You’ve likely seen them featured in Hollywood blockbusters. Secret rooms, also known as “safe rooms” or “panic rooms,” can be used to hide yourself, your valuables and, most importantly, your loved ones during a disaster or a home-invasion-type situation. Surprisingly enough, they’re nothing new. Safe rooms were all the rage in Victorian homes, which often touted hidden chambers and secret passages. However, these covert features got phased out over the decades, with builders looking to cut costs and maximize floor plans. Nevertheless, if the idea of having a secret place to which you can retreat should something go bump in the night appeals to you, you can retrofit your home to meet your needs.
What Is a Safe Room?
Designed to hide you and your family during an emergency, a safe room is a safe haven hidden away in your home. Only accessible if you know where it is, the space will keep you out of harm’s reach if a home invasion occurs. The room doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be large enough to comfortably fit members of your household in an emergency. All in all, an effective safe room is hidden in plain sight and easily accessed if you know how.
Options for Safe Rooms
If you take a look around your home, you may find the perfect spot for your situation. Just make sure that wherever you choose, you can get there quickly and quietly in a crisis. Depending on the size of your home, there are several options for making a safe room.
This modern marvel can be readily converted into a safe room. If it’s properly staged, you wouldn’t even know it was there. A Murphy-style door at the entrance can fool an intruder into thinking it’s simply a built-in bookshelf — but behind that door, safety awaits. If you’d like to keep some of your closet space for clothes and not commit to using all of your walk-in for a safe room, you can quickly and inexpensively frame out a false wall in your closet, making your safe room behind that wall. A properly placed shoe cabinet is good camouflage in front of the entrance. It can be moved easily, and since it belongs in a closet, it doesn’t look out of place. Even better, put the item on hinges or rollers so it can be easily moved by anyone in your household.
Under the Stairs
In many homes, there is a small area under the staircase to the second floor that can make for a perfect safe room. (Have you seen the movie Harry Potter? While Harry’s room under the stairs at his uncle’s house wasn’t very homey, it would have made for a perfect safe room.) A Murphy-style door or bookcase in front of the opening will be the perfect way to hide the entrance. While the room may not be full height, you will be able to sit comfortably and securely there while waiting for the police to arrive.
A home invader isn’t going to check the plans on your house to see if it’s a two- or three-bedroom dwelling before breaking in. If you have a room that would work, you can replace the door with a Murphy-style door or large, framed wall mural on a hinge. There’s nothing stopping you from using that room every day and making it dual-purpose if you need to. You’ll know it’s there, but a criminal will likely run straight past it during a heist.
Making Safety Accessible
Once you find the floorspace that you can dedicate to your safe room, you’ll need a way to access it. It can be as easy as an inset-hinged bookcase that looks to your guests (invited or not) no different than a built-in bookcase. Other ideas to hide the entrance to your safe room include a long, decorative wall mirror or other wall-hanging on hinges or rollers, either of which can be blended into its surroundings. Take inspiration from Hollywood; there are plenty of movies featuring safe rooms.
Hardening Your Retreat
Depending on your budget, you may want to consider hardening your room. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure that if someone does discover the access point, he or she still won’t be able to get in. A deadbolted metal door that is locked from the inside will add to the soundness of your room. Often a safe room will have more than one lock, so don’t feel limited to a single deadbolt.
Soundproofing can dampen any noise from inside, but it can be expensive to install. An easy and inexpensive (even free) method is to install egg cartons on the walls. Acoustically, it won’t block all noise, but it will lessen it. This is especially important if you have small kids who may be hard to keep quiet. The cartons are far from perfect, but they’re an accessible option until you can source some acoustic tiles.
If possible and reasonable, make sure there’s more between you and the intruder than a few pieces of standard Sheetrock. In a pinch, chicken wire can be secured to the walls, but metal sheeting is even better. Making the space difficult to get into if it’s found might buy you the time you need until the police arrive.
Once you’ve decided on a space for your safe room, you’ll need to make it functional. A safe room isn’t designed to accommodate you for days on end, but if you’re prepared, you’ll be able to comfortably stay there until after law enforcement has secured the scene. Depending on where you live, it could be minutes, or it could be hours.
Firearms: You’ll want to be armed. A shotgun makes a great gun for home defense, but a pistol may work better, as it may be easier to wield in the confines of your safe room. Keeping several firearms and spare ammunition secured in your safe room will give you an advantage over just hiding because you’ll have the option of fighting back should you be discovered. Store enough ammunition for at least one reload of each firearm you’re staging in there and ensure that everyone in your household is proficient with whatever arms you plan on stocking.
Charged Cellphone: You know that older model you have laying around just in case your current cellphone meets an untimely death? Yeah, that one. Keep it charged and put it in your safe room along with the appropriate charging cord. Even if it’s not active on your plan from your carrier, it probably still has the ability to make an emergency SOS call, and you may need it to dial 911 should you have to retreat to your safe room during an emergency. Check with your cellular carrier first if you want to ensure your older model phone will work for emergencies. Obviously, a current cellphone is your best bet; it’s probably never out of reach these days. But just in case you get caught without it, stash that older model in your safe room and keep it ready to go.
Power Bank: This will ensure you can charge your phone if the battery drops quickly, especially if you’re using an outdated smartphone as your backup for a 911 call. You can use the power bank to charge other electronics as well, especially if you have a rechargeable flashlight or other small electronics on hand in your room. In fact, your safe room is a great place to store all of your charged power banks. You’ll know where they are at a moment’s notice, and you’ll have more than one if you need one in any type of emergency.
Battery-Operated Lighting: You’ll want a light source, especially in the event that the power is out or gets disturbed by an intruder. Tactical flashlights are durable options that can be effective as light sources and striking tools. Battery-operated and rechargeable lanterns found in the camping sections of big-box stores are inexpensive and throw a decent amount of light. Amazon and other online stores also sell inexpensive options that throw enough light to keep you illuminated in your safe room. Remember that candles are less than ideal because of the risk of fire and, depending on your specific circumstance, carbon monoxide exposure.
Food and Water: The goal is not to stay in the safe room for days on end, but you’ll still want to be as comfortable as possible, and food and water will help — especially if you have children to whom you’ll be tending. Shelf-stable food that you know doesn’t disagree with anyone in the residence is your best bet. Keep enough on hand to help you keep your energy up (and any “hanger” under control) until help arrives.
Medical Supplies: Small quantities of prescription medications can be stored in original pill bottles labeled from the pharmacy. Other over-the-counter options for headaches, bumps and bruises may also come in handy. A good first-aid kit and an actual trauma kit equipped with a tourniquet would also be beneficial in the event of any injuries.
Not Just For Home Invasions
Because a basic safe room is generally hidden and therefore has no windows, it may be your go-to location in other emergencies as well. If you give it some thought when you plan and create your setup, it can also be your shelter location in case of a tornado, a hurricane or another mother-nature-related incident. If you live in an area where storms are prevalent, that information can inform how you stock your room. Batteries, food and water stored ahead of time will help keep you comfortable at 3 a.m. when you get jolted out of bed with that tornado warning. After all, it’s called a “safe room” for a reason, right? Make sure you design it and stock it accordingly, regardless of what causes you to seek shelter in it.
The Sky’s The Limit
Your new safe room can also make a great place to store guns out of guests’ and children’s reach. After all, with all of the planning, building and stocking you’ve done, a safe room is basically like a big walk-in gun safe. Whatever your safe room ends up being, with some forethought and investment, you can help ensure your family’s safety during an emergency.