Monolithic Dome Safe Rooms

Catoosa Cafeteria safe room.

The Wells Middle School Cafeteria is two buildings in one. It is a FEMA P-361 rated safe room with enough capacity for the entire student body, plus it is the school’s cafeteria and auditorium.

Simon Hurst

A Monolithic Dome safe room is designed to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters. It meets the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA P-361) standards for “near-absolute protection” for sheltering-in-place. But a Monolithic Dome safe room is more than a building. It’s comfort during the storm. It’s lives saved. It’s a place of recovery.

Strength comes standard

A standard Monolithic Dome is incredibly strong. Monolithic Domes have survived tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, gunfire, explosions, and more. The steel-reinforced concrete wall is curved in all directions. When an object strikes the wall, the forces are distributed across the entire structure. The spray-in-place concrete—or shotcrete—is much stronger than typical concrete. The outer layer of polyurethane foam also buffers impacts and can capture flying debris.

In many ways, all Monolithic Domes are almost perfect safe rooms.


Openings in the concrete shell for windows and doors are vulnerable to flying debris. Yes, it’s still incredibly safe inside and moving to an interior area helps, but when protecting a school full of students against an EF5 tornado, it’s not enough. Doors, windows, and other openings must be hardened.

Tornadoes are the main problem

“Compared with hurricanes and earthquakes, single tornado events typically affect smaller geographical areas but occur more often and cause more deaths,” reports FEMA. “From 1950 through 2011, tornadoes caused about 5,600 fatalities in the United States, more than hurricanes and earthquakes combined over the same time period (NIST 2014).”

In 2000, FEMA published FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes Hurricanes, Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms. The publication included safe room building standards plus instructions on preparing for a disaster and cleaning up afterward. The FEMA guidelines are the basis of safe room building codes published by the International Code Council for construction of safe shelters (ICC 500).

With only minor improvements—like installing impact-resistant doors and windows—a Monolithic Dome becomes a FEMA361 safe room. There are now dozens of Monolithic Dome safe rooms across “tornado alley.”

Two buildings for the price of one

A Monolithic Dome gymnasium, for example, costs about the same or less than a conventional structure. This is a comparison against standard construction, not safe room level construction. To build a safe room using conventional techniques is going to cost more. A lot more.

You can build a Monolithic Dome for the close to the same price as a regular building. Essentially, you get a safe room for FREE. It’s two buildings for the price of one.

Federal grants

FEMA recognizes that it costs less money to build safe structures to withstand a disaster than to rebuild the same structures afterward. Plus, there is immeasurable value in protecting lives.

Therefore, FEMA offers financial grants—up to 75 percent of the building cost—to qualified communities and schools to build safe rooms. FEMA does not endorse any building method, but the Monolithic Dome qualifies and many Monolithic Dome safe rooms are built using FEMA grants.

And because a Monolithic Dome is already so affordable, the federal monies go further.

More than a shelter

Beyond safety, there is the incredible energy efficiency of the Monolithic Dome. It typically saves over 50 percent compared to conventional structures. There is also less maintenance. Plus the Monolithic Dome is completely free span. The interior layouts are flexible and unique.

And finally, there is a feeling in a Monolithic Dome like no other structure. It doesn’t feel like some kind of bunker. It’s an open, high-ceiling structure that arches overhead. The rooms are large and airy. The weather is irrelevant to interior comfort. And outside noises stay outside.

Then there is the feeling of safety. Knowing there is a place to go in a storm is incredibly comforting.

Next steps

FEMA grants are available for qualified organizations such as schools and communities in participating states. If you think you may qualify, we can put you in touch with successful grant writers.

Not every building can qualify for FEMA grants, but every building can and does need improved safety. There are safe rooms constructed as laundromats for trailer parks or as offices and other business structures. When considering a new structure in a tornado or hurricane-prone area, a Monolithic Dome can serve as both the primary structure and an emergency safe room for the business or area residents at little to no extra cost.

The Monolithic Dome Institute can help you determine the feasibility of your project and put you in touch with industry design and engineering experts.

Fill out a Free Monolithic Dome Safe Room Evaluation form and we will respond with real, useful information. The more you can tell us, the more we can help you.

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