How to Build a Panic Room

Security Shot #4 How to Build a Panic Room For a Home Invasion

Sanctuary… a word which here means a small, safe place in a troubled world. Like an oasis in a vast desert or an island in a stormy sea”. – Quote from Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Home invasion: “The crime of entering a dwelling and committing, or with intent to commit a crime (as assault) while armed and while another is lawfully present”  – Merriam Webster Dictionary.

How to Build a Panic Room

A home invasion is a robbery that takes place in a person’s home. It could be an event where the burglar unexpectantly runs into the homeowner. Or it could be a deliberate strategy to enter a dwelling to rob the occupants. 

From a legal and statistical perspective, it is difficult to report home invasions. Many legal systems don’t incorporate the term into their books. In some cases, home invasions are lumped under burglary or robbery. In South Africa where this crime is prevalent, it is legally referred to as “house robbery”.

This sanitized legal term does not depict the horror of facing an armed assailant in your own home. Home invasion is a much more evocative term. In truth, a home invasion is a gross violation of a person’s sanctuary.

How to Survive a Home Invasion

Surviving a home invasion requires a detailed discussion, so, for now, we will focus on the first step; creating a safe refuge, or sanctuary to escape to. This specially prepared room is often referred to as a Panic Room. Here are four important panic room principles to keep in mind:

  • In a home invasion, the primary purpose of a panic room is to buy you time.
  • Once you are in the panic room you should be sufficiently equipped for both criminal and medical emergencies.
  • The room should be secure and easy enough for anyone in the family to access (don’t assume you will be at home when an attack happens).
  • Stash your panic room kit (more on what that is later in this post) in a place that is accessible when you or another family member are in a panicked state.

Pick a Room

Panic rooms are often depicted as hidden rooms in basements with stacked cans of tuna and water containers. Firstly, these panic rooms never seem to store any mayo to complement the tuna. Secondly, your house may not have a basement. In fact, you may be living in an apartment, so creating a basement would seriously inconvenience the people on the floor beneath you.

The criteria for this space is a room with one door that can be bolstered. The room should have some storage space where you can stash some kit (no mayo required). This could be your master bedroom or even a bathroom. The chosen room should preferably be close to the children’s bedrooms. Bathrooms give you the advantage of toilets and running water.

Secure The Door

The door is the primary barrier between you and the assailant. It is, therefore, going to be the most expensive part of your panic room project. The door should open outwards if possible. Purchase a solid core door. Most internal doors are hollow-core making it easy to break through. Source a steel reinforced door and strengthen the door frame. Another alternative is to install a security gate that either swings or slides.  If you can’t afford a hi-tech security door, then consider the following:

Add locks that are quick to secure
  • Focus on strengthening the four weak parts of your door: the hinges, the strike plate, the lock and the jamb (the jamb is the door frame in case you don’t speak carpentry). It is possible to purchase shields that will increase the strength of the frame, the strike plate, and the hinges. 
  • Remove the original screws from the door hinge and add extra-long screws.
  • Go to a locksmith and ask for the best quality door lock you can afford. It is best to have more than one locking point, so add barrel bolts or chain locks, but remember to use the longest screws possible when installing these devices. Every device you can install and use will buy you more time to act. 
  • Doors that open inward can be protected by creating a horizontal bar that fits across the door. 
  • Securing your panic room is all about time. You won’t have time to fiddle through a set of keys so that you can lock the door. You need to set up the door so that it has a slam and lock scenario. In some cases, this may require leaving a key in the door. If you do this, you should have access to another key in the event that your four-year-old locks himself in your panic room because you threatened to turn the TV off and send him outside. 

Secure The Window

It’s no good having a Fort Knox door only to find your assailant gets to you by throwing a brick through the window. Windows can be strengthened by adding adhesive security films or burglar bars. If this is not possible, add some thick curtains or a blind so that at least you are concealed from sight. Before you go to the hardware store and board the window up with plywood, remember that you may also need to use the window as a way to call for help.

