Refuge Areas

The primary causes of tornado deaths and injuries are wind and wind-driven debris. Refuge areas need to provide protection in all directions (including overhead) from both of these hazards.

Good Refuge Areas
Whether you are choosing a refuge area in your home, or are trying to find the best location in unfamiliar circumstances, the basic ideas are the same. "Inward and downward" creates distance from all exterior areas of a structure. "The more walls the better" provides as many barriers as possible between you and the outside.

The locations that provide the best protection are:
  • Small interior rooms or hallways
  • Place without windows
  • Basement or lowest floor
Damage to a kitchen after a storm
Violent winds and wind driven debris cause most tornado deaths and injuries. Tornadic winds can not only cause major structural damage, they turn even harmless every-day items like soda cans, dishes, pieces of boards, shingles, etc. into deadly projectiles. Straight-line winds can also pack a destructive punch. Keep that in mind when deciding where to take refuge.

Indoors, With a Basement
  • Basements are the safest locations
  • Away from windows and doors
  • Underneath stairwells can provide additional protection
  • Under sturdy furniture also protects from falling debris
Without a Basement
  • Move to the lowest level
  • Small all-interior room
  • Located towards the center away from external walls
  • Away from windows and doors
  • Place as many walls as possible between yourself and the exterior
  • Under sturdy furniture can also protect you from falling debris
Special Vulnerabilities
Mobile Homes
Mobile homes are especially vulnerable during severe weather. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, approximately 6.1% of the population lives in mobile homes, but mobile home residents make up an estimated 38% of tornado fatalities. Residents need to plan safe places (with family, friends, etc.) to go to ahead of time.
  • Evacuation to a substantial building is a must.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios are highly recommended to give 24-hour alerts and provide as much time as possible to move to a safe location.
Designating refuge areas in the home and work place is a preparedness must, but there are other situations to consider as well. It may be necessary to seek refuge in different types of buildings or unfamiliar surroundings.

Long-Span Buildings
Many public places are of long-span construction, meaning large open spaces with 40 feet or more between structural supports. This type of construction can be especially vulnerable to wind damage and hazardous to occupants during severe weather.

Grocery stores, department stores, public indoor pools, shopping complexes that have indoor open glass atriums and courtyards are some examples of buildings that we all use frequently and have long span characteristics.

In circumstances such as those, locations providing the best protection may be bathrooms, offices, meeting rooms, dressing rooms, or service corridors. Considering these types of "what if's" ahead of time, will help decision-making when the time comes.