2015 Codes to Require Storm Shelters

-- by Julie Ruth
January 20, 2015
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards
(Article posted on Window & Door)

Note: While the content of this installation of Code Arena may seem of more interest to the commercial side of the industry, the information is pertinent to those supplying the residential market in that the requirement is for an Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening in shelters that are only required to have one door. Typically, this would be provided by a residential window manufacturer that wishes to pursue the opportunity in this new market.

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How would you react if you were asked to provide an emergency escape and rescue window that is impact resistant and can withstand 250 mph design wind speeds for a school in Oklahoma? Would you be surprised to receive such a request? With the advent of the 2015 International Codes this year, such a request might come up.

The 2015 International Building Code (IBC) requires storm shelters that comply with ICC 500 Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters in schools housing kindergarten through high school students with more than 50 occupants and in critical emergency operation centers in tornado-prone areas. Critical emergency operation centers include 911 call centers, fire, police, ambulance and rescue stations, and other occupancies specifically intended to maintain essential functions and provide first responders with a necessary base of operations during emergency situations. Tornado-prone areas include all of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana that border these core states.

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The shelters are to be sized to accommodate the occupant load of the building it serves. They may be incorporated into another building or be constructed as stand-alone buildings. In either case, they must meet the requirements of the applicable building code (2015 IBC) as well as ICC 500. The 2015 IBC will require exit doors in the envelope of the storm shelter, with the number required to be determined by the designated occupant load of the shelter.

If only one exit door is required, an emergency escape and rescue opening will also be required by ICC 500. The storm shelters must also be provided with a minimum level of natural or mechanical ventilation. Natural ventilation can be provided by doors, operable windows or operable skylights that are within a certain distance from the floor of the shelter. The emergency escape and rescue opening must meet the criteria of the 2015 IBC with regard to size and operability. This means it must provide an opening that is a minimum of 5.7 square feet in area, with a minimum width of 20 inches and a minimum height of 24 inches, and it must be operable without the use of tools or special knowledge.

All of the fenestration in the envelope of the storm shelter, whether windows, doors or skylights, will be required to meet the structural criteria of ICC 500. This will mean they must be designed to resist a 250 mph design wind speed, and have been tested for impact resistance and cyclical pressure in accordance with ASTM E1886/E1996. For the sake of comparison, the design wind speed given in the 2015 IBC for schools in Miami, Florida is 200 mph.

If a manufacturer offers a line of impact-resistant products for use in these applications, ICC 500 will require that both the smallest and largest size offered in that product line be tested in order to qualify for installation. Under the 2015 IBC, only the largest size is required to be tested. So the criterion of ICC 500 for fenestration in storm shelters is more stringent

Although the 2015 edition of the International Codes is now available, a lag inherently occurs between the publication of the newest edition and its enforcement. Typically, enforcement of a new code does not begin until about a year after it has been published. Adoption and enforcement of the International Codes, however, is fairly well entrenched in the United States at this point. So while you may not encounter such a request within the next year or so, it is quite likely your company will encounter a request of this or similar nature, at some point in the next two to three years.

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