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The Times of London Article


Panic rooms, drones and cuddly guard dogs: the latest ways to stay safe

Francisca KellettSaturday March 06 2021, 12.01am GMT, The Times

The panic room

Bill Rigdon, founder of the US company Panic Room Builders, says that he has been “extremely busy recently, with lots of celebrity clients and high-net-worth individuals hunkering down in their houses”. Creating hidden, ultra-safe spaces with everything from ballistic glass and armoured steel doors to bulletproof perimeter fences is not new to Rigdon; he worked on the 2002 movie Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster, and his company has hidden panic rooms under swimming pools, built bunkers with secret passageways under mountains and used a crane to lift the entire, very heavy, contents of a bombproof room into a glass-walled penthouse in London. He won’t name names, but assures me that his clients include Hollywood celebrities and that he recently had a call from “a person of royalty” who has moved to the US. Rooms can cost up to £750,000: “It’s really easy to spend that kind of money.”

For plush interiors, Agresti, based in Florence, creates bespoke “strong rooms” that are a far cry from the survivalist dungeons you might expect. It has crafted luxurious jewellery storage units for more than 70 years, and has expanded the idea to build rooms that showcase and store valuables while doubling up as panic rooms. With minibars, marble floors and hand-stitched leather fittings – plus separate air supplies and steel walls – these feel more like an extension to a dressing room. “The rooms will be used every day,” Paolo Agresti, the chief executive, says. “But if our clients are in danger, they can lock themselves inside and switch on the panic option. This will give them fresh air, communications and video cameras so they can see what is happening outside – as well as pepper spray or fog to fill the house with.” Prices start at roughly £150,000, going up to £750,000.;

The cyber-bodyguard

Philip Grindell, a former police officer, takes on the murky world of digital trolls and stalkers with his company, Defuse Global, which has a team of behavioural scientists and tech whizzes who identify risks and manage online reputations. It does an audit to see what an average punter can find about you online – where you live, where your kids go to school, your car registration number – then it researches and monitors your social media and online presence, and ploughs through dark-web chatrooms to identify risks. “This is often from fixated individuals,” Grindell says. “We’re talking about stalking, trolling, reputational harm and cancel culture.”

The team, including US secret service special advisers, counterterrorism investigators and a former protection officer for Princess Anne, work with PR teams and lawyers. Initial investigations cost from £2,000, with monitoring from £4,000 a month.

The travel expert

Geordie Mackay-Lewis, the co-founder of Pelorus, a high-end adventure travel company, is ex-army and each trip is planned like a minute-by-minute military operation. The company does everything, from sourcing armed security guards who will blend in on a yacht to taking full reconnaissance trips to destinations, going through every stage of a journey to assess risks. They can augment their findings with a report from security firms such as Alma Risk, which uses contacts in the intelligence community to identify threats.

For celebrities, says Frances Geoghegan, the owner of Cleveland Collection, “the big thing is getting through the airport unnoticed”. Geoghegan works with private terminals, which have separate entrances, lounges with private security and immigration controls, and cars that whizz clients straight to the plane. There are “little tricks”, she says: one client likes to buy all the seats in first class because it’s cheaper than hiring a private jet.

The drone

Barry Richards, a security consultant, says that drones have created new threats ranging from snooping by stalkers and paparazzi to terrorist plots and attempted assassinations. On the flipside, they can be used to protect people. “Whatever the security teams are doing on the ground can be replicated in the air, creating a 360-degree dome of security,” Richards says.

The latest drones have everything from thermal technology and searchlights to speakers from which messages can be broadcast to potential threats. There are drones that can catch other drones too, as well as various military-grade scrambling systems to bring them down (although the legality of intercepting a drone can be tricky in Britain, he warns).

The hardware is relatively affordable, at £2,500 to £3,000, but additional costs include manpower and infrastructure.

The home systems

Intruder systems are changing, according to Bob Forsyth, the chief executive of Kings Secure Technologies. Take thermal imaging cameras. They have been around for a while, often hidden in the gardens of mansions and estates. But now thermal (and conventional) cameras can interact with algorithms to detect if, for example, that’s a burglar or a badger in your garden, while facial recognition technology can spot the difference between a known visitor, such as a nanny or a gardener, and a stranger.

That means fewer false alarms and more accurate responses. If a camera detects an intruder, a speaker will relay a message from a security guard, telling them that the police are on their way. “The systems all work together,” Forsyth says, so your biometric entry system will be connected to your intelligent CCTV, which in turn works with your alarms, which are monitored off-site.

Then there is military-grade tremor protection, originally used in army compounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now being installed beneath the surfaces of gardens and grounds to detect intruders. When triggered, cameras will swivel in that direction and check whether whatever is causing the tremor is a threat. Indoors, fogging systems can fill a room with a DNA marker that coats an intruder and is impossible to wash off.

The child watcher

There has been recent press about the super-rich hiring bodyguards as nannies, but Kate Bright from Umbra International does not recommend doubling up the roles. Instead, “it can help to give nannies security training so they can work with a family’s security detail,” she says. Consider female operatives who have worked with children and understand the nuances of, for example, school runs. Headteachers will prefer a casually dressed woman dropping a child at the school gates to an army of men in dark glasses.

The cuddly guard dog

If you want your guard dog to be as covert as your bodyguard, consider one bred by Holt Price and Kim Greene of Svalinn in Montana, which trains dogs to double up as kid-friendly pets. The German shepherds are “loving and faithful dogs that are also exceptional deterrents to any threat, and instant protectors”. They cost between £55,000 and £65,000.


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