Safe Room Provides Protection From Storms High Winds

Patricia Skinner  |  5/21/2005 2:39:15 AM

LSU AgCenter disaster programs coordinator Pat Skinner puts her hand in the space where a steel pocket door will be installed in the “safe room” of LaHouse – the Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center being built in Baton Rouge. The safe room, which will double as a walk-in closet, features plywood sheathing instead of typical drywall on the interior walls to provide a wind-resistant “box” that’s designed to provide a haven to protect occupants against injury from storm winds. The connections between the foundation, walls and ceiling also are beefed up for added protection.

News Release Distributed 05/20/05

With hurricane season approaching, Louisianians are becoming concerned about how to protect themselves from the strong winds that come with hurricanes and the tornados they spawn.

One measure of protection is a "safe room" that’s designed to protect against injury from high winds, according to Pat Skinner, LSU AgCenter disaster programs coordinator.

One example of a safe room is being incorporated into the Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center – nicknamed LaHouse. A project of the LSU AgCenter, the house is under construction near the LSU campus in Baton Rouge and will serve as a model for durable, energy-efficient, resource-conservative, technology-savvy housing, Skinner says.

Self-contained and structurally isolated from the rest of the house, the safe room in LaHouse doubles as a walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

The ceiling and walls are fortified with extra sheathing, and the connections between the foundation, walls and ceiling are beefed up. In addition to a normal closet door, it features an impact-resistant steel pocket door that can be pulled closed to keep out debris blowing in high winds.

The ceiling of the closet/safe room is structurally separate from the floor of the second story.

"If the second floor would blow away, the ceiling of the safe room would remain in place," Skinner says. "It’s like a solid box."

The safe room has no windows but includes a telephone and security system so it also can serve as a "panic room" – where someone could go to avoid intruders, Skinner says. No one could break in, and the telephone or security system could be used to summon help.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has produced specific designs for tornado and hurricane safe rooms or shelters – although the safe room in LaHouse isn’t build to FEMA standards, Skinner says. That’s for two reasons.

"First, the wind risk in Baton Rouge is less than on the coast from hurricanes or in North Louisiana where we see more tornados," she says. "Second, the LaHouse safe room provides a lot of protection while being affordable, where a room built to FEMA specs would require an investment many people could not justify."

FEMA estimates the cost for building a safe room in a new house is between $2,500 and $6,000 depending on several factors, including the type of foundation on which the house is built and the size and location of the shelter. Local building costs are also a factor.

Skinner says homeowners can add wind resistance to existing homes using shutters and hurricane straps, but retrofitting to include an interior safe room would be fairly costly.

"A better alternative would be a free-standing safe room or lateral addition to an existing building constructed to withstand high winds," Skinner says. "This could be done at the back of a carport or similar area. In places such as mobile home parks, a free-standing safe room could serve many people."

She says the safe room in LaHouse is an important feature of this educational project, which also demonstrates a full range of wind- and flood-resistance features.

"It’s primarily about new construction but displays many techniques that can be applied during remodeling," Skinner says.

The LSU AgCenter disaster programs coordinator warns, however, that although the safe rooms are designed to protect from high winds in hurricanes and tornados, people should not consider the rooms safe from hurricane storm surge or floodwater.

"If you’re in an area that could flood, you need to evacuate if a hurricane is coming," Skinner says.

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Contact: Pat Skinner at (225) 578-2910 or pskinner@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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