Tornado safe rooms mitigate severe storm damage, KAMM says

Published 4:08 pm Monday, May 6, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Numerous deaths and injuries and fatalities resulting from weather events like tornadoes and windstorms are recorded each year in Kentucky, and while the peak occurs in April and May, that doesn’t mean that tornadoes are limited to these months.

One such event was the long-tracked EF4 tornado that occurred on Dec. 10, 2021 in western Kentucky. It caused widespread damage with one of the hardest hit areas in downtown Mayfield. It tore through a candle factory southwest of town, wrecked homes and factories, claimed 77 lives, and left many injured.

The Kentucky Association of Mitigation Managers (KAMM) says tornado safe rooms help mitigate against the life safety hazards that severe windstorms bring.

Email newsletter signup

Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM) and the University of Kentucky Hazard Mitigation Grant Program have helped Kentucky communities secure more than $92.5 million in various Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grants, to build and install safe rooms in vulnerable areas across Kentucky. These safe rooms may be prefabricated or newly constructed, single use or multi-use, stand alone or contained within a larger building, in ground or above ground, or retrofitted to existing structures.

Of the 94 HMA safe room applications (some including multiple safe rooms that Kentucky has submitted to FEMA, 50 projects have been completed, providing dozens of safe rooms in many areas). Construction is currently underway for 30 more projects, and 14 more applications are still awaiting FEMA approval. The project costs range from $5,398 to $10,750,000, and the matching fund requirement for the local community is typically 13%-25% of the total costs.

Safe rooms are designed to meet FEMA criteria to withstand wind pressures and wind-borne debris impacts of 200–250 mph during a three-second gust. That gives residents a higher probability of “near-absolute protection” during severe weather conditions. KAMM says the increased number of safe rooms over the years has significantly contributed to mitigating the loss of lives and damage caused by severe wind events.

One example is an above-ground Quonset Hut-shaped steel structure safe room designed to protect up to 95 people during a tornado event. Located at Lexington’s Recycling Center on Thompson Road, it was completed in 2023 at a cost of $121,673. A photo of the interior accompanies this story.

To find out more about KAMM, go to