Securing Your Home
All home invasion scenarios involve a criminal attempting to enter a home – presumably through a door or window. As we consider how to defend against a home invasion, our first step is to secure these entry points.
What does it mean to secure a door or window?
1. Make the entry point unappealing to criminals
2. Provide early warning of danger
3. Keep criminals out for as long as possible
Let’s look at these criteria individually and then examine how you can secure the doors and windows of your home.
1. Make the entry point unappealing to criminals.
Criminals strive to gain entry to a home quickly and without being detected. They prefer to avoid well-lit areas at night, locations where they are likely to be detected by security cameras or seen by neighbors, and entry methods that create noise or trigger alarms. The more you can make entry difficult, conspicuous, and time-consuming, the less appealing the entry point for criminals.
2. Provide early warning of danger.
If a criminal is lurking outside your home, or attempts to gain entry, it’s important that you are alerted as soon as possible. The earlier you are alerted to danger, the sooner you can begin executing your defensive plan. Every door or window in your home that would be plausible for a criminal to use for entry should include a way to alert you of suspicious activity.
3. Keep criminals out for as long as possible.
A criminal who is determined to enter your home will eventually succeed. The amount of time from initial detection until they gain entry is your head-start to begin executing your defensive plan. The primary way to increase the time required to forcibly enter your home is to physically strengthen each plausible entry point.
Note to Residents of Apartments and Condos
This chapter contains advice for how to modify certain elements of a home environment to make it more secure. As a resident of an apartment or condo, your ability to change the physical structure may be limited. Changing doors and locks, installing exterior lights and cameras, or even owning a dog might not be possible for you.
However, your home environment may have advantages that a house does not. For example, the author lives in a second-floor condo, which removes nearly all risk of an intruder entering through a window.
As you consider each section in this chapter, strive to understand the vulnerability it’s addressing. Consider how you can apply the information in a way that works for you.
Shared living spaces on the premises of apartments and condos deserve special attention. The public foyer, elevator, hallway, parking garage, pool area, etc. all need to be treated as locations where dangerous individuals may lurk. Don’t go into these areas if you aren’t sure you can do so safely. Be cautious and carry a firearm if it's legal to do so.
If the physical security of your living space is especially poor, you may not receive early warning of a home invasion or have time to respond. In such an insecure location, you’ll need to keep a phone and firearm with you at all times. Living with the constant threat of imminent home invasion is unnerving and unsafe. If this descrbes your living environment, you should consider moving to a residence that can be effectively secured.
Every exterior door should be made of steel or solid wood and have a deadbolt lock. This includes doors leading to an attached garage. Examine the door jamb to ensure the bolt extends at least 1” into the door frame and preferably has a high strength strike plate or strike box. Replace short hinge screws with longer ones that reach the framing. If you find it aesthetically acceptable, install a steel security storm door with deadbolt lock in front of each entry door.
Some front entry doors have vertical windows next to the door. These windows are a security concern. A potential intruder can simply break a pane of glass and reach inside to unlock the door. The most practical way to address this vulnerability is to install a double-cylinder deadbolt. This type of lock requires a key to unlock it from either side. There is no handle inside to turn the lock. For convenience and safety in case of a fire or other emergency, hang a key nearby to unlock the door.
Sliding Patio Doors
Prevent sliding patio doors from being forced open by laying a cut-off broom handle in the track. Be sure to install curtains or blinds over the patio door for privacy. Also keep in mind, sliding doors are made of breakable glass and provide excellent means of quick entry into your home. Protect the exterior area near the patio door with lights, a security camera, and an alarm.
First-floor and basement windows can be easy entry points if left unsecured. Consider using lockable window clasps. Brace windows closed with a piece of wood in a track if possible. Trim nearby shrubs to eliminate hiding opportunities for criminals. Install cameras and motion-activated floodlights on your home’s exterior near the windows. Use alarms to alert you of unauthorized entry.
You may wish to install steel bars on windows that are especially vulnerable. Bars don’t need to be thick or unattractive. Steel window security systems are available in a variety of colors and can be mounted on the interior of a window, behind a curtain if desired for aesthetics. These systems can be unlocked and swung open for egress if required. For seldom-used rooms and other unique circumstances, there may be no substitute for steel bars over the windows.
