Hurricane Safe Rooms

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Hurricane Safe Rooms

Living in Hawaii, which is prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, it is a smart idea to have a hurricane safe room installed in your home. Even though we haven’t had a hurricane hit since 1992, Hurricanes regularly come close to our shores. It’s always best to make sure you are prepared for the worst.

Older Hawai’i homes that were constructed using the single wall method, typically haven’t endured a hurricane since their construction. Unless they have been retrofitted, they are vulnerable to structural collapse under a hurricane’s high wind pressure and wind borne debris impacts. As a general rule, homes on Oahu should consider having safe rooms if they were built before the late 1980’s.

The first thing to do before constructing your safe room is to check if your home is in a hurricane evacuation zone or an area prone to flooding. A safe room will not protect against the dangers of flooding. If you are not located in one of these areas, here are some things you should have in mind when designing a safe room. It should be located in the interior of the structure, as close to the center as possible and have no outside walls. It should be large enough to store emergency supplies as well as fit family members and pets.

Depending on the event you are preparing for these are space requirements to consider for residential one-and two-family dwellings: 7 square feet per person, and  40 square feet per bed ridden person

After deciding an appropriate size, now it’s time to think about if you are going to install the safe room in an existing home or as a separate building. If building inside an existing home, the most convenient location is the basement.  Since we are in Hawaii and basements are not plentiful, placing a safe room on the first floor interior of a building will work, as long as it’s supported by interior walls. A major benefit of building a safe room within a home or garage is that it allows those inside to get to safety without having to go outside in the weather. One safety measure that comes with building a safe room in an existing building is that it has to be weighed against the challenge of retrofitting the building. The cost according to FEMA, of a 64 square foot room of their design ranges from $6,600-$9,000. A 200 square foot room ranges from $12,000-$14,500. Keep in mind that these are national averages, and are based on modifying an already existing room. Altering the structure of your home to add a safe room will have higher costs.

Design factors to consider while constructing your safe room are;

Walls: Sturdy and resist high velocity projectiles, resistant to positive & negative wind pressures. Should be made with concrete or reinforced with steel anchors and be windowless

Doors: Made of solid wood or metal, door frame should be reinforced if possible

Windows: If you do not have an interior room to use as a safe room, it is important that any windows in your room are reinforced. You can install bullet proof glass, reinforce existing with shatterproof laminate, install Plexiglas windows, but the best option is to have metal hurricane shutters.

Power: Back-up power source like a Goal Zero Solar powered generator to provide light

Ventilation: A ventilation system independent of outside power lines is worth considering because of the same size of safe rooms and the possibility the room could be needed for more than 24 hours. To prevent air leakage, safe room should not have lay-in ceilings, unless there are hard ceiling above.

Sleeping Area & Storage: Because there is no way of telling if at some point you will need to stay for over 24 hours, consider additional floor area to accommodate sleeping. Also think about if you have a need for cabinets or special lockers, include these as additional needed area in design

Here are a couple smaller items you can add to your safe room: =

-Install a hard-wired phone in the room

-Place a 72-hour emergency kit for each person in safe room

If you are retrofitting an already existing room, there are pre-fabricated safe room kits that can be purchased. If you go this route, you may want to have your room inspected to make sure it meets FEMA design requirements. If you have any questions or are considering having a professionally built safe room, you can contact us anytime.

Below are some helpful links:

Click here to check if your home is in a hurricane evacuation zone or an area prone to flooding:

https://cca.hawaii.gov/ins/files/2016/01/Guide-to-Hurricane-Strengthening-of-Hawaii-Single-Family-Residences-Jan-2016.pdf

Follow this link to see the requirements of building a safe room in your home:http://www.honolulu.gov/rep/site/ocs/roh/ROHChapter16a13.pdf