Storm Shelter Requirements within the 2015 IBC


I assume that many of you are currently working on your 2015 code adoption process. Therefore, I’d like to briefly address an item that merits some of your attention. The 2015 IBC contains regulations requiring storm shelters as part of certain occupancy types. The code obviously specifies when these shelters are required and refers to the ICC 500-2014 ICC/NSSA Standards for Design and Construction of Storm Shelters as the minimum standards for their design and construction.

If you’re not already aware, please take note that new buildings considered E occupancies with an occupant load of 50 or more and expansions to buildings containing E occupancies will be required to provide a storm shelter. In addition, 911 call stations, emergency operations centers, police stations, fire, rescue, and ambulance stations will also be required to meet these standards. As you can see, this new requirement will impact our cities financially, but also some large stakeholders within our communities.

If your city administrators are not already aware of this change, it would be prudent to bring this information to their attention. My primary motivation for calling your attention to this issue is to encourage you to engage with your local school district in an attempt to vet the adoption process with them as far as it relates to the storm shelter regulations. School districts are definitely large stake holders within our jurisdictions and we owe it to them to make sure they are fully aware of these provisions in the 2015 code, before our city adopts it. There is no doubt, that this new mandatory requirement will impact school districts financially, and it’s very likely that many school districts are currently not aware of what is coming.

The City of Rockwall recently began this process by setting up a meeting with the school district superintendent, who then invited their director of facilities and construction and the architectural firms they are currently working with in the development of preliminary plans for two new school facilities. It was our intention to not just make the school district aware of the new requirement, but to help inform and educate them on the subject.

One of the topics we knew they would be very interested in is the estimated costs related to building the required storm shelters for their new buildings. I’d like to suggest you review a FEMA publication titled P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms. The document contains cost analysis information related to constructing a storm shelter for a school building and will provide reasonable estimates that you can convey to the school officials. FEMA estimates the average cost increase (per square foot) to construct a safe room in a new building at 5 to 27 percent for that portion of the building. They also state the following: “In large, new building projects, the increase in cost for adding a safe room is relatively small. Many safe rooms constructed as part of a new school, each protecting 200 to 300 occupants, have added only 1 to 2 percent to the total project cost when the safe room was included in the design process from the beginning of the project.”

The importance of us partnering with developers and stakeholders within our communities cannot be understated and this situation definitely calls for us to do just that. Contacting the school districts and others in a proactive manner, to help inform and educate them about this new code requirement will demonstrate our desire to operate as professionals and experts in our field.

Jeffrey Widmer, CBO, City of Rockwall
BOAT Board of Directors

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