Education Facilities as Storm Shelters | Standards Michigan

Education Facilities as Storm Shelters

The ICC code development process is characterized by staff committees that effectively "curate" public input ahead of the Committee Action Hearings. This is necessary in order to effectively deploy the capital wisely for undertaking the production of a large consensus document for use by governments at all levels.


Education Facilities as Storm Shelters

November 25, 2018
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West Harrison High | Gulfport, Mississippi | FEMA Photo by Tim Burkitt (2010)

We continue to follow the trend of thinking on the use (and “hardening”) of education facilities as community storm shelters.   As central, community assets, such use makes sense but we must be mindful that the codes and standards that determine the standard of care for the built environment are highly networked with consensus documents incorporated by reference into public safety law.

The International Code Council Structural working group of the ICC Building Code Action Committee (BCAC) that is charged with sorting through these specifics have made progress since our previous coverage.

ICC Structural WG Group B items 16.1 Storm Shelters Rev 2 (11-13-2018) (003)

This work group seems to have found a way to reconcile the competing requirements of safety and economy in its ICC-required Reason Statement, reproduced here to signal the complexity of the topic:

“Reason: The existing language in Table 1604.5 requires Risk Category IV structural design criteria for ‘earthquake, hurricane or other emergency shelters’. However, the application of the provision is problematic for each of the three cases. Firstly, people do not take shelter from an earthquake, because there is no (or insufficient) warning time for seismic events. Instead, people displaced by an earthquake come to designated facilities to recover and await notification that their residences – if still standing – are safe to re-inhabit.  For hurricane, Section 423 of the IBC requires hurricane shelters that are intended to provide safety during an event to be designed and constructed in accordance with ICC 500. The structural criteria in ICC 500 far exceed Risk Category IV criteria for wind resistance. In both cases, the intent of requiring Risk Category IV is to maintain continuation of operations in the affected communities after the natural disaster, and as such should apply to facilities designated for recovery only. Lastly, the term ‘other emergency shelter’ is too broad and not applicable to most (or all) other types of natural disaster. Risk Category IV criteria will not protect a building against wildfire and tsunami recovery facilities are already addressed in (insert reference here). 

The purpose of this code change proposal is to clarify the intent of Table 1604.5 with respect to classifying designated recovery facilities as Risk Category IV and to correlate the provisions with Section 423, Storm Shelters. Code changes to 2018 IBC (G32, developed and co-sponsored by BCAC, FEMA and NIST) was approved (AMPC) to clarify that shelters built for protection during wind storms and in accordance with ICC 500 are not emergency shelters that are required to be designed as Risk Category IV structures in accordance with Section 1604.5 unless they are also designated for emergency use after the storm. Without the proposed modification to the existing emergency shelter language in Table 1604.5, designers and code officials have no indication that the provisions in Section 423 exempt storm shelters from Risk Category IV requirements when constructed in accordance with ICC 500 and intended for use during the storm only.”

Complicated, isn’t it?

It would be nice to see subject matter experts from the largest non-residential building construction market in the United States* participate in this process.   Professors of structural engineering, Directors of Architecture in facility units, or Department Heads of Architectural-Engineering firms that produce design documents for educational facilities’ including university-affiliated hospitals would likely have an informed point of view.

You are encouraged to communicate directly with Edward L. Wirtschoreck, Director – Codes Development Central Regional Office and staff administrator for the BCAC (

While the BCAC meets monthly, the  2019 Committee Action Hearings (Group B Codes) will be held April 28 – May 8, 2019 at the Albuquerque Convention Center ( CLICK HERE for registration information).   In the intervening time, we will continue tracking a selected set of ICC building safety concepts during our monthly roundup of architectural and structural code and standards development; the next session scheduled for December 7th 11 AM Eastern time.   Use the login credentials at the upper right of our home page.

Issue: [Various]

Category: Architectural, Facility Asset Management, Space Planning

Colleagues: Mike Anthony, Jack Janveja, Richard Robben



Direct link to ICC Building Code Action Committee

The Latest in ICC 500 Storm Shelter and FEMA Safe Room Requirements


Posted October 16, 2018

We continue to follow the trend of thinking on the use (and “hardening”) of education facilities as community storm shelters.   As central, community assets, such use makes sense.

