Why is the term "Safe Room" being used instead of "shelter?"

Courtesy of FEMA

The terms "safe room" and "shelter" have been used, for the most part, interchangeably in past publications. Typically the difference in usage was limited to differentiating between residential applications called "safe rooms" and larger projects called "community shelters." The release of the ICC-500 standard, as well as other national, state, and local protection initiatives, identified a need to distinguish shelters that meet the FEMA criteria for near-absolute protection and those that do not. Although both the FEMA and ICC criteria are designed to provide life-safety protection for safe rooms and shelters that meet these criteria, only the FEMA criteria provides near-absolute protection from extreme wind events. To help clarify the difference between safe rooms design to FEMA P-320 and FEMA P-361 guidance, the term "safe room" applies to all shelters, buildings, or spaces designed to the FEMA criteria (whether for individuals, residences, small businesses, schools, or communities). This allows for the buildings, shelters, or spaces designed to the ICC- 500 standard to be called shelters. All safe room criteria in the FEMA publications meet or exceed the shelter requirements of the ICC-500.

Read about FEMA P-320 and FEMA P-361 on FEMA's website.

A residential safe room is designed to protect families or small groups of people (up to 16) while a community safe room is defined as a shelter designed and constructed to protect a larger group of people from a natural hazard event. This publication will refer to all shelters constructed to meet the FEMA criteria (whether for individuals, residences, small businesses, schools, or communities) as safe rooms.

The ICC-500 provides the minimum design and construction requirements for extreme-wind storm shelters and is expected to be incorporated (by reference) into the 2009 International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC). It is important that those involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of storm shelters be knowledgeable of both FEMA guidance and ICC standards that pertain to sheltering from extreme winds.