Safe room technology

 

A Guns Save Life member writes:

About two years ago, we decided to build a safe room. Previous GunNews articles (Guns Save Life’s monthly journal) have described how we planned, built and finished our safe room.

The room, built of poured concrete, serves several roles for us. It stores many of our firearms and ammunition. In tornado country here in Illinois, it serves as a shelter. What’s more, it’s also what some might call my man cave and workshop as well.

We’ve spent the last year installing and configuring tech in our safe room to support security, communication, computing and off-grid power. This article reviews what we did, and is intended to illustrate some of the things you might want to think about for your own safe room.

We wall mounted the off-grid power system – a 2800 watt inverter and an Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charge controller by Outback. Battery enclosures (under the countertop) hold 16 AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries with a capacity of about 10 kWh. Cables to the solar panels and a wind turbine exit discreetly through an underground conduit.

The top two compartments of the equipment cabinet hold all the networking hardware – patch panel on the top, network switches and controllers below. We set up a pair of separate networks, one for the security system and another for Internet access.

We ended up using fiber optic cables for network runs exiting the safe room (eliminates ground loops, not affected by an EMP). Fiber optic is simpler and cheaper than you might think. Mixing fiber and Cat 6 in the same network is easy. We had good success using single mode, duplex fiber optic cables with LC connectors, Trendnet TEG-MGBS10 laser modules and Netgear GS110TP switches.

The third compartment from the top holds the video recorder for the surveillance system. Looking at our options, we chose a digital video surveillance system that uses power over Ethernet (PoE) – eliminating the need for camera batteries or power cables. We bought a system manufactured by Dahua and placed cameras all around our property – some are hidden, others are intentionally very obvious.

The next two compartments house the radio and associated gear. We found a good deal on a Kenwood TS-2000x radio. It covers most amateur bands and is capable of 100W transmitting power. This radio can interface with a computer for easy programming and configuration.

We also added a Morse code keyer/reader made by MFJ Enterprises (model MFJ-464). The MFJ box translates Morse code to text (and vice versa) in real time. There’s also an Iambic Morse code paddle.

The TS-2000x sits in an RF shielded cubbyhole to cut down on interference from all the other electronics. The antenna cables and RF ground exit the safe room through an underground conduit. We chose a vertical multiband antenna (Comet GP-15) for 6m, 2m, and 70cm bands and a portable TransWorld antenna (www.dxengineering.com) with tuners for specific HF bands (40, 20 and 10m). We chose mounts that allow for easy deployment and take down of our antennas – to keep things adaptable and discrete.

Below the radio sits an old Shuttle computer rebuilt and repurposed as a server.  This will be used for monitoring and for network security. It also holds an electronic library of “how to” manuals that we’ve collected over the years (we also have paper copies of everything). In a pinch, this PC can play blu-rays and DVDs. It also has EchoLink software, providing radio communication over the Internet.

At this point, our safe room is complete. The solar panels, wind turbine and radio antennas remain stored indoors – out of sight – but are easily deployed when needed.

Our only advice? Planning is key. Keep your costs down. Take your time, get educated and plan ahead.  You too can create a well-designed, usable safe room.

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34 Responses to Equipping Your Safe Room With the Right Technology

  1. It might help to describe what you’re trying to be “safe” from? I mean besides tornadoes. Complete governmental collapse? EMP? Zombies? You can do a lot to survive an extended shutdown of the power grid but that wouldn’t require concrete walls.

    As for backup electrical power, I think I’d rather have a generator running off a large propane tank.

    Anyway, I see no mention of either a beer fridge or a toilet, so I wouldn’t want to be stuck in there for very long.

    • “As for backup electrical power, I think I’d rather have a generator running off a large propane tank.”

      An inverter running off a battery is a whole hell of a lot quieter at zero-dark-thirty.

      Run the genset to charge the batteries during the day, and sleep at night.

      (NOTE – Avoid sleeping near the inverter. Some of them have a God-awful switching squeal noise…)

  2. If things really go off the rails, John, I’ll be on my way to your safe room, beer in hand. Or beer in truck.

    • Ralph:

      You could do a lot worse. Assuming you can make it across the Mississippi. Bring food, TP, and pretty ladies. We prefer tequila to beer. Other things to bring for barter: Vodka, Sugar and Gasoline.

      John

      • Sorry about that – It was an “inside ham radio” comment. That particular “X” model is pretty rare; Unlike the standard model, it *also* includes 1.2GHZ capability. I have one, and rarely encounter others like it.

        • H’mm. I don’t see that ad on my end.

          I just never really had a thing for Trio-Kenwood gear. Had a 520 years back, it was kinda deaf as a receiver.

          Nothing really against them, more of a Yeasu or ICOM fan for HF…

        • My primary HF gear is Elecraft. But many groups are standardized on running a TS-2000 for EMCOMM. The TS-520S was decent. The TS-830S was awesome.

  3. Keep it concealed. If no one knows it’s there, they are less likely to breach it. Modern saw technology will cut through steel and concrete quickly, especially if no one is around to stop it. Don’t forget remote controlled defenses.

  4. Paranoia at its finest. Shouldn’t you plan for likely emergencies rather than incredibly unlikely ones? I almost every single one of us would be much better at “surviving” if we got in shape in shape, bought a safer car, had basic survival gear in case of a natural disaster, etc. than dumping thousands into a safe room.

