“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:
- 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:
- 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
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
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