Secure Life Homes GRID Down Homes
Licensed architects in over 17 states, engineers & builders of resilient, hardened homes, off grid homes, and other hardened structures, including shelters against severe storms, safe rooms, and nuclear fallout bunkers

Modular or Prefabricated Safe Room

Hardened Home Design Architect

For this discussion we are focused on the safe room for protection against Human threats.

FEMA has extensive documentation to help consumers on the topic of saferooms for Natural Hazards,

Multiple vendors are in the business of providing saferooms to clients as a modular assembly or as prefabricated units. Theses range in materials and in quality. Reputations for what the business provides varies by a wide degree.

We tend to recommend well established products from reputable vendors.

Gaffco is one such vendor and information about their saferoom panels can be found here:

Clients in the past who have worked with Gaffco report they are an excellent product and very responsive to work with. The products they work with tend to be ballistic fiberglass and/or ballistic polycarbonates, with a wood veneer finish. The panels are offered in Level 3 (.44 magnum handgun) and Level 5 (single shot 7.62 NATO battle rifle). The difference is approximately 900 ft pound of force resistance for level 3 vs 2,600 ft lbs. of force resistance for level 5.

Due to the growth in widespread popularity of medium power semi-automatic rifles in civilian ownership such as the AR-15in 5.56mm (1,300 Ft lbs.) and the AK-47 in 7.62×39 (1,500 ft lbs.), we can no longer responsibly recommend level 3 to protect clients, circa 2021.

Gaffco makes its own doors for the saferooms and we have never heard any negative reports on doors quality.

For custom site built saferooms we would often look to a vendors like:

Shield Security Door Company

and American Saferoom:

or one of many other excellent vendors in this segment.

However, the performance and quality of the saferoom door is an important enough and expansive enough of a topic to warrant and entire separate paper on the topic.

Another well establish vendor of a different type of saferoom is International Vault.

This company has built vaults for decades and is a safe supplier to Wells Fargo and a door maker for Diebold. These types of saferoom are superior to a ballistic panel “skin” added to a wood framed wall, and as such, sometime required structural load considerations beyond the Gaffco type of panelized saferoom. (All saferooms add load to buildings which must not be left to chance).

Even on a basement floor there may need to be a new slab poured with an international vault saferoom, but the protection level is often much higher and includes multiple hours of fire resistance and other types of forced entry resistance against heavier equipment.

The international vault type of product also requires considerably more effort to install and in some cases may require removal of exterior walls to install these types of shelters.

A third type of prefabricated safe room is one constructed from ballistic steel, these are relatively new in the market and as such are often used by companies with less longevity in the marketplace. An internet search for “Steel Saferooms” will result in dozens of small companies who specialize in types of steel saferoom. Some are just intended to be Tornado shelters and designed to meet the FEMA standards, others are made for multi threat protection. The type of steel matters immensely. To illustrate this point, modem military 5.56 rifle ammunition has a tungsten core and can penetrate a 3/8” thick “mild steel plate”. However, stepping up to the highest grades of ballistic rated steel and 3/16” of the higher strength steel can stop the same ammunition. So, a steel tornado shelter cannot be assumed to be a ballistic shelter.

One thing we do not like about many prefabricated shelters is a lack of an emergency exit.

Some vendors can add this, and we feel it is a worthwhile expense, as most building codes require a secondary means of egress in case of an emergency, we would be remiss not to also recommend it to all our clients as well.

Another topic to discuss with saferoom is other threat types. When criminal’s intent to inflict personal harm are thwarted by a saferoom, the criminal may turn to other methods. Fire and smoke are among the most well know methods. So a saferoom with a fire rating, a gas tight/fire rated door is an important topic to discuss with your security consultant. If a fully developed air protection system cannot be included in your saferoom project, alternate means may be worth considering, even just a fire smoke rated hood or mask can save a life from some levels of smoke inhalation threats.

Lastly, communications, human sanitation and first aid are not to be overlooked. From within the saferoom you need to be able to communicate to get help sent to you by first responders. You may also wish to be able to communicate with persons outside the saferoom; Therefore, both a phone and an intercom may be considered for your saferoom.  A well-stocked first aid and trauma kit should be among your saferoom dedicated supplies, but it is incumbent upon all of us to get the right training to be able to help a person who may have been injured getting to the saferoom., The two tiers of training we recommend as a starting point are the American Red Cross First aid with CPR (and if applicable infant CPR):

plus the American College of Surgeons :”Stop the Bleed “ Certification training for responding in a lifesaving manner to traumatic injuries:

And consideration for how you will handle human waste while in the shelter should not be overlooked. You may install a toilet and sink in your shelter, or you may need an alternate means of human waste disposal such as an “emergency toilet”.

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