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“Home invasions are fast, furious and brutal,” Tactical tipper and fitness-oriented gun guru Jeff Anderson warns in a comment at his blog, “At the onset and the initial chaos of an intruder’s entry may be the only chance you have to respond.” True dat. So why is Anderson so fixated on safe rooms for his post 5 Tactical Tips to Survive a Home Invasion? “Designate a ‘safe room’ in your home where every one can go to at the same time” is Tip 2. “Do not, under any circumstances, leave the safe room” is a curious Tip 3. Anderson considers staying put so vital it’s also Tip 5: “Stay in the safe room until the police arrive, no matter how long it takes.” I’ve got issues with that . . .

Safe rooms are a nice idea. In theory. In practice, they have insurmountable tactical limitations . . . and severe dangers. Here are three reasons why safe rooms aren’t so safe:

1. Getting to a safe room (singular) is problematic

For some reason, home defense planners focus on BITN (Bump in the Night) scenarios. Maybe that’s because it’s the easiest nightmare for which to plan. Everyone’s in a known location, geographically clustered. But, as John Lennon said before he was shot to death, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Although the FBI doesn’t gather home invasion stats (there’s no such crime category per se), I bet at least half of in-home attacks occur during non-sleeping hours. The Petit family massacre is only the most grisly anecdotal evidence that bad things can happen in bright light, too. What then? Mom’s in the kitchen, one kid’s in the living room, another’s in their bedroom, you’re padding around somewhere, the kids may have friends over. Who goes where when and how and what do they do when they get there?

If your safe room is upstairs and everyone’s everywhere, what are the chances that everyone will converge at the same place at relatively the same time—especially if the safe room’s tucked away off the master bedroom (as it tends to be)? Practically nil. You need at least one safe room per level that’s central to all possible locations. And a plan for what to do when you get there, if you go there.

2.  A safe room encourages dangerous thinking

Unless you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on your safe room, it’s not so safe. For example, how many people put rifle grade ballistic plates into the walls surrounding their safe room? And even if you have an impregnable redoubt, it may be completely compromised by your inexperience, a stupid mistake or a weapons failure. Then what? Then you have all you “assets” in one place, where they’re easier to assault, rape, torture or kill.

For another, the “correct” response to a home invasion is situation-dependent. Would you want one of your kids to run past an invader to get to a safe room? I don’t think so. In some situations, running away from the house to get help (call the cops from a neighbor’s or a cell phone) would be a life-saver. In others, it could be fatal (running into an unseen accomplice).

Sometimes the only effective reaction to a home invasion would be offensive (an attack with a weapon at hand) rather than defensive (running to the safe room). Tactically, teaching your family that the safe room is safe is not safe. They need to be able to think for themselves, as well as for each other. No child left behind is not just George Bush’s master plan to emasculate the teachers’ unions.

3. Your home defense weapon may fail

With a proper home defense weapon, a safe room can be a life-saving fortress. You’ve got all your family behind you. When the bad guys come a knockin’, the shotgun be a rocking. But you aren’t going to get many chances at this. If you miss when you shoot, or fail to fire (shit happens when you’re stressed), or can’t manage to reload for BG No. 2, you’re in deep trouble.

Most safe rooms are equipped with a single entrance and exit. If you run out of firepower, you’re corralled, sitting duck style. In fact, you’re probably drawing fire to your huddled mass of genetic inheritors and friends. Also, most safe rooms only have enough space for one person to shoot. Where’s the fun in that? Seriously, two guns are better than one, and two guns are better still when there’s some space between them.

Like so many home defense tools (cough Smith & Wesson Governor), the safe room offers an illusion of invincibility. While all home defense tools can be helpful, your ability to continue breathing before, during and after a home invasion depends on understanding that your mind is the ultimate weapon in any fight to survive.  Think outside the box. Think outside the room. And teach everyone in your family to do the same.

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  1. I always heard the ” safe room” called a “panic room”, but the last thing you want to do is PANIC. In some ways my whole house could be considered a one big PANIC ROOM, cuz if the badguy breaks in he’s the one who going to panic when I unleash the FIRES OF HELL on his sorry ass. (i.e. SNUB NOSE 500 and her friends)

  2. Our “safe room” is not so much a place to hide as it is a place from which to shoot effectively. The location was chosen to funnel any BGs into a backlighted killing zone with intersecting lines of fire. We have other plans in case we can’t reach the safe room. In case anyone thinks we’re being anal, we also have a plan to extinguish or escape a fire, since we don’t want to become crispy critters. Plans like these are prudent, not paranoid.

  3. You’re not being anal Ralph and I will now be updating my plans. You made some great points for us all to follow.

  4. RF your posts are insightful and thought-provoking, and I appreciate every one of them. I have another question – maybe you have it somewhere or maybe you will write it – for those like me who are somewhat novices, but practice regularly (trying to get better), and live in “smaller cities” – where can we go to learn how to shoot better – not #1 tactical shooters, but just drawing, moving, shooting, etc., i.e., what can teach us better how to handle a live waking-hours home invasion…..if there is such a class/forum/venue. Thanks.

