What Is a Safe Room?

The Moat Around Your Castle Has Gone High-Tech

Model of a bullet and flame-resistant safe room by the Gaffco company.
Every Room Serves a Purpose. This One Saves Lives. Gaffco. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

A SAFE ROOM is a shelter that is strong enough to provide safety from catastrophic events. The type of event you want to be safe from (for example, a weather event, a terrorist even, civil unrest) will determine the specifications of the safe room.

Also Known As:

  • Panic Room (popularized by the Jodie Foster film Panic Room)
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Bomb Shelter

What do people want to be safe from?

  • strong winds and flying debris
  • bullets, missiles, and bombs
  • nuclear attack
  • chemical attack
  • fire
  • other people

Risk Assessment:

When anyone buys or builds a house, a risk assessment is performed—sometimes without even being aware of it. Anytime you consider circumstances that might cause danger to you or your family, you are performing a risk assessment—Is your house too close to a river? too close to a busy highway? too close to a power plant? in an environment prone to fires? tornadoes? hurricanes?

The federal government thinks about risk assessment all the time with their buildings—the Pentagon near Washington, DC has higher risks than a local Agricultural County Extension Office, so the structures will be built differently.

Determining the risk of something bad happening is vital to our own survival. "Fear is a normal and healthy part of life," says an About.com Expert. "A phobia, however, twists the normal fear response into something that is difficult or impossible to control." Know the difference between Fear and Phobia.

You might not need a "safe room," even if the salesman says so.

Common Misspellings:

  • Saferoom

Are safe rooms ugly?

They don't have to be, especially if an architect is involved with the design. One company, American Saferoom Door Company, declares that "form doesn't always have to follow function, and your design shouldn't be compromised by the client's need for security and peace of mind."

Construction Materials and Details Common to Safe Rooms:

  • steel
  • concrete
  • kevlar
  • transparent bulletproof polymer for glazing
  • locks
  • entry systems—incredibly large, heavy doors
  • air filtration
  • video cameras and motion detectors
  • peepholes
  • communications equipment

Event-Specific Definitions:

"A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to protect its occupants from extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. The level of protection provided by a safe room is a function of its design parameters, including the design wind speed, wind pressure and wind-borne debris impacts."—US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
"Simply put, a safe room is a secure, reinforced, well-stocked room where individuals can go to avoid the risks and potential dangers that may arise in other parts of a home."—Allstate Insurance
"Gaffco specializes in the design / build of high end residential and Corporate safe rooms, which offer blast-ballistic-forced entry and chemical gas protection for short and extended periods."—Gaffco Ballistics

The illustration on this page shows a model safe room by Gaffco, a company that manufactures bullet-resistant systems. With prices starting at $50,000, Gaffco safe rooms are designed to provide protection during terrorist attacks.

But a safe room does not have to be large or costly. FEMA recommends creating a simple but sturdy storm shelter in the basement or firmly anchored to a concrete foundation. The walls and doors should be strong enough to withstand forceful wind and flying debris.

Learn More:

Sources: Quesstion 1, Frequently Asked Questions: Tornado/Hurricane Safe Rooms, FEMA; Storm Shelter? Safe Room? Build Your Own Ultimate Secure Shelter, the Allstate Blog, May 22, 2013; Safe Rooms, Gaffco Ballistics [accessed August 18, 2015]