‘Safe rooms’ can save lives during tornadoes, CDC says

July 25, 2012

Atlanta – Pre-identifying and preparing a “safe room” before a tornado strikes can save lives, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on a tornado event that killed 338 people in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee between April 25 and 28 last year.

The report, published in the July 20 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, defines safe rooms as underground shelters such as the interior part of a basement, or aboveground structures designed to meet FEMA criteria for providing "near-absolute protection" in powerful weather events.

Federal and state officials determined that the number of available storm shelters in impacted areas during the April 2011 event was inadequate. Nearly half of the tornadoes that occurred during the four-day period were rated 4 or 5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds of 166 mph or higher. Because a tornado’s strength is not determined until after the event occurs, CDC officials are urging citizens to prepare for the worst-case scenario whenever a tornado warning is issued in their area.

In addition, public health messaging should specify what constitutes a safe room and increase awareness that the rooms should be used during all tornadoes, the report states.