Safe Room for Tornadoes etc.

For the last two years, St. Louis has had many bad storms, multiple tornado watches and warnings, and two actual tornadoes. One of the tornadoes came withing 600 yards of our house. When the NOAA weather radio goes off or the TV forecasts show dangerous weather, my wife and I are frequently grabbing our “stuff” and heading for the basement.

While we certainly feel safer in our basement, when I saw a recent story of a woman losing both her legs when she was in the basement during a tornado, I realized that we could still do something to make us safer.

I decided to make a room underneath our basement stairs. Actually I hired Mike Thibadeau who did the job better and quicker than I could. Here’s what we did.

There were already dry-walled 2 x 4’s on both sides of the stairs, so we attached 3/4″ plywood on the inside with construction screws. Mike also lifted up the plywood by 1/2″ so that it wouldn’t wick water from the concrete.

He then put in a solid wood door (fire door) that he cut down by about a foot. He also installed the door so that it would open by swinging in. The idea is that after a storm there may be debris blocking your way out and you could possibly be trapped in the room if you couldn’t open the door.

Mike put a regular door handle on the door, but I’ll be installing a deadbolt soon. I’m also going to finish the outside so it looks a bit more finished.

While this room might not be 100% safe, I certainly feel safer than sitting out in the open in the middle of the basement.

Notes: Here are a  few further notes and observations about the room. Look at the graphic.below

1. The basement floor is not level, thus when I shut the door, it almost touches the floor. I’m concerned that with a tornado, the door frame will twist and I will be stuck in the room. Note – I have cut off more of the door at the bottom to give me more of a safety margin.

2. Another safety measure is hanging a nail by the door frame which I can use to take out the hinges from below. Note – I’ll have a hammer and screwdriver  in my tool box.

3. I’m also going to run an extension cord to the room to get some basic electricity to the room.

Safe Room Ideas

There are three possible scenarios for using a my safe room.

1. Bad storm/tornado.
In this situation, I could have slight damage to total devastation of my house.
While the path of the tornado could be widespread, there will be resources availalbe
within a week or less to help me and others recover.

I will need enough resources to help me survive for 72 hours at most.This 3 day supply needs to be in the safe room.

I need 3 day – food and water plus money, personal papers, clothing, and regular survival gear.

Set of clothes/coat/shoes on a hangar.

I expect to to lose everything in my house except for my safe room area.

2. Earthquake.

If this is a large area wide earthquake, then I am not expecting terrible damage to my house.
While other brick structures might be toppled, I’m not expecting that for myself.
While I may lose power, gas and water, my house should be intact.

I should have access to all of the regular resources in my house.

I should still have plenty of water and food in the basement.
3. Unknown Catastrophe.



For information on safe room demonstrations through MU Extension, contact Eric Evans at (573) 884-8984. – get under stairs
note – Stud wall with 2 layers of ¾ in. CD grade plywood with 16 ga. metal on non-impact side – no perforation. (I think they recommend 14 ga. steel now.)


About Tom Terrific

Interested in MANY things.

Posted on May 9, 2012, in Emergency. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Is it a hollow core door or solid wood door?

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