Natural disasters and intentional threats like bio-terrorism add to the list of reasons to build safe rooms.

By Christina B. Farnsworth

Creating a place of safety in any home can be as low-cost and low-tech as using rolls of plastic sheeting and duct tape to temporarily seal a room. In new homes, however, the best refuge plan is to build a dedicated safe space--a specially designed concrete and steel reinforced, windowless, centrally located room. These sturdy special-purpose rooms can range from simple sanctuaries with emergency food, water, and medical supplies, to well-equipped bunkers complete with special ventilation systems and backup power generation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has published "Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House." The booklet outlines the basics of safe-room design for natural disasters. It includes construction plans, materials, and construction cost estimates.

Walk in: Finished safe room gives new meaning to the phrase walk-in closet. [Photo: Courtesy Portland Cement Association]

Jennifer Grover, spokesperson for the Portland Cement Association, says many people in places like Oklahoma where tornadoes often threaten are building safe room additions to their homes. Typical construction is reinforced-concrete walls, ceiling, and floor with access through a steel-reinforced door. Any safe room can masquerade as a bathroom, closet, or utility room until needed.

Safe rooms should have space for all home occupants as well as supplies to sustain them for 72 hours: drinking water, a gallon per person per day; first-aid kit; flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs; a telephone that isn't dependent on electricity; and nonperishable food.