The Need for A Corporate Safe Room
Man Made threats
An active shooter situation is perhaps the situation that is foremost in our minds when it comes to panic room security at a corporate location.
In fact, the term “going postal” was derived from the series of incidents in 1986 and onwards where USPS workers shot and killed managers and coworkers in a series of over 20 incidents across the country.
Upper management may be particularly at risk in a situation like this. In a corporate setting, people’s livelihoods are at stake. It is also where many people spend the majority of their waking hours. Of course, the threat doesn’t necessarily come from within the organization but can also come from a stranger on the outside. They may have a vendetta against the brand or industry, or even choose a target at random.
An active shooter is a worst nightmare scenario for an office, but unfortunately common.
Company / Industry Protests
Some companies may be particularly at risk of public outcry, for example companies in the oil and gas industry or manufacturers of certain chemicals. With incredibly easily available of information sharing, sometimes protests swell in numbers high tempered people show up. They may incite violence which can spread through the group. This can create a frightening situation for employees. A corporate panic room allows for a secure place for people to go in case of an escalation.
In international locations this may be particularly of risk, where local law enforcement may be undependable or even crooked.
While a panic room is generally designed to keep people safe inside, it can also be used as a barrier for the people outside. While local law enforcement should always be called first, if a suspicious package is identified while being handled the safest place to keep it would be inside of a safe room until help arrives.
In the event of an explosion, the fortified walls of the room would absorb much of the shock. This allows for a safe place to put items that aren’t quite determined to be out of the ordinary yet.
Safe rooms are often used for major storms such as tornadoes, in fact in many cases this is even their primary purpose. Depending on their construction and location in the building, they are often the most sturdy room to be in, or at least a secondary spot for those nearby.
Many materials which have bene tested as bullet resistant have also been tested or demonstrated to withstand impact from major debris and strong winds. Certain construction methods and materials should be used to match guidelines specified by FEMA.
Where to locate an office safe room
Offices tend to be much larger than homes and therefore have more options for placing a safe room. Of course, this also makes the decision harder. In a larger building, it may make sense to place multiple safe rooms, or a higher security primary one, with moderate security secondary locations.
This is one of the most common locations to focus on. The boardroom is a wise choice because it both already frequently houses senior employees at any given time and can be used as a temporary “control” room. Board room walls can be reinforced and the doors highly secured, among other features.
The board room also is already generally lavished on aesthetically, so high end features may not feel out of place. People are also familiar with this location. The downside of using a boardroom as a safe room is that it may be occupied already, frequently, and even locked in cases where privacy is needed for a meeting. This could be a major risk where quick access is needed. It’s also possible that it is far away from most employees.
Another option is to make one or more executive offices into a discreet panic room. This is useful in that senior executives are protected without even needing to move. It also means that room is being used as a dual purpose, and not just waiting for an emergency.
One possible downside however is that junior employees may be reluctant to barge into an executive’s office in a case where it isn’t yet clear if an emergency is present or not. You don’t want any sort of impediment here. Additionally, executive offices are often at the end of an office, not in the middle.
In normal times it could also harbor some negative feelings. Some executives, managers or even junior employees may be – quite reasonably – upset that some receive life threatening protection and they don’t. This may result in many more offices getting reinforcement which ends up being a financial waste compared to reinforcing a few central rooms.
A storage area is a frequently designated safe room area. These allow you to use a more rarely used room as the location. This can be advantageous as the room can be comfortably left “raw” with it’s security materials without needing to concern builders with a finished attractive aesthetic.
It also can be accessed by anyone at anytime. It can be more purpose designed for the application, such as housing extra food and water. Downsides of building a panic room here is that it may not be a place people are familiar in going to, which can slow people down during an emergency – usually people fall on habits.
An area where employees often congregate is another great option. An example would be a lunchroom or a rec room. This can be a good location because employees are often already found there, should an attack happen. They also tend to be large room and can hold a lot of people. Of course, that also means it is a lot of walls and doors to secure – a potentially very costly project compared to securing a compact room. If there are multiple entry points it may be difficult to enforce a security protocol.
Many larger offices have a dedicated security room where security officers review surveillance camera footage and act as the nerve center of the building. In smaller operations a room like this may still exist but without personal, but still housing important data and surveillance information, as well as keys and other items.
Securing this room can provide a very important dual benefit, both for day to day security use, protection of important data and documents and for a panic room scenario. It also tends to be relatively compact and therefore cost effective to secure. Ballistic glass is likely needed for personnel to look out of.
Potential downsides of this location are that it also tends to be the front line of building entry. If there is an active shooter situation, you may not want everyone running right into the “front lines”. Additionally, it may cause chaos as security personnel attempt to organize and handle the attack.
In general, rooms within the basement of a corporate building have benefits for security. The primary benefit is that they tend to be built from very strong materials, whether foundational concrete walls or interior masonry walls. This may provide ballistic protection without extra materials being installed. This can also provide excess strength if used as a storm shelter.
