safe room location
your shelter is useless if you cannot make it inside
Basement safe room, backyard bomb shelter, or a bug-out base camp?
The key factors for the location of your safe room
- Access from inside your home. This allows you to use your shelter as as a panic room.
- Hiding your safe room. It must be found before it can be attacked.
- Locations with likely nuclear targets nearby should prioritize blast protection.
- Locations with high ground water or a flood risk should have an above ground shelter.
- If you live in an unsafe area, you will need to build your shelter at a different location.
Some threats can be anticipated, but if your position is overrun, you lose everything. To have your safe room function as a panic room, it must be inside, underneath, or adjacent to your home. Of all of the uses of a shelter, a panic room is the one that requires immediate access from inside your home.
The uses of a safe room
A secure protected space can have many functions:
- A bomb shelter to protect from nearby detonations.
- A fallout shelter to protect from radioactive fallout.
- A panic room to protect from malicious people.
- A vault to protect valuables from burglaries.
- A secure onsite data repository to protect from data loss.
- A storm shelter to protect from severe weather and geological events.
- A fire shelter to protect from wildfires or structural fires.
- A secure rally point for family members if you need to evacuate the area.
The location you build your shelter will determine how many of these functions you can use your shelter for.
Here are the five main options for shelter locations. Also included are the functions these locations can provide – if they have suitable construction:
- An underground bomb shelter that is accessed from inside an adjacent basement – all of the functions listed above.
- A basement safe room – all of the functions listed above, except a fallout shelter
- A safe room inside your home – all of the functions listed above, except a fallout shelter, a bomb shelter, and possibly a storm shelter. Some very severe weather events will destroy everything above ground.
- An underground bomb shelter without access from inside your home – all of the functions listed above,except the panic room.
- An underground bomb shelter at location away from your home – all of the functions listed above, except the panic room.
We will now look at the benefits and challenges of all of these locations:
An underground bomb shelter adjacent to your home that is accessed from inside your basement
This shelter location can function as any of the eight uses listed above. It can be hidden under a lawn or a deck with a secure entrance from the basement that is also hidden. This makes it resistant to severe weather, fires, radiation from fallout, and nearby detonations. Because the shelter is outside of the basement, its entire existence should be hidden. This enhances its ability to function as a vault or an onsite secure data center. Unlike basement or in-home shelters, this location does not have the structure of the home built above or around it. This greatly enhances the safety of the occupants during a structural fire. You just need one fire rate door to isolate your family from a fire.
Installation of a separate shelter can be done after the home is built. The main challenge is the connection tunnel to the basement. A shelter with three feet of packed earth on top of it for radiation protection will probably have a lower elevation than a basement. The access tunnel will need to be sloped or have some stairs with a landing so the blast door can swing out. The door to the access tunnel should be concealed. One way is with a hidden door behind a bookcase.
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A basement safe room
Basement shelters have a lot going for them. They are part of your home and can be included in a mortgage. Because they are close at hand, they lend themselves to being hidden in plain sight disguised as a wine cellar or home theater.
A basement shelter should have a reinforced concrete ceiling so it will resist the effects of a structural fire. This ceiling is difficult to construct after the home is built, but if you are planning a new home construction, a basement shelter is a very good option.
The only thing a basement shelter gives up is inexpensive compacted earth as a protection from radioactive fallout. Shielding a basement shelter from radiation can be done, but it’s only practical during the basement build, not after the home has been built on top of it. To get ten halving thicknesses in concrete, 24 inches (60 cm) must be poured for the ceiling. The same protection using lead requires four inches. Both of these materials weigh about 250 pounds (113 kg) per square foot (365 cm²) which will give a small 10 x 10 foot (3 meter x 3 meter) shelter a ceiling weight of 25,000 pounds (11,340 kg) – plus the structure above the shelter and the local snow load rating. All of these loads will transfer to the walls of the shelter and then down to the floor slab and footer. Designing a structure for human habitation to safely support these loads will require a licensed structural engineer.
A safe room inside your home
For homes that do not, or cannot have a basement, a shelter can be constructed inside the home. This location is ideal for a panic room because it’s at the same level as the rest of your home and you do not have to descend a level of stairs after your adrenal glands dump their contents into your bloodstream.
For existing homes, it’s best to do this as an addition so you can build a reinforced concrete shelter that is able to withstand most severe weather events, structural fires, and attempted breaching by malicious people. Concrete is relatively inexpensive and has some very good ballistic and load bearing properties. Most structural engineers have no problem calculating reinforced concrete static loads, but shelters are subjected to dynamic loads in severe weather or blast events and require significantly more rebar than structures that are only under static forces like snow loads.
If you cannot build an addition on your home, there are kits available that have steel or composite panels that lock together to create a ballistic shelter inside a bedroom or a closet. These will make acceptable panic room, but they will not protect from very severe weather or radiation events.
Underground, but separate from your home
These shelters are the easiest to add onto a piece of property with an existing home. Since they do not interface with your home, their placement is more flexible. You also get the option of installing a prefabricated steel shelter. Be sure and see the previous article on bomb shelter plans before deciding on a layout.
The ability to enter your shelter without detection is critical. Underground shelters are easier to hide when there is a structure over them. A shed or detached garage will give a place to blend in the ventilation pipes, doors, and hatches.
If you cannot build a structure over your underground shelter, the hiding the ventilation pipes can be a challenge. A backyard shelter can have two steel T-posts that are used for a clothes line. They will look overbuilt, but they should not get a second glance. We are conditioned to recognize them as clothes lines. Ventilation pipes in a field can be hidden inside white beekeeping cabinets. We are even more conditioned to stay away from beehives.
Wherever you choose to put an underground shelter, concealment and/or cover should be incorporated into your landscaping.
- CO-Z five layer bee hive for garden, bee box for beekeeper
- Bushy Box large hollow log planter – tall tree stump well pump cover
- Dekorra fake rock pedestal cover model 113 sandstone
- EMSCO Group landscape rock, large, lightweight, easy to install
A remote location away from your home
If you live in a place that is not secure or you do not have a place to build a shelter, a bugout location shelter is your best option. But understand that the shelter you build is only as good as your ability to get there. Some threats cannot be anticipated so you should have multiple ways to get yourself, your family, and your important possessions to your shelter.
There are three distances you should consider:
- How far you can walk with all of your important possessions.
- How far you can ride a bike with all of your important possessions.
- How far you can drive with all of your important possessions on one tank of gas.
You should have plans to get to your shelter multiple ways. There are natural disasters that will destroy infrastructure. A shelter location that requires crossing a bridge or navigating through a city may be out of reach when you need it most.
Places with a high water table may require additional sealing and/or corrosion protection. Steel shelters are easier to seal than concrete, but they can suffer from corrosion (rust). This is why a test hole should be dug prior to planning or ordering your shelter. Shelters can be made for use below the water table, but they need to be designed for that location from the start. An effective sealant for steel underground steel shelters is spray on closed cell foam over a coating of zinc rich cold galvanizing primer.
Bedrock is another challenge. It can be drilled and blasted, but it this will cost more time and money. Bedrock is the most secure base that you can build a shelter on.
In an upcoming article, we will look at these issues more closely. May you all dig down in a dry hole in well draining soil and find bedrock at the perfect elevation to build your shelter on!
Every location has its benefits. The best location for your shelter is where you can enter it from within your home. The second best location is on the property that your home sits. No matter where your shelter is, hiding its existence is the best defense. Desperate people are highly motivated to reach back into their memories and remember your safe space in this world.
Next article: Bomb shelter plans that maximize your survivability
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