Safety Plans: Public Places

Every school, church, office building, apartment complex, hospital, nursing home, and shopping mall should have a tornado safety plan and a designated Safe Room or Disaster Area. This is not a “one size fits all” approach, but must be tailored to the design of the building and the ability to move its occupants quickly in an emergency.

In addition to a designated area in the building, each floor should have an evacuation coordinator who will see that everyone – especially disabled or handicapped persons – is safely evacuated in the event of an emergency, and a weather monitor who maintains a weather-warning NOAA radio and can quickly relay a warning throughout the building via the public announcement system.

  • Hold Drills – Preparedness drills should be held regularly. When it comes to preparing for a tornado, minutes spent preparing building occupants on how to react to a disaster may save lives during an actual emergency. Building occupants should assemble in the predesignated meeting place outside the building. Being able to accurately account for all occupants is essential. Emergency lights should be checked during every preparedness drill.
  • Prepare for the Worse Case Scenario – If a tornado is unexpectedly spotted close by, it is vital that building personnel be prepared to react and react quickly.  Seconds count. People need to be in a safe place within one to two minutes of the first alert is sounded.
  • Flying Debris – Flying debris is the biggest hazard in a tornado. If there is not a disaster area or safe room in the building, get people away from windows, into interior hallways or interior rooms. Put as many walls between them and the winds as possible.
  • Portable Classrooms or Outbuildings – Everyone in a portable classroom or outbuilding should go to the main building as quickly as possible after the first weather alert is sounded. While movement from outbuildings to the major structure may be dangerous, it is more dangerous to stay inside unsecured buildings.
  • Early Warnings – Know what the tornado siren sounds like and what you need to do if you hear the warning siren. Every public building should have a NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm tone and battery backup. Look for a weather radios with WRSAME – a new technology that lets you set it to alarm when warnings are issued for your county and surrounding counties. This is especially important for personnel in outbuildings.

If you need help in designing a safety plan or designating a safe area within a public building, contact FEMA at and request publication FEMA 361, “Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters.”

Return to the Safety Resource Center