Personal Safety & Home Defense

Personal Safety & Home Defense is the collection of attitudes, habits and skills, and equipment used to protect one’s self, other people and property from criminal threats in and around one’s home.  The focus of personal safety is inside of and in very close proximity to the home, as opposed to on the street, while traveling or shopping, or at activities such as work and school. The threat is from criminals and criminal activity (particularly theft, burglary, home invasion robbery, assaults of various kinds, and murder).  Fire safety, water purity, accident prevention and disease prevention are all examples of threats to personal safety in the home that are not included in the subject of Personal Safety & Home Defense.

Contents

  1. Criminal threats in the home
    • Crime categories
    • The security assessment
  2. Attitudes and mind-set
  3. Habits and skills
  4. Use of force in home defense
  5. Home invasion defenses
  6. Equipment
    • Alarm systems
    • Safes
    • Other
  7. Severe threat environments
  8. True crime to learn from
  9. See also
  10. References

Criminal threats in the home

The people who pose criminal threats in the home range from a teenage son stealing cash from a parent’s purse to hardened criminals forcefully entering a home to steal and kill. One must be aware of the wide range of people who could theoretically commit a crime in one’s home: a family member who shares the home; family and friends who visit the home with permission; contractors, salespeople and others who come to the home (invited or uninvited); and strangers who come to the home with the intent to commit a crime.  It would be a mistake to prepare only for strangers intent on crime.

Crime Categories

Theft

The act of taking someone else’s personal belongings without permission.  Items commonly stolen from homes include cash, electronics, jewelry, guns, medications, and sports equipment.

Burglary

The act of unauthorized entry into a home or other structure.  Some jurisdictions add: “with the intent to commit a theft, assault or felony.”  Most jurisdictions do not require force to be used to break into a home for the crime to be considered burglary.  For instance, a house guest with permission to visit during a party who hides somewhere in the house during the party then emerges from hiding after the residents have fallen asleep and steals their laptop computer and jewelry commits a burglary.  Most burglaries are non-violent as the perpetrators intend to get in and get away while the home is unoccupied.  Most perpetrators are unarmed with the exception of any tool they may have used to force entry (if force was necessary). 

Assault

Simple assault (eg. a punch to the stomach), aggravated assault (eg. a stabbing), and sexual assault are often committed in the home, by strangers, acquaintances and family members. Crime statistics clearly indicate one would be mistaken to believe s/he is safe from assault at home and only in danger when walking down a dark alley in a high crime part of town.

Home invasion robbery

The act of using force or the threat of force to enter a home without permission in order to steal valuables. Statistically unusual in the U.S., home invasion robberies are nonetheless quite full of physical danger (serious assaults and murder are not uncommon results during home invasion robberies).  The potential for violence is very much elevated in home invasion robberies because the perpetrators have decided the success of their crime depends on the residents being home and they are committed to overcoming any force used by the residents in self-defense with their own weapons and brutality. 

Murder

The act of killing a person whether by a stranger or someone known to the victim. Murder is sometimes the objective of the criminal, but at other times it is an unintended consequence of the underlying crime (theft, burglary, assault or home invasion).

The Security Assessment

Understanding the criminal threat to you and your home begins with an accurate and honest security assessment.  An assessment of threats will necessarily lead to designing countermeasures for those threats, so it is essential the assessment, however it is performed, is complete and accurate.  This is no time to be squeamish about unpleasant subjects or stuck in denial about reality.  This is no time to continue to tolerate unsafe conditions you have gotten used to (e.g. a broken window lock, a back door completely overgrown with shrubs where a burglar could break in and not be seen).

The first resource, and maybe only resource, for conducting a security assessment is one’s own knowledge and experience in one’s environment.  Keeping up with current events (especially those related to crime) and knowing one’s own community may be all one needs to accurately assess one’s vulnerability to crime.

Local law enforcement agencies are glad to respond to citizens’ requests for home security assessments.  However, they often feel like the forgotten “Maytag repairmen” who never get calls for that kind of service.  You should find local law enforcement agencies glad to contribute, though there may be a hesitancy to share with you some of the more gruesome and frightening crimes in your area so as not to scare you unduly.  However, if you present yourself as able to handle the bad news, you may get an earful you had never imagined could possibly happen in your “safe” location.  (What?  You thought all crimes were reported by local newspapers and television?  They just cover the proverbial tip of the iceberg.)  Sadly, police usually provide security assessments while standing in the ransacked home of a victim who only now wants to know what to do to protect him/herself in the future.  Most people don’t get around to it until after they’ve been victimized.

Alarm company sales personnel can also be a good source of information if you start with a healthy bit of skepticism.  Like all sales people, the assessment they provide will predictably lead to the conclusion that you need what they’re selling.  But even within those parameters you may learn some valuable information whether you buy anything or not.

Finally, there are professional security consultants who, for a significant fee, will conduct a top shelf assessment of your situation and design effective countermeasures.  Whether you can or should pay $1,000 or $2,500, or more, for a professional assessment is a personal decision.  If you live in a $75,000 house and have $5,000 in cash and easily transported valuables in your home, a $1,000 assessment that leads to installing a $6,000 system might not be the best investment.  However, if you live in $1 million home, are in the public spotlight in your career, and have $500,000 in gold bars hidden at home, a professional assessment seems absolutely mandatory.  The best way to find such a professional security consultant would be through the word of a friend or associate who has had a satisfactory experience with one.  Absent that, there are sources one can approach to find such a person.

Attitudes and mind-set

In order to increase one’s personal safety in the home, one has to acquire and hold a certain set of attitudes.  This collection of attitudes regarding safety in the home could be called a mind-set.  The possession of this mind-set is the necessary foundation for taking the actions that contribute to personal safety in the home. This mind-set is not universally or firmly held by people in general.  It must be acquired through experience (much of it negative, painful and expensive) or through education, or through a combination of both.  The attitudes that make up this mind-set are as follow:

  • “Every person is capable of committing a crime against me.” No one is perfect, and each one is a potential threat to some degree (large or small).
  • “Some normally law-abiding people, under the right set of circumstances, will commit crimes that are out of character for themselves.”   People are usually unprepared when normally law-abiding people commit crimes against them.  Preparation begins with accepting this attitude.
  • “Some people are committed to a lifestyle of lawlessness and crime.”  These people commit crimes way out of proportion to their small numbers in the population.  These people don’t seem to hold the same moral/ethical values that the majority in society hold.  
  • “Some people are capable of and willing to commit heinous acts of violence.” Most people are not capable of such acts of violence and have trouble imagining how brutal and cruel other people can be.  Since they can’t imagine the violence, they won’t prepare to defend against it.
  • “There is a reasonable chance I could be the victim of a crime in my home.”  Obviously, people who are convinced they live in such a safe place that they could never be the victim of a crime in their home will not take precautions to prevent such a crime. Even people who realize there is crime all around them will not take precautions if they believe the statistical probability of them being victimized is nearly zero.
  • “There are precautions I can afford and practically implement that will prevent my being victimized or significantly elevate my ability to respond to minimize my losses and injuries.”  Without this attitude, people may be well aware of their risk of being victimized in their home but at the same time remain passive and inactive.  People have to see actions they themselves can realistically take that will significantly reduce their exposure to criminal danger.  
  • “Preparation and prevention are far more effective at keeping people safe than spontaneously reacting to a criminal attack after it has started.”

