Saferooms: Keeping Families Safe At Home

July 2, 2019
Residential saferooms serve as areas of refuge in the case of home invasions or weather emergencies

An accepted definition of a residential saferoom is a room built or modified to withstand an all-out assault by home invaders, whether burglars, terrorists, stalkers, or would-be kidnappers. Some are constructed to withstand high winds from hurricanes or tornadoes, or to protect against chemical or biological agents or radiation.

There are so many possible scenarios where we might want to designate rooms, areas, compartments, etc. as somewhere we can retreat to in defense against a perceived, forecasted or actual danger.

Since our business is locks and security, life safety, and protection of property, a familiarity with the topic clearly ought to be in your wheelhouse if a customer approaches you for your recommendations and suggestions for a safe room for their home, school or business.

We may wish to protect our lives and our property, and we consider that there may be little or no warning.

The dichotomy between burglaries and robberies; home invasions and active shooter events is interesting and offers the opportunity to have an informative and in-depth discussion of these topics their differences and their commonalities and the spectrum of actions and reactions.

Ideas presented here are pretty much unfiltered. Ideas gleaned from government sites and private entities may be tempered so they do not expose themselves to accusations that, for an example, they got the idea for the alligator pit to catch burglars from you.

Also many individuals are troubled by the gun issue, and do not want to own a gun, and cannot imagine shooting someone. Others insist on keeping a loaded gun within reach. Some folks view it as a hobby, collecting guns and needing secure storage for them.

This article is intended to stimulate thought and help us work as a team towards keeping our families and our customers informed and safer.

Defined as unlawful forced entry into a home, home invasions often make the news, especially where violent criminals gain entry into a premises while the family is home. Sometimes the homeowners can evade the attackers by escaping or seeking refuge in their safe room.

Home invasions and home robberies are taking place more and more in the suburbs. Home invasions can end in beatings, rape, and murder.

Here are several tips for making it out alive and even how to avoid being targeted for a home invasion in the first place.

Make your home look like a “hard target” not “easy pickings.”

Security experts recommend having a code word that when said (or shouted) tells one another to run for the safe room. It can be a simple word such as "ESCAPE" or a simple phrase, "GET TO SAFETY."

Make sure that young children have your home address memorized, as they may have to provide it when calling 9-1-1 if you are unable to place the call.

Consider having a "pump" shot-gun as back up or even your go-to firearm. It's said that the well-familiar sound of a pump shotgun being "pumped" (loaded), can put fear into intruders. I was given this advice by Nassau County Policemen when I asked what they recommended for home defense.

Whether you are armed or not, stay in your safe room until police arrive.

Here's another item to keep in your safe room, for this purpose: a bullhorn. With your bull-horn, you can speak through the door, shouting, "I have a gun and I'll shoot. Leave the house immediately. This is your final warning. The police have been called. My neighbors are being notified." Continue to repeat these words.

Unless they've heard gun shots or know you're inside the home, invaders may not realize that you're in your safe room while they go through the rest of your home, collecting valuables.

A majority of offenders head straight to the master bedroom. Many homeowners leave their most valuable items (cash, jewelry, and weapons) in the master bedroom.

If your bedroom is not properly provisioned, it may not be the best place for your saferoom.

If tornadoes or weather are a concern, upper floors are not the safest parts of your home. In the event of a fire, being at or near ground level is also an advantage.

There are many elements to safety besides protecting you from burglars, including keeping dangerous possessions such as tools, guns and medications out of reach of children and visitors and alerting you of fire smoke and gasses, making it possible for you to safely escape quickly.

A good way to keep yourself safe during a home invasion is a safe room. The best way to keep your stuff safe (during either a burglary or a home invasion) is to have a safe in your home. That safe may well be inside the safe room.

There are situations where the object of the invasion is not property but people. Are you or a family member in that category?

There are specialists who know how to address these situations and we will introduce you to an expert later in this article.

There's no foolproof way to prevent a home invasion. Here are a few more tips which may help keep criminals away.

