Facility Managers at Universities Brace for Tornado Season

Reinforced rooms for shelters offer safety for students from storms.   March 22, 2023

By Dave Lubach, Managing Editor

Severe weather season is on the horizon for the central part of the United States, the time when tornadoes become more prevalent. 

AccuWeather predicts 1,055 to 1,200 tornadoes will touch down across the country this year. More than half of those twisters will occur now through June while class is still in session at universities. Most of those weather events occur in Tornado Alley, which includes Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Florida is also a popular state for tornadoes. 

The ferocity of these storms and the death, injuries and destruction they often leave behind should serve as a reminder that facility managers and universities need to ensure that residence halls are safe for students. 

One trend that universities are incorporating in their residence halls are reinforced rooms or storm shelters. These rooms are built to withstand extreme winds contained within an EF-4 or EF-5 twister. 

When constructed, the rooms should be designed and constructed based on the standards and codes for storm shelters developed by the International Code Council 500 when possible. 

“Many times, the restrictions in terms of ventilation, structure and exit requirements make designing to these codes cost-prohibitive for universities,” says Javier Esteban, principal at KWK Architects. “In those instances, it is still possible to design for student safety via a compromise where some public areas of the residence hall have strengthened or reinforced structures, doors and windows.” 

KWK worked with the University of Oklahoma, Missouri University of Science & Technology and Fort Hays State in Kansas to design reinforced rooms in their residential facilities. 

The shelters can also serve as lounge and study areas in residence halls when not used for protection from violent storms, but the design should include safety features like emergency lighting, electrical outlets, fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, heating and air conditioning and an AED defibrillator, Esteban says.  

Dave Lubach is managing editor of the facilities market. 


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