Letter Re: Hidden Entrances, and Secret Rooms

If you do a web search for “hidden entrances” or “secret room” you’ll see some photos and video of various novelties like bookcases on hinges and stairways that open up to reveal hidden rooms behind/under them. While these can be a lot of fun before SHTF, especially for kids, I just wanted to put out a warning that these types of entrances aren’t really concealed at all in a TEOTWAWKI situation. For starters, if you found these solutions on the Internet, then bad guys can find them too.

Even if they didn’t do their online research beforehand, you can bet that looters going through nice neighborhoods are going to figure out very quickly that some of them have safe rooms, and bookcases are the most common type of hidden entrance. Trapdoors under area rugs and safes behind picture frames on the wall are pretty easy to find, too.

You also need to factor in what your house is going to look like after a fire. If your hidden entrance is made of wood, i.e. a bookshelf, it’s not going to be there after a fire, and looters are going to see the metal door behind it and wonder what’s in there. You’re not planning for a fire, you say? But you are planning for TEOTWAWKI, right?

There’s no reason to rely on ineffective entrance concealment, because for little or no additional expense, you can create a hidden entrance that nobody’s going to find. I will briefly describe one type of hidden entrance that’s a vast improvement on the bookshelf door, make a general suggestion about hidden entrances, and then hint at what I’m putting into the house I’m building without giving the bad guys any details they could use.

Turning a basement entrance into a closet with a trapdoor in the floor is a solution that has been described before, but I would like to suggest a few measures to make it truly concealed:
1. Build the closet walls, ceiling and floor out of durable, fire-retardant materials, like concrete. You can retrofit an existing home this way, but the closet won’t stick out after a fire if the whole house is built out of said materials. 
2. Make the entire closet floor into a trapdoor, so that nobody can make out the outline of the door. This requires some precise construction, as the edges of the door need to be flush with the walls of the closet. Watch out for scratch/rub marks left on the walls when you open the door. Durable, fire-retardant carpet can be used to fudge the edges a little, and having walls made of a durable material can help. Think long and hard about what two materials you want to be rubbing up against each other when you open the trapdoor.
3. Whatever material you use for the floor of the closet, make sure it matches the flooring of the hallway immediately outside the door. You can be sure that a looter standing on a tile floor in your hallway and looking at a plywood floor in your closet is going to investigate further.
4. Make sure your trap door is every bit as solid as the floor in the hallway. If someone steps inside, there should be no give in the floor or unusual creaks. This part is tough because it works against another consideration, that you need to be able to open the door. Ideally, if you have a floor that’s 8-inch-thick concrete, then you want a trapdoor that’s also 8 inches of concrete, poured into a steel frame. The only problem with this type of door is that most people won’t be able to lift it.
5. Don’t have any visible handles on your trapdoor. This can be accomplished either by designing it so that a handle is not necessary, or using some sort of temporary handle that you can bring with you into the basement, so that it’s no longer usable for people outside.
6. If your trapdoor is going to be on hinges, then make sure that the hinges are concealed by the door when it’s in the closed position. Seeing hinges on the far wall when the closet door is opened is going to be a dead giveaway.
7. Finally, you should seriously consider a non-traditional trapdoor design that doesn’t lift to open. Instead, have a heavy concrete floor poured into a steel frame that is mounted on wheels that run on sturdy tracks underneath. Think garage door, only much sturdier and a single piece, not reticulated. When your basement is not in use, the door just rests in place, and doesn’t open when people step on it, because it’s too heavy to move easily. But when you need to open it, you just get inside the closet, plant your feet on the floor (use sneakers or bare feet for traction) and push your hands in the opposite direction against the doorframe. The floor then slowly slides back, revealing the staircase underneath. Once you and your loved ones are safely inside, you lock the door in the closed position from the inside in such a way that it’s held tight and doesn’t slide or rattle. One advantage of this design is that you can leave shoes or other items on the floor toward the front of the closet, as long as you don’t open it completely, and they’ll still be there when you close it.
8. For realism, go ahead and keep some shelves or a dresser in the closet. But bolt them to the wall so that they stay in place when you slide the floor, and make sure they’re not so wide that they block you from entering.

If you build an effective trapdoor entrance that resembles a closet floor in every possible way even to a determined investigator, then it’s extremely unlikely that a bad guy will find it. Or more precisely, if the bad guys find your basement, they will find it in some other way, for example finding out from your neighbors (you didn’t tell them, did you?), or by spotting your ventilation pipes.

The closet trapdoor entrance to the basement described above is what I’m building into my next house, but the basement is for friends/extended family. For the living quarters for myself and my immediate family, I’m going a whole order of magnitude better on the concealment front. I’m not going to describe the actual design of the entrance because I don’t want bad guys to read about it, but I will throw out a few general ideas to help fellow readers of SurvivalBlog.com think about their own designs.

1. The entrance to the secret bunker is from inside my safe room. This means that after entering the safe room, I have time to consider options, monitor the situation through video cameras, and make decisions. The bad guys won’t be able to get into the safe room for at least five minutes, probably much longer, so I can calm down and think about whether I want to call the police, surrender the house to the bad guys and retreat to the bunker, or even come out and fight. Another advantage is that bad guys are likely to stop looking for secret rooms once they get into my safe room. The general recommendation here is to give the bad guys a decoy, something to let them think they’ve figured it out. Yet another advantage is that I can tell trusted friends about the safe room and tell them that’s where I’m sleeping without letting them know about the existence of the bunker. I can also access the bunker at any time without anyone having a chance to see me doing so, if I keep the safe room locked.
2. My safe room has a semi-secret emergency exit separate from the entrance to the bunker. If the bad guys manage to use a cutting torch to get into the safe room, they will find the emergency exit quickly, and note that it’s open. That’s where they think I went. If I didn’t have an emergency exit, they would wonder where I am, and keep looking.
3. My bunker is outside the outline of my house. A bad guy can look at any house and think, “is there a basement under there or just a crawlspace?” Once they find a basement that matches the dimensions of the first floor, then they’re likely to stop looking.
4. The entrance to my bunker is concealed in such a way that bad guys would have to destroy some very durable materials to even be able to see that it’s there. However, I do not have to destroy anything to be able to open it.
5. I’m having contractors build the basic structure, but I’m building the hidden entrance and some other architectural elements myself, after they leave.

To sum up:
1. Use decoys. Give smart bad guys something that makes them think they’ve found everything. 
2. Don’t use hidden entrance designs that you’ve read about on the Internet. Come up with your own.
3. Don’t make a choice between concealment and ability to resist a brute force attack. Use both.
4. Better concealment is not necessarily more expensive. “Secret” doors that a kid can find can be more expensive than a truly secret door.

There’s a lot more that I could add, but I’m going to stop there for OPSEC reasons. I hope this is a useful starting point for readers to think of their own designs. Remember: if you invent, design and build the secret entrance yourself, then it can remain a secret. If you rely on commonly available templates or employ others to build it, then by definition it’s not a true secret. – With Regards, – Dale T.