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Should You Have a Safe Room in Your Home?


Around the year 2000, the concept of panic (or “safe”) rooms gained the attention of the news media. The concept of specially fortified safe areas within the home even resulted in the production of the 2002 film Panic Room.

By definition, a panic room is a fortified room installed in a private residence or business designed to provide a safe haven from home invasions, natural disasters or, after 9/11, potential terrorist attacks. Top-end panic rooms can be quite elaborate — and expensive.

Been There, Done That

The idea of a fortified safe room is nothing new. I grew up during the Cold War, and the panic room of that time was called a “fallout shelter.” Fallout shelters weren’t designed to shield a family from a direct nuclear blast but rather protect them from radioactive dust that would settle over an area many miles from an atomic blast. Fallout shelters could be found in the basements of many public buildings and were stocked with food, water and survival supplies. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my parents stocked food and water in the basement of our home — without further modifications — in case of a nuclear attack. Other people who could afford to do so made more elaborate changes to their homes by building actual bomb shelters.

Today’s panic rooms exist to help defend those who, because they are either unable or unwilling to potentially take a human life, can’t defend themselves against a criminal attack. The idea of creating this space in your home to hide from intruders while they loot your home just doesn’t seem right to me. A castle with no defenders is no castle at all. I believe it is best to take direct action.

A More Effective Home-Defense Plan

But there is a happy medium to be found between having no defensible safe area in your home and building a reinforced room for many thousands of dollars. Here are some simple steps to help you create an affordable space that enhances your defensive security.

  1. Have a layered home-defense plan. Without sounding like a broken record, your first layer of defense is an alarm system and/or a loud dog. This pares down the number of criminal offenders willing to attempt entry.
  2. Select a particular room in your home that serves as a rallying point. The most important thing we have in our home is our son. His room, directly across from ours, is our rallying point. The plan is for me to be the outer line of armed defense for that room, taking a position in the hallway. My wife will take an armed position in the room with our son. Once in position, she can call 911 on her cellphone. If things go south, they can escape through the bedroom windows.
  3. If you wish to reinforce a bedroom more, you can add a deadbolt lock and sturdier door and frame. This deepens your security layers.

Space limits me to discussing that which we fear most — being startled out of a sound sleep by something that goes bump in the night. Make sure that you have a layered defensive system in place before you hear it.

About Scott W. Wagner

Scott W. Wagner has been a law enforcement officer since 1980, working undercover in liquor and narcotics investigations and as a member, sniper and assistant team leader of a SWAT team. He currently works as a patrol sergeant. He is a police firearms instructor, certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. Scott also works as a criminal justice professor and police academy commander.

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