Also keep in mind that the safe room doors should be operable from the inside without any keys or special knowledge or effort. Before any hazard event occurs, you should notify emergency management service personnel to tell them where your safe room is located (FEMA 361).
Q31. Is it permissible to install locking devices on safe room door handles/knobs?
A31. According to FEMA 361, the egress doors of the safe room should be operable from the inside without the use of keys or special knowledge or effort. Furthermore, B5.2.3 of FEMA 361 states that model building codes and life-safety codes often includes strict requirements for securing doors in public areas. These codes often require panic bar hardware, single-release mechanisms, and other hardware requirements. Please keep this in mind and check with local building code officials before installing door hardware. In all cases, a detailed operations and communication plan should be developed. The operation and communication plan should clearly identify the protocol for who is responsible for unlocking and securing the safe room before and after an event, describe the critical operations plans, and provide backup plans in case those in charge of said duties are unavailable.
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