Maryland Firm Bets a 'Safe Room' Boom Is at Hand


March 3, 2003, 05:29 PM

Your Home Is Your Fortress?
Maryland Firm Bets a 'Safe Room' Boom Is at Hand

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2003; Page E01

You can keep your duct tape and your flimsy gas masks. Jeff Quante prefers steel. Several thousand pounds of it, actually, with reinforced screws and bullet-resistant glass. It should be big enough for at least two people, protected with high-security locks and attached to an air purification system. And if that steel is painted silver with black accents like a Cadillac -- well, all the better.

The safe-room business is not big; there are no numbers available that show how many of these ultimate-security products are sold in the United States each year, but it is probably a relatively small market served by custom construction companies. Zytech Engineering LLC, a Maryland manufacturing company, hopes to be one of them, and is taking a decidedly proletarian tack. While safe rooms, which are designed to guard inhabitants from hazards ranging from bullets to mustard gas, have mostly been sold to high-ranking government officials and especially fearful and rich private citizens, Quante and his partners are laboring under the hope that, very soon, everyone in America will be wanting one.

"Once you're in here, the bad guys stay out there," claims the serious, dark-suited announcer on Zytech's television commercials. Sturdy young men in hard hats portray villains pounding away with sledgehammers, but the structure appears impenetrable and a previously vulnerable family is shown frolicking happily through a green field by the end of the ad.

As the frequency of terror warnings increases, more companies will undoubtedly spring up offering products to protect the frightened masses. Zytech's founders are trying to beat the rush.

"The TV spots are designed to create name recognition," said Quante, 55, a mild-mannered man who speaks with a measured tone, despite the alarmist nature of his business. "We want to let people know we're here, so that when terrorist events begin to unveil themselves, people will know we're here."

Zytech Engineering, founded last March and based north of Baltimore, is the brainchild of Quante and two other security industry veterans. Quante has spent most of his career designing protective spaces for celebrities and political dignitaries. Co-founder Nelson Bolton runs a company in Pennsylvania that makes bullet-resistant laminates, and Eric Dunn, who brought the three together, is the chief executive Dunn Industries Inc., a Northeast, Md., firm that makes storage tanks for petroleum and chemicals. Bolton put up the money for Zytech to get off the ground, though he declined to say how much.

The three originally set out to make stations for security personnel but found that to be too crowded an industry, so Quante began designing big-ticket products for wealthy individuals worried about crime. Many of the nondescript units resemble portable toilets from the outside, though most are deeper and weigh at least 2,640 pounds.

Three nearly completed safe rooms recently sitting on the floor of Dunn Industries -- the company is the sole manufacturer of Zytech's products -- were headed for a single customer in the Midwest. The client, whose name Quante would not reveal, requested that one of the three units contain a second, recessed door with a peephole and gun mount so that if intruders somehow broke through the first door, they might be greeted with bullets.

Burglary and crime may have always been a danger, but Zytech's success depends on the relatively new fears of chemical and biological attacks or bombs.

"We are succumbing to a generic lifestyle like they have in Israel," said Dunn, Zytech's director of manufacturing. "Our corporate objective is to make high-end protection available to middle-class Americans."

But many middle-class Americans may need some persuading before they are ready to cough up the money for a Zytech safe room. The units start at about $17,000 for a basic room without customization. Larger rooms with more amenities can pass the $50,000 mark.

First-aid kits, emergency lighting and high-security locks come standard with each safe room. Secured ventilation and chemical filtration systems cost more, as do cellular phones and flip-down seats. Windows, gun ports and carpeting are also available, as is any other conceivable thing a customer is willing to pay for, Quante said.

Many of the other companies intend for their products to be used in the event of tornadoes and hurricanes. Quante said Zytech's products are designed and tested according to the standards used by the U.S. State Department for the residents of diplomats overseas. They also meet ballistics standards created by Underwriters Laboratories.

The certification process includes 15-minute and 60-minute onslaughts designed to simulate the actions of an unruly mob. Teams of six men weighing no less than 180 pounds use crowbars, sledgehammers, chisels and screwdrivers in attempts to enter the room. Even a slight penetration means the product has failed.

Zytech's executives argue that many people spend tens of thousands of dollars resurfacing kitchen counters or installing home Jacuzzis, investments that may seem frivolous in the face of danger.

The company is hoping to create partnerships with high-end home builders that will offer the rooms as built-in features. Quante is also working on less-expensive designs using plastics and composites that he expects will be available by the summer and is acting as a reseller for plastic tents designed by an Israeli company.

"This was our first product, but it is the top of the line," Quante said. "We started with the Rolls-Royce, but pretty soon we're going to make Volkswagen."

So far Zytech has eight definite orders and four more that are pending. The firm's founders predict the reception they get at this week's Washington Home and Garden Show will be an indicator of their future success.

For his part, Jeff Quante is convinced. He believes it will not be long before all 115,000 square feet of Dunn Industries is dedicated to making Zytech's products and that the company could have a public offering within the next five years.

And as the founders often note, Zytech's safe rooms have many uses beyond providing havens from terrorists. They can be used as vaults for jewelry or art or as gun storage units. They can even serve as wine cellars, and there may be no better time to uncork that 1953 Bordeaux than while relaxing in your safe room as doom unfolds all around.

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March 3, 2003, 07:16 PM
Good welding equipment or a fire will burn the occupants out of the room or roast them to crispy state.

March 3, 2003, 07:17 PM
Sure... had to come from a company from a state that has one of the most stringent gun control laws in the country.

I would bet that the next company would come from Illinois, or **********.

