Tornado Assessments

Five Steps in Conducting a School Tornado Assessment

This document is intended to provide the school the necessary information they need to provide to the assessment team when evaluating their existing school facility for the "best available area of refuge". This Five Step Process will detail what the school should expect during these assessments.

How the process begins:
The tornado assessment process begins with an initial meeting of school stakeholders to discuss existing safety concerns, emergency planning issues and areas for improvement. Participants should include representatives from the district, school and community response agencies to ensure diverse perspectives and expertise. Schools may also include administrators, buildings and grounds personnel, communications staff, school resource officers, local law enforcement, local fire department, student support staff, special education staff and others with an investment in the process.

Review the school emergency plan:
A team of at least three to five members should use the tornado assessment checklist to discuss and evaluate the school’s emergency plan, procedures, staff training, and other items that cannot be physically observed during a school walk-through. A copy of the school emergency plan should be available for this discussion. It is important to note that this assessment is not meant to evaluate the school’s preparedness or current practices or your safety plan.

Walk-through of the school building and grounds:
After reviewing the emergency plan, team members should walk through the school facility and grounds. Using the checklist as a guide, examine all aspects of the school’s interior and exterior. The time required to complete the evaluation depends on the size and purpose of the facility and the number of team members participating. Throughout the assessment process, written comments should be noted for later review. Take photographs and videos to highlight positive observations as well as potential hazards or areas for improvement. Thorough notes and visual documentation provide team members with the critical information necessary to generate a comprehensive and meaningful report.

What to expect the day of the tornado assessment:
Each tornado assessment team could consist of an Architect, a Structural Engineer, a FEMA representative, an Oklahoma Emergency Management representative, and a school representative(s). Before the day of the assessment the team will meet to identify possible best-available areas of refuge to be evaluated. On the day of the assessment the team will arrive and observe existing conditions around the interior and exterior of the facility. They will require access to spaces within and around the areas they identified for evaluation, including the area currently used in the event of a tornado. Each area will be surveyed and a recommendation will be made as to the “best available area of refuge”. It is important to note that this assessment is a “good, better, best” recommendation, and is not meant to evaluate the school’s preparedness or current practices or your safety plan.

Create a report and recommendations for improvement:
Team members should compile the results of all areas assessed in the tornado assessment checklist and create a report for school leadership. Formal reporting establishes a process of accountability that increases the likelihood of improvement and/or corrective action. If findings are not reported, then subsequent emergency plans and preparedness activities will not reflect or affect change.

The report should include documentation on successful prevention efforts and resources the school has already implemented along with the potential risks and areas of weakness identified during the assessment. The team may also make recommendations for improvements based on the assessment. Administrators can then prioritize solutions and proceed with a plan for addressing the most pressing tornado refuge safety concerns raised through the assessment process.

Storm Shelter Services

Tornado Storm Shelter Design
• MA+ Architecture is a leader in Oklahoma for Tornado Storm Shelter and Safe Room Design. For over 48 years we have been making our schools safer with great cost efficient design. MA+ has designed shelters to house over 10,000 students and staff. Because of our experience we are able to design storm shelters and quickly and efficiently.

Safety and Security Design
• MA+ Architecture has vast experience in Safety and Security Design. Gary L. Armbruster, AIA, ALEP is a national speaker on school security issues and solutions and was the only architect appointed to the Lt. Governor’s “Oklahoma School Security Commission”. That commission was formed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook to see what Oklahoma could do to prevent such a tragedy. The recommendations from that commission moved forward into 4 laws that were passed by the Oklahoma Legislature to better improve school security in Oklahoma.

• MA+ also has real world experience in designing safe schools. In every education project we undertake, safety and security are paramount in the design of the facility. For many schools, security starts at the front door with cameras, buzzers, and metal detectors and those are important. MA+ also looks past that to see what basic planning ideas can be utilized to keep the school safe. MA+ uses the idea of creating “concentric circles of protection”—a tenet of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) theory, in which a series of physical barriers and security systems delay or thwart an attacker. This principle, along with MA+ vast experience creates a safer and more secure education environment.

Grant Writing Assistance
• MA+ Architecture can provide grant writing assistance to an owner when applying for grants or FEMA funds. The FEMA grant funding process can be lengthy and take up to 18 to 24 months so having an architecture firm that has assisted an owner through that process is beneficial.

School Storm Shelters - Links

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Available Area of Refuge?

Best Available Refuge Area: Evaluated by a design professional and identified as least vulnerable area/room in building. This area is designed to minimum building code requirements.

What is a Hardened Area or Room?

Hardened Area or Room: Designed to consider wind speeds or wind-borne debris impacts at some level between code and ICC 500 or FEMA Criteria. Designed to meet minimum building code requirements.

What is a Safe Room?

Safe Room: A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather events.

What is a Storm Shelter?

Storm Shelter: A space that has been designed and constructed to comply with ICC500 and provides "life-safety protection" from wind events.

What is a Tornado Refuge Area?

Tornado Refuge Area: Designed to minimum building code requirements.

What is Near Absolute Protection?

Near-Absolute Protection: Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built according to FEMA Guidelines will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death. (FEMA 361, Chapter 1, Page 1-2)

What are the different Levels of Protection?

Different Levels of Protection: The different levels of protection listed above provide just that, different levels of protection. Think of it as a good, better and best classification.

o Good: “Best Available Area of Refuge”
o Better: “Hardened Area”
o Best: “Storm Shelter / Safe Room”

What are As-Built Plans?

As-Built Plans: Also known as “existing building plans”, “blue prints”, “construction documents”, etc.

What is FEMA 320?

FEMA 320: FEMA Guidelines for “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business”.

What is FEMA 361?

FEMA 361: FEMA Guidelines for “Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms”.

What is FEMA 431?

FEMA 431: FEMA Guidelines for “Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Area in Buildings”. This booklet presents information that will aid qualified architects and engineers in the identification of the best available refuge areas in existing buildings.

What is ICC 500?

ICC 500: International Code Council Guidelines for the “Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters”.

What is the Fujita Scale?

Fujita Scale: is a scale for rating tornado intensity, based primarily on the damage tornadoes inflict on human-built structures and vegetation. The official Fujita scale category is determined by meteorologists and engineers after a ground or aerial damage survey, or both; and depending on the circumstances, ground-swirl patterns radar tracking, eyewitness testimonies, media reports and damage imagery. The F-Scale was replaced with the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale) in the United States in February 2007.

Canadian Valley Technology Center: El Reno Campus

Storm shelters can be designed for multi-purpose use to utilize all of your space.