Providing Safer School Communities
Understanding grant requirements helps fund life-saving building projects
- By Heather Bender
- October 01, 2021
Many of us have experienced it. The dark greenish-gray
sky and the strange stillness that happens
just as ominous storm clouds gather. Even before
a cell phone signals a weather alert, instinct tells
us to find secure shelter, and with good reason.
While only a small fraction of storms create extreme weather conditions,
the United States has more tornadoes than any other country
in the world. With an average of over 1,000 tornadoes per year, no
state is free from their threat. In 2020, the U.S. experienced a particularly
active North Atlantic hurricane season with a record-breaking
11 storms making landfall—including six hurricanes.
Because huge storms move so swiftly and in such unpredictable
ways, schools need to be prepared to protect students quickly.
Extreme weather tragedies are caused by flying debris, so it is of
utmost importance to construct storm shelters to code, including
adequately protecting windows and securing areas with storm doors
rated to meet ICC500 testing criteria for extreme weather.
Evolving Building Standards for Increased Protection
To meet the current IBC requirements, all educational facilities with
more than 50 occupants must provide a safe room to protect students
and staff from tornadoes and other extreme weather events in certain
areas of the country such as Tornado Alley in accordance with
In addition, educational facilities are subject to ICC-500 standards
in states or localities that have adopted IBC 2015 or newer and are in
an area that has an increased risk of tornadoes (ICC500/FEMA-P361
provides a map for guidance). This requirement applies to any new
construction, retrofit addition, or significant improvement project
and is included in 2015 IBC and 2018 IBC. ICC-500 provides the
minimum requirements for safety relative to the design, construction,
and installation of storm shelters built for protection from high
winds and impacts associated with extreme weather.
Manufacturers offer advanced rolling steel doors designed specifically for safe room protection against life-threatening tornadoes and
hurricanes. However, only a few rolling door products are tested and
certified to meet both ICC-500 and FEMA P-361 standards – a
requirement to be included in an ICC500 rated shelter. It is important
to specify a door from a manufacturer that meets these necessary
standards to receive a FEMA grant, including the newly instituted
There is another factor to note when schools are planning to apply
for funding. All FEMA safe rooms designed and constructed for educational
facilities must follow the most recent edition of the FEMA
publication Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for
Community and Residential Safe Rooms (FEMA P-361).
Funding Safe Rooms and Storm Shelters in School Facilities
Storm shelters and safe rooms are common throughout Tornado
Alley, a region that encompasses part of South Dakota, Nebraska,
Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and eastern Colorado. It is an area infamous
for having the most powerful and destructive storms. However,
these life-saving spaces are not as common nationwide, even though
tornadoes have touched down in all 50 states.
Lack of funding and challenges navigating building codes and construction
guidelines are frequent obstacles to making storm shelters
a reality for many school districts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) replaced its
Pre-Disaster Mitigation program with the Building Resilient Infrastructure
and Communities (BRIC) competitive grant program in
2020 to facilitate funding and encourage advanced planning for
extreme weather. The new BRIC program supports state and local
governments by encouraging them to shift their focus to proactively
protecting their communities.
BRIC applications are reviewed on an annual basis, and school
districts may submit safe room or storm shelter projects that meet the
- Reduces or eliminates risk and damage from future natural hazards—
such as extreme weather
- Follows one of the latest International Building Codes (IBC)—
either 2015 or 2018
- Aligns with an applicable hazard mitigation plan
- Meets environmental and historic preservation (EHP) requirements
Wind Load and What It Means for Your Facility
By specifying commercial rolling doors and shutters that meet strict wind load requirements and are certified by a third party as being
compliant to ICC500 standards as part of a storm shelter project,
schools are able to design unique, open, light-filled spaces while
meeting IBC requirements and ensuring they are compliant with
International Code Council (ICC) 500.
Considering the codes are guidelines that echo the minimum
requirements for safety, understanding what wind load is —and why
it is important in storm shelters— should be a cornerstone of one’s
knowledge on the topic.
Wind load refers to any pressure or force that wind exerts on a building.
There are three types of wind forces, including uplift, shear and lateral
wind load. These are all common in a tornado, hurricane, or strong
storm with straight-line winds. Shear wind load is a horizontal pressure
on vertical structural elements. This kind of pressure is especially concerning
because it can change wildly based on weather conditions.
Extreme weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms
with straight-line winds put acute forces on a building. This
can cause doors to blow out due to the storm’s wild swings in positive
and negative pressure.
That is why rolling door and shutter products are tested, for both
static and operable wind load. Static wind load specifies the maximum
wind load at which a door is able to remain safely in place while closed.
Operable wind load specifies the maximum wind load at which a door
is able safely operate without the curtain of the door being hung up in
the guides and stuck in an open position. Operable wind load may be a
concern for schools that serve as community shelters during hurricanes.
For instance, loading dock-rolling doors may need to operate
during the storm to accept emergency supplies and necessities.
Calculating wind loads and determining which product works best
can be a tricky science, especially because the calculation not only
includes wind speed, but also 10 other factors for accuracy and safety.
It is vital for decision makers to reach out to rolling door manufacturers
to learn more about wind load requirements, wind load calculations,
and rolling door options. Manufacturers’ architectural specialists
and consultants use a Door & Access Systems Manufacturers
Association (DASMA) calculator to identify comprehensive wind
load needs and create custom closure solutions. They also work
closely with school safety administrators and specifiers to ensure they
are making the best decision when it comes to student, faculty and
At The Intersection of Safety and Design
With the implementation of these stringently tested rolling doors,
architects can include windows and natural light in their design of
modular classroom pods, gymnasiums, and cafeterias—creating positive,
learning-focused spaces that can also transform into ICC-500/
FEMA P-361 rated safe rooms when needed. A single maximum
protection-rolling door can be used to cover multiple openings or
even banks of windows, and activated by a building alarm or the turn
of a key.
The rolling door can deploy on alarm with no manual intervention,
allowing faculty and staff to focus on the safety of the students,
while also preventing them from witnessing the storm and—most
importantly—protecting them from violent winds and flying debris.
After the storm, the door coils back into the structure and out of sight
until it needed again.
Proper planning enables school districts to obtain funding and
gain valuable insight into the standards and codes needed to meet
life-saving storm shelters and safe rooms. By selecting the appropriate
rolling doors and working closely with their manufacturers, architects
can design dual-use areas that provide inspiration for students
and protect them from extreme weather when the need arises.
This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.