Habits and skills

Integrate yourself into your community and build that community into a mutually protective organism  

If you already have loving, extended family members and reliable friends living in your community, and if you can really count on them and even local strangers to assist you in a crisis, you are very fortunate.  If you already have these valuable resources, you have in place a very important component to personal safety/home defense.  Persons intent on committing a home break-in can usually tell just by walking or driving through a community 1) how alert people are to their surroundings and to them as strangers in particular, and 2) how likely it is that they would be observed beginning a break in and the police being called.  Of course, criminals avoid locations where people seem alert, law abiding, and willing to help each other.  If you don’t have this kind of community on your street and neighborhood you can either move somewhere else where it does exist (not very practical for most people) or you can take the initiative to start building these kinds of relationships.  Just being friendly, considerate and genuinely interested in the welfare of others is how it happens.  Consider the exact same crime in two different neighborhoods to learn to appreciate the value of a tight-knit community in crime prevention and response.  

Scenario #1

You get an email from your neighbor who is passing on information from other neighbors and a police officer.  Two “scruffy” white males in their 20’s were captured on security video breaking into a nearby business overnight.  They haven’t been caught or identified yet, so everyone should be on the lookout.  You pass on the information to your friends and family in the area.  Five days later, your retired aunt calls to ask if she should do anything about a white male in his 20’s who just knocked on her door asking for directions to McDonald’s.  Wisely, she gave the directions through her locked door and he left.  You advise her to call the police to report the incident, and you pass the information on to the people you know.  The next day you are home alone working on your computer and phone in the peace and quiet away from your office trying to finish a project for your employer.  You hear the sounds of arguing from your neighbor’s house and look outside to see an old Honda in their driveway you’ve never seen before.  You know Mike took the family’s only car on a business trip so you wonder who is next door and what the argument is about.  You call the wife Kim to see if everything is OK, but no one answers the phone, and now the arguing has stopped.  You call police describing the whole situation and ask for an officer to respond.  You stand in the window watching and listening for 8 minutes until two officers arrive.  As they approach the front door on foot, you see two white males run out Kim’s back door and jump over her fence.  You run outside and alert the officers, one of whom chases the men, and the other goes into the house.  The first officer finds Kim half-naked, duct taped to a dining room chair and the house ransacked, with jewelry and electronics packed into a backpack on the dining room table.  The other officer captures one suspect, but the second escapes.  As the neighbors gather outside, you ask around until you find someone who knows Mike’s cell phone number.  She calls Mike and he begins the 5 hour drive home to be with Kim.  You and the neighbors set up a rotation to sit in Mike and Kim’s house after the police are done processing it for evidence to keep it safe until Mike returns.  Someone contacts Kim’s best friend in the neighborhood, Sarah, who leaves her job to be with Kim at the hospital until Mike arrives.

Scenario #2

You are home working on a project for work and hear arguing from next door.  You look out the window at the neighbor’s house but don’t see anything except an old Honda in the driveway, so you return to work irritated at the distraction.  Two hours later you hear sirens and look outside to see police and an ambulance pulling into the neighbor’s driveway.  The Honda is no longer there.  You watch from your window.  Later, on the local evening television news broadcast, you hear that your neighbor was sexually assaulted and robbed in the home.  They don’t release the victim’s name, and you don’t know her or her husband/boyfriend.  For safety’s sake, you turn on the exterior light over the back door.  Then you go back to watching TV.

OK, which of the two communities would you want to live in?  A supportive community like Scenario #1 doesn’t just happen like magic.  It happens because people take the initiative to be friendly, considerate and genuinely interested in the welfare of their neighbors.  Such a network of relationships will be more difficult to develop in some places than in others, but in all situations it only happens because people take the initiative to try to make it happen and to keep it going.

To augment the informal work of concerned neighbors, it is sometimes wise and feasible to organize a Neighborhood Watch http://nnwi.org/ or Town Watch http://www.nationaltownwatch.org/natw/.  These organizations of neighbors are developed by the neighbors themselves with the cooperation of local police to watch their surroundings for crime and suspicious activity, and to share crime-related information back and forth with law enforcement.  Many crimes are prevented and solved through this kind of organized cooperation between citizens and police.

Every time you buy something new and valuable, get into the habit of recording a description of it and storing it for future recovery in the case of a theft or burglary

You should have a list kept in a safe place (like your safe) that itemizes all of your valuables, including serial numbers and photos.   A second identical list or copy should be kept away from your residence in the case of fire or theft from your safe.  You can engrave what the police call “owner-applied numbers” on items that don’t have serial numbers, or in addition to them.  Your home phone number is a good number to use (your social security number is NOT).  All of this helps with insurance reimbursement and in getting your stuff back if the police do make an apprehension.  Oftentimes, a search warrant is served on a suspected burglar’s residence or car and many items are found which are suspected to be stolen.  However, items cannot be returned or additional charges placed on the suspect because there is no way to identify the owner of most of the stolen merchandise in such a case.  You can get yours back by giving the police serial numbers, owner-applied numbers, and photos of valuables stolen when you initially report a crime.   As a bonus, this will help immensely with insurance claims if a fire, hurricane or other disaster strikes your home. 

Get into the habit of properly using whatever safety measures and anti-crime equipment you have

This is the single most important habit to get into as the failure to perform these simple, commonsense acts accounts for more successful burglaries and thefts than anything else.  Since unlocked doors and windows are the most common points of entry by burglars, make sure you develop the discipline of locking all doors and windows before leaving your house.  Faithfully store large amounts of cash, jewelry, guns and other valuables in your safe (or if you don’t have a safe, hide them in the well-chosen hiding places you have for them).  The majority of valuables taken in burglaries are laying out in plain view or stored in places easy to check (e.g. a dresser drawer).  Always arm your burglar alarm before leaving the house empty or when going to sleep. It’s also a good habit to set the perimeter portion of your burglary alarm when you’re home but have no plans to be going in and out.  Make sure the company that monitors your alarm and calls the police when it is violated has an up-to-date list of names and phone numbers to call when they detect an intrusion.  

Protect Yourself Against Home Burglary 

http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/residence/safety-1/protect-yourself-against-home-burglary/

Feb 15, 2011

By Staff writer State Farm™ Employee

According to the FBI, a house, apartment, or condominium in the United States is burglarized once every 15 seconds. In 2008, victims of burglary lost an estimated $4.6 billion.

Even if you’re not there when it happens, a break-in can permanently shatter your feeling of security at home.

Fortunately, taking a few simple precautions can dramatically reduce the risks of an invader gaining access to your home.

Common Sense Care

Believe it or not, it’s often the simplest and most obvious precautions that homeowners tend to forget—and which burglars tend to exploit. Maybe you’ve lived on the same street for decades and doubt it could ever happen to you. Maybe you’re in a rush and skip the usual routine.

Whatever the situation, you should always lock your doors and windows when you go out. Keep close track of any spare keys that exist. Do you know where they are? Do you trust who has them?

Here are a few more common sense tips to minimize the chances of a break-in:

  • Do not have money or jewelry lying out in view from a window. If possible, keep jewelry and other small valuables and important documents in a safe deposit box. Thieves who otherwise would have passed up your home might attempt a “smash and grab” to get at your valuables.
  • Don’t tell strangers your daily routines, and avoid telling others about the valuables in your home. If you’re at home working outside, leave all other doors that are out of sight locked.
  • Be wary about posting your vacation plans and updates on social media websites—even though you trust your friends, you never know who might learn that you’re not home.
  • If you have children, discuss home security with them, such as not talking with strangers about their home, its contents or family schedules.

Reduce The Chance For A Break-In

Fool burglars by making your home look occupied all the time.

  • Use automatic timers on lights when away.
  • Always park your cars in the garage with the garage door shut. A burglar may otherwise notice a pattern that a closed garage door or no cars in the driveway means no one is home. Closing the garage door and having curtains or blinds on the garage windows also hides some of your belongings.
  • Place radios on automatic timers and raise the volume so they can be heard outside.
  • Never leave notes on your door that can tip off burglars.

Make Your Home A Tough Target

The average burglar will spend no more than four to five minutes trying to break into a residence. Keep your property safe by making your home an inconvenient mark.

  • When moving into a new residence, have the locks changed.
  • Consult a good locksmith to make sure you have the right types of locks on your doors and windows and that they’re all functioning. Don’t make assumptions. It’s always possible that previous owners or tenants improperly installed a lock, or that your locks are broken and need replacing.
  • Secure your exterior doors and any doors from attached garages by installing good quality deadbolt door locks, doorjamb reinforcement, security-type door strikes, and strong, properly installed doors and doorframes that cannot be spread apart.
  • Use ANSI Grade 1 locks—look for the designation on the packaging.
  • Secure your windows by installing additional locks and installing impact-resistant glass on any windows within 42" of a door lock. This will make it more difficult to break the glass, reach in, and unlock the lock.
  • Prune lower branches of trees near your house if they could help a burglar gain access to a second story window.
  • Secure your patio door with a pin-type lock, a key lock, or a steel rod inserted into the door channel.

When You’re Away For More Than A Day…

Extended vacations can change the look of your home—and thieves can often see those changes. If you’re going to be away, take measures to make your home appear to still be occupied.

  • If possible, have your telephone calls forwarded when you are away from home. Burglars sometimes check to see if someone is home by making a telephone call.
  • Have a trusted neighbor pick up the mail and newspaper. If possible, do not have either stopped. That gives information about you being away from home to others whom you do not know.
  • If away for an extended period, have a plan in place to have the grass mowed or snow shoveled.
  • If you are away from home on garbage pickup day, ask a trusted neighbor to put your garbage cans out to the street and take them back in. You may wish to have your neighbor use your garbage cans while you are out. Burglars sometimes check for empty cans as a sign the family is away.

Be A Good Neighbor, Too

Protecting yourself against break-ins goes both ways. Just as you rely on them, your neighbors rely on you to keep the whole neighborhood safe. What can you do?

  • Organize a cookout or other apartment or neighborhood get-together so neighbors can get to know one another.
  • Organize or participate in an Apartment Watch or Neighborhood Watch program.
  • Arrange for a local police officer to complete an apartment security survey, or educate your neighborhood about specific safety concerns.
  • If you live in an apartment, notify management if you notice burned out light bulbs, dark corridors, broken locks on mailboxes and doors and/or other safety concerns in shared spaces.
  • Call the police immediately if you see suspicious activity in your neighborhood.

Want to learn more? Watch a video about protecting your home from burglary.

Learn to be alert to your surroundings

If two men you had never seen before in a car you had never seen before sat with a clear view of your house for two to three hours to watch your movements in preparation for a burglary next week, would you notice them?  If a car you saw parked in front of the bank when you went in followed you home two miles to commit an armed home invasion, would you notice before it was too late?  If the floodlight covering your rear deck and sliding glass entry door was burned out or removed, would you notice?  Many burglars will knock on your door or call your phone to see if you are home so they can break in if they get no answer.  Would you immediately be suspicious of a stranger at your door, notice a pattern of surveillance be conducted of you and your residence?  Most criminals conduct some surveillance before starting a crime (even if the surveillance lasts only 5 seconds) and they will often avoid potential victims who notice them conducting that surveillance.  Unfortunately, the average person goes through life without much alertness to their surroundings and as a result become crime (and accident!) victims.  Stay alert and take appropriate action when you see, hear or otherwise sense something out of the ordinary, suspicious or alarming.  Appropriate action could include anything from immediately replacing that burned out floodlight bulb, calling the police to report suspicious activity, or drawing your handgun as three men try to force their way into your front door after pretending to be lost.

Become proficient and train to stay proficient with all the procedures and tools you plan to rely on for your safety at home
If you’re going to rely on firearms to repel burglars or home invaders, then develop the appropriate level of skill with your firearms and train regularly to maintain it.  Regularly review and practice using the various features of your monitored burglary alarm system.  For instance, many systems have a “panic button” (or code) you can push to sound the siren/bell and call the monitoring company instantly if you detect someone trying to break in while you are home.  Do you remember how to use it?  Especially if you have children, practice your fire drills and what to do if “bad people” try to break into your house.

Use of force in personal safety/home defense

Most burglaries are committed when the criminal believes no one is home and they will be able to gain entry, steal what they can find quickly, and escape undetected.  So, for the great majority of home break-ins, you will not need any self-defense skills or weapons because it’s going to happen when you’re not home.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that burglars sometimes break in where people are home, usually by accident but sometimes on purpose (as when people are sleeping).  Rarely, residents come home while burglars are still in the house (but you should wait nearby outside after calling the police so there isn’t a violent confrontation).  You still may not need to use force in these situations because you may sleep through the time the burglars are present, or they may flee immediately upon discovering you are home and awake.  You will need to use force in the case of burglaries gone real bad, and in home invasions, neither of which are probable but both of which happen frequently enough even in “good, low-crime neighborhoods” for you to have a plan.

