The Sunday Times (UK)

Queen gets panic rooms in palaces

LONDON - FEARS of an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack have prompted the Queen to install “panic rooms” at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace at a cost of at least £1m to the taxpayer.

The high-security rooms encased in 18 inc thick steel walls, are designed to protect senior members of the royal family from poison gas, bomb attacks or assassination by terrorists. Equipped with secure communications, beds and washing facilities, the rooms are stocked with enough food and water for the royals to survive for at least a week.

They have been built following a security review after Al-Qaeda’s September 11 terrorist attacks on America. They replace smaller, sparsely furnished rooms which for decades served as the last resort for the royal family.

The Queen Mother had a 6ft by 6ft safe room containing just a table and chair. Secure rooms at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace were twice the size but were equally bare and designed only for overnight stays in bombing raids.

The new “panic rooms” at Windsor and Buckingham Palace, estimated to have cost at least £600,000 each, have more comforts. A similar safe room is expected to be constructed at Clarence House, the Queen Mother’s former residence, where Prince Charles will move once it is refurnished.

The shell of each room is a bullet-resistant and fire-retardant steel core made of reinforced metal with an inner layer of carbon fibre. It is capable of withstanding a mortar attack and, possibly, a direct hit by a light aircraft. Officials have expressed concern that Windsor lies in the Heathrow flight path. Although airline security has been increased since the hijackings on September 11, intelligence services believe hijacks by suicide bombers remain an option favoured by Al-Qaeda.

Whereas in the past the royals might have expected reasonable advance warning and could be evacuated, the nature of modern terrorism means they might have only a minute to prepare, according to experts. The new safe rooms will have full modern communications, including a command and control centre with video screens to monitor events outside.

Although details are secret, Tom Gaffney, owner of Gaffco, a leading manufacturer of “panic rooms”, said he expected the Queen’s secure rooms would have their own air supply and filter system to keep out poison gases. Lighting and heat in the room would be powered by a submarine-style battery system the size of a bunk bed. A back-up electricity system would be run from a generator hidden outside.The emergency larder might be stocked with enough supplies of tinned, non-perishable meat and vegetables to last a fortnight. “Together with the filtration system, the command and control system and the other accessories, we could be looking at £1m,” Gaffney said.

The royal rooms are concealed - probably behind wood-panelled sliding doors. Such rooms usually provide protection from guns and from heavy tools such as sledgehammers and chainsaws. The Queen’s is strong enough to withstand an antitank missile.

Security experts have warned that the Queen would have to take her beloved corgis with her.” The corgis would be in there, more than likely,” said Gaffney. “If you leave them outside they’ll sniff you out and their barking would give her away.”

Royal security sources their biggest concern is that Prince Philip would ignore all the advice and refuse to enter the panic room. “Philip doesn’t like security, full stop,” said one insider.” If you told him he had to get into a safe room, he’d probably tell you to foxtrot oscar.”