What Is a Safe Room?

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So in my last post I casually mentioned I have a safe room, specifically,

“I have a Mossberg 500 in my safe room loaded with #4 buckshot, and I have a pistol (usually one of my CCW guns) on or near me at all times. The shotgun is for defense of the safe room, and the pistol is there to move around the house if needed. On my shotgun, I have a shotshell holder with extra buckshot and a few slugs. I figure 13 rounds or so rounds of #4 buckshot, a couple of slugs plus the content of my CCW pistol(s) will be enough to stop most threats outside of a rampaging bungalow or at least enough to hold them off until help arrives.”

It occurred to me later that new gun owners and people new to the idea of personal self-defense don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “safe room”. Let’s explain it quickly and easily.

A safe room is to personal protection what a home fire escape plan is to fire prevention.

And just like a home fire prevention plan, a safe room and a plan how to use it comes down to what’s important to you and how your home is set up.

Now there’s probably more than a few people out there saying “Look, this is a bit much. I have a gun in my home so I’m safe, so why do I need to think about this sort of thing?”

Let me ‘splain.

At Cub Scouts a few years ago, my son and I were tasked with creating a home fire escape plan in order to earn a merit badge. We wrote out what we’d do in case of fire, how to tell if the fire’s outside your door and how to move through smoke. Good things to learn, but what are the chances of a deadly home fire versus the chances of a deadly home invasion? If you live in the Phoenix area, as I do, you hear stories on the news every week about home invasions. Deadly house fires? Not that often.

Alright, so how DO you secure your home? Let’s look at a floor plan for a typical home in my area (your mileage may vary). X’s represent potential points of entry for bad guys such as windows or doors, and arrows are possible home invasion routes (1: Front door, 2: Garage, 3: Back door). To secure this house (or any other home) would take three steps.

1. Secure the exterior
2. Strengthen the interior
3. Prepare a refuge

1. Secure the exterior

You know that old joke about the two hikers running from a bear and the one turns to the other and says “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than YOU!”?

That’s what the outside of your house should look like. You don’t have to live in Fort Knox to be safe, you just have to make your home appear a little more difficult to break into than the home next door. If someone REALLY wants to get into your house, they’re going to to get in, but any casual burglar is going to look for the easy mark and not the bank vault. I know this from experience: My first house was a town home, and the house at the end of our block of houses DIDN’T have a security door while the rest of us did. Guess which one was broken into? You betcha, the one on the end.

Some quick and easy ways to secure the exterior of home are:

  • Exterior lighting: You don’t need to light home your home like a prison yard to make it safer. I have a simple, cheap decorative yard lighting system in the front that makes my house look really snazzy and it also has a few spotlights in strategeric areas that light up otherwise dark corners. It makes my house look great and it makes burglars consider going to the house down the block which forgot to leave their porch light on.
  • Bushes and shrubs: One of the nice things about living in the southwest is there’s a whole lot of bushes that have pointy bits on them that can be planted beneath accessible windows. Now I’m not saying you should plant jumping cacti under your kid’s bedroom window, but a pyracantha bush looks great and HURTS when you get stuck in one (ask me how I know this…).
  • Animals: Got a yappy dog? Good. Got a “Beware of the dog” sign? Better.
  • Signs: I am not a big fan of the “I don’t dial 911, I dial .357!” type of sign: Why advertise to crooks there’s a highly desirable prize for them (a gun) in your home? And just what are you saying to a prosecuting attorney with such a thing on your front lawn? If you’ve got a burglar alarm (more on those later), advertise it. That gives crooks one more reason to move along.

We’ll talk about burglar alarms next as part of how to…

2. Strengthen the interior

Ok, so the bad guy has decided the risk of breaking into your home is worth the potential reward. What can you do to make it harder for him/her?

Get a burglar alarm: No, seriously, get one. Yes, the cops will not show up in time, we know that, that’s why we own a gun. And no, the alarm noise probably won’t scare the burglar off. But who’s watching over your stuff when you’re not around? What happens if there’s a fire when you’re not home? You can’t watch over your house 24/7: Get an alarm, because it gives you more time to get your plan into action, keeping you safer.

Exterior Doors: These are a BIG weakness in most houses/condos/apartments. If your HOA or landlord allows it, get a decorative steel security door for the front AND back door. If not, a reinforced jamb and striker plate will slow down most break-in attempts to the point where they’ll give up and try something else.

Windows: Are they locks on your windows? Are you using them? Why not?

3. Prepare a refuge

Okay, so NOW your dog is barking and your alarm is going off and the bad guy is in your home and is not leaving.

This is pretty much a worst-case scenario.

Your job at this point is to get you and your family to a safe place and keep them there until the threat ends and/or help arrives. Your job isn’t to defend your big screen TV: It’s to keep you and your family alive. If the plan for a house fire is to get your family OUT of the house as quickly and safely as possible, the plan for a home invasion or armed burglary most likely be to get your family IN to your safe room as quickly as possible. Just as a good house fire escape plan as two escape routes for every family member planned out in advance, a good home defense plan has a plan and a backup plan in case that first one fails.

Where should your safe room be? Depends on the home. Remember, time works for you, not him, so your safe room needs to be somewhere you can get to AHEAD of the bad guy. Also consider where you spend the most in your home: if 90% of your time is spent in the kitchen, family room and bedrooms, designating a safe room that’s near to all three of those rooms is a good idea. Let’s go back to that earlier floor plan. The three most likely entry points for a bad guy are, in order, the front door, the garage entrance and the back door. Most of the time spent in this home will be probably be spent in the bedrooms, kitchen/nook and the family room. Given all of this, I’d look at using the master bedroom closet in this house as a safe room because it’s got one entrance to cover which is REALLY easy to defend. The difficulty with this location will be getting getting any family members that are resting in the other bedrooms into the safe room before the bad guys get to them. That’s where a dog and/or an alarm come in handy: They both give you more time to react and get your plan into action and get your family safe.

What should your safe room look like? Simply put, it should be more secure than any other room in the house. Make sure the door to the safe room locks, and reinforce the door with a heavy-duty striker plate at the very least. Consider putting some decorative bars on the window(s) if allowed by the HOA/landlord/zoning regs. Safely store a loaded firearm in the room and team it up with a first aid kit, flashlight and a charged cell phone (any cell phone, in a service plan or not) can call 911. Realize that Panic Room was just a movie: If someone REALLY wants to get into your safe room, they will, and at that point it will be up to YOU to stop the threat.

Sobering stuff, I know, but it can happen to anyone. If you’ve accepted the fact that your house may catch fire so you have smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher, also realize that your house might be targeted for a violence and plan accordingly. Accidents (and crime) happen: It’s what we do to prepare for them that determines a successful outcome.

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