Panic Rooms and Home Protection

by Becky BlantonMay 11, 2016

Whether you want to protect your family from a zombie apocalypse, a tornado or home invaders the best time to install a bomb shelter, panic or “safe” room in your home is during its initial construction. But if you’re buying a home it’s still possible to create a very good shelter in an existing room or closet, or somewhere on your property.
Image of house design with attic and basement

What is a Safe or Panic Room?

Safe rooms, also called “panic rooms,” are reinforced rooms, closets or spaces in a home. These are spaces where the homeowners or family can retreat to in case of a home invasion, a tornado, a fire or biological attack or any event that threatens the safety of the home’s occupants. The room protects the person or persons in it until law enforcement or other help can arrive, or until invaders leave. The Department of Justice Emergency Preparedness manual states, “Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide for up to five hours”.

What Do They Cost?

High end, high tech panic rooms can cost as much as $500,000, although many lower tech, but effective rooms can be built for $50,000 or less. On the low end you can do-it-yourself for between $3,000 and $10,000, but make sure you investigate construction methods before you start. A good safe room can add to a home’s value, doubling what you invest in it. Plus, it might one day save your life.

Who Needs One?

“People think the only homes that home invaders target are those of drug dealers,” says Lawrence Kane, author of The Big Bloody Book of Violence: The Smart Person’s Guide to Surviving Dangerous Times. An IT specialist for Boeing by day, Kane is a best-selling author of 16 books on personal safety and martial arts, and a martial arts instructor in his spare time.

“Today’s home invasion victim may be someone who just bought a new car and a criminal follows them home. Or, they may be an average couple or family with kids who are buying or selling pot and a dealer or buyer follows them home. It could be a car mechanic, or a parking valet who clones your house key; or someone who just thinks you have money for any reason.”
Image of burglar breaking a kitchen window
“They’re probably more popular now,” Kane said, “Because burglars know that it’s easier and less of a problem for them to kill you than let you live, and home owners are starting to get that message.”

Why You Should Consider Installing a Safe Room

The average burglary lasts 5-15 minutes. Invasions can last for hours or days.

“A home invasion is a deliberate attack on a home and the occupants. Folks who perpetrate these crimes are armed far more often than not and they want you home when they come knocking. Home invasions tend to occur with extreme violence, especially during the initial stages where the goal is to overwhelm, capture, and render you helpless to resist,” Kane said. “From there you risk being beaten, raped, or murdered. A safe room can literally mean the difference between life and death.”

A Good Location

If you’re building a safe room in your home, look for a windowless room or walk-in closet that is easily and quickly accessible from the most used room in the house. If your family is most likely to be gathered in a family room, dining room, or den, then make sure the safe room is close to that area.

It’s a good idea to have a safe room on every floor of the house, even if all you can afford is a steel door and steel doorframe and a grade 1 deadbolt lock. Every minute you can delay or deter an invader while calling 911 is a plus. Also, home invaders tend to come through a front or back door, so make sure you don’t have to pass those doors to get to your safe room.
Image of house with basement with bathroom and living area
“While kicking in a door or breaking a lock is not uncommon, attackers can operate with subterfuge too. They might simply knock on your front door and then rush in when you open it,” Kane says. To avoid that, never open your door to a stranger. Have a word or phrase you can yell to alert other family members that they need to run to the safe room. Have a plan about what to do in case of a home invasion.

You don’t have to build in a special panic room. Existing bathrooms, closets, dens or bedrooms can be converted into safe rooms by swapping out hollow-core doors with solid ones, replacing wood door frames with metal, and replacing sheet rock or drywall with several layers of inch or thicker plywood that can’t be easily breached with an axe. The size of the room matters only in that it can hold the number of people who are usually in a home – from one person to the entire family.

What You’ll Need Inside

Good communications, usually an underground phone line, a portable toilet, water, and basic medical supplies, including any medications you may need over a 12-hour period, are all you generally need in a safe room. “You’ll want a weapons rack, too because let’s face it, if you’re in a safe room, something bad is happening.
Image of basement Interior design
“Comfort, like a cot or chair so you don’t have to sit on the floor, is nice,” Kane said. If you’re going to be there for a natural disaster you’ll want more, like food.”

For safety from a nuclear or biological attack long-term protection is necessary.

“One of the challenges with home invasion robberies is that they tend to happen at night with surprise and overwhelming force. But, if the bad guys can’t find an unlocked door they may kick one in or break a window, either of which will alert you to their presence.

“Don’t be scared, but do be prepared,” Kane said. “If you’re aware of what’s going on around you at all times, and have a plan for various scenarios, you’re usually 100% better off than the guy next door.”


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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.