The first thing you will need is general physical fitness.  The stronger you are and the more cardiovascular endurance you have the better your chances in a physical altercation.  Of course, physical fitness brings with it many advantages and pleasures in life in general.  Secondly, you will need empty hand self-defense skills whether those be boxing, wrestling, martial arts, or something else.  Even you if you carry a gun or knife for self-defense, you should be prepared to fight without it, at least until you can disengage and draw your weapon.  Imagine someone coming up from behind you and grabbing you in a powerful bear hug with your arms pinned to your sides and the bear hugger’s accomplice approaching you from the front.  In that situation you wouldn’t be able to immediately draw your gun.  What would you do?  You may decide to stick with a few simple fighting skills that can be learned in an all day workshop, or you may decide to make this your hobby by developing black belt level martial arts skills.  Martial arts training also contributes to general fitness as a side benefit you don’t usually get in training with firearms.  Third, you will be wise to have some weapons and the skill to use them.  If you are not just being merely mugged (beaten and robbed), but if your life is literally in danger, you’re going to need every advantage you can bring to the fight to hope to survive and win the encounter.  This is especially true of home invasions, discussed below, because death is a clear potential outcome of all home invasions.  Having a knife (or club) and the skill to use it effectively is MUCH better than no weapon at all in a life-and-death fight, but it is not the most effective choice.  For many reasons, a firearm is the ultimate weapon for personal defense.  Firearms are a controversial and emotional subject for many people, but not usually for people who have been in a life-and-death situation.  Firearms do not magically and instantly stop bad guys like is usually shown on TV and in movies, but chosen wisely and used with some basic level of skill (accuracy) they are the tool most likely to allow you to save your life or that of a loved one.

One should clearly understand the legal restrictions in the use of force in self-defense in general and in their particular community before attempting to use any level of force in self-defense.  There’s nothing worse than defending yourself and then being sued or going to jail because you said or did something on the wrong side of the law.  Fortunately, in the U.S. in 2012, people inside their homes defending themselves against someone who has entered their home illegally, are given all benefit of the doubt by the police and courts.  That’s not to say that you can’t go wrong using force in your own home, but it’s the simplest part of the self-defense law.  It would at least be worth your while to read In the Gravest Extreme by Massad Ayoob which is the standard text for understanding the use of lethal force in self-defense, especially the legal and psychological aspects.  http://www.amazon.com/Gravest-Extreme-Firearm-Personal-Protection/dp/0936279001/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302296598&sr=1-1

Ayoob also runs a firearms and self-defense training school which is excellent in beginning to put the book knowledge together with developing hands-on skills. http://massadayoobgroup.com/  Two additional firearms training schools are Front Sight http://www.frontsight.com/ and Thunder Ranch  http://www.thunderranchinc.com/  

Home invasion robberies

Home invasion robbery is a very violent and dangerous crime and is thankfully rare.  Home invasion robberies are almost always committed by two or more criminals who are armed and quite willing to use any level of violence necessary to get what they want.  Home invasion robbers intentionally plan to attack while you are home and to use violence (torture) to get you to give them what they want, even if it’s in a safe or at a different location (your bank, business or office).  Many home invasions involve murder or attempted murder, so as not to leave any witnesses.  The only motive for the home invaders not killing everyone in a home invasion is the criminals’ knowledge that far more law enforcement resources will be expended trying to catch them if anyone is killed, compared to if there are no deaths.  Even a small town police department will call for and get help from state police, the FBI and any other agency with potential jurisdiction (DEA, ATFE, etc.).

Criminals who commit these crimes are generally very experienced in crime and violence, and are tired of making off with small amounts of money and valuables in simple burglaries and convenience store stick-ups.  Home invaders are looking for a big score which they have reason to believe you can deliver to them, and are willing to take the risks and use the violence necessary to succeed.  They are not squeamish about violence like many criminals are.  In fact some home invaders enjoy violence intensely, even sexually.  Check out this NY Times piece about the brutal Petit family home invasion.  As you read this account, note how easy it was for the criminals to gain access to the house, how unprepared the family was, how little crime this community normally experiences, how brutal the crime ended up being, and how true this saying is:  When seconds mean the difference between life and death, the police are just minutes away.  Note that all the news reports of this disturbing crime indicate that, except for the bank teller who Mrs. Petit told about the home invasion when forced to go there to withdraw money, no neighbor, co-worker or family member in any way noticed anything amiss at the Petit house during the many hours of the siege.  The family was on their own inside against two brutal, armed home invaders.  

To prepare to deal with a home invasion robbery one should first understand the robbers’ strategy.  The home invader’s strategy is to get you and everyone in your house quietly immobilized inside (bound and gagged) and then demand you give them all your valuables.  They plan in advance to use threats, force and even torture and murder to get you to tell them where your valuables are.  They may even plan in advance to kill everyone in the house after you give up your valuables to eliminate all witnesses.  They bring as many accomplices as necessary with whatever weapons and tools they think they will need to physically control however many people they find in your house regardless of your attempts at self-defense.  

The key for the home invaders is to gain entry and get you and your family under control without anyone observing them or calling the police.  Once they have accomplished this, they can take hours or even days inside your house doing whatever they want or need to do to get what they want.  There are basically three types of entry. 

1) The home invaders can sneak into your house while no one is home and gain control over each family member as they arrive home.  This is unusual because most of the victims of home invasion have alarm systems making getting in and hiding inside without being detected much more difficult.  But don’t think there aren’t ways to accomplish it, especially by sophisticated criminals.  A variation on this theme is for gang members to wait for a resident of the empty house to approach the front door, grab them and force them at gunpoint to open the door and turn off the alarm system.  (A good alarm system will have a code to turn off the warning beeps and disarm the system while at the same time sending a silent distress signal to the central monitoring system.  You should know how to do this.) 

2)  Knock on your door with an innocent sounding story and talk their way inside.  Once the front door is closed they display their weapons and demand your compliance.  This is usually done by one or two members of the gang who then open a back door for the rest of the crew to enter. 

3) Brazenly force their way into your door with or without knocking.  This takes the least skill, but it works especially well in rural areas where the brief noise and commotion outside is unlikely to be noticed.

The one key to defending against a home invasion is to prevent entry into the home by one or more of the invaders.  All hope is not lost if the home invaders get inside, but the chances of survival and winning the encounter drop significantly.   Your goal should be to prevent entry by home invaders, fighting and dying at the front door for the sake of your family if it comes to that.  This will undoubtedly be a gunfight.

