How to Turn Any Room in Your House Into a Panic Room

How to Turn Any Room in Your House Into a Panic Room

It’s well-established that the best way to survive disasters and emergencies is to have a plan for dealing with them—yet most of us don’t. Mitigating the harm from events like home invasions or natural disasters like a tornado or hurricane starts with having a plan. This usually involves knowing your escape routes and having a “go bag” and other evacuation necessities.

But what if you can’t get out of the house for some reason? Whether it’s bad guys breaking in or an extreme weather event that makes escape impossible, if you have to shelter in place, it’s a good idea to have a safe room (sometimes called a panic room) that you can retreat to during an emergency. When you think of a “panic room” you probably think of paranoid wealthy folks, but a safe room in your house is just a secure, provisioned space where you can ride out an emergency. You don’t need a lot of money to create one, either: Here’s how to set up a safe room in your house so you’ll be protected no matter what’s happening outside.

The best location for a home’s safe room

The ideal way to have a safe room in the house is to include one during construction, and you can even buy a prebuilt kit that can be installed in a garage or outside the house. But if you’re already living in the house and don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spare, creating a DIY safe room begins with choosing the right existing room in your home. A few things to consider:

  • Access. On the one hand, a potential safe room in your house should have a single point of entry. This makes it easier to fortify against intrusion. On the other hand, you need to be able to access the space quickly and easily during an emergency.
  • Structure. An ideal DIY safe room is an interior room without windows (if possible). Since it will serve as a storm shelter, it’s best to choose a basement or ground floor location—but consider what’s above it. The National Weather Service notes that if you pick a spot with heavy items above it, a catastrophic storm could cause those items to crash down on top of you.
  • Resources. You may spend a long time sheltering in a safe room, so consider your access to water, electricity, and communications. While you can (and should) keep emergency supplies like water, food, and a first aid kit and medicine in your safe room, also make sure you can get a phone or Internet signal in the space, and consider keeping a charged power station there so you can charge your devices and power other things like lights during a power outage. You might also consider having a spare pre-paid cell phone located in there, in case you forget your phone when racing away from danger, or have a traditional landline installed.

Taking these points into consideration, some potential safe room locations include bathrooms, closets, or a separate room located in the basement.

How to make your safe room more physically secure

Once you’ve selected a location, the next step is to strengthen the space against natural disaster and the possibility of intruders trying to gain access. This isn’t as complicated as it seems—there are just a few basic considerations:

  • Doors. Replacing a standard, flimsy interior door with a steel security door is a must. Most interior doors—especially those on bathrooms or closets—aren’t intended to withstand any sort of force at all. You want the door to open outward to make it harder to break down, and make sure you also upgrade the door frame to a steel one, because a door is only as strong as the frame that holds it. This can cost you anywhere from $500 to $1,000 if you do it yourself, and can range up to $3,000 if you hire someone.
  • Windows. If you can’t locate your Safe Room someplace without windows, you can still reinforce the windows. One simple way to strengthen windows is with security film, which makes it much harder to break a window and usually costs less than $100. This is just a plastic film you can easily adhere to the window—it takes just a few minutes to apply. You should also install security locks—or consider installing bullet- and blast-resistant windows if you’re feeling extra apocalyptical.
  • Walls and ceilings. If your safe room is located in an interior closet or bath, chances are the walls and ceilings are just wood framing and drywall, which don’t offer much protection. You can do a few things to strengthen existing walls. First: panels. You can go all out and sheath your walls with bullet-resistant fiberglass wall panels, or simply attach plywood sheathing over the existing drywall to increase its strength. You can also install the plywood under the drywall for a more finished look. Next: framing. If you can, replacing the standard 2 x 4 framing of the interior walls with thicker framing can make the walls much more resistant to any sort of intrusion or damage. You can also space your studs more narrowly, which will make the walls more rigid and offer fewer voids for penetration of debris or tools. Keep in mind that if you thicken the walls and ceiling, you should test your communications to ensure adequate signals can still penetrate into the space.

What kind of tech does your safe room need?

Once you’ve chosen your safe room, hardened it as much as possible, and provisioned it with supplies, you should consider how you can augment your safety and security with some technology. A simple home security camera system will keep you informed about conditions outside the safe room, for example. An alarm system that’s hooked up to local law enforcement and emergency services can automatically alert them the moment you enter the safe room (assuming it’s not being used in other ways). And finally, you might want to consider storing personal protection in your safe room just in case—the worst-case scenario, having something with which to defend yourself might be very useful.

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