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Storm Shelter Grant FAQ's

Shelter Grants & Funding

There are two types of shelters that are covered under the Federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP): community shelters and individual shelters. Community shelters are built for use by the general public in the event of an emergency. Individual shelters are shelters that are built at a private residence or small business.

Community (Public) Shelter

Q: My community does not have a shelter. How do we get one?

A: Building storm shelters is costly and as a result most often federal matching grant funds are used to pay for the majority of the cost. These funds are limited, competitive, and often primarily made available after a declared disaster as part of recovery mitigation efforts (building back stronger and safer).

Communities looking to build a shelter with matching funds apply via a local governing body, a qualifying local not-for-profit organization, or a volunteer fire department. Shelters can also be privately funded. A rough rule of thumb to estimate the cost for basic storm shelters as seen above is about $1,000 per person capacity hence a 60-person shelter could cost $60,000 plus land and access road expenses. Tuscaloosa County EMA does not design, coordinate, operate, or otherwise install public shelters. Applicants receiving federal matching funds and installing a shelter are responsible for the operation of the structure.

Sheltering development decisions are best determined by working with local community leaders. New schools being built are now required to include a rated safe room to accommodate staff and students.

Q: Does my community already have a shelter?

A: To find out if your community has a FEMA-rated shelter, check the list of Public Shelters in Tuscaloosa County at the following link.

Most people will not be in a storm shelter but will seek “safer refuge” within homes and structures in the community. Please see the How to Take Shelter page for tips on selecting a good location.

Individual (Private) Shelters 

Q: I was told to call you about receiving money for building a storm shelter at my house. Is this correct?

A:  Individual storm shelters will not be funded as Tuscaloosa County has moved to Community Storm Shelters. Community Storm Shelters provides protection to a larger population. The Individual Shelter Grant Program is one of the programs under the Federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). These funds are available only after a major disaster  (i.e. April 27, 2011 and April 28, 2014). 

Financing: There are no special financing offers available from Federal or State sources to assist in purchasing. However, shelters may be eligible as a home improvement or part of a new construction under an FHA loan. Please discuss this with your lender.

Q: Is a safe room the same thing as a storm shelter?

A: In this situation, the terms “safe room” and “storm shelter” are interchangeable. Note some companies may only offer safe rooms that are designed to protect you from intruders so you may have to mention tornados when inquiring about them.

Q: Where can I find more information about FEMA standards for storm shelters?

A: More information about storm shelters for residences or small businesses can be found at the following link.

Q: What is Tuscaloosa County EMA’s role in the shelter program?

A: Local EMA’s role is to administer the shelter grant program on behalf of the State of Alabama if funds were to be made available. We do not design, coordinate, install, or endorse any particular shelter manufacturer or style shelters. We do recommend that if you were spending the money to buy a shelter, that you only buy FEMA-compliant shelters from reputable, experienced manufacturers. If constructing your own shelter, be sure to build to FEMA standards as well.


Q: When will there be funds available?

A: Should there be another disaster that affects Tuscaloosa County, there may be funds for individual shelters. The priority for the April 27th, 2011 was both individual & community shelters. The priority for the April 28, 2014 was community shelters only. Due to the limited amount of funds available to the County and the high demand for community shelters, there was no funding for the individual shelter program.


Q: Does the funding pay for the full cost of the shelter?

A: The HMGP is a reimbursement program. Once approved, the applicant pays all cost up front and is reimbursed for 75% up to $4,000.00. Reimbursement takes around 90 days.


Q: I was not informed that I would have to pay for the shelter. Why not?

A: The FEMA PSA only covers the highlights of the program. Unfortunately, the PSAs do not always explain the details of how the program works.


Q: Are there any reasons why I would not receive a grant for building a shelter at my home or business?

A: The grant can only be used for property that is an applicant’s primary residence or small business. The grant cannot be used if the property is in a special flood hazard area.

Q: Do I need a permit to build a shelter?

A: If you live in an area that requires building permits, contact your local municipality to ask about the necessary requirements.


Q: I have already built a shelter. Do I qualify for a grant and reimbursement?

The grant can only pay for a project that was started AFTER the grant was awarded. There were several people who filed applications for individual Shelters after the April 27, 2011 tornado. Some installed shelters before receiving notification that their application was approved. They were not eligible for reimbursement and those funds were lost to the County, because under current rules we are not able to transfer to anyone else.


Q: I am a disabled veteran/I am disabled/I have a child or parent with special needs and we need a shelter for our home. Are there any special programs for someone in my situation?

A: We are not aware of any Federal or State programs that provide funding for individual shelters outside of the HMGP. Program guidelines change periodically. Check occasionally to find out if a program covering those in your situation has been started.


Q: I am on a fixed income and cannot afford the upfront cost of the shelter or the match. Will the program give me the money for the shelter?

A: The individual shelter program is a cost reimbursement program. There are no provisions for the County to pay the cost for the individual upfront and for the individual to only pay their 25% share.


Q: How long does it take to get a shelter grant approved?

A: Applications are only accepted during an open application period. We establish a cutoff as we have to take the individual application and put it into a packet. This packet then goes to Alabama EMA in Clanton. They review the packet and then send it to FEMA. FEMA is the organization that issues that grant. It may take six months to a year or more. Once the grant is received locally, we start working the list in groups of five to ten. We do not have additional staff to run the grant program and we need time to conduct applicant interviews to cover the details of the grant to ensure the applicant can be reimbursed.


Q: Can I turn in an application now?

A: No. We only take applications when there is an open period. Each time there is a grant, there are changes in what we need from the applicant as part of the package. Our application is based on the guidance for the current grant. We advertise the open period in the news media and on our website.


Q: Our home was damaged in the ___ tornado. Does this give us priority for a grant?

A: No. There is no provision in the grant program to provide a priority for a property that was damaged. This may be set as a local priority, but we have not done so since the pilot program.


Q: I was told that you selected applicants by lottery. How does it work?

A: When we have more applicants than funds, we conduct a drawing to determine priority. We attach a ticket to the application and place the stub in a container to draw from. We have a non-EMA person do the actual drawing with a non-EMA person witnessing the order.


Q. I was awarded a shelter grant in the past and my grant-approved shelter has been installed. What are my next steps?

A. Call the EMA office (205-349-0150) to schedule an appointment. Then, we will visit your site and collect your final paperwork.