Taking a look around the world – and even beyond it – will tell you there are a lot of things out there that can threaten your safety.
Whether they be natural events like bad weather, natural disasters, solar flares, possible ET impacts, or man-made threats like a home invasion, civil unrest, dirty bombs, etc.. there has always been and always will be something that people want or need protection from.
The first and best way to protect yourself is to not be where the problem is. When this is unavoidable, you may need a shelter to provide physical protection, and that is what a safe room is for.
This isn’t a DIY article with step-by-step instructions for building your own safe room. Instead, I will be discussing things you need to know when planning to build a safe room yourself (or if you decide to hire it out). These considerations include:
- What is a safe room?
- A Safe Room vs. Bunker vs. Safe House
- What Do You Need Protection From?
- How Big Is Your Group?
- Choosing a Location
- What Should Be In A Safe Room?
Safe Room Considerations
What is a safe room?
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “A safe room is a room or structure specifically designed to resist wind pressures and wind-borne debris impacts during an extreme wind event like tornados and hurricanes for the purpose of providing life-safety protection.”
So, it’s a room that keeps you safe from external threats, got it.
A safe room is also sometimes referred to as a “panic room.” No matter what you call it, it’s a safe space for small children or anyone seeking protection from a threat.
Safe Room vs. Bunker
One of the things to keep in mind is that a safe room is different than a bunker.
Generally speaking, a bunker will be larger, more hardened, and have more resources in order to allow the inhabitants to stay inside for longer durations. Also, bunkers tend to be underground, rather than above ground, and are usually stand-alone structures.
A safe room, on the other hand, is typically much smaller than a bunker and is meant to provide short-term protection from say, a storm or maybe a home intrusion. They tend to be built above ground, but they can be underground as well. A safe room can be a stand-alone structure, but they are often built within an existing home or structure or attached to it.
What Do You Need Protection From?
Now, that we know what a safe room is, the first question that you need to answer is: “What do I need protection from?”
I think many people have this idea that a safe room will protect them from anything and everything. I’m sure there is a design out there that protects against a wide range of threats, but I’m also sure there is a chink it is armor, and it probably costs a ton of money.
I think the key takeaway from FEMA’s definition of a safe room is that it is a room or structure specifically designed to provide protection from a certain threat. A safe room will certainly provide protection against a variety of threats as a byproduct of its design, but you need to start with what its primary purpose is.
Do you want to be protected from high winds, flooding, fire, contaminated air, earthquakes, biohazards, radiation, home invasion, etc.? Once you have answered this question, you can move on to the next question that needs to be answered.
How Big Is Your Group?
Is the safe room just for you, your family members, or a group of people? Knowing the answer to this question is important for two reasons:
The first, is that the size of your group will dictate the size of the safe room. You can’t cram ten people into a room the size of a standard bathroom and expect everything to be okay. There needs to be a certain number of square feet per person, depending on the duration of the stay.
Secondly, the size of your group will dictate the number of supplies, amount of fresh air needed, and energy requirements supplied to the room.
Choosing a Location
Okay, you know what you want to be protected from and the size of you group. Now you can start deciding on where you want the safe room to be located. Location can play a huge role in the overall effectiveness of the room.
Generally speaking, one of the best places to find protection against a variety of threats is underground. However, if your concern is to be protected from major flooding, then a room installed underground may not be the best option. Or, a safe room that is located on the second story of a home and is not secured to the foundation, won’t be as effective when battling extreme winds in Tornado Alley.
Part of choosing the location will be determining if the safe room will be brand new construction that is added on to an existing structure, or if you will be converting an existing room or space, which means it will be a part of your existing home construction plans.
Another consideration is how many safe rooms do you want? This may seem like an odd question. At first, you may be thinking why would I need more than one? Well, if you live or work in a particularly large structure, having multiple safe rooms will increase your chances of getting to safety in a timely manner.
This also applies to multilevel structures. Ideally, a home or a structure with more than one level would have a safe room on each level. This reduces the risk of you not being able to get to the safe room when a dangerous situation occurs.
Building Materials and Setup
Putting a bunch of supplies into a room and calling it a safe room is about the easiest route you can take, but it may not keep you very safe.
To get the most out of a safe room you should be thinking about two main characteristics:
- Construction Materials
How strong a room is comes back, in part, to its location. Think back to the previous example of a safe room located on the second floor of a home in Tornado Alley. Even a regular room located on the first floor or basement will be vulnerable to breaching by high winds, flying debris and the weight of rubble or falling debris, should the structure collapse.
Building materials are going to play a huge role in the safe room’s ability to protect people. When done right, construction materials are going to be expensive, but inferior materials won’t be as good at protecting you from things like severe weather or a home invasion.
Dry wall, for example will provide minimum protection from flying debris or even a person who is determined to get through it.