Exterior floodlights provide extra security around windows and patio doors. If you have an area near your house or in your yard where you don’t want criminals to lurk in the cover of darkness, install a motion-activated floodlight. When a bright light shines on a criminal, they tend to retreat. Motion sensors can sometimes be added to existing fixtures to ease installation.
Leave your patio lights on during nighttime hours. This can be achieved with a timer, a photocell, or by using Home Automation technology. Consider lighting your interior entryway, too. A well-lit entry provides safety for residents and guests who arrive after dark. Lights also give the impression that someone is home (which is especially important for safety when you actually are home). And lights don’t allow criminals the benefit of darkness while they attempt to gain entry. Use LED bulbs to save energy. LED bulbs work in cold weather and they are designed to last for many years.
Cameras and Alarms
Internet-connected cameras have recently become affordable and easy-to-use. These cameras connect to cell phones and Home Automation systems to provide several important benefits:
- Cameras provide a visible deterrent to criminal activity.
- When a camera sees motion, it can trigger an alert to your cell phone, allowing you to view video in real time.
- Cameras can also trigger Home Automation events, such as turning on lights or triggering alarms. Criminals are likely to reconsider their actions when there’s evidence that a prepared home owner is notified of their presence.
- Of course, your ability to be notified and to see what’s going on gives you a head start to execute your defensive response.
One of the best Internet-connected cameras available today is the NestCam. It can be mounted indoors or outdoors wherever a power outlet is nearby. NestCams connect to the Internet via WiFi, so no Internet cabling is required. NestCams include an excellent mobile app to monitor your cameras. And Nest interfaces with nearly every popular Home Automation system. As of 2017, NestCam is the way to go.
You may wish to dedicate an iPad or other tablet to show video from your security cameras 24x7. Simply leave the camera app visible on a tablet in a convenient location. Glance at the tablet whenever someone rings your doorbell to decide whether to open the door.
Conventional Security Systems
What about conventional home security systems? In a word: useless. They’re a dying technology. And frankly, they were never very good to begin with. Talk to owners of home security systems and most will complain about the inconvenience of arming and disarming the system and frequent false alarms. Many home security systems are left unarmed because they’re so inconvenient to use.
To understand just how useless a monitored home security system is during a home invasion, consider the process after a criminal has decided to enter the home. The alarm is triggered after they gain access. It’s a response to what’s already happened. Worse, there’s usually a built-in 30 or 60-second delay before the monitoring service is notified. Then, rather than calling 911, the monitoring service typically calls the homeowner to inquire if they need assistance. By this time, the criminal has already been inside the home for a minute or more and is wrapping up whatever crime they planned to commit.
As internet home automation technology evolves, traditional home security systems become dinosaurs in comparison. Skip them and embrace the future.
The Weakest Link
Be sure to examine your home’s weaknesses. If you fortify your main entrance while leaving a remote window unprotected, that simply invites criminals to use the window rather than the door. There will always be a weakest link. The key is to address the weakest link to the extent that it’s not a security risk.
Practical Tip: Often an objective can be met using a combination of physical and technological solutions. Choose solutions that you find most effective and appealing for your situation.
Man’s Best Friend
Dogs serve as early warning systems and threat deterrents. If someone approaches your home and your dog starts barking, you’ll be alerted and the potential criminal may decide to skip your home altogether. Get a dog that is alert to unexpected noises and has a loud, booming bark.
Once you have a physically secure home, support your family’s security with safe behavior. Here are five tips often overlooked by homeowners:
- Keep doors locked at all times. Keep your overhead garage door down. Keep doors to an attached garage locked. Lock the doors of vehicles parked outside.
- Never open the door of your home to a stranger. Remember that doors open inward. As soon as the door starts to open, a criminal can crash through your door, knocking you down, and the whole scenario is over in a flash.
- Verify the identity of any contractors and delivery people. Don’t open the door unless you’re certain they’re employees of the company they claim to represent.
- Never allow children to answer the door. Opening your door to a visitor is a decision and action that should be reserved for adults.
- Stay alert as you approach your home from being away. An easy way for a criminal to gain entry is to attack while you are entering your home. If something is out of place, such as a light unexpectedly turned off or a door unlocked or open, return to your vehicle, leave the area, and call Law Enforcement for assistance.