Students of self-defense can spend hours or days studying and training on methods of staying safe in public, including perfecting the skills of situational awareness and the use of a handgun in self-defense. Yet those same individuals can exhibit sloppy and unsafe behavior when it comes to securing the one place where we should feel safe, namely our homes. One reason for this disparity may simply be that when we’re in our homes, our places of sanctuary, it becomes easy to slip back into “condition white” and to believe that nothing bad can occur. Another reason may be that it’s more difficult to quantify the dangers of a home invasion when compared to the risks of other crimes of violence. While the FBI maintains detailed crime data in their Uniform Crime Report (the source for most media reports on violent crime) including the crime of burglary, they do not differentiate between burglaries that occur in empty homes versus occupied homes. If a violent crime occurred during a home invasion, the FBI would categorize the crime under two headings such as burglary and rape, but with no separate category of “home invasion,” it’s impossible to determine, nationally or locally, just how common these “hot burglaries” are using the FBI data alone. Suffice to say, taking personal responsibility for our own safety, and the safety of our families, cannot stop at the front door.
Thinking Like a Criminal
When evaluating the security of your home, we suggest putting yourself in the mind of the criminal who wants to gain access to your home, and conducting a thorough inspection, inside and out. You should start from the outside of the home and make a methodical, 360-degree inspection starting from the ground up. During your inspection, you’ll need to ask yourself the types of questions we’ve posed on our “Home Inspection Checklist.”
MAKING OUR HOMES MORE SECURE
Once you’ve completed a security inspection of your home, it’s time to look at methods to make your home more secure. In the recommendations that follow, we’ve offered a variety of solutions costing just a few dollars at the low-end, to several thousand dollars at the high-end. The great news is that even the lowest cost solutions will dramatically decrease the probability that your home will be subject to a burglary or home invasion.
Replace any plastic locks with metal locks (about $2.50 each), and add a bar stop to each window ($20).
Treat the inside of windows with a plastic window treatment (the type of treatment used to insulate the windows), which will dramatically increase the effort required to break through the window (about $6.50 per square foot).
If you’re serious about window security, invest in replacement casement windows with a reinforced hinge, metal locks, and a protective laminate that’s baked into the window (about $350 per window).
Replace any doors that are not steel or solid core, including the door interior to the garage. Choose a door that doesn’t contain clear windows that would allow a person outside the home to see in; instead, add your own hotel-style peephole ($6 – $11).
All exterior doors should have a deadbolt and/or a throw-over type lock (about $15).
Replace standard strike plates with reinforced strike plates, and use extra deep screws (at least three-inches long), which will anchor into the wall stud, rather than just the door frame ($12—$15).
If you’re serious about door security, invest in a high-security lock ($180 or more), which defeats criminal’s ability to use a “bump key” to pick the lock. High security locks use a unique pin configuration and hardened cylinders, which require 30—40 minutes to defeat, even for a trained locksmith.
If you’re really serious about door security, invest in a solid steel door from Master Security (from $500 to several thousand dollars), which have five built-in deadbolts and an anti-pick lock. Master Security doors are designed to stop sledgehammer blows and even gunfire. In a test on the DIY Network’s show Deconstruction®, four sledgehammer armed testers failed to breach the door even after ten minutes of repeated blows.
Add exterior lights to all sides of the house, including the sides not containing doors. If you’re concerned about electricity costs, put them on a motion detector circuit. If you’re worried about style, most home improvement stores now sell decorative motion detector lights, which look much nicer than industrial style lights. Additional lights throughout the front and back yard will encourage a potential criminal to move further down the street to find a house that isn’t so well lit.
As much as you might love the bushes and trees that have been growing around your house for years, if they’re overgrown, they’re going to provide cover for someone trying to break into your house, or lying in wait for you while you approach the door. Trim all bushes at least four-feet from the house, and trim any tree branch that blocks the view to your windows or doors.
Place new alarm company signs at all doors, and stickers on all first floor windows.
The first step in effectively using a burglar alarm, is to get the alarm. The second step is to set it, religiously. Insurance company surveys have shown that 60%—81% of people who have burglar alarms fail to set them when at home, or even when on vacation. The number one excuse (53%) for failing to set the alarm is because the homeowner leaves pets indoors, however, alarm manufacturers now offer “pet immune” motion detectors. By combining an infrared scanner with a motion detector, the systems are able to differentiate between the heat of a pet, and the heat of an intruder. In addition to the new “pet immune” features, security systems themselves have evolved from clunky systems requiring hard wiring at doors and windows (and slow law enforcement responses as alarm companies initiated “call backs” to determine if the alarm was an actual emergency or a false alarm), to state of the art systems like something out of a spy novel. Two-way systems are now available from companies such as AlarmForce®, which immediately opens a live channel between the home and the monitoring service when the alarm goes off. This allows the customer service agent to immediately differentiate between an actual emergency and a false alarm. Systems are also available with “glass break” detectors, which are more effective than simple window monitors that only sound if the window is opened (but wouldn’t sound if the window was broken). The detectors are even tuned to differentiate between the sound of a broken window, and the sound of a broken glass.
Planning for Home Defense
In addition to taking steps to better secure our homes, we’ll also need to take steps to plan for what to do if all of our security measures fail, and we still find ourselves in the middle of a home invasion. While you don’t necessarily need to draw a floor layout of your home as part of your home invasion plan, you should at least have a plan and discuss it with everyone in your household, including your children. Think of this as no different than discussing a plan in case of a fire, a tornado, a hurricane, or an earthquake. When discussing a home invasion plan with the family, we’d suggest reviewing the checklist items on our “Home Defense Checklist,” and ensuring that all family members are aware of how to dial 911, and all age-appropriate family members are aware of the location of the home defense firearm and how to use it. Plan a route for all family members to head to the most secure areas of the home and include in the plan who will get the phone and dial 911, who will access the defensive firearm, and who will assist loved ones.
In addition to planning for actively defending the home, we also suggest that you plan for retreat or escape, even if you’re not legally obligated to do so. For example, if you needed to quickly retreat from a room or from the home, what are the options? What rooms are the safest, and what doors are the closest? If you exit the house, in which direction do you run to find the closest neighbor? You can include older children as active participants in the plan by assigning them with simple tasks that can help keep themselves and their siblings safe. For example, their tasks could include:
Get out of the house and find a neighbor, and ask the neighbor to call 911.
Get the younger kids into the same bedroom, and close and barricade the door.
We suggest two or three small points for each child, such as, “If something bad happens, your job is to get out of the house, get to a neighbor, and have him or her call 911. Then your job is done.”
Finally, it’s important to discuss what not to do in the event of a home invasion. For example, if everyone in the family is in the same part of the house, then it is not necessary, prudent, or smart to “clear rooms” looking for the intruder. In addition, it’s extremely important to discuss what to do if a family member is coming home late or unexpectedly, and how to communicate it if a guest will be in the home. The use of a family “code word” or “challenge and reply” can avoid tragedy if your teenage son or daughter has decided to sneak a significant other into the house for a late night rendezvous, or if your spouse has gotten up for a late night snack.
According to FBI statistics, burglars enter the front door of homes 34% of the time, and back or screen doors 22% of the time. The most common method of breaching the door?A good, swift kick. To test the security effectiveness of locks and doors, Consumer Reports has established a standard test, using a 100-pound battering ram capable of delivering varying degrees of force to the door. In a test conducted by the DIY Network’s show Deconstruction®, a variety of door locks were tested to determine how long it would take to breach the door using the average strength of a kick. When testing a standard deadbolt and strike plate with standard length screws, the door was breached after just two impacts of the battering ram, at just 60 joules per “kick.” When tested using the same dead bolt, but a reinforced strikeplate ($10 – $15) and three-inch screws, the door was breached only after 13 impacts, at an average of 160 joules each, which equates to more than 17-times the force required to breach the standard door and lock.
