Safe rooms are hardened structures built within a home to protect the occupants from either extreme weather events, WMDs or criminal assault. Safe rooms are not to be confused with storm shelters accessible only by passage outside the home. Storm shelters may serve an identical purpose, but a safe room’s location within the living quarters and its immediate accessibility is a major advantage because home invaders, kidnappers and assassins don’t make advance reservations. In short, the safe room is the homeowner’s last stand.

Shelters designed for protection against natural disasters are generally less elaborate and involve different considerations than those used as a citadel against home invaders. Location outside the home is sometimes preferred, and provisions to protect against flooding, fire or wind will drive the location and design. Consult FEMA publication 320, “Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room in Your House.” Funding through FEMA is also available for certain storm shelters.

Unlike storm shelters, the existence and design of a safe room built to stop a criminal attack should be kept completely secret. Safe rooms should be noted as “mechanical” or “utility” rooms on design plans filed with the municipality’s building department, and security features should be added after construction and codes compliance inspection is completed. Where rooms require work that gives obvious hints of target hardening, such as tunnels, excavation or interior concrete, it’s advisable to only hire out-of-town firms and fabricate a plausible cover story such as building a wine cellar. Designers and builders with a need to know should sign confidentiality agreements.

Don’t buy into the illusion that a safe room is invincible. It isn’t, and other means to secure your castle should be employed. Moreover, a safe room only works according to plan if everyone in your household can access it quickly and it holds long enough until police arrive or the threat aborts its attack. Ideally, the room will make you secure and in control during an attack, but what’s ideal isn’t always realistic.

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