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Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings

COURSE NO: S06-004
Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings
Course Highlights

This online engineering PDH course presents information for the identification of the best available refuge areas in existing buildings. It presents case studies of three schools that were struck by tornadoes. The resulting damage to these schools was examined by teams of structural engineers, building scientists, engineering and architectural faculties, building administrators, and representatives of the architectural firms that designed the buildings. From these and other examinations, guidance has been developed for selecting the safest areas that may offer protection if a tornado strikes in existing buildings.


Tornadoes cause heavy loss of life and property damage throughout much of the United States. Ideally, a specially designed safe room or storm shelter offers the best protection from a tornado. However, the time of a tornado strike may find building occupants without access to areas designed to withstand tornado strikes. Most schools and other public buildings include areas that offer some protection from this danger even if they lack specially designed safe rooms or storm shelters. Building occupants should know the locations of these areas.


While predicting specific tornado strike locations is unpredictable, building failure modes were found to be relatively predictable in the case studies. Certain parts of buildings offer increased protection to occupants and certain areas should be avoided. The ability of occupants to reach the areas referred to as “Best Available Refuge Areas” provides an increased chance of avoiding injury and death from the tornado. The eyewitness accounts from tornado survivors emphasize the human consequences of policy and design decisions.


This 6 PDH course is intended primarily for designers, planners and administrators to help them select the best available refuge areas in existing schools. Building administrators, architects, and engineers are encouraged to apply the guidance contained in this course, so that the number of injuries and deaths will be minimized if a tornado strikes an occupied school. The principles in this course can be applied to similar structure types other than schools.

Learning Objectives

This PE continuing education course is intended to provide you with the following specific knowledge and skills:

  • Assessing tornado risk for a given geographic area
  • Learning about the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale
  • Understanding wind-induced forces
  • Understanding changes in atmospheric pressure
  • Understanding debris and missile impacts
  • Learning how to reinforce refuge areas
  • Selecting the best refuge areas in an existing building
  • Calculating space requirements for a given number of occupants in a refuge area
  • Reviewing construction drawings for refuge area selection
  • Inspecting existing buildings for refuge area selection
  • Identifying nearby potential missiles
  • Identifying hazardous building elements to be avoided
  • Understanding the proper priorities in selecting refuge areas
Course Document

In this professional engineering CEU course, you need to review the document titled, “Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings” which is based on the FEMA publication “Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Areas in Building”, FEMA P-431, Second Edition, October 2009.

To view, print and study the course document, please click on the following link(s):
Tornado Protection: Selecting Refuge Areas in Buildings (9.7 MB)
Course Quiz

Once you complete your course review, you need to take a multiple-choice quiz consisting of thirty five (35) questions to earn 6 PDH credits. The quiz will be based on this FEMA publication.

The minimum passing score is 70%. There is no time limit on the quiz, and you can take it multiple times until you pass at no additional cost.
Certificate of Completion

Upon successful completion of the quiz, print your Certificate of Completion instantly. (Note: if you are paying by check or money order, you will be able to print it after we receive your payment.) For your convenience, we will also email it to you. Please note that you can log in to your account at any time to access and print your Certificate of Completion.

To buy the course and take the quiz, please click on: