Panic rooms are mostly for high-level executives, politicians and celebrities, although corporations do install them to protect execs from disgruntled employees.
According to some estimates, nearly every new mansion in Los Angeles has a panic room, as do many Manhattan executive suites and town houses. Others say the panic room is mostly an urban legend. The exact numbers are difficult to pin down because the point of the panic room is to be a secret hideout. In fact, most homeowners will not show the room to a buyer until the home is already in escrow -- or they tear down the room before selling.
Since Sept. 11, more middle-income families have been investing in panic rooms. And abuse victims are increasingly utilizing panic rooms instead of fleeing their homes (see sidebar).
FEMA is encouraging people to share their ideas for weather-resistant panic rooms. Additionally, the agency -- along with some cities and school districts -- is considering safe rooms in hurricane-prone areas to protect emergency responders and to store important documents.
Internationally, panic rooms have grown in popularity. Embassies have used safe rooms for at least 25 years to protect government officials and important documents during attacks. Since the 1980s, every U.S. embassy has had a panic room with bullet-resistant glass. In Israel, all new buildings and apartments have been required since 1992 to include bullet- and fire-resistant rooms. In Mexico, where kidnappings for ransom are common, many people use safe rooms as an alternative (or an addition) to bodyguards.
Next we'll look at the origins of the panic room.