For most of us, a safe is the most practical way to protect firearms and other valuables from theft and natural disasters.

Theft-Resistant Safes: Safes are the next best method for safeguarding your possessions. While most safes look alike, they vary widely in terms of resistance to fire and to physical attack by burglars.

Constructed of solid metal walls, these heavyweights are the battleships of safekeeping. Advances in technology have provided burglars with better tools, so safe manufacturers have had to keep pace. Thieves attempt to cut, pry or drill their way to the contents, so class ratings (1 through 5) are a standardized way for consumers to judge a safe’s level of protection.

Class ratings are based on door and wall thickness plus resistance to attack (for example, having internal instead of exposed door hinges). UL ratings use letters to indicate resistance to specific types of attack: DR for drill resistant, TR for torch resistant, and TRTL for tool and torch resistant.

Fire Beaters: Document safes and media safes are a sandwich of fire-resistant insulation surrounded by steel. While protecting the contents from fire, these safes do little to prevent determined burglars. The Underwriters Laboratory, an independent organization that tests and certifies U.S. products, certifies fire-resistance ratings using a scale of A through C.

Class A safes protect documents up to 4 hours at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Class B protects documents up to 2 hours at temperatures up to 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. And class C protects documents up to 1 hour at temperatures up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Combination fire-and burglar-resistant safes provide both kinds of protection.

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Installing The Safe: The location of your safe is important. A safe in a basement will survive a fire better than a safe on an upper level. On the whole, corners are better locations because walls are less likely to collapse near corners in the event of a fire or natural disaster. A safe in a garage is vulnerable because burglars can use a truck-mounted winch to pull a safe out and haul it to a remote location where they can attack it over time. I prefer safes with mechanical locks because electronic locks, while quicker to open, use batteries, which can be problematic.

Purchasing by price alone is false economy. Look for a hassle-free, no-cost repair or replacement lifetime warranty. Some insurance companies offer discounts to policyholders that keep valuables in safes.—N.E. MacDougald

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