Set Up a Communication System

Once you’ve run into your panic room and slammed the door, you want to call for help. Consider the following tools:

Hit the panic button once the door is secure.
  • Purchase a cheap cell phone and make sure it remains charged. And this is very important: pre-program the speed dial with some emergency numbers. First responders will tell you that home invasion survivors are often found in a state of shock. They often have to do a double-take before remembering their own names. 
  • Attach a list of emergency phone numbers and your physical address to the well. Assume that your primitive brain will be in control and your memory will be deactivated. It could be possible that it is a child or a visitor that needs to speak to the emergency operator.  
  • If you subscribe to an alarm reaction company, install a panic button in the room. The panic button should be periodically tested. This confirms the panic button is working and it also familiarises you with the use of the panic button. It is also a good idea to include family members in the testing process. There should be more than one panic button in the house, and everyone should be aware of the locations of these buttons. 
  • Add an airhorn to your kit. If phones don’t work, or are taken away, an air horn is a good way of calling for help.
  • Stash a copy of your phone username and password somewhere in the room (I am referring to the phone you normally use, not the phone that is stashed in the panic room). Internet security experts will tell you this is big “No”. However modern phones have tracking software, which can lead to the capture of the bad guy. The problem is that home invasion victims are trying to cope with a violent robbery in their inner sanctum. Remembering usernames and passwords is often out of the question. 

First Aid is Crucial

In the event that a shooting or stabbing has taken place, a first aid kit could be a life-saver. Prepacked kits can be purchased. I would suggest adding the following items: A bulky gauze dressing and bandage to deal with bleeding wounds (knife wounds can bleed extensively). Specialized packs like the Israeli Bandage are available on the internet (A guide to banding techniques can be found here).  It is also worth adding a tourniquet and a burn dressing. 

Take Control of Your Lighting

Use curtains and walls to create cover from view.

Feeling like you are in control of your personal space is a powerful antidote against psychological trauma. Once you are in your panic room, I would suggest moving to low light conditions. This provides some good tactical advantages in a fight.

Make sure your panic room is equipped with a headlamp and emergency lantern which will help during complex first aid operations. A tactical flashlight becomes an indispensable tool in a fight, or for emergency signaling, or should you decide to leave the room at night. 

Prepare For Fire

One hopes that fire never becomes part of a home invasion scenario. For fire or even an improvised weapon, a fire extinguisher is always a good addition to your equipment.

Prepare For a Fight

Arm yourself.

Once in your panic room, it’s important to try to move out of the line of fire through doors and windows (very few doors are bulletproof barriers). If you have access to a firearm, try to create a barrier or platform that you can shoot from. You will be hard-pressed to find a gunfighter that complained he or she had too much ammo.

Spare magazines should become part of your kit. If you live in a gun-free home; then consider directional stream pepper spray, electrical shocking devices, or even a knife. Unlike a firearm, these devices are going to require you to get close to your attacker. Use what time you have to tactically position yourself for the attack. Think SAS: Speed, Aggression, Surprise. 

Plan to Succeed

It’s better to “pre-live rather than re-live”. The panic room should be accompanied with a plan. The plan needs to be communicated to the entire family. This doesn’t need to become a fear-inducing discussion including creepy men in trench coats and sharp-toothed clowns. With young children, it can almost be turned into a game. Let’s race to the “hidey room”. The plan should be adapted for your family and would go something like this: 

  • Create a word that tells everyone to drop everything and run to the room. This is not time to answer the four-year-olds “why?” questions. 
  • Run to the room and slam the door. 
  • Lock and tug the door to check it is secure.
  • Access your survival kit.
  • Sit in your previously decided position.
  • Turn on the cell phone on (security code xxxx).
  • Call emergency services.
  • Get control over any bleeding wounds.
  • Get out your weapon of choice.
  • Keep quiet and listen.

Special thanks to Grace Coetzee for the photographs and our model Galit “The Ninja” Mordecai.

