A Quick-Reference Guide for Manufacturers of High-Performance Storm Shelter Doors

ICC 500 2014In parts of the US – tornadoes and hurricanes are an expected part of life. In fact, the United States sees more tornados, hurricanes, and high wind activity than any other place on the planet (National Centers for Environmental Information, n.d.) To combat these weather events, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1998 published FEMA P-320 – “Taking Shelter from the Storm – Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business.” This document outlines the official standards for the design and construction of safe room storm shelters in the US. In 2000, FEMA published a follow-up document entitled FEMA P-361 – “Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms” whereby community safe rooms are built for groups of 16 or more people. FEMA P-361 also sets the criteria for FEMA tornado shelter grants and outlines the standards for design, construction, and operation of storm-safe rooms which include debris impact testing.

After years of post-disaster investigations into the performance of safe rooms and storm shelters, the International Code Council and the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) formed a national committee to develop a consensus standard to define the design and construction requirements of tornado and hurricane storm shelters. The standard developed was entitled ICC 500 and was initially published in the Summer of 2008 and subsequently updated in 2014. The criteria outline’s the standard for the design and construction of storm shelters and is considered the primary standard for storm safe rooms, storm shelters, and hurricane impact doors. The standard gives the minimum requirements to safeguard safe room occupants from conditions commonly experienced during tornadoes and hurricanes. The ICC 500 – 2014 is specifically referenced in the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC) as the governing standard for the construction and design of storm shelters.

Although FEMA does not test or certify individual products or manufacturers of said products, they do require that manufacturers of storm shelter doors certify their products in accordance with ICC 500. Manufacturers of storm shelter doors will need a certification listing report for Authorities Having Jurisdiction during permit review. Companies wishing to become certified by obtaining a certification listing report can submit their testing data to a certification body, like ICC NTA to determine if the data is sufficient to certify their products according to ICC 500.

What is needed for Certification?

Although the testing itself has not changed for several years, the tests remain quite rigorous and are designed to replicate real-world conditions of extreme weather found during tornadoes and hurricanes. Manufacturers of storm shelter doors may already possess the appropriate test data and can utilize the data to acquire the certification labels now required. It is crucial that storm shelter door manufacturers choose a third-party company that has a deep understanding of the ICC 500 code criteria and, if needed, also has the proper equipment to test against missile impact, perforation, and pressure.

Here are some highlights:

  • Doors must possess the appropriate labeling signifying to Authorities Having Jurisdiction the manufacturer has been certified to ICC 500 criteria.
  • Doors must withstand the impact of a 2 x 4 projected at 100 mph, as well as other wind-borne debris, without perforating the interior surface of the door. (check out “NTA’s Test Wall and Impact Cannon: Bigger, Faster and Smarter” blog here)
  • Doors and their hardware and components must remain attached during the testing.
  • Although all storm doors must withstand testing that shows the doors strength in withstanding wind pressure, the door type or use will determine the specified level of pressure rating the door must withstand.
  • The anchor installation and foundation elements used during installation must withstand a specified load path from the roof to the ground.
  • Storm shelters with a capacity of 50 occupants or more are now required to adhere to ICC 500. This requirement was a significant change from the 2008 standard.
  • Structures that are rated Educational Group E Occupancy, the shelters must be in compliance. Educational Group E Occupancy covers those shelters, among others, the use of a building or structure, or a portion thereof, by six or more persons at any one time for educational purposes through 12th grade. For additional information, reference the FEMA document.

Learn more about ICC 500 testing standards here.

ICC NTA, LLC. a member of the International Code Council family of solutions is a respected third-party source for certifying and testing storm shelter doors. Manufacturers who need accurate information on testing and/or certifying to ICC 500 standards can rest assure that ICC NTA can provide accurate, timely, and reliable information. Further, ICC NTA is unique in that all services are done under one roof to include quality control manuals, code evaluation reports, test data evaluation, ongoing quality control surveillance, product testing, or simply an explanation for certification requirements.

“U.S. Tornado Climatology.” Retrieved from NOAA website. Accessed 22 Aug 2019.

FEMA Publications (all available for download from the FEMA Library at www.fema.gov/resource-document library. Some documents have multiple editions. The most current edition is listed as the year published, and older editions are noted in the reference.

  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). 2016. Highlights of ICC 500-2014, ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. Retrieved from FEMA website. Washington, DC.
  • FEMA P-320. 2014. Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business. Washington, DC. Earlier editions were published in 1998, 1999, and 2008.
  • FEMA P-361. 2015. Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms. Washington, DC. Earlier editions were published in 2000 and 2008.

ICC (International Code Council). 2014. 2014 ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. International Code Council & National Storm Shelter Association. ICC 500. Country Club Hills, IL. Earlier edition was published in 2008.