  • Use an alarm system with a panic button that makes a lot of noise when triggered.
  • Always make your home look occupied.
  • Leave lights on and the exterior manicured.
  • Don't leave mail stacked up in the mailbox.
  • Lock all doors and windows, including the garage door.
  • Test all locks on windows and doors periodically.
  • Keep valuables stored out of sight.

Keep cellphones with you and in your safe room. Make sure they will work even after every wire, cable, dish, and powerline has been sabotaged.  

Invest in several canisters of police strength pepper spray and store in areas of your home that can be quickly accessed in an emergency

Safe rooms and areas of refuge are reminiscent of the bomb shelters that were ubiquitous during my youth. People had them in their basements, schools had them, and public buildings and mass transportation, like New York subways also had the classic yellow signage to remind us where we all should go to die in the event the Big One was dropped on us.

Since you cannot be sure exactly if or when it’s going to happen, experts do not offer lengthy sets of instructions on how to react.

However there are certain measures that you can consider and share for yourself, your family and with your customers.

Authorities say to remember during an active shooting to RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.

Make a Plan

Make a plan with your family, and ensure everyone knows what they would do, if confronted with a home invasion or a natural event like a hurricane or tornado.

Have an escape path in mind, taking into account individuals with disabilities or other access and functional needs.

Sign up to receive local emergency alerts and register your work and personal contact information with any work sponsored alert system.

Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers.

During An Emergency

Call 911

HIDE in your safe room, if escape is not possible.

Set off a loud alarm

Lock and block doors, close blinds, and turn off lights.

Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all clear.

Using weapons is an absolute last resort, but if you are licensed and trained, make sure you can access them.

An area of refuge is a location in a building designed to hold occupants during a fire or other emergency, when evacuation may not be safe or possible. Occupants can wait there until rescued or relieved by firefighters. This can apply to the following: any persons who cannot access a safe escape route or who is assisting another person who is prevented from escaping,  patients, disabled persons, elderly/very young children or infants and critical mission on duty personnel in hospitals nuclear sites, prisons.

A saferoom is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide near-absolute protection in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built in accordance with FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.

To be considered a FEMA safe room, the structure must be designed and constructed to the guidelines specified in  FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business  and FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms. For more information on residential safe room doors, please download the Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors Fact Sheet:

Below are some of the safe room products on the marketplace.

Safes for the Saferoom

It seems to make sense that if you are going to have a saferoom, there be a safe in it.

GARDALL products include a complete line of safes including fire safes, gun safes, commercial safes, wall mounted concealed safes, media safes, high security safes, depository safes, concealed in-floor safes and jewelry safes

GARDALL safes are available with a wide selection of locks, including mechanical combination and the latest electronic locks.

For safe room applications GARDALL’s Ed Baroody suggests:

“Our  Model 1812/2-G-C which is a  2 Hour Burglary/Fire safe that is 100% Made In America and our Model FB2013-G-C which is our 1 Hour Burglary/Fire safe, which also comes with a wooden 2 or 4 shelf interior.  Both safes are pictured and described on our website (”

AMSEC Vault Doors

AMSEC’s vault doors are a solid option for saferooms as well. They come with a Safety Lock Release feature, which allows occupants to safely exit the vault room from inside. It also allows them to close and lock the door from the inside when equipped with an electronic lock, turning a vault into a safe room.

Additional standard features include:

Standard Features

  • 2″ thick door offers a defense barrier constructed of a 1/2″ steel plate filled with a fire insulation material that provides a barrier against extreme heat.
  • U.L. Listed Group II Lock with massive hard plate and two relocking devices.
  • Spy-proof key-locking dial with matching five-spoke handle, pull handle and bold zinc die-cast logo. Available in polished brass, chrome or black nickel finish.
  • 10 massive 1½” chrome-plated bolts.
  • Commercial grade, vault door hinges.
  • 2 Stage dual fire seals with silicone seal on door jamb and expandable Palusol™ seal on door.
  • Adjustable door frame slides together to fit a wall thickness of 4-3/4″ to 9-3/4″.

