Disaster-preparedness guides often instruct you to head to your basement in case of dangerous weather, but that's not always an option. In Joplin, Missouri, where a powerful tornado killed 158 people in 2011, almost nine of every 10 homes had no basement. And basements aren't always safe because of broken windows, flying debris and the potential for flooding.
For many there's a better option: specially built safe rooms and storm shelters that help protect your family while the weather rages. "The greatest reason for having a storm shelter is the peace of mind it offers," says Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association, which studies and improves hurricane and tornado shelters.
"If you know there's a safe place, you don't have to worry so much when you see a storm coming." An appropriate shelter depends on your location, the size of your family and your home's condition. For example if you're in an area with a high risk of hurricanes, consider a larger shelter because you may have to wait out the storm for hours. Tornadoes pass by relatively quickly.
The chart below helps you figure out what kind of shelter best suits your needs. Make sure your shelter meets Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommendations for "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather. Satisfactory shelters should withstand a tornado classified as EF-5, with wind speeds possibly exceeding 200 miles per hour.
"This is not an area where you want to do the minimum," Kiesling advises. "You don't want to worry whether the coming storm has 160 mph winds or 250 mph winds. Your shelter should be able to withstand the worst-case scenario."