As mentioned, FBI statistics confirm that about 56% of home entries are through the front door or back door, and those same statistics show that first floor windows are the next favored entry point at about 23%. In another Deconstruction® test, five different types of windows with varying security mechanisms were tested to determine how well they’d withstand a determined home invader or burglar. The testers discovered that a standard hung window with a single lock (about $90) could be breached in less than a minute by breaking the lock, or in seconds by breaking the glass. Same for a basic casement window (about $75). By adding a bar stop ($20) and a plastic window treatment ($6.50 per square foot) to the standard hung window; or reinforced hinges to the casement window, the time to breach the window was increased dramatically. For real security, consider upgrading to high-security casement windows with reinforced hinges and metal locks, which also come with a protective laminate that’s baked directly into the glass. Even after repeated strikes with a crowbar, the window failed to break during the Deconstruction® test. The cost? About $375 per window.The peace of mind? Priceless.
Home security systems have evolved from clunky systems requiring hard wiring at doors and windows, and slow law enforcement responses as alarm companies initiated “call backs” to determine if the alarm was an actual emergency or a false alarm, to state of the art systems like something out of a spy novel. Two-way systems are now available from companies such as AlarmForce®, which immediately opens a live channel between the home and the monitoring service when the alarm goes off. This allows the customer service agent to immediately differentiate between an actual emergency and a false alarm. Systems are also available with “glass break” detectors, which are more effective than simple window monitors that only sound if the window is opened. The detectors are even tuned to differentiate between the sound of a broken window, and a broken glass. For pet owners, ADT® and other manufacturers now offer “pet immune” motion detectors. By combining an infrared scanner with the motion detector, the systems are able to differentiate between the heat of a pet, and the heat of an intruder.
Home Inspection Checklist
Identify all windows that are on the ground level that could potentially allow a home invader to fit through. Never mind determining if it would be easy for the home invader to do so, they’ve been known to do some pretty unorthodox things to gain entry to a home.
Do they lock properly?
Are they locked?
Does anything block the view of the window from the outside such as a tree or shrubs?
Is there anything outside the house that could potentially be used as a step stool to climb through the window? While home invaders aren’t likely to carry their own ladder or step stool, they will take advantage of anything you’ve left outside that will make their job easier.
Do you have alarm company stickers on your windows? New, fresh looking stickers—not stickers that look like they were put on by the previous occupant.
Do your windows have plastic or metal locks?
If you have standard hung windows, do you have a secondary security device, such as a bar stop?
If you have casement windows, do you have standard or reinforced hinges?
Do the windows have a protective laminate applied to the inside of the window, or baked inside? In other words, will your windows be shattered with a single blow, or are they designed to withstand repeated blows?
On the first floor, what’s in front of the windows? For example, are they blocked by a table or other barrier that a home invader would need to climb over, or is the area wide open?
What is the quality and strength of the front, back, side, and interior garage doors? It’s natural to focus on the strength of your front door, but criminals will focus on whichever door is the weakest.
What’s the general appearance of the door? Does it look new, or is it old, faded, and looking primed for a good kick?
Are the hinges on the outside or inside?
Do you have an ability to see who is at the door without them seeing you?
Do you use a deadbolt, chain lock, or throw-over lock?
How long are the screws that are used to mount the strike plate? You’ll actually need to unscrew the screws to answer this question.
Is your house well lit, or poorly lit on all sides? How about the adjoining neighbors’ houses? Criminals will not only look for dark homes, they’ll look for dark homes, surrounded by dark homes.
How close are trees or shrubs to your home? Is there anything that a criminal can hide behind while trying to enter a window or door?
Do you have burglar alarm signs (in new condition) at all entry points?
Do you have a security alarm, and do you set it? (Homes that have alarms are three times less likely to be burglarized.)
Is it connected to an alarm service?
Do you have motion detectors, glass break sensors, and sensors on the windows?
The Home Defense Checklist
Are the front and back lights on?
Is the alarm on?
Are all doors locked (including deadbolt and/or throw-over lock)?
Is the home defense firearm in its proper location and is it loaded? (Keep in mind that you’ll need to follow federal and state safe storage laws.)
Where is the phone and how do I dial 911 (in the dark, with a head full of cobwebs)?
If the home is invaded, what room do we move to?
If we need to exit the home, which neighbor’s house do we go to?
What commands do we give?
How do I identify a friend from a foe?
What’s a family code word to identify whom and where you are?
How do we inform our family that we’ll be coming home late, or that a guest will be in the home?
Does each family member know how to dial 911?
Does each age-appropriate family member know how to use the home defense firearm?
What do we do when the police arrive?
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