Disaster Prep: Securing Your Home

A safe home with sandbags and water surrounding it.

Zombies in the streets, virulent pathogens, asteroid impacts and huge monsters – Although popular culture typically depicts the human race prepping for disasters of unimaginable proportions, most of the troubles you’ll likely face are either naturally-occurring (as in weather or earthquake related) or civil disturbances that suddenly escalate.

The first urge of a human faced with either of these situations is to head for home and make sure that loved ones are safe and secure. As such, you have to prepare for the natural or man-made siege by planning ahead on just where in your home you’ll ride it out. This is Part I of an occasional series on DIY Prepping for Disaster, and it's all about security.

The Challenge

One of the problems with securing your home is that it wasn’t really designed to be a fortified bunker. Not every room in your house is safe for every situation, and even those that are relatively safe can be compromised under extenuating circumstances. Certain parts may become uninhabitable because of storm/water/fire damage, which might cause you to improvise and resort to another section of the house. Basements, while generally safe, also run the risk of collapse, can be dank, and aren’t generally heated.

All of which is a way of getting you to consider what’s fast-becoming a standard room in the home: the safe room, sometimes known as a panic room (likely because of the Jodie Foster-starring film of the same name).

The Safe Room

Safe rooms are standard issue in certain parts of the world (see:Israel, which deals with missile attacks and the possibility of chemical warfare), and are popular among very high-end properties here and abroad. But you don’t have to spend millions of dollars to construct a room that’s perfectly suitable and should keep you sheltered. The “safe” can apply to almost any room with the right preparation.

First, the considerations: what disaster are you facing? Clearly, if it’s a flood, you don’t want to go to the lowest point in your house. If it’s a wind storm, you want to avoid window-filled rooms where shattering glass can be deadly. And if it’s an earthquake, you need to know what’s holding up your house so that you can move to the area with the greatest tensile strength. You also want to be aware that water-damaged rooms might dry out, but can grow mold in as little as 12 hours, thereby affecting your health.

The Requirements

Ideally, your safe room should have four elements: strength of walls, a heavy door that can be locked from the inside (steel preferred), food/water stock, and a means of monitoring/communicating with the outside world. After that, it’s also a good idea to have some plastic sheeting in the room, just in case you need to guard against some sort of unforeseen hazard from the outside air. Sandbags can be stored empty and filled at the last minute, and they are often distributed by aide organizations of the coming disaster has enough lead time. Other good ideas: a flashlight, a first-aid kit, a simple portable toilet, and – wait for it, parents – a simple toy, children’s book, or something else to keep them occupied.

Resist, if you can, the temptation to meddle with the basics of your safe room. Don’t add shelving, running water, light fixtures that can shatter or things that can tip over onto the occupants. Some advocate installing a large steel cage in whatever you room you choose, the better to protect against the unexpected wall or room collapse. And hey, if you ever decide to get a huge pet, you’re all set!

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has put together some case studies that discuss safe rooms inside and outside the house: http://www.fema.gov/safe-rooms-and-community-shelters-case-studies.

Whatever you decide, know that pre-planning the room and its contents will give you peace of mind to face any disaster. Except perhaps for zombies.

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