Eight models are available, with doors weighing between 505 and 819 pounds.

More Info:

ASSA ABLOY Door Options

ASSA ABLOY companies Curries has partnered with with School Guard GlassTM to offer an Attack Resistant Door Opening designed to delay access from intrusion.

Standard Curries doors and frames equipped with School Guard GlassTM SG5TM attack resistant glazing and SARGENT hardware have been third party tested to withstand a brutal physical attack from an intruder for over four minutes. This extra time keeps occupants safe until first responders can neutralize the threat.

The combination of Curries Door and School Guard Glass provides easy and affordable retro-fitting to tighten the security of existing fire rated and non fire rated openings. Retrofit kits including glass and glazing are also available for non fire rated applications.

The Forced Entry Bullet Resistant Assembly from Curries combines ballistic and forced-entry resistance with advanced materials to provide an elevated threat protection solution compliant and third party tested per stringent Department of State Standard SD-STD-01.01 Rev. G (Amended).

The FEBR assembly is tested to withstand up to 60 minutes of simulated “mob” attack and resistant to 5.56 M193, 5.56 M855 and 7.62 M80 ballistic rounds.

Forced Entry Bullet Resistant Assemblies safeguard mission critical buildings, executive offices, guard houses, control rooms, and anywhere the highest level of protection and durability are important considerations.

Applications include Government Facilities, Guard Houses, Control Rooms and Executive Offices.

CURRIES StormPro® Tornado Resistant Assemblies are designed to withstand debris from tornado-force winds and can help save lives.

The extra heavy duty StormPro® assemblies help to fortify the opening to withstand extreme wind speeds and flying debris during a tornado. StormPro® doors and frame assemblies meet the requirements for fire protection, ICC 500-2014 and FEMA guidelines.

Sustained winds of 130 mph to 250 mph are generally associated with tornados. Building owners in tornado-prone areas must take proper precautions to protect occupants. Damage can be caused by flying debris (referred to as windborne missiles). If wind speeds are high enough, missiles can be propelled at a building with enough force to penetrate windows, walls or the roof.

An object such as a 2" x 4" wood stud weighing 15 pounds, when carried by a 250-mph wind, can have a horizontal speed of 100-mph. The resulting impact force will penetrate the most commonly used building materials.

More Info:

Securitech Saferooms

Mark Berger says: “We have been doing high end saferooms, including one for the mayor of NY since the early 1980s. There’s a way to do this right and wrong. Saferooms are just the logical extension of locking, recognizing that our society has changed.”

An example would be an executive saferoom within a restroom or closet. The following description is from Securitech literature.

“You’ve made it to the top of a Fortune 500 company when you have your own personal washroom as part of your office. No need to step outside your door and chit chat with your subordinates in the common executive washroom – you truly have your own throne. For many, however, this throne includes the modern day equivalent of a moat: the Saferoom. At the first sign of danger, the CEO can race into the bathroom, lock the door and survive an attack in the office.

Many of these saferooms are outfitted with a refrigerator, food supplies and independent communication system. But the most important element is their resistance to forced entry attempts. We have met some very interesting criteria over the years as we have designed locking solutions. These special circumstances have included no visible hardware (not even a cylinder) on the exterior of the door), electric locking from within the room, using magnetic hold opens and door closers for instant locking, even if you were in a position where you could not quickly access the door.

Other interesting designs have allowed there to be a standard door to the bathroom or closet, with a panel containing a concealed multi-point lock which the user would swing over the door in the event of a security situation. Aesthetic concerns have bene met with some interesting solutions as well. A personal favorite is the towel ring which doubles as the turnpiece to project the multi-point deadbolts.”

“We’ve also provided personal protection solutions for politicians,” adds Berger. “The most interesting one still remains the bathroom in the private residence’s master bedroom which includes a pole leading to a lower lever and a waiting limousine. I wonder if the Bat-Suit comes on while sliding down the pole.”

