A Primer on Tornado Shelter Doors

The average lead-time for tornado warnings is just 13 minutes. People in their homes are often unable to get to a public shelter that quickly, which has enticed many residents to construct their own tornado shelters.

A properly installed shelter with a tornado-resistant door assembly can save lives. Unfortunately, missing a small detail in the product selection or installation process can result in it not being able to withstand the violent debris of a tornado.

The main elements of a shelter are the walls and door. The purpose of this webpage is to provide tips to homeowners on the selection and installation of tornado-resistant door assemblies.

Show me the Label

Standard steel doors are not tornado resistant. Neither are the “storm doors” that are often paired with the front door of a residence.

Tornado doors should have a label from a testing agency such as Warnock Hersey or UL showing that the tornado door assembly has been tested in accordance with the requirements of FEMA 320 and ICC 500. Do not accept any other warranty or “safety rating”—the door protecting your family should have a UL or Warnock Hersey label on it that ensures it is a certified product. These are the only two certification agencies that can assure compliance with ICC 500.

Some Assembly Required

Tornado-resistant doors are tested as an assembly, which includes the door, hinges, frame, frame to wall anchors and latching hardware. Only those precise components assembled together are certified to be tornado resistant. Never mix and match tornado door components.

Contractors Know Best

With the growing popularity of YouTube and online how-to guides, some homeowners take on the challenge of constructing their own tornado shelters. Sadly, this has resulted in preventable catastrophes.

Hire a contractor who is experienced with tornado shelters. If they have not previously worked with shelters but say, “I can build anything,” you probably do not want to hire them. Even experienced contractors should closely follow all installation instructions provided with the door assembly.

The Facts of Life Safety

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has published a fact sheet entitled Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors. This document has essential information and resources on these products.

Click here to download the fact sheet.

Note: The Steel Door Institute is a non-profit association and does not sell doors. Please contact a contractor or door distributor to purchase a labeled tornado-resistant door. To ensure your safety, always request a certified door assembly as indicated by the certification label on the hinge edge of the door.