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DCD Magazine

A Chicken In Every Pot And A Safe Room In Every Home 
By Wayne Hampton, CSI

In the recent blockbuster movie, "Panic Room," Jodie Foster and her teenage daughter cower in a high-tech bunker off the bedroom of her New York multi-story apartment while a trio of robbers enters downstairs. The movie apparently struck a chord with audiences, as it became the biggest Easter weekend opening in history, grossing a record $30 million. Panic rooms, more commonly known as safe rooms, are spaces inside a home or business where people seek refuge in times of perceived or imminent danger. Designers and builders of safe rooms are reporting increased inquiries since September 11 and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, every year there are close to half a million violent crimes involving handguns that happen in or near the home. The number of residential break-ins and forced intrusions is even higher. Once limited to the rich and famous, safe rooms are now within reach of the average homeowner. 
Most elaborate or high-tech safe rooms can cost between $50,000 and $250,000 and provide protection from tornadoes, intruders, ballistic, and even chemical weapon assaults. These types of safe rooms require reinforced concrete walls and ceilings, specialty ventilation and plumbing systems, oxygen systems, a back-up generator, food and water supplies, closed-circuit video, and phone lines that are impossible to locate or cut. People can stay in this type of safe room for as long as events warrant, whether it is a few minutes or a few days. A recent and more affordable safe room design is based on the premise that a safe room should keep its occupants alive for a minimum of 15 minutes and ideally for half an hour, when police should have arrived. In most cases an ordinary closet can be converted into a safe room that can withstand forced intrusion or even ballistic attack from handguns or rifles for less than $10,000.

Intrusion Deterrence
A common choice for a safe room is the master closet. For an average family of four the closet dimensions should be at least 6-feet by 8-feet. After framing the closet with steel or wood studs @ 16-inch on-center, the next step will be to install a heavy-gauge steel mesh system known as Secura Room™ on the walls and ceilings of the safe room. This system is specifically designed to delay or defeat attempts at forced entry or intrusion using axes, sledge hammers, chainsaws, or wrecking bars. These steel mesh panels are attached to the studs using diamond shaped steel fasteners at 12-inch intervals. This will help to further stiffen the walls and increase its resistance to intrusion. Eventually, drywall will cover the expanded steel mesh. This security mesh is available from AMICO Security Products, a division of Alabama Metal Industries Corporation, and a 6-foot by 8-foot closet with this system will cost approximately $1,500, materials and installation. 

Bullet Resistance
The next layer of security to install in the safe room is designed to withstand more than an attempt at forced physical entry. After the steel mesh system has been installed, and before the drywall goes up, a system known as ArmorCore™ bullet resistant fiberglass panels will be fastened to the stud walls on top of the steel mesh.
    These are dense 4-foot by 8-foot fiberglass panels that weigh 160 pounds per sheet and are 7/16-inch thick. They are fastened to the studs using 1-5/8-inch self-drilling wafer head Phillips screws that are designed to attach dense sheathings to steel or wood studs. Ribs beneath the screw head countersink the head and prevent strip-out.
    These specialty screws are available from McMaster-Carr Supply Company and cost $8.00 per 100 pieces. Screws are applied at 16-inch intervals.

ArmorCore™ panels are One-Hour Fire-Rated per ASTM E119-98 and are UL Listed for their compliance to the UL752 Standard for Bullet Resisting Equipment. These panels come in 8 different levels of bullet resistance with Level 3 being the most common for residential safe rooms. ArmorCore™ Level 3 is designed to defeat a .44 Magnum handgun, commonly known as the “Dirty Harry” with a muzzle velocity of 1350 feet per second. These panels are designed to defeat the energy of bullets by a process of internal ply-delamination, which helps to compress or flatten the bullet and trap it within the panel. A 6-foot by 8-foot safe room with ArmorCore™ panels attached to the walls and ceiling will cost approximately $3,700 plus installation, which can be done by a drywall contractor. All butt-joints of the ArmorCore™ panels will need to be backed with 4-inch-wide batten strips of the same level 3 material.
Butt joints should occur between stud centers so that the battens occur within the stud cavities. The ArmorCore™ panels will be covered with ˝-inch Type-X drywall to insure the ASTM E119-98 One-Hour Fire-Rated wall assembly. Self-tapping drywall screws can be used to fasten the drywall to the bullet resistant fiberglass panels.

Safe Room Doors
A variety of door and frame products can be installed that must also provide the same degree of resistance to forced entry and firearms as the walls and ceiling. This will take the expertise of a door company that specializes in safe room doors. The frame, the lock, and the hinges are an extremely important element in the design of a safe room door. Electromagnetic lock systems insure top security with the ability to withstand tremendous forces. Continuous geared hinges made by PEMKO are recommended for swing doors to ensure maximum strength. Safe room doors can be customized to match existing raised panel or other custom doors used in the home. SUN-DOR-CO of Newton, Kansas specializes in raised panel pre-hung bullet resistant doors with European style multipoint locks that cost between $3,000 and $4,000. Other manufacturers provide flush type safe room doors made with wood or steel for between $1,000 and $2,000. Any light openings for the door will need to be made of bullet resistant glazing in the form of glass-clad polycarbonate, polycarbonate or bullet resistant acrylic.

Any glazing must be within frames made with the same level of ballistic protection as the door and the walls. 
Several companies that specialize in safe rooms are reporting an increase in demand, especially since Sept. 11. Violence reported in the media can certainly increase the demand for safe rooms. There are no typical safe rooms. The level of security, size and location within the home are subject to the client’s needs and budget. Safe rooms are also being considered for hospitals, libraries, schools, and are frequently located in certain federal facilities. As concern for homeland security grows, design and construction professionals will need to focus more and more on security related materials and products in an effort to keep pace with the times.

About the author: Wayne Hampton is president of Waco Composites, Ltd., in Waco, Texas, which specializes in bullet resistant composites. He can be reached by email at whampton@armorcore.com or by phone at (254) 776-8880.

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