Safe (panic) rooms

Published February 8, 2015

Mention the word “Panic Room” and you might recall Jodie Foster’s Hollywood movie from 2002 of the same name.

The movie glorified the concept with gadgets and other supplies, though in reality such rooms are generally less exciting and easier to maintain and referred to as ‘Safe Rooms’.

To understand the concept of Safe Rooms it’s important to understand why people want them. Some people worry about terror attacks or hostage situations while others fear the impact from natural disasters. Thus depending on what your primary concern is and how much you can afford, the room can keep you safe for a few hours to a few days or longer.

What this article discusses is the need for a safe room and what makes it safer than other rooms of the house.

How to go about making a secure room or hide-out in your home

Firstly, consider what you want to secure? Is it people, valuables or both? Your answer will have a direct bearing on the size of the room as a first step.

Depending on how much you want to spend, you can have a purpose-built room at the time of construction of the home or reinforce an existing closet or room with some emergency supplies.

Key features of a Safe Room

The primary considerations

The walls: All sides, the ceiling and floor must be fortified. Depending on the purpose the structure can be built on either the first or the ground floor. The most appropriate being the ground floor or the basement. However, if you can only build at an elevation then the walls can be reinforced with a light weight yet effective protection mix of kevlar and plastics.

The entrance: This is important. As safe rooms are meant to hide their occupants, therefore the entrance can be concealed behind false panels or doors.

The door, being the weakest point of the room, needs extra reinforcement. This may require locks being built into the door rather than attached to it. Steel hinges, bolts and door jams are in addition to a solid steel door. The keys for the door need to be non-standard and complemented by other gadgets such as combination key pads or biometric devices.

Safe room enhancements

Communication: Always have a cell phone stored in this room with its charger and a list of emergency contacts. In case there are signal issues install a fixed line connection with concealed wiring. Alternatively, a panic alarm button that is connected to a security service provider can be fixed. Sound proof the room to ensure what you are saying is not heard by an outside intruder.

Power: If you install a generator then ensure proper ventilation; this would also require appropriate space. An effective measure would be to install a UPS back-up supply that can provide support for at least 24 hours at the very minimum.

Monitoring: Install a monitor to observe the cameras that you may have installed in the home. Tip: when installing cameras, have some hidden from view.

Air circulation: A well disguised vent can be effective but this doesn’t provide protection from any airborne hazards.

Plumbing: A portable toilet is an easy fix; alternatively you can install independent plumbing with a septic tank. Water storage is key in case of extended periods of confinement, therefore look to how many people would stay in there and multiply it by at an approximate gallon a day per person.

Supplies: Keep in mind what you deem necessary to survive anywhere from a few hours to a long period of time.

Supplies for a basic safe room:

— Non-perishable food
— Safe water supply
— Flashlights with extra batteries
— Clothes
— First aid kit with supply of any prescription medication used regularly
— Sanitation supplies
— Important documents
— Spare reading glasses
— Cash, credit cards
— Kids toys, games, feeding items (young children need to be distracted and made at ease)

Weapons: If you possess any then this is an ideal room to keep your weapons safe and handy in case of need.

Construction of a Safe Room

When: Ideally a safe room is built at the time of construction of the house. When doing so the key is to limit how many people know the exact purpose of the room, so you can name it something else in the blueprints.

In an existing house, wall-cupboards, store rooms, bathrooms and cellars are often converted into safe rooms. Security providers can advise you on which room would best serve your need and how to fortify it.

Purpose: If the sole purpose is to keep you safe from intruders then a room that can hold you for about an hour or two at the most is suitable. If it’s flooding that you seek protection from then an elevated room offers better protection than a basement one, which is best for hurricanes and storms. Think this through, based on what’s more common to the area you reside in.

While safe rooms are common in residences, it is not unheard of that organisations construct, convert or even maintain some areas on their property to serve the same purpose.

Norbert Almeida is a safety & security advisor.


Twitter: @norbalm


Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 8th, 2015

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