    • Why do you care about what someone is doing with their time and money?

      And what’s with all the assumptions on everyone’s diet, car, and gear?

      To the Op: Cool setup.

    • Concrete is fire and wind resistant, the fellow and his stuff will survive nearly any natural disaster, probably even a tornado. A very smart move if you can afford it. Insurance will cover losses, but most of your really good stuff is NOT replaceable at any cost.

    • HELLOTROLLFROM IL, I counted a great number of uses for this room from secure storage and hobbyist radio to network hub and off- grid closet. This is not to mention the workshop, man cave, SHTF bunker, tornado shelter, and library.

      By all means share your opinion, it’s not my fault that your opinion is meaningless.

    • Hello, Mr. Hello:

      Pretty much all of my circle of friends are preparedness oriented. You call it paranoia? I call it planning ahead. I say your golf course is a waste of perfectly good range space. Planning for likely scenarios? Trust me, they are covered. While I don’t know everything they or other friends of mine have done, I do know the owners of this room don’t cut corners on anything.

      My friends and I have forged relationships that are stronger than family in many cases. When one was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a couple of years ago, almost two dozen of us showed up at his family’s place one Saturday. We prepped his place for winter, cut down a couple of dead trees and removed the deadwood endangering the house or incoming power lines. We fixed the lawnmower (spot welding a permanent fix), split enough firewood for almost two seasons (they heat with wood) and did who knows what else before making sure the kids had a decent Christmas since dad was on temporary disability. He’s since gone into remission, thankfully.

      We’ll be okay if bad things happen. Because we’re constantly preparing instead of mocking fellow preppers as paranoid.

      John

    • Never said preparedness was paranoia. I fully agree with being adequately prepared for dangerous weather, having enough food to take care of your family in case of an emergency, having emergency plans, owning firearms suitable for self-defense, etc.

      All I am suggesting is that building incredibly expensive safe rooms to survive the apocalypse is a poor use of resources very likely based on paranoia given the astronomically unlikeliness of needing this room for things like a massive emp blast or other SHTF scenario it seems to be built for. You could argue that this goes past the point of rational planning since a strictly rational person could think of much better and more realistic ways to use these resources to sustain ourselves and our families long term (none of us are purely rational of course). It is especially silly given the nearly all of us statistically have much more likely threats to our lives that we should be addressing but don’t. It seems unlikely that the majority of us here eat healthy, exercise adequately, and other things to avoid serious health risks and keep our bodies fit in case we actually need to try to survive a serious disaster. Let alone really basic long term preparedness planning like gardening for long term food supply,

      I agree that the room could be used for tornadoes and other natural disasters. But again, unless you live in an area incredibly prone to tornadoes or hurricanes, you have much more realistic threats to plan for. Statistically very few of us are significantly at risk for dying by natural disaster but many of us are at risk from heart disease, cancer, car accidents, etc.

  5. My safe room is equipped with signs that prohibit hateful and mean words….I have backup earplugs just in case the signs don’t work. I also have crayons, coloring books and puppies to pet.

  6. Bravo on everything. Tipton gun vise though? I looked at that a while back but it’s so darn plastic-child’s-toy. Anyone have opinions on theirs? I have an actual vise and receiver blocks but it’s not every day I’m sending roll pins in or out.

    • The original Tipton Gun Vise is a solid unit. It will grab ahold of the stock as tightly as a government employee clinging to his job.

      The Tipton “Best” Gun Vise – The newer design with a center post to hold open a break-action shotgun or an AR field stripped – has a different design and not nearly as firm a grip.

      Either one will do what you need them to do, which is to hold the gun without damaging it while you push a cleaning rod through it or mount a scope.

  7. Very nice! How is the RF shielding accomplished? I do have a fair amount of RF noise where my radios are situated Fortunately I can power down the offenders if necessary but it would be nice to not have to.

  8. This posting is mere inches away into devolving into an Arfrcom/outdoors/hamradios thread. Not that I would complain.

  9. How often do you let RF out of his cubby and do you or RF have to walk his dogs? How much is the difference in cost if I get a Tyler or Dan compared o RF?

  10. The door to the room (which is about 400 sq ft if memory serves) is one of those Ft. Knox Vault Room Doors. Very elegant and pretty.

    The people who have this place are a great bunch and are in my circle of close friends. Both are professionals and MENSA types and just outstanding people in every sense of the world.

    I don’t fully understand how all of the shielding is done. I’m not an electrical engineer. Even the thought of running fiber optic intimidates me.

    John

  11. 1) I hope you have EMP/surge suppression on the video ethernet PoE cable, otherwise, you’re providing a direct path in for lightning.

    2) If you “RF ground” is more than a few feet long, it’s not an RF ground, it’s an antenna.

    3) If your “RF ground” runs outside, it’s now providing a direct path for EMP/surge into your room. The best protection is to completely disconnect all electronics from all power/network/ground connections, and that should probably be the default state for your gear unless you’re using it.

  12. Remember you’re wasting energy if you’re going Battery –> invertor –> DC Adapter –> electronic. Your battery runs on DC. The invertor converts it to AC (+wasted energy as heat). Then the DC adapter converts it back to DC (+ wasted energy as heat). There are more efficient ways of changing the 12V from the battery to whatever voltage the electronics require without the adapter steps.

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