Saturday, 18 April 2015

Westminster Panic & Safe Rooms

Panic Rooms PicturePanic Rooms, more commonly called Safe Rooms, as recently featured in the film starring Jodi Foster, are increasingly being installed in homes, offices or any other building where people may be at risk from the threat of kidnap and / or violence.

Safe Rooms are, of course, not a new idea and almost any home or office can have a room cost effectively converted in to a 'Safe Room'. Obviously the cost involved will depend on the level of risk and security required, however a fairly secure environment, able to deter and delay access for a significant period of time, can often be achieved at a remarkable low cost.

Pictured: PANIC ROOM, the 2002 film directed by David Fincher, and starring Academy Award Winners Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker.


Safe Rooms are often associated with politicians, celebrities, industrialists or other high risk personalities but more and more 'ordinary' people today are realising the value of installing a Safe or Panic Room into their home or place of work.

Generally Safe Rooms will be purpose made to suit the property, the environment and the likely risk involved. If the property is new or undergoing substantial alteration then the Safe Room can be designed for optimum performance and the surrounding areas designed to accommodate it. More often than not however the room will be required to be incorporated into an existing property and so greater care and attention to design will be required.

Firstly however we will need to assess the likely risk and requirements for example.

Q. Is the purpose to protect against Terrorist Attack, Assassination, Kidnap,
Intrusion or Domestic Violence etc.?

This will determine the level of protection involved - Obviously if the threat is terroris attack or assassination, then the level of protection involved will be considerably greater than that afforded if the risk is simple intrusion or domestic violence.

Q. What type of attack is the room to protect against?
This will help determine the type of construction. For example, is the room to protect against physical attack, bullets, explosion, falling debris, gas attack and fire etc. an could an attack be launched on the room from above or below as well as from the perimeter walls and doors.

Q. How remote is the location of the premises and how quickly could outside
help arrive?

This will determine how long the room should give protection for against an assault e.g. a few hours, a day, a week or longer. It will also determine the level of supplies and survival equipment that is needed, and also what toilet and washing facilities (if any) are required. For long durations cooking facilities will also need to be considered.

Q. How many persons are to be catered for?
This will determine the size of the facility and level of supplies etc. Consideration here should include the possibility of a terrorist strike happening during the time of a dinner party for example.

Q. Is disabled access required?
This will determine the layout of the room and means of access and escape.

Q. What sort of property is involved?
This will determine where in the building to site the Safe Room and the style of construction. The main criteria being that the safety of the room can be reached as quickly as possible and the location affords adequate protection. In a multi-story or large building (e.g. a country manor, a castle or a corporate headquarters) it may be necessary to have more than one Safe Room in different areas of the building or on different floors. It may also be sensible to have more than one entry into the Safe Room in order to allow quick entry from various rooms or areas within the building.

The client may also require the Safe Room to be inconspicuous or concealed and it is perfectly possible to create a very secure Safe Room from what, on the surface, would seem to be an ordinary room. This may be particularly important in historic houses etc.

Once the likely risks and requirements have been assessed and evaluated there will be a number of other issues that will also need consideration to suit the individual situation such as:

Physical Issues

Doors need to be of sufficient strength to withstand a heavy and prolonged assault and able to withstand the likely risk in terms of physical attack, bullets, explosion, gas etc.
Not only should the door be strong enough to withstand the attack but also the frame, doorjamb, hinges and method of locking should be of equal strength. Multi locking points are to be preferred and the type of locking mechanism chosen that will withstand an attack but will still allow free exit when the area is safe without jamming.

The attached video shows an effective demonstration on secure Safe Room Doors (WMV)

Consideration should also be given to the direction any door opens. If the door opens outwards this is likely to provide the greatest strength against attack but could end up being blocked, purposely or by falling debris, thereby trapping those inside. The best solution would be to have a door, which under normal operation would only open outwards but in an emergency can be released from inside the room to open inwards.

A further consideration should also be the method of locking control. Ideally all locking mechanisms etc. should be quickly operated by an 'Emergency Switch' within the room and overridden by high security biometric access control readers such as fingerprint, palm print or iris eye scan readers. Obviously a secure means of opening the door to the room should be available from outside of the room in the event of accidental operation by children etc. or in a rescue situation - various methods for this are available which would form part of a confidential discussion.

If the room has windows and the risk is sufficient then consideration should be given to installation of shutters of sufficient strength to protect against the likely risk. Thought must also be given to the fact that windows may also be used as a means of secondary escape and an internal escape ladder, that could be quickly deployed, should be considered.

Walls, Floors & Ceilings
Careful consideration should be given to the construction not only of the walls but also of the floor and ceiling against any likely attack. In this respect consideration should not only be of physical attack but in certain risk environments, also against the risk of fire and gas attack etc.

Electronic Issues

Communication in an attack situation is again a vital element in the successful outcome.
This not only means the ability to communicate with the Police and Authorities by a combination of telephone, GSM and radio networks etc. but also the ability to communicate with other parts of the property, other Safe Rooms, Guards, Neighbours and even in certain situations the intruders themselves.

Closed Circuit TV Surveillance (CCTV)
It is important, in the stressful environment of an attack situation, that full surveillance of the surrounding property can be achieved from within the room, so that progress and activity of any attackers may be monitored and if appropriate, relayed to the Police and Authorities.

CCTV surveillance should be carefully planned and deployed so as to provide maximum observation in all eventualities and may consist of both overt and covert cameras, fixed and high speed moveable cameras (pan, tilt & zoom with automatic focus), cameras that can 'see' in the dark and even in some cases, cameras that can detect the presence of an intruder by body heat.

