Saturday, March 29, 2014

Suburban Home Security

At the best of times, there's a lot to protect inside your home: loved ones, comfort, peace, and all the gear and supplies to enhance your lives. When things aren't going so well, your home increases in importance as your family's refuge, shelter, and base of operations. There are always people who are willing to hurt others and take their property by hook or by crook. What can you do to secure your home? What should you do?

One line of thought leads to constructing a suburban bunker, a virtual fortress. I don't consider this a feasible option for several reasons. First, I can't afford it even if I wanted to. But more importantly, with some experience in the security industry I'm aware that there are no foolproof security measures--a determined enough professional can always find a way to defeat physical barriers, alarms, locks, etc. Each of us must do our own cost/benefit analysis and make a decision as to how much we're willing to pay for what level of security. And the price we pay is not only measured in dollars, but in social standing, convenience, and freedom as well.

I don't have to be a track champion to run away from zombies, should it come to that; I just have to be able to run faster than you. By the same token, my home doesn't have to be impregnable against attack, just less attractive than yours. Burglars (those who enter homes to commit crimes) want stuff without having to pay for it; the more you increase their costs--in terms of dollars, skills, freedom, and wellness--and the more you reduce their profit, the more their own risk/reward analysis will lead them elsewhere.

Burglars love striking at night when it's dark and people are sleeping, or during a time of day when people are gone. They don't want attention to be focused upon them. When people observe burglars in action, chances are high that someone will use force or the threat of force to imprison, injure, or kill the burglars. So one way to deter burglars is to make them believe you're at home and awake, typically by using timers to switch lights and a radio on and off while you're away.

Another good approach for deterring attention-shy burglars is to make them more visible and to attract attention with sound. Security lights left on at night or triggered by motion will shine light on intruders--so install them. Bushes and shrubs can provide concealment--so remove them. Barking dogs and wailing alarms and the crunch of gravel will do a lot to negate an intruder's attempts at stealth. When I lived in a high-crime Asian city, people had two dogs; one dog was always outside, where he could raise an early alarm should someone climb the fence into the yard. However, these dogs were typically killed by intruders, so the second dog was kept indoors to sound an alarm of his own. For home security, yappy dogs that just won't stop barking at strangers are ideal.

Security cameras are no longer high-tech systems available only to the wealthy. These days, one can order a workable security camera system online or pick one up at Costco for just a few hundred dollars. Get a system that lets you view the images--live or recorded--from a monitor installed inside your home as well as any device connected to the Internet. Make sure the resolution is high enough that you can read license plates and recognize faces at the appropriate distances. Not all cameras work well at night; get one that does. If you absolutely can't afford a good camera system, then any camera surveillance is better than none. Even "dummy" cameras that aren't operational are deterrents to bad guys who don't want to end up on the evening news.

Normally your well-lit home with your dog on the porch will be safe enough from typical intruders. But what if a neighbor's family hasn't had food or water for several days, and they know you've got a two-week supply? What if someone sees you buying gold and silver bullion and follows you home? What if the boat in your driveway and the BMW parked out front suggest there might be something inside the house worth the extra trouble? These scenarios indicate you haven't given enough care to OPSEC. Even having a stick in hand isn't enough when all a bad guy can see is the fat carrot in your other hand.

Secure the perimeter of your home by locking all doors, windows, and anything else through which an intruder might enter. When I lived in that high-crime city we went so far as to have bars on our windows (which got tricky as we also planned for escaping fires). My personal cost/benefit analysis now has not led me to install bars, as the sound of breaking glass is sufficient to alert my family and my neighbors, but I'll want those windows and doors locked shut. If you desire more ventilation through a window, there are a number of ways to secure a window in a partially open position; just be careful that the window can't be lifted from the frame entirely if you use such a device. If things take a turn for the worse, you might beef up your security with shutters or even by boarding up windows and other points of entry.

Locks work great for keeping most people out, but it is relatively easy to pick locks and to jimmy or shim many kinds of latches. In my own experience Kwikset and Master locks are easier to pick, while Schlage and Medeco locks are more difficult--but make no mistake, all of these locks can be picked. Assuming your burglar can't pick locks, your home will be more secure if you use deadbolts on all your doors. Many latches are spring-loaded to automatically retract and then latch when a door is shut; with some of these, a burglar can insert a shim to push the latch back and open the door. All latches of this type are fairly short, and often a burglar can use a pry bar to "jimmy" the latch away from the doorjamb to open the door. A properly installed deadbolt that's long enough (no shorter than 1 inch) can't be defeated by these methods.

In addition to a keyed deadbolt for when we're away from home, I like having a thumb-latch deadbolt that can only be operated from the inside as well, for when we're sleeping. There are other ways of securing your door at night--security bolts, slide bolts, door bolts, etc. Just remember that any lock or bolt is only as strong as it's weakest point. It's no good having a thick hardened steel padlock, for example, if you use a hasp with exposed screw heads for a burglar to remove. The same goes for hinges located on the outside, where a burglar can remove the pins and open the door on the hinge side. Think about what would happen to the bolt, screws, chain, etc. if the door were kicked; you don't want a secure bolt torn from the doorjamb with a pair of short screws hanging in space. If a glass panel is located near a lock, where a burglar could break the glass then reach in an unlock the door, use a deadbolt that must be unlocked from a key even from the inside.

Home alarm systems need not cost an arm and a leg. Some do-it-yourself kits work pretty well and go for just a few hundred dollars. Or sign up for a multi-year contract and an alarm service might only set you back as little as $20 a month. Any alarm system should secure the doors and windows of your home's perimeter and have options to sound a local alarm and/or alert a private security company or local law enforcement. Inside the home, your alarm system can include such triggers as pressure pads under the carpet, motion detectors, infrared detectors, and panic buttons. Don't go crazy here; too many instances of triggering an alarm while letting the dog out or getting a glass of milk, and these will be turned off anyway. But by imagining what path an intruder would take (entering a home office or entertainment room) and comparing that with the paths pets and family members would take in night-time activities (to and from bathrooms and the kitchen), you can probably come up with one or two suitable locations for an indoor alarm trigger. If you do install an alarm system, use it, even when you're at home.

Do what you can to deter theft inside the home and mitigate the damage of a successful burglary: safes (the kind that lock, the kind that misdirect, and the kind that conceal), good records, and homeowners or renters insurance all help protect your family. Locked cabinets and safes are no more impenetrable than home security systems, but they can help keep honest members and guests of the household honest, and deter intruders who don't have a whole lot of time to get in and get out.

Consider creating a safe room inside your home to protect the members of your household from attackers. Many intruders expect all the hardware to be securing your perimeter, and are not prepared for a room that can resist their attacks even for just a few moments. The best ones I've seen are concealed behind hidden doors. This is a great place to store your most important documents, part of your stockpile of supplies, and your firearms safe. A safe room doesn't have to be big and comfortable--it can be made from part of a walk-in closet or the space under the stairs, with just a bucket for "hygiene."

Should you ever find yourself the target of people who have triggered or bypassed your alarm and breached your security or otherwise intruded uninvited, you must realize they have evil intentions. Part of "being ready" means to mentally prepare yourself ahead of time for the ramifications of such people bursting into your home. I believe the best plan will leave you with options to hide in a safe room, escape to a nearby rally point, or defend your home and your family with force.

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