References & Further Reading 

Wikipedia. (2019, December 3). Emergency Bandage. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Bandage

De La Cruz, B.-u. (2019, July 25). How to Secure a Door So It Cannot Be Kicked-In. Retrieved from Home Alarm Report : https://homealarmreport.com/safety/secure-door-cannot-kicked/

Global Security Experts Inc. (2019). Home Invasion Facts & Stats. Retrieved from Global Security Experts Inc: https://www.globalsecurityexperts.com/home-security-2/crime-prevention-advice/home-invasion-facts-a-stats.html

Lojpur, M. (n.d.). Dressing and bandage . Retrieved from http://neuron.mefst.hr/docs/katedre/klinicke_vjestine/Dr.%20Lojpur%20-%20Dressing%20and%20bandage.pdf

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2019). home invasion. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/home%20invasion

Mora, J. (2019, May 19). 7 Best Ways to Secure a Door From Being Kicked In [That Really Work]. Retrieved from Daily HomeSafety: https://dailyhomesafety.com/secure-a-door-from-being-kicked-in/

Technews Publishing. (2009, November). Setting up a safe room. Retrieved from Home Security: http://www.homesecuritysa.com/article.aspx?pklarticleid=5834

The Global Economy. (2019). Robbery rate – Country rankings. Retrieved from The Global Economy.com: https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/robery/

The Green Man. (2009, July 16). Quotes from Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events”. Retrieved from The Green Man Diary: http://thegreenmandiary.blogspot.com/2009/07/quotes-from-lemony-snickets-series-of.html

Car Emergency Kit List

SECURITY SHOT #3 Your Car Emergency Kit

According to the World Health Organisation, cars are responsible for more preventable deaths than suicide, HIV/AIDS and even homicide. Motorists in low and middle-income societies are most at risk of dying in a vehicle accident, with countries in Africa reaching the top of this list.

Despite your car’s homicidal tendencies, we spend hours rolling through the motoring environment. Our faithful cars take us around the corner for a much-needed caffeine fix, they get our kids to school and take us on long-planned holidays. Each route has its own risk profile. A life-threatening event could be around the corner or hundreds of miles from home.  We believe that fortune favors the prepared, so let’s prepare your car for an emergency.

Emergency Items to Keep In Your Car

Before we get started at what you need, let’s consider two important principles:

  1. Pack your car emergency kit so that it doesn’t move: If you have ever been in a vehicle accident, you will know that when it happens, it’s chaotic and violent. Your seatbelt keeps you attached to the car, but anything that is not attached to the car, coffee cups, cell phones, and even bodies are subject to the laws of kinetic energy. When the vehicle comes to a stop, everything loose is everywhere, and this is when you are going to need your roadside rescue kit. The first principle is, therefore, pack it so that it won’t move.
  2. Always pack your kit in the same place: When the emergency takes place, your emotional brain may be running the show. Higher brain functions like memory may not be accessible. Packing your equipment in the same place every time ensures you can find it in a panicked state, in the dark or that you can guide another person to easily find what you need.

Now on with the car and its gear:

Car Emergency Kit List

Vehicle Maintenance is Key

Executive protection specialists will go through a daily routine of checking that the car is in working order, they know that breaking down in a secluded or dodgy area is one of the quickest ways to expose their clients to risk.  This comes down to regular services, checking tires (including the spare), lights and indicators, oil, water, brake fluid, and anti-freeze levels. Lastly, don’t let that gas tank run down to empty. There’s nothing worse than rushing to an emergency when you need to stop and fill up.

Check Your Standard Emergency Equipment

Check your standard emergency equipment: Before we get on with the fancy stuff, check that your spare tire is inflated, you have your jack and wheel wrench, emergency triangle and jumper cables.

Stash Some Cash

In this day of credit cards and payment apps, we have been steered towards a cashless society. Your credit card may get you reward points, but in an emergency, cash is king! Cash buys you help from roadside strangers, it doesn’t need a network or a card machine. This is an especially useful tip when traveling through the third world where banking systems may not be working or you may need to pay an “on the spot traffic fine” to a law enforcement official.

Emergency Items to Keep in Car

Pack a Good Quality Flashlight

There will be occasions when you arrive home or even a holiday destination after dark. It’s often a good idea to check the property out before offloading the luggage and kids. Your flashlight should be packed in an accessible place. It should also always be packed in the same place (so that you can skilfully fumble for it in the dark) and it should be put back in the same place every time you are finished using it. Rechargeable flashlights are ideal in this situation.