  • First, you must not allow yourself to be pounced upon by home invaders who are waiting for you to come home or to leave your home.  Could someone follow you home, pull in behind you, pull a gun, and demand entry into your house?  Could robbers be waiting in hiding near your door and then pounce when you arrive/leave?  Eliminate any hiding places on your property.  Establish a perimeter fence or wall.  Arm yourself and get the training necessary to adequately defend yourself.  Decide in advance, if you are outside confronted by home invaders and your loved ones are inside, that you will die before letting them inside.  Warn them any way you can, and don’t let the robbers in.
  • Second, you must establish a way to “interview” people who knock on your door, without letting them in or making yourself vulnerable to a “push in” once you open the door.  The simplest method is to install a two-way intercom system and arrange it so you can see the people outside while you talk to them.  Your door must not be vulnerable to a simple kick-in either.  It should stand up to 10 or more seconds of determined attempts to kick, shoulder or pry it open to give you time to access your firearm, take up a good defensive position, and start shooting  as soon as the door gives way.  The second way to interview strangers at your door is to install a heavy duty steel bar security door outside of your house’s door, through which you can talk with and see anyone who comes to your door.  The security door can be mounted just on the outside of your house door (like a flimsy screen door but much stronger).  Or you can enclose your porch or entry way with security bars and a security door.  This way you can talk to strangers pleasantly without fear of them rushing you and getting inside.  Once the home invaders are inside, you’re way behind the curve.
  • Third, firearms and the attendant skills are absolutely mandatory if you expect to be able to cope with a home invasion.  The firearm cannot be locked safely away in your safe or closet.  It must be on your body or accessible within 5 seconds inside your home.  This has been optional up to this point in discussing home defense, but not with home invaders.  The same is true of a top-of-the-line alarm system that include the capability to send a silent alarm to the police without the home invaders knowing about it.  These panic alarms can be sent from the control pad by the entry door and from portable transmitters carried on your body.  Ferfal deals with home invasion at great length in his book and blog.  Since most Americans aren’t yet much concerned about this issue, I’ll direct you to him if you are one of the few who is concerned and wealthy enough to be a target.  Of course, if our economic problems and moral decay continue in the direction we’ve been going, it will take less and less wealth to attract the attention of the more and more criminals willing to engage in this kind of crime. 
  • Fourth, an armored safe room can be a lifesaver in the case of a home invasion, assuming the occupants of the house sense soon enough that intruders are trying to break in and assuming the house’s doors and windows will delay that entry long enough for the family to get into and lock the safe room behind them.  http://www.safecastle.com/sheltershome.aspx and http://www.rhinovault.com/saferooms.htm

Equipment

The most important equipment everyone needs to stay safe at home are the most obvious: solid doors and windows, quality locks, interior and exterior lighting that leave no place to hide, and so forth.  Most burglars will choose not to break into your residence if it’s too difficult, will take too long, will make too much noise, or will expose them to public view (and therefore the chance of someone calling the police).  In essence, your safety measures are designed first to induce the potential burglar to change his mind about breaking into your place and choose a different house or apartment.  Only after that fails is your home safety equipment designed to keep burglars out and valuables secure from theft.

Alarm Systems

A growing number of companies offer not only burglary alarm systems, but also advanced technological systems that allow you to monitor your home electronically while away using the internet, computers and smart phones.  

Alarm systems are intended to accomplish three objectives:

  1. deter burglary/home invasion robbery attempts by their presence
  2. sound an alarm when an intrusion is begun
  3. notify law enforcement as soon as an intrusion has occurred.

Deterrence is achieved, in theory, when the criminal conducting his surveillance of the property notices there is an alarm system installed.  This usually happens when the criminal sees  a sign or signs advertising the presence of the alarm; when he sees components of the system from the outside (i.e. a security camera covering the front door, a control panel visible from the street when the front door is open, or electronic contacts on a window); when he sees an alarm company vehicle at the property; or when he hears the siren (such as when a false alarm sets it off) or the warning beeps of the control panel upon entering or leaving.  Most burglars and home invaders will not choose to attempt a break in where an alarm system is installed since there are so many other properties they can target that are not protected by a system.  This is because most such criminals are unskilled opportunists looking for an easy score.  However, deterrence is not guaranteed.  In a number of scenarios, burglars and home invaders may not be deterred by alarm systems.

  1. Some criminals might not notice the obvious signs of an alarm system if they are of sub-normal intelligence or are under the influence of drugs/alcohol, or both.
  2. Some criminals may be so focused on their objective inside the target property that they may recklessly proceed with their break-in in spite of a system.  This would include the criminal whose surveillance has revealed something of great value in the home.  It would also include a criminal who is more intent on accomplishing his other-than-theft objective than safely getting away from police who may or may not arrive before he is done (e.g. a criminal intent on raping or killing a certain individual known to be in the home).
  3. Criminals who have acquired considerable skill, knowledge and experience conducting burglaries may actually use the parts of an alarm system they can detect from outside to plan their attack on the property.  (These professional criminals are very few and far between, but they are out there.  They are a concern for wealthy individuals.)  These criminals may use the signs advertising your alarm to pay an unscrupulous employee of the alarm company to provide them with key information about your system to facilitate their entry, up to and including your master alarm code with which they can disarm your system as if they were you.  The sight of surveillance cameras outside your property may be used to determine any blind spots and therefore where to force entry.  It is for these reasons that high net worth people with a lot of valuables to protect at their home or office are sometimes advised not to display yard signs advertising their system to make the professional criminal’s job that much harder.  However, the average home or apartment is best served displaying alarm company signs and allowing some components of the system to be visible or audible from outside the residence. 

The second purpose of an alarm system is to signal a criminal intrusion as soon as possible after it begins.  A small minority of systems send silent signals which won’t be detected by the criminals so that police or private security can be notified and arrive in time to apprehend the burglars.  In theory, if the burglars think they have not been detected they will be more leisurely in their ransacking of the property which will give first responders time to arrive.  The majority of systems, however, use an audible alert (siren or bell) to signal an intrusion.  The audible alerts are sometimes augmented by visual alerts, such as flashing strobe lights.  These alerts are intended to induce the criminals to flee immediately, or at least to hurry through the property in less than five minutes.  The sirens, bells and lights also alert anybody inside the property that an intrusion has begun and that appropriate defensive actions should be taken immediately.  Finally, if the sirens, bells and light signals can be detected from outside the property they draw attention from neighbors, passersby and law enforcement which, in theory, should also cause the intruders to flee out of fear of identification and apprehension.  