Workgroups organized under the ICC Building Code Action Committee continue to refine their thinking ahead of the Richmond meetings later this month; as can be seen in the document linked below*:

ICC BCAC Redline Status of Structural WG Group B

There are other concepts running through this committee’s agenda that should interest the education facilities industry:

  • Structural wood and windforce-resistance systems
  • Roofing aggregate
  • Gutters, coping and ice shields
  • Glass handrails, balusters, infill panels and guards

Technical committees move incrementally because of the network of safety concepts that appear in other codes and standards.   The larger issue for the education facilities industry is the degree to which it wants to be involved in the decision-making about whether education facilities that have the capacity to be community storm shelters, the standard to which they should be designed, and who should pay for it.

We are happy to continue the discussion any day at 11 AM.   Case histories and war stories are always welcomed.   Use the login credentials at the top right of our home page.

Issue: [Various]

Category: Architectural, Facility Asset Management, Space Planning

Colleagues: Mike Anthony, Jack Janveja, Richard Robben

Direct link to ICC Building Code Action Committee



Cambridge University

Posted September 22, 2018

The hurricanes in the Carolinas these past few days provide a backdrop, and some perspective, on proposals for the use of education facilities — one of the largest publicly-owned assets — as storm shelters.   Obviously, probable disasters vary according to geography — i.e. earthquake, flooding, high winds.  Even when new prescriptive requirements, or performance guidelines, appear in the enforceable part of the national standard, state adaptations are not only possible but probable.

We have covered the use of education facilities in previous International Building Code (IBC) posts and also in our advocacy in NFPA 1600 which sets the standards of care for disaster management and business continuity.   The governing principle in the use of any facility as a storm shelter — covered in Section 423 of the IBC –is whether or not it has been built, and maintained, with sufficient structural integrity (Follow the tread on PDF Page 737).   As we have seen in proposals now under consideration by the American Society of Civil Engineers, structural integrity includes preservation of structural integrity after flood damage.

International Code Council (ICC) staff is now working with volunteer technical committee members to prepare public comments for the Public Comment Hearings next month.  The Group A Codes have hundreds of proposals to act upon so it is wise for ICC staff prepare these comments in order for them to be fairly balloted by volunteer technical committee members at the Group A Code Hearings next month.  Group A technical committee have an ambitious agenda.

ICC Group A Public Comment Monograph | 1613 pages

It is difficult to follow idea flow through the Group A I-Codes without some help.  Accordingly we will walk through the monograph for all Group A I-Codes on October 4th and October 11th, 11 AM Eastern time. (Use the login credentials at the top right of our home page.)  The second stage of the ICC code development process differs from the first stage but there are workarounds to make the voice of the education facilities industry heard.   Use the login credentials at the top right of our home page.

University of Richmond

Posted July 5, 2018

IBC Group E Concepts | Education Facility Storm Shelters

A number of candidate code changes regarding the use of education facilities for storm shelters were debated during April’s International Code Council Spring Committee Action Hearings in Columbus, Ohio.  These have been identified in our previous post and are described partially* here  for reference:

Proposal G13-18 is the lead proposal for a group of related proposals to require storm shelter construction.  (PDF Page 633 of the Complete Monograph):

“Storm shelters shall be provided for Group E occupancies where required by Section 423.4”

Proposal G59-18 is related proposal in Section 423 Storm Shelters.  (PDF Page 737 of the Complete Monograph):

“Where designated storm shelters are constructed as a room or space within a host building which will normally be occupied for other purposes, the requirements of the code for the occupancy of the building, or the individual rooms or spaces thereof, shall apply unless otherwise required by ICC 500.

Both proposals claim no cost impact.  The intent to clarify and coordinate concepts within the document may actually reduce cost (by reducing confusion with education facility planners in high-risk parts of the United States) and thereby contribute to the safety agenda of Standards Michigan.   The testimony, pro-and-con, during yesterday’s hearings were more nuanced, however.

Comments are due July 16th.  Additionally, public comment is possible at the Fall Committee Action Hearings.   The results of the Group A Hearings will be revisited during the Group A Public Comment Hearings, October 24-31, 2018 in Richmond Virginia.  See: Complete 2018 Group A Schedule.

We keep the entire ICC suite on the standing agenda of our weekly Open Door Teleconference — every Wednesday, 11 AM Eastern Time.  Click here to log in.   We have also set aside Thursday, July 12th, 11:00 AM online Markup Session to collaborate with others in the education facilities industry.

ICC Group A Markup Session


Issue: [Various]

Category: Architectural, Facility Asset Management, Space Planning

Colleagues: Mike Anthony, Jack Janveja, Richard Robben

*Most consensus documents developed for incorporation by reference into public safety law are highly networked within themselves — i.e. contain internal references that require understanding of the context in several places in the text.  In other words, ideas from several positions in the text must be understood in their entirety. 


Ozarks schools continue building tornado shelters despite fewer grants


Last posted April 18, 2018

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