  5. This is just me, but if I spent more than oh, 60 seconds a day mentally occupied with a legitimate worry about home intrusion, I would move to a different home. One in a community with a less abysmal violent crime rate, because where I am living now would have to be pretty damn bad to engender that level of worry.

    I mean, I like to think I am a little brighter than the average career criminal, and I am certain (like all shooters) I am a pretty good shot… but I sure as hell wouldn’t bet my childrens’ lives on the possible outcome of a confrontation with a dangerous, armed intruder. That’s poor percentage ball even for Dick Tracy. So if I sincerely felt my family was in actual danger of this nature, I wouldn’t sit there plotting my tactical options for the upcoming dining room shootout. Nope, I’d just move. With our worldly possessions roped to the roof, if necessary. It’s a simple matter of priorities.

    Now, if I spent much time obsessing about the threat of home invasion and it wasn’t entirely warranted to the above degree, I might start to wonder… maybe my thinking is influenced by all these expensive shootin’ toys I own, as an attempt to rationalize and justify them as useful and important household hardware… and maybe, just maybe, in some dark corner of my psyche, it’s possible I am fantasizing a tiny bit about the possibility of using my toys on some bad guy. I hope that at that point, I would reflect on the wisdom of playing cops ‘n robbers with live ammo in the same dwelling where my family sleeps.

    Just sayin.’

    • Magoo, I live in a very fancy town — the buy-in starts at a million bucks for a house here — and one of my neighbors just had his the sh*t kicked out of him in a home invasion. He’ll recover eventually, but he’ll never be the same.

      You probably are smarter than the average scumbag, but it doesn’t tax their brains to know that nice homes in “safe” neighborhoods have nice stuff to steal, nice women to rape, and nice complacent homeowners. I’m sure that the Petit family in Cheshire, CT (a very safe and lovely town, btw) were just as sure that they were far away from any bad guys. And now, Mr. Petit is left with the knowledge that his daughter and wife were raped and murdered (and possibly not in that order). That kind of sh*t happens everywhere and can happen anywhere. So do yourself favor — take a couple of minutes and plan. If not for yourself, then at least for your family.

      I’m just sayin’.

  6. I also live in a beautiful neighborhood, as did the poor Petit family. Home invasions don’t only happen in the slums, so don’t think that you can just run away like some scared little lamb (i.e. SHEEP). Evil people will carry out their evil intentions in bad and good neighborhoods, so you’re just fooling yourself and your if you believe that running away is the answer. I also love all my expensive TOYS and hopefully I will never have to use them to defend my family, but if I ever do it’s nice to know that I can.

  7. The chances of a family member being killed or maimed by another driver are far, far greater than those of suffering at the hands of a violent criminal. By like an order of magnitude. If, horror of horrors, a precious daughter is raped, the odds are somewhere above 700:1 it will be by a known acquaintance as opposed to in an armed break-in. So if I am in need of worries, it seems I have far better things to worry about.

    What a curious thing it is. For some years now the USA has enjoyed a period of steep decline in violent crime. Yet in our beloved hobby ‘n lobby, the crime hysteria ratchets ever upward, year after year: home defense, handgun combat training, concealed carry, blah, blah, blah. What is this about? I don’t know. But it does appear to sell a hell of a lot of of firearms, doesn’t it.

    Since the tragedy in Tuscon, Glock sales are reportedly up as much as 60 percent in some areas, including Tuscon, apparently. How predictable. In the weeks and months following 9/11, the home alarm companies increased their advertising budgets 50 percent. And yes, despite the hilariously dubious connection, it worked. Sure it worked. Of course it works. It works every time.

    I say bag all that. I’m here to spread the joy, not paranoia. Firearms are primarily for our enjoyment: Hunting, target shooting, loading, smithing, terminating tin cans with extreme prejudice. Let’s enjoy guns. It’s a hobby and a sport. It’s supposed to be fun, and fun is not generally driven by existential fear and paranoia. All this cops ‘n robbers and paramilitary stuff is not the flavor. Not for me.

    • Yes, it is highly unlikely that you will experience a violent break-in during your lifetime. But if you think that means you shouldn’t consider the possibility in your emergency planning, you are accepting that the worst WILL happen if that scenario should unfold. You are putting yourself and your loved ones at the mercy of others, and trusting that the “bad guys” will skip your house and invade someone else’s. Not to mention that you are failing to provide for the common defense by refusing to act as a deterrent. A chain-link fence doesn’t keep anyone out if you remove most of the links. (Where were the carrying citizens in Arizona when Rep. Gifford and others were shot? A violent man got 30 rounds off before he was taken down. If you want to ignore your duties as protector of your family, that’s your choice; but when you ignore your civic duty to provide for the common defense, you might as well be an accomplice violent crimes against others.)

      Don’t go around telling everyone else that it isn’t worth their time to plan for violent encounters, however unlikely. I’d prefer it if all my neighbors were armed and ready.


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