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June 8, 2011

FEMA, Tennessee and SBA do not fund tornado shelters for individuals

Some misinformation about funding for safe rooms has been circulating in some Tennessee communities. It is possible that some of that misinformation has resulted from the fact that Alabama and Mississippi, which share media markets with Tennessee, have programs that pay part of the cost of safe rooms in homes using federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds.

The following describes State of Tennessee, Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration policies regarding safe rooms:

Although considered an eligible project under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, safe room project applications are not accepted by the State. The reason is simple: Tennessee has never received enough disaster funds to fairly disseminate the funds to all who would be interested. In order to have the greatest impact with limited funds, the state concentrates on community shelters or reinforced corridors in schools where it can provide a safe place for many people at one time.

SBA: Disaster loans cannot be used to build safe rooms. The sole exception is when a previously existing safe room is being repaired or replaced.

FEMA: FEMA does not fund safe room construction under its Individuals and Households Program.


The tornadoes and high winds that have caused so many deaths this year make it all too obvious why a “safe room” is a good idea. Although a home may be built “to code,” that does not mean it can withstand the forces from extreme weather events. A safe room is a refuge that can save lives.

You can build a safe room in one of several places in your home:

• Your basement.
• Atop a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or garage floor.
• An interior room on the first floor.

Safe rooms built below ground level offer the best protection, but a safe room built in a first-floor interior room can also provide the necessary safeguards. Below-ground safe rooms must be designed to avoid taking in water during the heavy rains or high water tables that often accompany windstorms.

Here are some considerations when building a safe room:

• The safe room must be adequately anchored to resist overturning and uplift.
• The walls, ceiling, and door of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by windborne objects and falling debris.
• The connections between all parts of the safe room must be strong enough to resist the wind.
• Sections of either interior or exterior residence walls that are used as walls of the safe room must be separated from the structure of the residence so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the safe room.

For more information on building a safe room, visit the FEMA website at For FEMA P-320 book “Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business,” call 800-480-2520.

A safe room may be built into new housing or added inside or outside to existing structures. For more information on safe rooms, go to