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Safe Room – Crime Triggers Demand (National Post)

alt img_article_panickedCrime Triggers Demand By Lisa Van De Ven

It seems Jodie Foster is not the only one panicking these days. While Foster is currently starring in The Panic Room, many other celebrities and wealthy individuals are building real-life panic rooms in their homes. And not just in the United States. Panic rooms, also known as safe rooms, are spaces inside a home, where families can go during a robbery. Built with bullet-proof doors, fortified walls and a land-based cellular phone, the room is meant to keep homeowners safe until police arrive. “A safe room is really a holding pen within the home,” says Sean O’Leary, president of Safetech Alarm Systems in Toronto. “The idea is to be safe and to be able to make your communication from there.”

Mr. O’Leary is working at a home with a safe room in Toronto’s wealthy Bridle Path community. The room has 12-inch thick concrete walls and is hidden away in the 47,000 square-foot house. “Nobody’s going to get into the room,” he says. “It’s doubtful they’ll even find it.” This is the first safe room Mr. O’Leary has worked on in a home. He says the concept is more American than Canadian. “The United States is a little more oriented toward that type of thing,” he says. Stan Green, president of Mirtech International Security, agrees. He has never been asked to design or secure a safe room in a home, but he would not be surprised if he starts getting requests in the near future. Canada tends to be behind the United States in these areas, he says. “They’ve had a lot more experience in that amount of crime a lot longer than we have.”

Gary Paster, president of U.S.-based American Saferoom Door Co., has been building safe rooms for 22 years and was a consultant on the movie The Panic Room. He has installed approximately 200 safe rooms, estimating that about 60% to 70% of his business comes from individuals in the entertainment business, while the rest comes mainly from corporate executives. Since safe rooms can cost anywhere from US$5,000 to the typical US$20,000, it is usually more affluent individuals who have them built, some of whom have an identified threat against their lives. Corporate clients will sometimes have them added to their executive suites. Mr. Paster has worked for some less affluent individuals as well. “It’s cheaper than a new car and it depends on where people live,” he says.

There is no typical safe room. Level of security, size and placement in the home all depend on the client’s needs. Many homeowners choose to fortify a walk-in closet or bathroom, while others build a room with no other use. Some homeowners attach the room to a son or daughter’s bedroom, where parents can flee quickly with their child.

“Some are hidden. We have bookcases, which are also doors. For people who have smaller homes, they’ll typically be walk-in closets,” Mr. Paster says. “They go from very extravagant, like in the movie, to very basic.” While most are not as elaborate as the one in The Panic Room, Mr. Paster has built some that are as decked out as bomb shelters. These are larger and better equipped, meant to keep homeowners safe in the case of a national emergency or threat. These can cost more than US$250,000 and have separate plumbing, oxygen systems, and food and water supplies. “As many things as you can figure out how to defend against,” he says. Violence reported in the media can increase demand for safe rooms. Since Sept. 11, Mr. Paster has seen a 25% increase, in business, but more minor occurrences – such as the 1997 shooting of Gianni Versace in his Miami home – can also lead to more inquiries. “That always triggers a lot more calls,” he says. Even though a majority of the rooms Mr. Paster has built have gone unused, he says they give peace of mind. “We’ve only had a couple that have been used in all these years, and they were very successful.”

National Post