When a security alarm isn't enough, some homeowners install pricey high-tech safe rooms

Like James Bond, we’d all like to die another day — and intruder-proof safe rooms can help.

Also called panic rooms, safe rooms “buy you time,” said Al Corbi, founder of Strategically Armored and Fortified Environments, which builds the heavily reinforced and secure spaces inside clients’ homes.

“On average, it takes from seven to 10 seconds for a bad guy to travel from the break-in point to the master bedroom,” where cash and valuables are usually stashed, Corbi said. The estimate is based on test break-ins that his company has clocked.

A homeowner jolted awake by a blaring alarm may not even make it to a nearby safe room, which is why Corbi suggests securing a bedroom itself, or better — transforming a master suite into a “safe core.” (Safe rooms are nearly always a room conversion; they are seldom add-on builds.)

“You need to already be safe when you go to bed,” said Corbi, whose company has headquarters in Los Angeles and Virginia.

Actress Sandra Bullock discovered just that in 2014 when a stalker broke into her Hollywood Hills home.

“I’m locked in my closet,” a distraught Bullock told a 911 dispatcher after she saw a man prowling her corridor. “I have a safe door in my bedroom, and I’ve locked it.”

Corbi said Bullock had the right idea: a bedroom that could be secured, and an apparent safe room within that room or suite. Alone-at-home Bullock bought some time as the intruder, who was apprehended by police without incident, freely roamed her estate.

“Safe rooms are becoming very popular, especially as home prices go up,” said Tomer Fridman, director of international markets for Compass. Fridman first spotted the trend about three years ago, especially among multimillion-dollar new builds in Los Angeles.

Although safe rooms differ, an ability to communicate with police and others is often key (beyond a cellphone). Such rooms often include an independently wired phone and surveillance system, through which property can be covertly monitored via hidden cameras.

Safe rooms’ security features are usually invisible: No reason to tip off the bad guys about what they’re up against, and seamless environments feel less like a prison.

Reinforcement plates (steel and other materials) are cloaked behind a door’s wood facings, and steel window and door frames are painted to match existing trim. Steel-alloy panels (also Kevlar, woven fiberglass and other materials) can be embedded within walls that are made fire-resistant; UL and other ratings specify whether a mere pistol or a .50-caliber rifle can blast through.

Solid-core or reinforced doors made with steel and other materials, and secured with heavy-duty plates and locks (mechanical, electronically activated and electromagnetic) can’t be sledgehammered or kicked-in.

Add-ons include reinforced walls and ballistic-grade glass to foil bullets, and air filtration systems in case of a chemical attack. Fridman has seen several with wet bars.

“You may as well have a cappuccino while calling the police,” said Fridman, who often agents Kardashian deals.

The price of securing a room may run from under $1,000 (for minimal work on a door) to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The famous, including government officials, favor the rooms.

Nick Paster, vice president of L.A. and Oregon-based Saferoom, outfitted a hallway and executive suites for the United Nation’s secretary-general and his deputy.

“It’s the last line of defense for them,” said Paster, adding that he could say no more. (Saferoom’s Oregon facility includes a ballistic-testing range; the firm was consulted for the 2002 Jodie Foster thriller, “Panic Room”).

Corbi also routinely works for the rich and famous, with some jobs taking months, others years, such as the now-listed $17.5-million Atlanta Rice House, a fifth of which was designed by Corbi as a safe core (it includes a “bat cave” garage with receding waterfall fronting the entrance, and rooms that double as “man traps,” wherein intruders can be gassed and incapacitated.)

Homeowners who have safe rooms are, not surprisingly, tight-lipped about their features — except for Corbi, who is selling his 2001 James Bond-worthy Hollywood Hills home with helicopter access for $6 million. The Corbi-designed home includes two safe rooms and three safe cores.

hotproperty@latimes.com

MORE FROM HOT PROPERTY

This Holmby Hills estate sold last year for $90 million. Now it's back at $180 million

Kanye West’s bachelor pad — including bathroom fish tank — sells for $2.95 million

Modern Hidden Hills estate fetches $18.2 million — the area's highest sale price since 2014

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°