June 13, 2022

Understanding storm shelter requirements for K-12 schools

From building a new school to undertaking an addition to an existing school, one important consideration is construction and inspection to meet storm shelter classification. In 2015, the International Building Code—based on updates to the International Code Council’s standard 500 (ICC-500)—made changes to the requirements for educational buildings when it comes to safe rooms and storm shelters.

The mandates apply to educational buildings, such as K-12 schools, that are in areas where storms or tornados may create winds of up to 250 miles per hour. These facilities must now be designed, constructed, and inspected to protect students and staff from the dangers of these formidable storms.

For school districts and other education providers, choosing a construction partner that understands storm shelter requirements is essential. Even more, a team with a storm shelter inspector certified by the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) helps ensure the design and construction are being performed based on ICC-500 standards through every step.

Key areas of consideration for K-12 storm shelters

Several key elements must be considered to make a K-12 school classified as a storm shelter. For example, any required post-installed concrete anchors have to be installed under the supervision of a certified inspector and are subject to continuous inspections during the process. Inspectors also oversee tests for components that must resist high-impact projectile objects during a storm, such as doors and windows.

From overseeing construction activities to testing functionality, inspection processes are needed in each aspect of the construction of a K-12 school. This helps make sure installation is per contract documents, codes, and standards.

Some areas that require oversight to meet storm shelter standards include:

  • Structural steel

  • Structural concrete

  • Plumbing

  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning

  • Fire protection systems

  • Electrical

  • Communication systems

Why a certified inspector should be part of the team

Having an NSSA-certified inspector on the team for the design—and especially the construction—of a K-12 school provides a seamless way to ensure standards are met from the beginning.

Many school districts have questions about how these storm shelter standards affect their project’s space utilization, budget, and timing. The inspector will make suggestions based on the ICC-500 code and the NSSA program to guide the team on what is required and how it affects the project.

After a project is complete, the inspector also continues to play an important role. Storm shelters are required to be inspected annually by a certified inspector under the NSSA program. Inspectors look for components such as the correct doors, door hardware, windows, and signage, as well as documentation for tests performed in the past.

These crucial inspections provide an important safeguard for school districts and education providers to have confidence in the integrity of the storm shelter in the event of an emergency.

Making safety a priority

For every K-12 school construction project, protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the community, students, and staff should be a top priority. At C1S, we have an NSSA-certified inspector on staff who has expertise in standards related to safety, structural construction, mechanical design, and more.

We partner with our clients to help them understand these specialized storm shelter requirements for the education sector. Then, we perform construction and inspection per every code to make sure K-12 projects are designed and built to the highest standards of safety.

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