A Hollywood movie called the Panic Room, has sparked a lot of interest about a new concept in high-tech home security. Although the concept of a safe room is new for most homeowners, it has been in use for many years by the rich and famous, corporate executives, and powerful political figures around the world.
Most security experts use the phrase Safe Room rather than Panic Room to describe the concept of having an ultra-secure location within a residence. The concept is simple…prepare a room within the interior of the home where the family can safely retreat during a home invasion or other terrorist threat and summon help.
Think of a safe room as a box with only one opening. You simply fortify the six sides to the box and the single door leading into it. I’ve seen safe rooms that were built more like a bunker or bank vault with eight-inch concrete walls and a steel door. These elaborate designs were also used to store cash, valuable jewelry, and collections. I’ve seen others that had reinforced steel sheeting in the walls and equipped with a video monitor, a cellular telephone, and alarm keypad.
Unlike the movie, most safe rooms are merely fortified enough to delay an intruder so an alarm can be activated or call made to summon the police or security. Any homeowner can create such a room with relatively little effort and expense. The most common reason the average person would want a safe room is fear of assault from a home invasion robber or abusive spouse. The most common reason for corporate executives to constuct a safe room is fear of kidnapping for ransom or fear of home invasion robbery.
Safe Room Construction
To make a simple safe room, just select an interior room or large closet with no windows or skylight. Install a solid core wood or steel door and hang it so it opens outwards. Replace the wooden doorjamb with a steel one or reinforce the door trim with steel angle iron to prevent the door from being kicked open. Wood doorjambs are vulnerable, so at minimum install three-inch screws in the door hinges and into a heavy-duty, four-screw, lock strike plate that will cut deep into the doorframe studs. I usually recommend a keyless Grade-1 deadbolt to prevent the keys from falling into the wrong hands, but you must consider that mischievous children might lock themselves inside and you outside.
To complete the room you must stock it with necessary emergency items and a way to summon aid or defend yourself. This includes a cell phone, a flashlight, first aid kit, food, water, and defensive weapons. (Note: I didn’t necessarily say guns). With new construction I would pre-wire for an alarm panel, a direct-dial phone in addition to cell phone, an electrical outlet for cell phone charging, and install either chicken wire or steel sheeting underneath the wall and ceiling drywall. I would highly recommend reinforcing the doorframe air-gaps or shims to prevent the intruder from spreading or prying around the lock area. Good lighting and ventilation should be considered as well as personal hygiene needs.
Whether you have newly constructed or modified an existing space, the safe room should blend with the rest of the home. I have heard stories of families who had secreted themselves inside their safe room while the house was being ransacked. Fortunately for them, the police were called and were able to capture the burglars before being discovered or damage was done to their home.
Family Security Plan
Unlike actress Jodie Foster's character in the movie, I cannot recommend cooperation with the home invaders as the first strategy for survival. See my web page on Home Invasion Survival Tips. I always suggest having a family security plan in which escape by a family member plays an important part of the survival strategy. Actual cases have confirmed that your survival odds are better if the invaders know that the police are on their way and their time for escape is short.
Once you create a safe room, here is some advice:
- Always have a family plan for when and how to use the safe room
- Always have non-threatening practice sessions with children
- Always stock the safe room in advance with emergency supplies
- Always have a flashlight or portable phone with fresh batteries
- Always routinely charge your cell phone inside the safe room
- Always secure the room key inside or use keyless deadbolts
- Always try to escape first, if possible, to summon the police
- Always call the police and don’t exit the safe room until they arrive
- Always refuse to come out of the safe room until police arrive
- Always try to remain calm…remember it’s not a panic room
For More Information
- Home Security - Burglary Prevention Tips
- Home Security for the Christmas Holidays
- Family Security Tips
- Home Invasion
- Home Invasion Survival Tips
- Self-Defense - Pepper Spray
Safe Room plus a Family Security Plan