However, if the same room has a concrete slab (or is attached to the home’s foundation), exterior walls made from steel sheeting or concrete, reinforced concrete, concrete blocks, steel sheathing, and/or metal doors, then the room will provide a higher level of personal protection.
Doors are another part that need to be chosen carefully. A safe room will most likely only have one way in and out, but it could have two. Points of entry need to be carefully considered, because a door is not just a door:
Is there a proper seal around the door that offers protection against contaminated air?
Is the door securely anchored to the frame?
Will you be able to lock the door? If so, are the door locks electronic, keyed, or manual?
Is the door sturdy enough to withstand external forces, forced entry, or possibly fire?
This reminds me of a time that I had a spare and damaged hollow wood door lying around. Another person saw this door and asked if they could have it. I didn’t care, but out of curiosity I asked what it was for.
They needed a new door for their walk-in closet, and they happened to store valuables inside. I told them that it wasn’t strong enough for that purpose, but they didn’t care because they were going to be installing a bunch of locks.
I asked him if he was serious about this project, to which he responded, “Of course!”
I promptly punched a hole in the door and said: “Then don’t use a hollow door.”
A safe room may also need to be able to provide some basic necessities that all people need. Air, for example.
At a minimum, you will want to make sure the safe room has an intake for fresh air. However, depending on what external hazards you are concerned with, the room may also need a filtration system that can deal with contaminated air.
The room may also require a source of power if you want lighting, a camera system, security monitors, communications, temperature regulation, air filters, etc. Don’t forget plumbing if you are wanting a fresh water supply or the means to handle sanitation issues.
What Should Be In A Safe Room?
At this point, you have everything about your safe room figured out. You know what you want it to protect you from, its size, where you want it, and what materials you want it built from.
Now its time to put supplies into the safe room. What you put in the safe room/ panic room is up to you and what you think you will need or want. Below is a list of items that should be a part of a home emergency kit:
- First aid kit (for boo boos)
- Trauma kit (for serious injuries)
- Duct tape
- Extra batteries
- Fresh water supply
- Composting toilet (or any means to deal with human waste)
- Heavy duty contractor garbage bags
- Store nonperishable food items (don’t forget a can opener)
- Defensive tools
- Ail filtration
- Cell phone and other communication devices such an an emergency radio
- Emergency signal whistle
- Pillows and blankets (it may get cold, and you don’t want to lay on a concrete floor)
- Flashlights and lanterns
- Important documentation and valuables
How Much Do Safe Rooms Cost?
When you are considering construction plans for a safe room, there is one question that will always come up:
“How much is this going to cost?”
A professionally built safe room/panic room can cost thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of dollars. But honestly, it will cost you as much or as little as you want.
If you have an interior room in your home, it can be considered your safe room. While it may not be as strong as a storm shelter construction or a professionally built safe room, it will provide some protection.
Another affordable route for a DIY safe room/DIY panic room is to use a basement if your home has one. I know, a basement is one of those places that sometimes ends up being a catch all storage space, but it can be a pretty darn secure location.
A basement is a great structure to use because much of it (the basement walls) is in ground, and that provides a lot of protection. Not to mention that a basement is an existing room, so that saves you money.
Basement walls (part of the foundation) are almost always concrete walls, concrete blocks, or possibly reinforced concrete.
The floor is almost always a concrete slab, at least in new construction, an older existing home may be different.
If the basement doesn’t have any rooms and you want to build a safe room, it’s not terribly difficult to put up a wood frame, maybe use some concrete board with concrete block, or you could even learn how to put up a few more concrete walls with reinforced concrete.
Safe Room vs. a Safe House
I’m not going to dive too much into this idea, but I did want to mention it. When you are thinking about a safe room/panic room in regards to an intruder, the room is great for small children or anyone that may not be able to handle such a situation.
But retreating to a small space without many exits may not be a great idea, and it can work against you.
A safe room/panic room is fine, but I would suggest looking into making a safe house. Without getting into too much detail, this involves hardening all points of entry and egress (which will make the home more difficult to enter), investing in security features, implementing a security procedures, and developing a security plan for dealing with threats once they are inside.
Safe Room Pros and Cons
- Protect people
- Protect valuables
- Can be customized
- Provides protection from a specific threat or variety of threats
- A safe room/panic room can become a trap
- You will need to seek permission from the property owners if you rent
- Can be costly
Can a safe room have windows?
In case you were wondering, it’s not a great idea for a safe room to have windows. Yes, it provides a means of egress, but during severe weather, its a source of broken glass and an easy entry point for flying debris or bad guys. Windows generally don’t make a safe room a safe space.
A safe room or a panic room or a storm shelter – whatever you want to call it – can be a lifesaving investment because it can help protect you from a natural disaster, storm surge, severe weather, home invasion, and a variety of other threats.
Whether you choose to build a DIY safe room or have a contractor build a safe room for you, I hope this article will help you create a secure space for protecting valuables and that which is most precious to you, your family.
Thanks for reading, and stay prepared.