New Storm Shelter, Safe Room Construction Guidelines Will Increase Safety

A Texas Tech professor is behind much of today’s industry standards.

A new set of construction guidelines will increase public safety for people evacuated to storm shelters and those who use safe rooms in their homes during hurricanes and tornados. Ernst Kiesling, professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech University, was instrumental in creating the concept of the above ground storm shelter or Safe Room in 1974 and has continually worked toward shelter quality and standards development. The International Code Council/National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) Standard on the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, approved by the American National Standards Institute as an American National Standard, offers new guidelines for community shelters and residential safe rooms. It also consolidates previous references published by NSSA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross. One feature of the new standard increases minimum wind resistance requirements in the event of rare but strong storms. “This announcement represents a major milestone for the NSSA and for those who have worked in the storm shelter industry,” Kiesling said. Now executive director of the NSSA, Kiesling has more than 30 years of experience in the field documenting debris damage and testing different materials and types of construction. The NSSA fosters shelter quality and requires its Producer Members to verify that their shelters comply with applicable standards. Then members affix a seal to each shelter produced. NSSA’s process for standards compliance verification offers protection to consumers and distinguishes shelters bearing the NSSA seal from those shelters and producers whose quality has not been verified. “Good design, construction, and installation result in shelters that offer a high degree of safety at minimum cost,” Kiesling said. Kiesling said NSSA members now offer a wide range when f shelter types so that individual preferences and circumstances can be accommodated. Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center tests the strength of building materials using a wind cannon that allows simulation of debris hurled by the most intense tornados seen in the United States. Tests have been performed dozens of products for an international slate of manufacturers and organizations including the Portland Cement Association, the Engineered Wood Association and numerous shelter manufacturers. The Storm Shelter Standard is expected to be published in September for communities to adopt. It also will be considered as a referenced standard included in the 2009 International Building and Residential Codes when Code Council holds its Final Action Code Development Hearings in Minneapolis Sept. 17-23. CONTACT: Ernst Kiesling, professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3476, ext. 335, or ernst.kiesling@ttu.edu.