The Difference Between A Tornado Shelter, A Panic Room, And A Safe Room

storm shelter in a cellar


Nothing is more important than the safety of your loved ones. However, those safety concerns don’t always look the same. Sometimes they are in the form of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes. Sometimes they are in the form of home invaders. In both situations, there are steps that you can take to ensure the safety of your family.

A tornado shelter can make all the difference if a tornado were to strike, while a safe room can keep your family safe from home invaders. But can those things be interchangeable? Today, Stronghold Safe Room takes a look at the key differences between a safe room and a tornado shelter.


A tornado shelter is a space in your home that is secure from a tornado. They are built mainly underground to protect anyone inside from the harsh winds and flying debris produced by tornadoes. To meet the minimum standard for a tornado shelter, the shelter must be tested at the Wind Institute at Texas Tech University. Both above ground and below ground shelters are tested there to make sure they will be able to withstand debris impact of a strong tornado. Whether you build a tornado shelter yourself in your home or hire a company to build it for you, it is also important to meet the FEMA P-320 guidelines.

There are typically three types of tornado shelters. These can include:

  • Underground Shelters: Underground shelters are built to protect occupants from flying debris and harsh wind conditions. They are made with reinforced materials such as steel but may be hard to access during a brewing storm.
  • Pre-Built Shelters: These shelters look like a reinforced box that can be attached to your home, usually located on the side. They are also anchored to the house’s foundation, securing them against any bad winds.
  • In-Home Shelters: While it sounds similar to pre-built shelters, in-home shelters are located inside the home in a nook such as a closet or storage room. They are outfitted with steel or vault-like doors that can be accessed quickly in an emergency.

Without a shelter, families should stay in the basement or on the ground floor of their home in an interior room with no windows. FEMA calls these “Best Available Refuge Areas.” Keep in mind that these are last-ditch options and a tornado shelter is a much safer option.

Related Post: What Should You Keep In Your Storm Shelter First Aid Kit?


While they aren’t all that different structurally, a panic room is much different than a storm shelter. Most panic rooms are built to protect against home invaders and are built like a vault. While they can be used for storm protection, these rooms do not necessarily meet the criteria FEMA has established for tornado shelters.

These rooms are made to protect against home invasions. One of the many security features panic rooms have are hidden or secret entrances. These can range from bookcase entries to other camouflaged entryways.

Typically, these rooms come with some surveillance system as well as communication equipment so that the authorities can be contacted. They are generally not built or installed underground, but instead are fortified rooms that are constructed outside of your home or somewhere within your home like near a bedroom, built and fortified to keep intruders out. The walls may be lined with steel, cement, or kevlar to protect from any forced entry from outside. While the term “safe room” is sometimes applied to a panic room, FEMA has given a technical definition of the term “safe room” that means something much different.

Depending on the type of technology and reinforcement you’d prefer to have in your home, panic rooms can range from anywhere between $3,000 and $500,000. If you’d like a simple panic room installed in your home, you can easily convert a closet or other small space for a cheaper but still highly secure option.


According to FEMA, “A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide near-absolute protection in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built under FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.”

Safe rooms can also be used as panic rooms if they are built to withstand intruders. But safe rooms are also certified to be safe from even the strongest of tornado outbreaks. Approved safe rooms that carry the National Storm Shelter Association seal are tested far more than standard storm shelters.

Safe rooms can be attached to your home either above ground or underground. Stronghold recommends not building a safe room on the second floor of your house. While you may remain protected, strong winds can move or detach the structure from your home. A safe room on the ground level or underground is secure and resistant to harsh winds.

Also, consider any risk factors related to where your home is located. Are you located in an area with a high probability of tornadoes or flooding? Depending on the risk factors of where you’re located, you may want to consider a more significant, sturdy shelter in case of an emergency.

Related Post: Do I Need A Safe Room If I Have A Basement?


Stronghold Safe Rooms have been verified by the National Storm Shelter Association and rigorously tested to provide the most reliable protection from both tornadoes and intruders. If you are considering either, give us a call at (417) 725-0055 or contact us online today.