We have all witnessed the devastation that tornadoes have caused, and many people have taken precautions by installing storm shelters and having emergency plans. While that is the best way to keep you and your family safe at home, what happens if a tornado hits while you are at your place of business?

If you are a business owner, ensuring your employees are kept safe is just as important as the safety of your family. This article will help give you the important information on how you should prepare your business for a tornado.

Although tornadoes have been documented in every state, the areas most at risk for tornadoes include: the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Mississippi Valley and the Southern United States. With 1,200 tornadoes occurring annually, the United States has more tornadoes than any other country. Each year, tornadoes cause an average of 89 deaths and over 1,500 injuries, and although EF4 and EF5 level twisters only make up 2% of tornadoes yearly, they account for 70% of tornado related deaths. During an hour long storm, an EF5 tornado can create more energy than 10 to 500 Hiroshima type events, which illustrates just how devastating tornadoes can be.

Most tornadoes occur between late afternoon and evening, which means there is a good chance that a tornado could develop during the workday or during commute.

For most, it’s not possible to stay at home during days of possible severe weather, so that leaves us vulnerable to danger if a tornado occurs. Tornadoes can hit with very little warning, and it is extremely unsafe to attempt to outrun a tornado, as they can move up to 70 mph and are notoriously unpredictable.  

The safest option, during the day, is to have a storm shelter at your place of business. If you own a business, you can install a stand-alone shelter or ensure that an internal shelter is built when constructing your place of business. You will have to find what type of shelter will work best for your property. Do you rent your land or building? You might have to discuss with the property owner as to what type of shelter they will allow.

There are many requirements involved when building a storm shelter or safe room, and to ensure it meets FEMA standards, it must be built by an experienced professional.

If your safe room is going to be used by more than 16 people, it is considered by FEMA to be a “community safe room” and will need to meet additional requirements regarding ventilation, fire separation and sanitation. These guidelines state there must be 5 square feet per person, and for a large community shelter that holds up to 26 people, the recommendation is a minimum size of 8 ft by 20 ft.

For community shelters, stand-alone and internal shelters can be multi or single-use structures. Single use shelters are only used as storm shelters, whereas multi-use shelters can serve other purposes, such as meeting rooms, restrooms, hallways, cafeterias, gymnasiums or libraries. Both options come with their own benefits. Stand-alone shelters have more simplified designs, as well as electrical and mechanical systems that may be readily approved by a fire marshal or local building official. Multi-use shelters can mean a lower additional cost for a shelter, since the room can serve other purposes, and is an efficient use of building space.

Costs for safe rooms depend on the size and type, and your storm shelter professional will be happy to go over your options and help you decide which type of storm shelter will work best for your business. If you are an employee, have a discussion with the business owner about what a storm shelter could mean for the safety of the workplace. If you are unable to have a storm shelter at your place of business, there are still plenty of preventative measures you can take.

Whether there is a storm shelter in the building or not, the most important step for tornado safety is to make a plan.

Discuss with your fellow employees,  what will be the course of action if disaster strikes. How will you proceed to the safe room, if there is one, and ensure that everyone gets there safely? If there isn’t a shelter involved, discuss what to do on days with severe weather. Find a nearby place that can withstand tornadoes, and discuss when the workplace should close to avoid severe weather. People’s lives are most important, and keeping safe from these devastating storms should always be the top priority.

If your business does have a storm shelter, it is extremely important to make sure that the shelter is stocked with the necessary supplies. If you were to become trapped, it could take hours, or even days, for help to reach you. Having about 3 days worth of items such as non-perishable food, water (FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person per day) and sanitary items are extremely important, as well as having a battery powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries and a first aid kit. Other useful items include a whistle, blankets, mess kits, dust masks and goggles. You can find an entire list of items to keep in your storm shelter on www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.

Tornadoes are deadly, and it is vitally important to make sure that you, your employees and co-workers are kept safe.

Speak to your employer or property owner about your available options, and if you are a business owner, think of the necessary steps to take. The benefits far outweigh the cost when it comes to building a storm shelter in case disaster strikes.


Additional information on shelters for homes, small business and community shelters can be found here:

Shelters for homes or small businesses 

Community shelters 

Disaster preparation 


by Sierra Waldrop