March 3, 2003, 09:51 PM
I'm all for it! The only problem is that they are sooooo expensive.

Shelters of this type are very important for folks living in Tornado Alley, but I don't see how it would help someone living in an area likely to be targeted by terrorists. City-dwellers just don't have anywhere to go and because those are the places with the highest possible casualty rates, they are the ones most likely to be hit. Ya can't put a shelter into a 3rd-floor walk-up!

Still, if I could get the shell for cheap, I would consider putting one in the back forty.

Mad Man
March 3, 2003, 11:39 PM
If the Panic Room ( is the safest place in the entire house, how come they didn't build the entire house out of the Panic Room?

March 4, 2003, 12:16 AM
I would bet that the next company would come from Illinois, or **********
Hey,wait a minute.I'm from California and a contractor.
I was thinking $$$$$!:D


March 4, 2003, 12:41 AM
"Still, if I could get the shell for cheap, I would consider putting one in the back forty"
If you are serious e-mail me. I just saw a firm who makes a rebared cement structure for below grade use that was not too badly priced. I looked at drawings and it was about 8' high by 10' long and 5' wide. It was made for tornado but could be modified for anything.
I have always wanted to make a shelter. I have the tools/land/know how to do it.
I actually had to dig a hole few yrs back for another project. 7' deep and 6' wide and 10' long. I toyed with idea of going to work. But drainage was a problem at that location. (Had a water pipe break and replaced line) Could have easily had running water but ground was wet even before leak IMO so didn't.
IMO the best safe room is using this new garage floor support system so you can have living room under garage. New home plan idea in my area. Garage floor is cement but family room UNDER garage. Just never finish it off and conceal the door.
I helped with two houses that garage area was totally dug up but they filled it in instead of going this way.

Sleeping Dog
March 4, 2003, 10:19 AM
Are these rooms safe from accidents? Could a kid lock himself in and not be accessible by parents?


D.W. Drang
March 4, 2003, 11:34 AM
If the Panic Room is the safest place in the entire house, how come they didn't build the entire house out of the Panic Room? First reaction: :D
Next reaction: ISTR that yeeeaaaaars ago Soldier of Fiction, or maybe the "survival" magazine they did briefly, ran a piece on someone who was selling cinder blocks that were notched top and bottom; the idea was that yo lay a row of conder blocks, lay a piece of rebar along the notch and in the holes, and fill the holes wth mortar. (Is construction mortar spelled with an "a"?) You then lay the next row. Because you are filling the hols with mortar you don't stragger the rows, yo lay all rows lined up vertically; instead, you put a piece of rebar in each row, vertically.

ISTR that they ran a test with an FN FA or maybe a G3, and after a case of amo they had created a loophole for the guys in side to shoot out of...

March 4, 2003, 11:52 AM
OK how does one expect to breathe, or go pee pee or caca?

March 4, 2003, 11:57 AM
Some of us -- not you, Skunky! ;) -- are old enough to remember the boom in backyard bombshelters. OK, so I was just a kid, but I remember them all the same. CD sirens, "duck and cover," people digging up their back yards and stockpiling water and canned food, hunched over the radio listening to the latest developments in the Missile Crisis...

Meanwhile, we ran around and played cowboys and indians and chased the Good Humor man (who spoke English back then).

Plus ca change...


March 4, 2003, 12:25 PM
In Texas, your safe rooms are defined by your property line -- keep them as safe and pest free as you want.... :cool:

March 4, 2003, 12:57 PM
I'd rather just die than become a prisoner in my own damned home... Screw them and their "safe rooms."


March 4, 2003, 01:10 PM
OK how does one expect to breathe, or go pee pee or caca?

Last night on TV they did a feature story on a bathroom (I'm not sure who's) that cost 8 million$. Solid gold fixtures, gold bars on the floor, precious stone studded.

So that takes the best safe room of $50,000.00 up to

Better go for the El Cheapo at $8,017,000.00.


March 4, 2003, 04:49 PM
Skunk, a camper's chemical toilet will provide relief:D . They're available at Sears. If you're really interested in ventilation, then there's tons o' literature out there. If you're serious, PM me. If not, then, no hard feelings.

March 4, 2003, 07:10 PM
I'm not sure whether or not a safe room would work in a NBC/CBR environment, but I think it would be a waste against determined enough home invaders. Here's why:
In order for a defender and his family to survive against a determined attack, the safe room must meet the following conditions:
a) Their is no way in heck for the room to be breached by the invaders (remember Patton said "Fixed fortifications are monuments to man's stupidity")
b) Their is no way for the invaders to kill everyone inside the room without breaching it completely.
c) Everyone who needs to be there will get there before the bad guys do.
d) Whoever's in there is willing to secure it when the bad guys get there, regardless of any friendlies still out there. And VERY few people would do that if their kids arent in the room.

This means that the invader could do the following if he means to kill the people in the house:
a) Sneak through the defender's security and secure/kill him before he knows whats going on.
b) Capture one or more of the defender's kids before they get in the room, then use the hostages to get him to come out.
c) Ambush the defender as he runs for the safe room.
d) Prove the safe room is not unbreachable
Notice how the defender has to have at least 3 of these conditions to get out with his family alive (a,b, and c) or anyone alive at all (a,b, and d), yet the attacker needs to only achieve one of his conditions to kill the defender.
A safe room could be an asset in a home invasion, but not an asset worth $17k+. Admittedly, the invaders in this scenario would have to have some amount of preparation, maybe more than normal, but who would want to go turtle and then find out that the invaders figured out how to, for example, drill/blast a hole in your room and pump in CO or some other relatively common lethal gas.

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