There is a bewildering and ever-growing range of intrusion detection methods that can be installed in and around homes and apartments.  Hundreds of companies, some national and some local, will design, install and service a system, but it is also possible for residents to purchase and install their own components.  People who want to get an alarm system should consider 1) what and who they want to protect, 2) what potential threats they want to be protected against, 3) what they can afford to spend, and 4) how much, if any, of the design and installation they want to perform themselves.  An honest consideration of these issues will set the parameters of the type and capabilities of the alarm system chosen.  A simple system for an apartment or small house might only include sensors on the front and back doors, a motion detector covering the living room/hallway, an arming station by the front door, a control panel, and a siren.  On the other hand, a wealthy family may put a sensor on every door and window, multiple indoor motion detectors, surveillance cameras indoors and out, a vibration/shock sensor on the safe, provide a transmitter to everyone in the household to use as a panic alarm, and even hire private security guards part- or full-time.  (This would be in addition to passive defensive upgrades such as an armored safe room, steel doors in steel frames, an 8’ high wall surrounding the property, and so forth.)  Most people will be well-served by the standard offerings of reputable security companies.  However, wealthy people are more likely to need a professional evaluation of their situation and an expensive, custom solution designed and installed.  This is because it is the wealthy who are most likely to be targeted by professional burglars and home invasion gangs who will not be stopped by off-the-shelf alarm systems.

The third basic function of alarm systems is to notify law enforcement as soon as possible after a criminal intrusion has begun.  This is a separate, fee-for-service item which is not incorporated into all alarm systems.  A typical fee for this service is $50/month.  To save money, many people install an alarm system that detects intrusions and sounds audible and visual alarms, but does not call police.  Such an unmonitored system can be quite economical and effective, but it has the disadvantage that police are not automatically called by the central monitoring service.  An unmonitored system is based on the expectation that intruders will flee as soon as they hear the siren and see the strobe lights.  An unmonitored system also places considerable trust in one’s neighbors to call the police if they hear the alarm at your place.  A hybrid system would be one that detects intrusion, sounds an alarm, and notifies the residents by computer or smart phone.  It would then be up to the residents to call police and/or race home to thwart the burglary.  An unmonitored system is least likely to be a wise choice if the owners cannot depend on the sirens being heard by neighbors, they can’t rely on their neighbors to call the police, or police response times are typically greater than 10 minutes even when they are called promptly.  In a situation like that, owners of a monitored system might want to weigh the pros and cons of silent vs. audible alarms.  If police response is going to be typically longer than 10 minutes and the criminals know that, a silent alarm might at least put the burglars at ease and give police time to respond before the burglars leave the property. 

A central station monitoring service works like this.  Once the alarm system detects an intrusion while the system is armed (such as the front door opening) an electronic message is sent immediately (via phone, landline or cell) to the central station.  The central station could be located anywhere in the country, or even in a foreign country.  If a security code is not properly entered into the arming station within a set amount of time (usually 30 seconds), the siren is activated and an alert is displayed on a computer terminal at the central station telling the operator what has happened.  The operator opens the account information and makes a  phone call to the residence to see if the alarm is accidental or is an actual criminal intrusion.  If the central station operator gets no answer on the home phone, or if someone answers who doesn’t know the secret password, the operator will either call the local police station or try another phone number in the account (such as a cell phone of a resident).  Once the protocol set up by the residents of that particular location is executed (namely how many additional phone numbers, if any, will be called after the home number), the police will be called.  The operator gives the police the address of the alarm, the license for the alarm if applicable, and what detectors have been violated (e.g. front door, living room motion).  The police operator will then dispatch police officers to the location, that is, if they aren’t all already busy on other calls.  The fastest police can be called and dispatched is roughly two to three minutes, and sometimes it is much longer than that depending on central station protocols and efficiency.  The time it takes police to arrive at the location of the burglary alarm ranges from 3-5 minutes in an urban area (on a good day) to 30 minutes or more depending on travel time and availability of officers when the central station calls. Rural areas can expect to have the longest response times due to how long it takes officers to travel to the location.  Of course, during extreme crises, such as a hurricane, tornado, or riot, police may not respond at all to alarms.  Consumers should be mindful of police response times in their particular location (best case, worst case, and typical).  Local law enforcement officers are usually glad to provide this kind of information to law-abiding residents when asked.  (The best time to ask is when the officer is in your home providing a security/crime prevention assessment, NOT an anonymous telephone call!)  However, police will sometimes give overly optimistic response time estimates, especially if they have been subject to embarrassing failures and public criticism for slow response times in the past.  The longer it takes police to respond, the better hidden and secured people’s valuables in the home have to be.  If typical alarm response time in a rural area is 20-30 minutes, the home’s valuables are going to have to be highly secure, compared to a small city where response time is typically less than 5 minutes. Given 20 minutes to work, skilled and well-prepared burglars can clean out a home’s valuables, including forcing open or removing many safes available for residential applications.

When installing burglary alarm systems, consumers have multiple optional equipment worth considering: fire/smoke detection, radon/carbon monoxide detection, medical emergency notification, and so forth.  If you’re going to spend the money on an alarm system, the small additional cost of these add-ons may make sense.

Consumers should consider the threats they face and design their systems appropriately.  Remember, the primary goal of the intrusion detection system is to detect  immediately a criminal intrusion while the residents are not at home, or certainly within 1-2 minutes of when it begins.  Unless a criminal is breaking in to one particular room in the house to steal a known valuable item kept there, you can count on the burglar quickly moving from room to room looking for valuables to steal.  This is why most homes do not need to install detectors to cover every possible entry point and every square foot of the home’s interior.  Detectors on the front and back doors (the most common points of entry) and a motion detector covering the central living space (often the living room or entry hallway) should detect just about any burglars as they enter or move through the house.  On the other hand, a home with valuables stored in a safe in the basement or the master bedroom should add detectors to cover those areas.  The second goal of the system would be to detect an intrusion while the family is home (and probably asleep).  A burglary while residents are home significantly raises the physical danger to them so additional measures may be warranted.  Residents sometimes hear a burglar making entry while they are home, but usually they don’t hear the entry, nor the burglar entering the room where they are sleeping and removing valuables.  The alarm system should be designed with additional features to insure the sleeping residents will be alerted before the burglar enters their bedroom.  This may require an additional motion detector covering the hallway leading to the bedrooms and sensors on the  bedroom windows (especially if they are left unlocked and open in good weather).  Installing a sturdy exterior door with a high quality dead bolt on the bedroom and locking it every night would also be advised to give the residents time to wake up and respond.  Installing a second arming panel in the master bedroom would also make sense, especially if the primary one at the front door is a considerable distance away.  The final scenario to design for is a home invasion robbery purposely conducted while the residents are home.  The features most useful for that nightmare are methods for manually triggering a silent or audible alarm that goes instantly to the central monitoring station.  This feature is usually programmed into the arming station(s) and can be augmented by panic buttons placed around the house or transmitters carried by residents in their pockets or around their necks.

