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University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection

Student Housing

University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection

KWK Architects has designed storm-safe spaces at multiple colleges in tornado alley.

By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | March 13, 2023
University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection
Pictured: Headington and Dunham Residential Colleges at the University of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy KWK Architects

More universities are incorporating reinforced rooms in student housing hall designs to provide an extra layer of protection for students. Storm shelters have been included in recent KWK Architects-designed university projects in the Great Plains where there is a high incidence of tornadoes.

These storm shelters are typically small, above- or below-ground structures made of concrete, masonry, or steel that are proven to withstand extreme winds as powerful as those produced by EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes. Tornado-safe rooms were added to recent residence hall projects at:

A reinforced room should be designed to stand up to high winds on its own, independent of the building structure surrounding it, said Javier Esteban, principal at St. Louis-based KWK. “It is critically important to maintain the structure of the reinforced area so that should a building collapse occur, it does not affect the integrity of the reinforced space, and its occupants remain safe,” Esteban said.

Reinforced room designs often incorporate emergency lighting, electrical outlets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, heating and air conditioning, and an AED defibrillator. When not in use, residence hall storm shelters can serve as lounge and study areas for students.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) has outlined the different types of tornado-safe room options available, and the materials used to build them:

1. Cast-in-Place Concrete – these rooms are assembled on-site using removable forms, rebar, and concrete to create the walls and ceilings. The forms can be fitted with liners to create concrete exterior surfaces that look like siding, brick, or stone.

2. Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) – These rooms are created using foam blocks that contain steel reinforcement, fitted together and filled with concrete. The foam is a permanent part of the room and provides insulation to the building. Interior and exterior finish options include drywall, sheetrock, or siding.

3. Concrete Masonry – These safe rooms are constructed of individual blocks, set in place with rebar and fully grouted. Two rows of steel at the top of the wall hold the assembly together. A variety of texture and finish options are available.

4. Precast Concrete – This room is formed off-site and delivered to a building for installation. It can be located virtually anywhere in a new building and is anchored using steel angles and bolts. Precast concrete can be finished in a variety of colors and textures using form liners.

5. Prefabricated Above-Ground Steel – These prefabricated safe rooms typically cost less than site-built safe rooms. Considerations must be made to ensure that this room is placed on a safe and sturdy foundation.

University Commons residential complex at Missouri S&T
Pictured: University Commons residential complex at Missouri S&T. Photo courtesy KWK Architects


OU Storm Shelter - East.JPG

OU Storm Shelter - West.JPG

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