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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: March 9, 2021 12:10 PM
From: Representative Mark Longietti and Rep. Donna Oberlander, Rep. Eric R. Nelson
To: All House members
Subject: International Building Code – Tornado Shelters
We invite you to co-sponsor legislation amending the Pennsylvania Construction Code to exclude storm shelter requirements, also known as “tornado shelters”, from all newly constructed public buildings, including renovations and additions.

The version of the International Building Code (IBC) adopted by Pennsylvania requires tornado shelters, designed to withstand wind speeds in excess of 250 mph, be included in new construction of public buildings in certain parts of Pennsylvania. Until recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency wind zone map did not include any of Pennsylvania for winds of this nature (E-5 - the highest wind zone category). However, the new FEMA map now includes all of the following counties: Erie, Crawford, Warren, Forest, Clarion, Armstrong, Venango, Butler, Lawrence, Mercer, Beaver and Allegheny; and parts of the following counties: McKean, Elk, Jefferson, Indiana, Westmoreland, Washington, and Greene, within the highest wind zone. Therefore, new construction of public buildings in these areas would require the construction of a tornado shelter.

The Ohio legislature had established a moratorium on this requirement until September 2020 to allow for a commission study and report. The commission determined and reported that the added cost would be $589,000 per school building affected. We could expect similar costs in Pennsylvania, which would discourage and limit new projects and add significantly to costs to taxpayers.

Other responsible organizations like Factory Mutual Global (FMG) continue to have maps that do not include any part of Pennsylvania in the 250 mph plus wind zone. By way of example, the strongest reported tornado in the eight-county area around Washington County was an E-4 (wind speeds between 166 to 200 mph) tornado in 1980. Nevertheless, the IBC would require the construction of a tornado shelter to withstand an E-5 tornado with wind speeds in excess of 250 mph. We believe this requirement is unnecessary and we hope that you agree.

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Introduced as HB1526