Here are a few words to the wise regarding video and audio surveillance cameras.  The first purpose of cameras is deterrence of crime.  For this reason, it is easy to buy convincing-looking dummy cameras (some with red LED lights simulating AC power) that serve purely as deterrence because they aren’t connected to anything and don’t have the capability to actually record.  The second purpose of cameras is to provide residents while they are home with a view of their property (usually the exterior) to allow them to see if suspicious persons are about.  If a family could afford only one camera, placing it to identify people who come to the front door before opening it would be the smartest choice.  However, one has to design out all blind spots, or be very aware that the blind spots exist and where they are.  It would be a shame, and possibly a tragedy, to look at one’s camera monitor after hearing a suspicious noise outside and falsely conclude everything is OK because the residents didn’t see anyone on the cameras.  If the cameras don’t have 100% coverage (and few residential systems do), residents should augment them with actually looking or going outside!  With the recent ability to access cameras live while residents are not home (on a smart phone, for instance) makes indoor cameras more sensible.  The third purpose of cameras is to provide video/audio evidence of a crime at your home to aid the police in apprehending the offenders.  In this case, the recording equipment must be stored in the most secure place in the home (such as inside a large safe, or armored safe room).  If this level of security is not feasible in the home, then the recording should be done or duplicated in real time off-site.  If people are wealthy enough to be installing significant camera systems, they should be smart enough to make every reasonable effort to thwart the efforts of sophisticated criminals to defeat their system by stealing or destroying their recording equipment during the crime.  Cameras that record securely via the internet, are activated by motion, and display what they’re “seeing” to the residents immediately by smart phone when they detect motion are almost like having a security guard at home all the time, and can be a major part of an effective system.  With such a system, paying a monthly fee for an alarm monitoring service might not make sense.

Safes

Safes offer valuable protection, but there is a wide range of features and costs.  An important warning is: don’t be overconfident or complacent just because you store valuables in a safe.  A safe should not be considered invulnerable to theft.  A safe is just one of many possible layers in a home safety/personal defense strategy.  On top of that, when it comes to safes, it’s accurate to say, “You get what you pay for.”  

Safes are rated for fire protection and/or for burglary protection.  Many safes protect for only one of these threats, so be sure what you need.  A safe that will protect your valuable papers from burning in a fire will provide some protection against burglary, but not a lot.  A safe that will resist men with tools trying to break in to it for 15 minutes, may get so hot inside during a fire that your important documents and paper currency spontaneously burst into flames (not to mention what happens to any electronics, computer disks or ammunition inside!).  

Underwriter’s Laboratories tests and rates safes: http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/corporate/newsroom/storyideas/urbansafetymyths/safes/

Consumer Reports on safe ratings: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2011/01/choosing-and-using-a-home-safe/index.htm

From http://www.thesafesource.com/safe_ratings.htm

Safe Ratings

Burglary Ratings

  • B1 — Theft resistant (minimum security)
  • B2 — Underwriters' Laboratories Residential Security Container label
  • B3 — Non-rated anti-theft (incorporates features of high security safes
    without a UL rating)
  • B4 — Underwriters' Laboratories TL-15 label
  • B5 — Underwriters' Laboratories TL-30 label
  • B6 — Underwriters' Laboratories TL-30X6 or TRTL-30 label

Fire Ratings

  • FR — Fire resistant unrated insulated safe
  • 1/2 hr — UL class 350. Protects valuables for up to 30 minutes with outside temperature of 1550 degrees.
  • 1 hr — UL class 350. Protects valuables for up to 1 hour with outside temperature of 1700 degrees.
  • 1 hr+ — UL class 350. Protects valuables for up to 1 hour with an outside temperature of 1700 degrees, plus survived drop test from 30 feet.
  • 2 hr — UL class 350. Protects valuables for up to 2 hours with an outside temperature of 1850 degrees.
  • 2 hr+ — UL class 350. Protects valuables for up to 2 hours with outside temperature of 1850 degrees, plus survived drop test onto rubble from 30 feet

UL Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) - UL is a non-profit, non-bias agency that tests and rates the safety and performance of consumer products. Safes that have earned specific UL ratings will carry a UL label which designates the product's security and fire-protection ratings.

  • Net Working Time - This is the UL term for testing time which is spent trying to break into a safe using tools such as diamond grinding wheels, high-speed drills with pressure applying devices, or common hand tools such as hammers, chisels, saws, and carbide-tip drills. If a safe has been rated with a 30-minute net working time, (TL30), the rating certifies that the safe successfully withstood a full 30 minutes of attack time with a range of tools.
  • Theft resistant - This rating means the safe provides a combination lock and minimal theft protection.
  • Residential Security Container rating (RSC) - This UL rating is based on testing conducted for a net working time of five minutes, on all sides, with a range of tools.
  • TL-15 rating - The TL-15 rating means the safe has been tested for a net working time of 15 minutes using high speed drills, saws and other sophisticated penetrating equipment.
  • TL-30 rating - A product carrying the TL-30 security label has been tested for a net working time of 30 minutes with the same types of tools mentioned above.
  • TL-30 x 6 - The TL-30 (30-minute) test is conducted on all six (6) sides of the safe.
  • TRTL-30 - The TRTL rating designates a safe which successfully resisted 30 minutes of net working time with a torch and a range of tools which might include high speed drills and saws with carbide bits, pry bars, and other impact devices.

Fire Ratings

  • Impact test - The UL impact test calls for the safe to be heated to 1550 degrees for 30 minutes (1638 degrees for a 2-hour fire rated safe) then dropped onto concrete rubble from a height of 30 feet. The safe is then turned upside down and reheated for another 30 minutes (45 minutes for a 2-hour fire rated safe). During this process, it must maintain its integrity and protect all contents in order to pass the UL impact test.
  • Explosion hazard test - All UL fire-rated safes must undergo this test, during which the unit is inserted into a pre-heated 2000 degree oven. If the safe is not constructed properly, the rapid heating will likely cause an explosion.
  • FR - Fire resistant, unrated insulated safe - This product is awaiting UL approval.
  • Class 350 1/2-hour fire rating - During this test, the safe is heated for one-half hour to reach an exterior temperature of 1550 degrees. Because paper will begin to char at approximately 400 degrees, the unit being tested must maintain an interior temperature of less than 350 degrees during heat-up and cool-down testing in order to earn its rating.
  • Class 350 1-hour fire rating - To earn this rating, the safe is heated for one hour to reach an exterior temperature of 1550 degrees, then put through the cool-down test. During this time the safe must maintain an interior temperature of less than 350 degrees.
  • Cool-down test - This procedure is a key part of UL's fire testing procedures. After a one- or two-hour fire rating test, the safe is left in the oven for cool-down time with the heat turned off. Because of the intensive heat of one- and two-hour tests, the temperature inside the safe will continue to rise for up to one hour after the oven is turned off. To pass UL testing, the safe's interior temperature may not exceed 350 degrees at any time during heat-up or cool-down procedures.
  • Class 350 1-hour fire & impact label - The safe has passed both UL impact testing and Class 350 1-hour fire testing (see above).
  • Class 350 2-hour fire rating - The safe is heated for two hours to reach an exterior temperature of 1550 degrees and must maintain an interior temperature of less than 350 degrees to earn this rating. Class 350 2-hour rating and impact label - The safe has passed both UL impact testing and Class 350 2-hour fire testing (see above).