There also likely is plenty of space as basements aren’t frequently used except for storage. Some downsides include the long-distance employees may need to travel to reach the safe location, particularly in multi-floor buildings. And, here too, the unfamiliarity with going to the basement may sow chaos as people attempt to get there.
How to use a safe room
Training & awareness
After having invested in created a safe room in a corporate building, the first and most important task is making sure all employees are aware of its presence and location. Often times it is a big focal point during construction but is information is shared in minimal ways once the office is normal operations – no one expects an emergency!
Aside form awareness, it is important to train people to walk to the room. Though they may feel this is silly, they should at least once be required to walk from their area of work directly to the panic room. People often don’t realize how difficult it can be to think clearly in an emergency. Sounds and sights may be overwhelming. The body pumps cortisol to ready for running. Rational thought becomes challenging. Habit is the easiest thing to follow.
We recommend planning and displaying routes to the safe room just like companies normally do with evacuation routes for fires. These routes may be desired to be kept somewhat more discreet than evacuation routes, as we don’t want to the perpetrator to be specifically knowledgeable of the path to the safe area, but they can the very least be digitally distributed to employees and demonstrated yearly.
Another opportunity for saving lives and making the most of panic room in an emergency is in quickly alerting the whole office of the impending emergency. Yelling is not enough.
In offices where security guards are present this may be easier. But even still we believe in decentralizing the ability to initiate an alert. Panic buttons of different meanings are recommended to be placed in various easily accessible areas of the office.
While a false press is possible, various methods can be put in place to avoid this. Firstly, buttons can be put higher than a young child can reach. Secondly, cameras may be put within view of them to be able to confirm by security if the button was pressed appropriately.
Building An Office Safe Room
The concept of a safe or panic room is similar to that of a small safe, but with major modifications due to the fact that it is designed for human protection and use.
Safe rooms do not need to be built dark and scary
The doors of a corporate panic room are of course of critical importance. This is the one security element of the room that will be moving and operating. It needs to both let people quickly in and keep the perpetrator out. In many cases we’d recommend a bulletproof door. It needs to be not too heavy so as to be difficult to use. Motorized doors are not recommended as they could injure someone jumping in. However, the door should have a mechanical self-closer simply to increase the chance of the door being kept closed.
A panic room requires a different methodology than your typical home vault room or the like. Those tend to be for the long term protection of objects. A panic room is for the immediate protection of people. Therefore, a quick method of entry is needed, while a robust lock is needed only once people are inside.
In fact, generally the door is left unlocked except for in emergencies, in most cases. This of course allows for the quickest of entry into the secure corporate room. Once inside, robust locking devices can be deployed. These can be electronic or mechanical. We’ll work with you to determine the right options for the threats you may be facing.
The walls are the greatest amount of space that can be attacked. If in an active shooter situation then they should be made bullet resistant. So too if one is looking to stop debris in a storm.
Making walls ballistic rated is surprisingly convenient these days. Lightweight sheets of materials exist that can be placed inside of walls being constructed. They can even be placed over existing office walls and screwed through drywall into studs. The ballistic materials can then be painted over. The walls can be UL 752 and NIJ certified to stop anything from 9mm handguns to AK-47 assault rifles.
Ballistic panels can easily be placed within standard wall structures
Some clients may value security highly enough that they also want to be prepared for intentional and unintentional airborne risks such as chemicals, biological and even nuclear materials.
There are two main options. The first is an air filter. This is designed to capture various particles by cycling air through. Removing some of these unusual impurities requires a filter more advanced than the typical mass produced residential ones.
Another option is an overpressure system. What this does is pressurize the safe room to be higher pressure than the rooms around it in. In this way any leaks or joints between materials would only allow air to escape into the public rooms, rather than potentially dangerous air pouring into the secure room. This typically will be on a system that is only running when the room is being operated.
For a potentially sustained attack or severe storm, a backup generator powering key elements of the room is very valuable. It can be used for lights of course. Ideally all the outlets in the room can be wired to it as well. In that way phones can be charged as well.
It’s important for those inside the office panic room to be able to communicate with those outside, and vice versa. This includes communicating with fellow employees, company security officers and law enforcement.
In some ways cells phones may suffice. However, purpose-designed tools can be used for office-wide communication, including panic buttons and intercoms. Security also needs a way to be able to let those inside of the room know when it is officially safe to come out.
Glass may be preferred within the secure room, either for aesthetic purposes (such as blending in with the rest of the office’s décor) or to allow easily viewing out. The presence of glass does not need to be a weak point. The glass and framing in this special room can be to the same ballistic level as the rest of the materials. It is generally 2-3x more expensive than reinforced walls but it certainly is done.
Alternatively to glass, technology can instead be used to allow those inside the corporate safe room to view what is going on outside. At the very least a camera should point towards the safe room to see if there is an attack happening. Preferable is if the other cameras in the building can route their live feed to this room as well during an emergency.
The first thing to do is to schedule a professional physical security assessment to determine what threats you are truly facing and how security can be optimally and cost effectively integrated. This planning phase is crucial to achieving a solution that is usable and long lasting.