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.