Working in the field of code development is akin to planting redwood trees – it takes a long time to see results, but success leaves a lasting footprint. In May, 2002, the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Storm Shelter Association, (NSSA) initiated a joint project to develop minimum design and construction requirements for storm shelters. Seven years later, rising in Pasco County, Florida, is the first shelter in the country designed to ICC 500, the resulting standard developed by ICC and NSSA. This 37,263-square-foot facility will be able to provide emergency shelter for 1,000 evacuees, and it will be used daily by the Pasco County Health Department Clinic to provide services to low-income and uninsured area residents.

Incorporated within the 2009 International Building Code, ICC 500 is the work of a diverse committee composed of members of industry, academia, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Authorities Having Jurisdiction. The standard appears in IBC Chapter 4, Special Detailed Requirements Based on Use and Occupancy, and will be found under new section 421, Storm Shelters.

The technical requirements for both community tornado and hurricane shelters are based upon the premise that the designer has selected the applicable design wind speed for the type of shelter being designed and the geographic location of the shelter. This approach allows a shelter design to be tailored to the wind speed associated with the type of event in its specific geography, instead of the previous ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Until now, storm shelter facilities were commonly constructed in accordance with one of two standards, or perhaps were merely conventional construction with a ‘shelter’ sign hung by the door. The American Red Cross published their shelter guidelines, as did the Federal Emergency Management Agency via FEMA 361, providing commentary and guidance on construction and occupant loads. Much of the content of these early documents was derived from the work of Texas Tech University and faculty member Dr. Ernst Kiesling, who originally presented the concept of above-ground shelters in 1974.

The Oklahoma City tornados of 1999 brought the need for shelters and shelter standards into sharp focus, culminating in an agreement to produce a consensus standard to address the coastal hurricane requirements, as well as those of tornado prone areas.

New Shelter Brings Code to Life

Although the new shelter standard has just been published, one building is already being constructed to comply with its requirements. Located in Hudson, Florida, the new Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter and Health Clinic is the first such shelter built under the new ICC 500 standard and is expected to be completed by January, 2010. It also is the first Pasco County building designed to win certification from the U.S. Green Building Coalition’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The facility is named for state Senator Mike Fasano, of New Port Richey, Florida, who was instrumental in sponsoring and securing federal and state funding for the project.

Spring Engineering, Inc., of Holiday, Florida is responsible for the architecture and engineering of the new facility, and the general contractor is Bandes Construction, Inc., of Dunedin, Florida.

Finding Doors and Hardware to Meet the New Standard

Designing and constructing the shelter to meet the proper wind loads and other requirements for a tough new standard was challenge enough, but when it came to finding hardware that would measure up, things became more difficult. President Richard M. Bekesh, AIA, of Spring Engineering, Inc. says, “There will be a lot of communities along the coast that will build hurricane shelters, but because it will not amount to a large market overall, only a few manufacturers are willing to do the research and spend the money to prove their products comply. That meant that, as designers, we had to be creative in finding products that would work under ICC 500.”

For example, when design work began, no available window shielding devices would comply with the standard. Bekesh says, “Armor Screen Corporation, a company in Riviera Beach, Florida that makes a hurricane protective screen, was willing to re-engineer its product and has since passed the criteria for our location.” He notes that some door and hardware products that were approved under FEMA 361 have been allowed, but each was an individual case. “This makes it very challenging from a design standpoint in terms of the building envelope and the structure,” he adds.

Exit devices were another challenge. Early in the design process, it appeared that the doors had to be pinned to withstand the severe impact loads specified. As this limited egress and is prohibited by life safety requirements, a complex baffled wall system in front of every door was suggested. This too would have severely restricted egress for the more than 1,000 people in the structure. What was needed was an exit device that would effectively secure the door to withstand impact without restricting free egress.

These conflicting requirements provided an opportunity for Von Duprin to introduce an exit device developed and certified to meet the new standard. The Von Duprin WS9827/9927 surface vertical rod exit devices are certified to ICC 500 Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Publication 361 – Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Enhanced Hurricane Protection Areas (EHPA). The Von Duprin WS-Series is the first exit device certified to meet the new storm shelter standards, according to the manufacturer.

It All Comes Together

From a business perspective, the new shelter and the standard on which it is based illustrate the complex interaction of many factors, as well as the need for patience and persistence. Code committee discussions began some seven years ago, with participation that included members from the hardware industry. Knowing that a new standard for wind storms was being developed, manufacturers such as Von Duprin began work on products to withstand higher forces. Eventually, as the standard moved through the development process and became part of the Code, the spec writer, in this case Steve King, of Ingersoll Rand’s SSC office in Longwood, Florida, worked to incorporate appropriate products that would adhere to the standard. As Spring Engineering translated the concept into the final design and construction began, a process that started in 2002 began to pay off.

Although there was considerably more work in designing and building to a new standard than one that had been in place, the effort created a pathway for others to follow.

Bekesh says, “We’ve had calls from other people in the region asking how we dealt with specific issues, and we’ve been glad to help guide them because of our experience.”

Traditionally the architectural openings industry has provided life-safety consultation on matters related to fire protection and means of egress. The publication of shelter standards within the model code brings an added dimension to our industry, and additional opportunities for professionals in the life-safety industry.