Adding a storm shelter to your family's emergency plan is an investment, so you want to do careful research before you buy. It can be confusing and overwhelming when you begin looking for a storm shelter. The NSSA is here to help you make the right choices and simplify the process by verifying the engineering, design, manufacturing, and testing requirements for storm shelters. We provide you a list of residential storm shelter producers and installers that we have vetted and allowed into membership with the NSSA, giving you confidence that you're getting a shelter that will keep your family safe.
The first, and most important, step in purchasing a storm shelter is to select a shelter that meets all of the compliance standards. The Standards and Guidelines set forth by the International Code Council (ICC 500) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA Pub-320) dictate the engineering design standards, debris impact testing requirements, proper installation practices, and inspection requirements that should be followed for the construction of all residential storm shelters or safe rooms.
FEMA P-320, March 2021, Fifth Edition "Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building or Installing A Safe Room for Your Home" is available to consumers who are researching storm shelters and safe rooms. While there is a lot of technical information in P-320 that is informative for engineers and compliance officials, there is also guidance for consumers. P-320 discusses the proper location of a shelter on your home site, risk assessment for your geographical location, things to consider when weighing above-ground and below-ground shelters, and much more.
You can download FEMA P-320, March 2021, by using the button below. Please reference our "Homeowner FAQ" section below for more important guidance.
The NSSA was formed as a non-profit association that invites manufacturers of tornado shelters to join an organization which not only requires their shelters comply with the standards, but also verifies compliance by third party review. The Producer (manufacturer) submits complete design plans and specifications, impact testing results, and is responsible for required installation and inspection procedures. A third party registered engineer reviews these documents and submits the findings to the NSSA. If the shelter is deemed to meet all standards, the NSSA will issue a seal to the Producer to be attached to each individual shelter upon completion of installation verifying the shelter is in compliance. The Producer must also submit a Certificate of Installation to our offices to complete the process. NSSA retains the exact location of each shelter and seal number in our offices, for post emergency identification.
NSSA Producer Members
Now that you know what the NSSA requires of our members, you might ask, who would subject themselves to the costs of testing and the scrutiny of a third party engineer if it isn’t required by law? The answer is the same from almost every member, Pride of Ownership. The Producers know that their products save lives and this comes with a great deal of responsibility and liability. They want the designs they have engineered to be put to the test and have the confidence they will pass peer review. The NSSA seal verifies the shelter meets all compliance requirements and our Producers use it to certify to the consumer that they meet or exceed these requirements.
Buying Shelters From Manufacturers That Are Not NSSA Members
Ensuring that your chosen storm shelter meets the burden of compliance is your responsibility as the consumer. If a manufacturer has impact testing results and registered engineering reports stating compliance with FEMA and ICC, you can normally rely on these reports. However, you will not have the assurance and benefit of an independent third party engineering review of all the documents, if the producer is not an NSSA member.
Installation of the tornado shelters, whether above or below ground, is critical to the ultimate reliability and effectiveness during a tornado or other extreme wind event. Installation checklists, ongoing training of installers, foundation inspections, and proper anchoring procedures are all areas of concern. NSSA emphasizes training and workshops to help our members openly discuss better installation procedures. If you have an issue with the quality of the tornado shelter after the product is installed, it becomes an issue between you and the manufacturer. The NSSA Producer members have pledged to be honest and fair in all aspects of their business. The NSSA will assist the consumer in resolving differences with our members regarding quality and installation of shelters with our seal.
Homeowner Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the difference between a tornado shelter and a safe room? A: The simple truth is the term tornado shelter was universally used in all publications until FEMA 361 guidelines started the use of the terminology “safe room” to be defined as providing “near absolute protection” from severe wind damage. The two terms are truly interchangeable, but many people use the term “safe room” to denote a shelter constructed within a building, and “tornado shelter” to denote a shelter constructed outside a building. Note: The NSSA was the first to set the standard of designing tornado shelters for 250 mph wind speed, the current guideline set by FEMA 361.
Q: Is it better to buy an above ground or below ground tornado shelter/safe room? A: Most early tornado shelters were below ground, like root cellars. This fact has ingrained into our cultural perception that below ground shelters are better. Actually, it is the engineering designs and materials that dictate the safety a shelter can provide. A below ground shelter is only as good as the door securing it. Today, there are very effective below and above ground shelters. Choosing the right design for your individual needs and location are more important considerations.
Q: What can I expect to pay for a quality tornado shelter or safe room? A: Prices can vary from as little as $3,000 installed to $15,000 installed for manufactured residential tornado shelters. The price is dependent on the type of shelter selected, occupancy, accessories, and installation. The NSSA recommends you return to our Producer Member tab and investigate the types of shelters available and their pricing on our members’ websites. You can use our site map for Producers in your area; many of our Producers service large geographic areas.
Q: What should I consider when selecting and buying a shelter? A: The following factors must be considered: 1. Disabilities- Do you have family members that need wheelchair access or elderly family members with limited mobility? These factors will determine above ground or below ground shelters and proximity (location) of the shelter; either inside the home or outside. Only you can assess the access on your property and how to accommodate all family members. The size of the shelter might have to take into consideration wheelchair space.
2. Location- A tornado shelter outside the home is required to be no further than 150 feet from your main residence. If you locate the shelter outside your home, you must consider the dangers that large trees, power poles, power lines and tall adjacent structures might cause for both above ground and below ground shelters. Any of these objects can potentially fall and damage or block access to and from the shelter. If you put a shelter in your garage, you must consider how to keep access open to it. If you put a shelter in your basement, whether manufactured or constructed, you must maintain good access and plans for evacuation. ALL shelters should have some way of notifying emergency responders of your location, whether it is a whistle, siren, or cell phone.
3. Flooding- This is related to location, but if you plan an outside location in an area with a low water table (just below surface) an underground shelter will more than likely be impossible to install. All shelter locations must consider the 100 year flood plain maps for determining a minimum floor elevation, and areas prone to flash flooding should be avoided altogether. Always keep in mind that high wind events and flooding often come hand in hand.
4. Occupancy- The size of shelter you need should meet the current and possibly future needs of your family. Other factors like wheelchairs, number of pets, use for partial storage, should all be considered before buying. It is never recommended to use the tornado shelter for storage of items that can’t quickly be cleared for use, even by a child. 5. Accessibility- If the best option for your family is an outside location, you must plan in advance to have emergency lighting (flashlights) available for power outages. You should always move to the shelter long before weather conditions become too severe; many people have been injured by hail or blowing debris on the way to their shelters. Q: What is missile impact testing? A: Most reliable shelter manufacturers will tell you their designs have been tested for missile impact, and you may wonder about how this is done. All tornado shelters or safe rooms are required to have performed missile impact testing of key wall, door and shutter components, using methods described in FEMA 361 and NSSA/ICC-500. These tests are done by qualified testing labs. The missile test originated from work done by professors at the Texas Tech University Wind Research Department in the 1970’s. They determined through investigation of damage caused by tornados that the impact of a two-by-four (13.5 feet long weighing 15 lbs.), traveling at a speed of 100 mph would best simulate the damage that an EF-5 tornado would generate. Texas Tech set up a Debris Impact Facility on their campus and began testing and issuing certifications of compliance to manufacturers of shelters and shelter components, such as doors and shutters. Many manufacturer websites will show videos of the actual tests. The NSSA is located in offices within the Texas Tech facility and we see first-hand the damage that can be done by missile impacts and have witnessed many shelters or doors that have failed these tests. You never want to install or rely on any door or shelter that has not passed these tests. People have lost their lives from similar real-life impacts on non-compliant shelters and doors.
Q: Can I build my own tornado shelter? A: Yes, many people have the background and understanding of construction to build a tornado shelter. It is important that you follow construction designs laid out in the FEMA 320 publication. The current 2015 IBC building code can also give technical requirements for construction. At this time, only the door assembly of the shelter you construct is required to pass missile impact testing. It is imperative to buy only those door assemblies that have been tested. To build a concrete bunker with a steel door purchased at a big box store is a waste of time and money, and will only leave your family vulnerable. On their website, FEMA offers recommendations for the best locations to build a tornado shelter inside your home.
National Storm Shelter Association c/o Jim Bell, Director of Operations P.O. Box 30 Smithville, TN 33166 1-877-700-NSSA (6772) Orinfo@nssa.cc