The design and installation of an appropriate CCTV system of this nature should be undertaken only by specialists with experience in such matters such as Westminster International.

Alarm Detection and Warning System
Should an attack occur it is important that an automatic alarm condition can be raised which not only generates an alarm warning inside and outside of the property but also is capable of relaying an automatic alarm signal remotely to the Police and Authorities. The remote signal should be capable of being relayed in a number of different ways such as by telephonic links, GSM and radio signals so that whatever means of attack is being experienced the alarm signal will still get through.

The alarm detection system should also be capable of continually detecting and monitoring the activity of any intruder whilst still in the building from within the Safe Room, so that there can be no element of surprise.

It is a fact that if the attacker is aware that help is on the way and time is short, he is likely to give up the assault at an early stage and the attack will therefore be unlikely to succeed.

Building Control

Consideration should be given to enabling control of many of the buildings functions - lights, air conditioning, heating, water supply, locking of doors and windows etc. to be overridden from within the Safe Room itself, giving the occupant total control over the building which can lead to the intruder themselves becoming the one under threat. A very significant psychological advantage.

Electrical Supply
Where possible the main power supply switches and fuse boards should be located within the Safe Room or failing that, a secure area over which a level of control from the
Safe Room can be exercised.

In the event of an attack it should ideally be possible to control all power in the building from within the Safe Room so that the intruder is denied power but the occupant has it where needed.

In any event all critical systems should be capable of independent operation should the mains power supply be lost and this could include battery standby facilities as well as independent power generation.

Fire Alarm Detection & Extinguishing
An important consideration should be the ability to detect and monitor a fire anywhere within the building from the Safe Room so that appropriate action can be taken accordingly.

The Safe Room itself should have adequate fire extinguishers and suppression equipment and in addition in certain situations consideration should be given to the installation of automatic fire suppression systems throughout the building.

One very effective solution would be to have a suitable gas suppression system installed which would have the dual advantage of suppressing any fire within the building and also, due to the potentially lethal nature of the gas (it removes the oxygen from the room to extinguish the fire), it would act as an effective counter to the intruders themselves as they would have to vacate the building or suffer the consequences..

This is a complex area and Westminster would be pleased to advise further upon request.

Emergency Lighting
The Safe Room and other areas of the building should be provided with emergency lighting units so that in the event of mains failure to the lighting circuits the units will provide illumination. This should be controlled from within the room so that only areas required by the occupants would be illuminated. In the event of fire all escape routes could be illuminated automatically.

Clean Air Filtration & Pressurisation
If the likely risks dictate consideration should be given to the installation of clean air filtration units and oxygen generation devices in order that the occupants have practically unlimited access to clean air.

Where a gas or biological attack is deemed to be a threat then consideration should also be given to ensuring the air filtration equipment is capable of filtering harmful bacteria or gases and also that the room is pressurized so that no air can enter the room via doors, windows or other crevasses and the only air entering the room will be via the air filtration units.

Fog or Smoke Barrier Systems
In any attack situation the intruder generally requires the sense of sight to be effective.
Whilst the power to lighting etc can be turned off from within the Safe Room, the intruder can still use torches etc. to continue the assault.

A Fog or Smoke Barrier System will however render the intruder helpless by filling a room in seconds with a dense but harmless fog, which makes it impossible for anyone to see more than a few centimetres and results in complete disorientation. In such a situation it would be virtually impossible for an assault to continue.

The fog is generated by a special glycol based liquid, which is totally harmless to people, food, electrics and furnishings, and once dispersed the area is immediately reusable.

The level of 'fog' within the area of the intruders can be controlled and maintained from within the Safe Room whilst the activity of the intruder can be monitored by special infrared cameras.

Other Safe/Panic Room Provisions

All systems should ideally be controlled from within the Panic / Safe Room as should the power to the building (so intruders cannot disable the supply but the occupant can deny the intruder power if necessary).

Food, toilet facilities and fresh water should be available depending upon the likely duration of any assault (determined by a risk analysis).

Westminster would be pleased to give further advice on this very effective system upon request.

In addition to all of the above the Safe Room will require to be provisioned by:

  • Adequate food and drink (clean water) for the likely duration;
  • First aid equipment;
  • Any medication being taken or prescribed;
  • Blankets, bedding;
  • Fire extinguishers;
  • Torches with spare batteries;
  • Spare mobile phones and radios;
  • In extreme situations weapons of defence;
  • and........ where a stay in the Safe Room may be prolonged and given the fact that it is essential to stay as calm as possible, a book or other means of relaxation should be considered.

Clearly regular replacement of food and medication etc will be necessary to ensure safe usage as well as regular maintenance of the various systems involved.

Obviously not every situation will require all of the above and the actual level of protection and style of the Safe Room design will relate directly the level of risk involved together with the clients own personal circumstances and requirements.

A properly designed Safe Room will of course not only be of use in protecting people, in the event of an attack but could also be used to secure valuables and in certain situations, as a 'safe haven' from climatic problems such as tornadoes and earthquakes etc.

One important consideration however is that the design, planning and installation of any
Panic or Safe Room is undertaken in the strictest of confidence and only by specialists who recognize the importance of confidentiality and the need for absolute security.

Whatever the requirement Westminster are able to assist with design advice and supply of equipment and systems necessary to achieve an appropriate Safe Room, from a simple bathroom conversion as a safe haven from intruders or domestic violence to a state of the art high security bunker secure against terrorist threat.

If you are interested in the supply of a Panic/Safe Room, please click here to download a Westminster International Risk Assessment form.

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