Tornado Protection – Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings

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Tornadoes cause heavy loss of life and property damage throughout much of the United States. Ideally, a specially designed safe room or storm shelter offers the best protection from a tornado. However, the time of a tornado strike may find building occupants without access to areas designed to withstand tornado strikes. Most schools and other public buildings include areas that offer some protection from this danger even if they lack specially designed safe rooms or storm shelters. Building occupants should know the locations of these areas.

This course is based on 3 case studies of tornado strikes on school buildings. Building administrators, architects, planners, and engineers are encouraged to apply this guidance to minimize the number of injuries and if a tornado strikes an occupied building. The principles in this course can be applied to similar structure types other than schools.

The building failure modes were found to be relatively predictable in the case studies. Certain parts of buildings offer increased protection to occupants and certain areas should be avoided. The ability of occupants to reach the areas referred to as “Best Available Refuge Areas” provides an increased chance of avoiding injury and death from the tornado. The eyewitness accounts from tornado survivors emphasize the human consequences of policy and design decisions. This course is based on the FEMA publication “Tornado Protection – Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings”.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end and is intended to provide 6 hours of professional development.

Course Author: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

At the conclusion of this course, the student will have learned or been exposed to the following:
• Tornado risk for a given geographic area
• The Fujita Tornado Damage Scale
• Wind-induced forces
• Changes in atmospheric pressure
• Debris impact
• Missile impact
• Simple methods to reinforce refuge areas
• Selecting the best refuge areas in an existing building
• Calculating the required space (square footage) for a given number of occupants in a refuge area
• Reviewing construction drawings for refuge area selection
• Inspecting existing buildings for refuge area selection
• Identifying nearby potential missiles
• Identifying hazardous building elements to be avoided
• Understanding the proper priorities in selecting refuge areas

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