Securitech offers FEMA- certified tornado multi-point locking systems for critical openings. Securitech multi-point locks help secure community shelters and safe rooms as well as other facilities by withstanding tornado wind speeds and flying debris. Securitech was the first windstorm hardware manufacturer to have solutions surpassed both FEMA P-320 and P-361 guidelines to protect the public from extreme wind load and flying debris conditions that result from tornadoes.

Securitech’s Multi-Bolt™5000 is a full function, high security mortise lock. Multi-point mortise locks provide safety and security in one lockset. The traditional lock operation (key, thumbturn or lever retraction) operates all the deadlocks simultaneously.


  • Complete Code Compliance
  • Just one motion retracts all the deadbolts simultaneously
  • Meets ADA & local requirements for single motion exiting
  • 5/8″ Dia. 5″ Long stainless steel vertical deadbolts with 1″ projection
  • Lock body fits into standard ANSI mortise lock preparation
  • Elevated edge plates eliminate need for special preparation in vertically stiffened hollow metal doors
  • Accepts 1 1/4″ length mortise cylinders (standard & High-Security)
  • Exterior lever contains vandal-resistant slip clutch
  • Wide Variety of Standard & Custom Functions to Meet Specific Locking Requirements

More Info:

 Steelcraft Doors

Allegion company Steelcraft offers the Steelcraft Paladin series, a tornado door with a glass light. These patent pending tornado glass light doors provide the critical visibility and safety needed in today’s classrooms, safe rooms, and storm shelters, while allowing natural light to enter the room.

Having the ability to withstand the direct impact of a 15lb 2x4 at over 100mph, the high impact glass lights are compliant with ICC500-2014 and FEMA 361/320 and labeled with ITS/WHI Intertek labels for tornado resistance.

Options include fire rating to 90 minutes for vision and ADA compliant narrow lights. Lights are factory installed to control quality and dependability of your life-safety product. These lights can be ordered in any PW Series Door in a 3-sided frame.


·        Labeled with ITS/WHI Intertek ICC500-2014 / FEMA 361/320 tornado label

·        Labeled with ITS/WHI Intertek fire label up

·        to 90 minutes

·        ADA compliant PN Narrow lights available

More Info:

dormakaba Paxos® Advance Series Safe Locks

Paxos® advance is the redundant, motorized lock for safes and vaults when it comes to providing maximum reliability, ease of use, programming and installation. Taking the aviation industry as an example, all components relevant to security have been designed for redundant operation to guarantee full functionality at every time of day and night.

The Paxos® system and Paxos® compact high security locks have been available on the market since 1988. They are widely used on vaults rooms, ATMs, security repositories and many high end security remises. Over a course of millions of operating hours, Paxos® has proven technology and reliability time and time again. Paxos® advance is the logical enhancement of this reliable, tried-and- tested technology.

Twofold security: Where ever the highest demands are placed on security and reliability, any modules whose function is critical in the event of a failure must be installed multiple times, or redundantly. To date, this type of redundancy has been used to successfully and significantly increase operational reliability within satellite technology, the aviation industry and the storage of security relevant data. Redundant systems were implemented throughout the Paxos® advance to guarantee the highest possible level of security.

Maximum availability: Full system redundancy means much more than doubling the security. The improbability of two self-contained systems failing at the same time provides a quantum leap when it comes to the availability of redundant units. The double system design used throughout the Paxos® advance provides extensive fault detection and the highest possible chance of avoiding complete system failure.

Far-reaching fault detection: When Paxos® advance detects a fault, it switches to the redundant part of the system, ensuring the safe or vault rooms can always be opened. The operator is informed about any faults detected.

dormakaba Axxessor Series SAFE LOCKS are ideal for security on all safes, ATMs and other security products. Whether in standalone mode or used via the LAN for networked safe locks, the Axessor offers the right product for all applications.

Patented motorized lock with automatic locking for maximum security. Two programmable inputs and two relay outputs are available on the lock providing connection to further systems without the need of additional options.

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.