Panic room is a must-have for rich and famous
Affluent homeowners usually boast of a new conservatory or loft conversion. But the latest must-have accessory is an indoor bunker capable of withstanding biological, chemical and armed attack.
Security experts have revealed a huge surge in demand for so-called panic rooms since the 11 September attacks and recent rises in violent crime and burglaries.
The specially reinforced, hi-tech rooms – costing up to £150,000 – are designed to offer a last line of defence against armed intruders or would-be kidnappers. A panic room is effectively a reinforced, bullet-proof, air-tight steel box containing an emergency button that alerts local police.
Once inside, closed-circuit TV monitors allow homeowners to view the interior of their property while a microphone and loudspeakers enable dialogue with intruders without risk.
They may also contain gas detection equipment, alarmed locks and an emergency air supply. They are designed to withstand an attack from a determined intruder for up to 30 minutes.
Former Special Branch officer Philip Brown of security firm PBS believes that growing concern about crime and terror is creating a new industry: ‘There could well be an explosion of interest not dissimilar to the way the internet has grown.
‘In a few years every new home may be constructed with a protected room that acts as the last bastion of safety and is resistant to attack. There are already thousands of such rooms in existence.’
Former Army officer Paddy Nicoll, of security company Rubicon International Services, said: ‘Since 11 September we have seen an increase in personal and corporate security concerns. We can see a lot of companies jumping on the bandwagon.’
Nicoll added that most recent UK customers were high-profile businessmen – particularly executives of well-known multinational companies and diplomats from politically volatile countries. Even the headquarters of major companies are now fitted with secret panic rooms in case of attack from protesters or terrorists.
Celebrities understood to have invested in the hi-tech safe rooms include Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney – whose fellow Beatle, George Harrison, was stabbed 10 times when a deranged intruder broke into his 120-room mansion in 1999.
In the film Panic Room, on current release, Jodie Foster plays a woman forced to hide with her daughter after intruders storm her New York townhouse. British firms said that the film had boosted demand.
Chris Gordon-Wilson of Security Consortium International – whose clients range from royal families and governments to international banks – said panic rooms were increasingly popular across all sections of society. They can be fitted into the average British home for as little as £2,000.
Brown added: ‘You could easily modify an inside bathroom. However, if people with guns are after you, you need armour within the walls. The rise of armed criminals who make a forced entry into homes and kidnap or rob has sharpened minds.’
A spokesman for the International Public Security Association said such systems were ‘increasingly relevant’ to those who consider themselves possible targets.
The Housebuilders Federation said demand for panic rooms was rising, but was far from becoming mainstream.
Estate agents in some of London’s most affluent areas admit they have dealt with properties incorporating hi-tech protective bunkers. Autor: Mark Townsend