Sweet home paranoia: The panic room business is booming for the 1 percent

In-home bunkers have moved from the basement to the master bedroom in these terror-obsessed times

by Noah Charney

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It's the middle of the night when you are startled awake. Was that the bright shatter of a window downstairs?

Probably nothing, but just in case you are endangered by foreign terrorists, domestic terrorists, post-apocalyptic survivalists, Donald Trump enthusiasts or your choice of villain, if you're prepared, you'll gather the loved ones (don't forget the cat) and hustle into your panic room or safe room, which you've carefully prepared for just such an event as this.

If the need for one of these rooms sounds like an implausible filmic scenario, it's less rare an event than you might think. The world is a scary place these days....

The desire to have a safe room in one's home is rising.

"We have experienced annual 15 percent growth over the last four years, and this year we're up 30 percent," said Thomas Gaffney, chief executive of Gaffco Ballistics, a Vermont-based firm that designs and builds safe rooms around the world, including many in McLean, Virginia, and the D.C. metro area. Gaffney continues, "I attribute this growth in sales to global and local terrorist-related attacks. The people I deal with have a high regard for security and, more importantly, the lack of it in the world today." The people he deals with also invest a lot of money in that feeling of security.

"One hundred and fifty thousand dollars to $350,000 is standard for the sort of work we do," Gaffney said. "We deal with the one-percenters. Safe room people are thinking, ‘I'm spending a lot of money on my residence, or residences, so security is a priority.'"

Seventy percent of the safe rooms Gaffco builds, Gaffney said, are part of newly-built homes, which is far easier logistically. Rather than create a purpose-made bunker, Americans want to feel absolutely safe in a room they'll be comfortable spending time in. "A lot of times it's the master bedroom" that is converted into a safe room, Gaffney said. "Back in the day, we built basement bunkers, but now we're talking about very large rooms in very large residences. All the exterior windows and entrances, and we match units, doors finishes."

The company essentially takes your preferred high-end interior design and makes bullet-blast resistant versions of it, down to the last detail, so no one can tell which of your windows happens to be able to stop shotgun shells. Americans apparently tend to be concerned about terrorism and "dirty bombs," chemical weapons, so a room must not only be secure against intruders, and set up with ways to contact help, but also rigged with an independent ventilation system...

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