Safe Room Offers Protection from Storms, High Winds, Intruders

Claudette Reichel shows where the steel pocket door would protect occupants of the safe room if they were to use it to escape the threats of high winds or intruders. (Photo by Mark Claesgens)

Open houses at LaHouse during November and December gave homeowners, homebuyers, builders, architects and others the opportunity to see the building while construction was still going on. (Photo by Mark Claesgens)

With recent hurricanes battering the state, Louisianians are increasingly concerned about how to protect themselves from strong winds.

One way is a “safe room” designed to protect against injury from high winds, said Pat Skinner, LSU AgCenter disaster programs coordinator.

A safe room is being incorporated into the LSU AgCenter’s LaHouse. LaHouse is the shortened name for the Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center, which is being built near the LSU campus as a demonstration, exhibit house. Self-contained and structurally isolated from the rest of the building, the safe room 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 reinforced. In addition to a normal closet door, it features an impact-resistant steel pocket door that can be pulled closed to keep out blowing debris.

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 said. “It’s a solid box.”

The safe room has no windows but includes a telephone and security system so it can also serve as a hiding place to avoid intruders. No one can break in, and the telephone or security system could be used to summon help.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has produced specific designs for tornado safe rooms, although the safe room in LaHouse isn’t built to FEMA standards, Skinner said.

“First, here in Baton Rouge, the wind risk is less than on the coast from hurricanes, and we don’t see many of the stronger tornados that are typical of North Louisiana,” she said. “Second, the LaHouse safe room is a practical solution, providing a lot of protection using conventional building materials at a cost that many homeowners can justify.”

Skinner said homeowners can make an existing home stronger and safer by adding shutters and hurricane straps, but retrofitting to include an interior safe room would be fairly costly.

“A better alternative would be to add a free-standing safe room that appears to be either a building on the property or an addition to the existing building,” Skinner said. “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.”

The disaster programs coordinator warns 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 flood water.

“If you’re in an area prone to flooding, you need to evacuate when a hurricane is coming,” Skinner said.

(This article appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
1/6/2006 2:47:50 AM
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