How a Panic Room Works

History of Panic Rooms
The ancient Egyptians built safe rooms in the pyramids.
The ancient Egyptians built safe rooms in the pyramids.
Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images

Panic rooms can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. Secret rooms were built within the ancient pyramids to protect an entombed pharaoh's treasures from thieves. However, in terms of safety for the living, the idea of the panic room began with castles. The "castle keep," a room located in the deepest part of the castle, was designed so the feudal lord could hide during a siege.

"Priest holes," another precursor to the panic room, were designed to hide Catholic priests during the 17th century, when persecution of Catholics was at its height in England.

In the United States, we can trace panic rooms to the Underground Railroad in the 1800s, when secret rooms hid escaping slaves. In the 1920s, hidden rooms stashed Prohibition-banned booze. Safe rooms for weather protection have their origins in storm cellars -- think Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

The features of the modern panic room are mostly derived from fallout shelters during the 1960s, which were created in response to the fear of nuclear attacks. The modern residential panic rooms began appearing on the West Coast about 25 years ago.

In fact, panic rooms are evolving into safe "cores," which include a fortified section or floor in newly constructed residences.

­While some may laugh off panic rooms as money pits that placate the fears of the wealthy and the paranoid, modern panic rooms are increasing in popularity among those desiring security in a post-Sept. 11, post-Katrina and post-Enron world. They are the ultimate gated community.

To learn more about panic rooms, check out the links on the next page.

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