Your Roadside First Aid Kit

A number of prepacked travel kits are available. When you purchase one its worth checking the inventory and adding a few items. Add extra medical gloves. In an accident situation, the extra gloves enable you to add members to your team of rescuers. Latex gloves come in different grades of thickness. Try to avoid very thin ones as you’re not in surgery. On the road, there may be objects that can easily snag and tear the gloves.

It’s also worth adding a sealed burn dressing (one with a gel is a good idea). This becomes very useful during holidays and camping trips where we tend to have running kids, drunk relatives, and open fires.

Check that you have an emergency space blanket. Otherwise known as a mylar blanket. They have multiple uses and can be a critical first aid tool while you wait for emergency services to arrive (check out this bearded man with a checked shirt for usage instructions). Lastly, all-time badass Tim Kennedy’s Sheepdog Response bunch reminds us that a tourniquet will take your kit to the next level.  The roadside first aid kit should be quickly reachable, and not below a quarter ton of luggage.

Include a Headlamp

Ever try to change a flat in the dark with one hand? The genius of the headlamp is that it frees up both hands. This is a superb tool, remember to periodically check that the batteries are charged.

Roadside Rescue Kit

Weaponize Your Car

You may be a peace-loving individual, the same unfortunately cannot be said for other people. On the road, self-defense tools may include firearms, pepper spray, expandable batons, and even shocking devices.  The best firearm available is the one attached to your body. Stashing your trusty piece under your leg or in a slot in the cabin becomes a problem when your car is hit hard and your gun has gone AWOL in the dark.

Pepper spray can be an excellent less-than-lethal tool (remember the drunk relative). The can is pressurized and can leak when left in very hot environments. Remember to place your weapon of choice in a place where you can access it just as you are getting out of the car (what all the tactical geeks like to refer to as debussing). The transition from sitting behind the steering wheel and standing is a vulnerable time for a motorist. This is the time to focus on the external environment and have an easy grab-force-multiplier should the need arise.

Protect Your Hands With Gloves

As you travel the temperature of your car’s moving parts will get hot. Gloves can help protect your hands during roadside repairs or even when assisting with vehicle accidents. Make sure that the gloves are not made from an absorbent material. This could lead to burns when dealing with hot liquids like radiator water.

Solve Flats With a Tire Inflation Canister

There may be times when you don’t want to unpack the luggage and change the spare. The longer you are in a dark or remote environment, the higher your risk level becomes. Depending on the damage to the tire, and inflation canister can quickly get you on the road to a repair center or filling station. Larger vehicles like SUV’s may require two canisters to get the tire inflated.

Keeping Hydrated is Key

Packing some water can be a game-changer. You don’t know how long you are going to wait for help and in hot environments, thirst can turn from discomfort to a medical threat. This is especially important when traveling with children. The water could also be used to fill an overheating radiator.

Multitools Are Multi-Useful

A multitool will never replace an actual tool kit, but it can be used for low-level repair work, making a makeshift tool or even as a weapon. You want a quality multitool that won’t snap under tension.

Assemble Your Own Tool Kit

Vehicle tool kits vary in size. If you are going to keep one, a socket wrench is an excellent tool. Cable ties can also become powerful allies for a range of quick fixes.

Fit in a Pen And Notepad

Cell phones can get damaged or loose signal. You also can’t leave them on your windshield as a message to tell someone you’ve gone for help. A pen and note can also be used to record details at accident scenes and they don’t need recharging.

Special thanks 

Photos by Grace Coetzee

Model: Galit (teenage wonder person)

References & Further Reading

ilikeyellowalot. (2017, May 6). The RIGHT WAY to use a SURVIVAL BLANKET. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJPKzyaBnns

Sheepdog Response. (2019, September 17). CAT Tourniquet Self-Application (from a Green Beret Medic) | Sheepdog Response. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDzQVO8Oem4

World Health Organization. (2015). Global status report on road safety 2015. Geneva: World Health Organization.