Most residential safes/gun safes qualify as “B1” (minimal security/theft resistant).  These gun safes can be broken in to surprisingly quickly.  Watch this safe-breaking demonstration from You Tube:

.  I say “surprisingly” because the safe can be very heavy (say 350-500 lbs.) and cost $1,000 - $1,500 or more.  Most of the rest of residential safes qualify as “B2,” also known as “Residential Security Containers (RSC).”  These safes (600-800 lbs., $2,500-$5,000) provide much more security but even they are only rated and tested to withstand men using tools to try to break into them for five minutes.  FIVE MINUTES!!  Compare that to a top-rated TL-30X6 safe that is most commonly used in jewelry stores.  One of these monsters with inside dimensions of 60X28X16 and a curb weight of 2,210 lbs can easily cost $6,000.  The difference is that the TL-30X6 rated safe has been tested to withstand men trying to break into all six sides of them with a variety of tools (and even a small amount of explosives) for 30 minutes.  So, think about it: if the most common rating for a quality gun safe (B2 = RSC) is only designed to resist attack for five minutes and the top of the line jewelry safe which could store millions of dollars in gold and jewelry is only designed to resist attack for 30 minutes the owner is counting on the police or an armed owner being notified of the attack on the safe and responding to the scene before the thieves can successfully break in to it.  (The same is true to a lesser extent of fire ratings: the designers are counting on the fire department.) That means a safe is not a stand-alone item: it has to be protected by an alarm system and measures taken to make finding and accessing it as difficult as possible.  You also have to remember to make the safe as difficult as possible to remove from the premises (for breaking into later in privacy and with plenty of time).  Weight is not enough to insure the safe won’t be removed.  Because of these issues, it is not uncommon for homeowners to build a structure around a safe to conceal it, improve how long it can survive in a fire, and to make accessing it all the more difficult and time-consuming.  Use your imagination here.

A custom-built or commercially available safe room (perhaps measuring 6‘X10’ or 8‘x8’) can be a more economical and more secure alternative to buying a safe big and strong enough to store every high-value thing you own.  Imagine a walk-in closet off the master bedroom custom-fortified with steel plate and featuring a vault door which when closed appears to be a normal door.  Or imagine a commercially available steel tornado shelter built into a basement with a high-security door hidden behind a normal interior hollow core door.  Such a safe room would be plenty secure and roomy enough for storing firearms.  If you also want to protect documents, currency, gold/silver and jewelry, a small jewelry safe could be installed inside the safe room.

While considering a safe, you should first decide what it is you want to protect and how much space those items would require in order to be stored.  If you have a stack of important documents, $30,000 in cash, two handguns and 100 gold American eagle coins that could all fit in a fairly small jewelry safe.  If you add rifles, shotguns, and framed paintings then you need a much larger, heavier, more expensive safe.  A small, high-security safe inside a hidden safe room would probably be a more cost-effective solution and provide benefits a big gun safe would not (eg. a place to retreat in case of a tornado or home invaders).

You should also be very mindful of how someone could steal your valuables from your safe.  1) If you leave the safe open/unlocked or if you leave your valuables outside of the locked safe, theft would be easy even for a casual visitor in your home.  Don’t laugh: this happens frequently.  I once responded to a burglary in which the victim had over $100,000 in gold and jewelry stolen.  The stolen items were in a shoe box in the same room as a locked safe which was not breached. No alarm.  No insurance.  2) A criminal could break your safe open in your home.  3) A team of criminals could rip your safe from the bolts holding it to the floor and cart it away in a truck.  4) A team of home invaders could put a gun to your head and force you to open the safe for them.

You may consider the strategy and expense of having two safes.  The idea is to have one safe that would be found by burglars in 5 minutes or less.  This safe would be the cheaper of the two and, in a sense, a decoy.  This safe would be filled with some cash, valuables and personal papers so that if the burglars/home invaders found it they would gleefully conclude they had struck the mother lode.  Then, hopefully, they would leave the house without looking further.  (You have to decide wisely what to put in the first decoy safe so that it is believed to be where you keep ALL your most valuable things.)  The second, larger safe (rated for fire and burglary) would be hidden much better and contain the majority of your valuables.  For this to work, no one can know that you have a second safe or where it is.  Many burglaries and nearly all home invasion robberies are initiated because the criminals get information about certain cash or valuables kept in a specific home (this intelligence sometimes also includes the specific hiding place).  “Loose lips sink ships!”  Don’t imagine this intelligence comes to criminals through high tech spy technology.  You and some friends are discussing guns and precious metal investments and you mention your safe.  Two or three of those friends later discuss the same subject with their friends, who discuss it with their friends.  One of those discussions occurs in a restaurant and a paroled felon sitting in the adjacent booth listens in enough to determine YOUR address.  Now you’re a target and they know what they’re looking for.  Having a safe installed is a key time for your precautions to be discovered.  The delivery vehicle should absolutely have no commercial markings, especially any that might enable observers to conclude you’re having a safe delivered.  The safe should be covered with a blanket when wheeled inside so no one can be 100% certain what it is.  A night time delivery after everyone’s in bed has some obvious advantages.  Whatever the methods for delivery and installation, you should have a believable cover story if/when someone asks you what was going on at your house last night.  Once your safe is installed it should be hidden or disguised and never shown to or discussed with anybody, except those you trust with your life (and then not too many even of them).

If you were considering going down to Costco, Home Depot or Cabella’s and buying one of the big gun safes they have on display, all this talk about safes may have scared you off.  If it’s the cost that has discouraged you, be sure to consider the cost of a safe and safe room over the number of years you will have it and against the cost of what you would lose if you don’t get a safe and are the victim of a burglary or home invasion.  A $5,000 safe to protect $10,000 in firearms and cash doesn’t seem sensible, but it would make more sense if you plan to have the safe for 30 years and leave it to your heirs in your will.  However, spending $30,000 on a safe room and small jewelry safe to protect firearms, cash, $1 million in gold and your own life can seem like a no-brainer.

There are alternatives to consider.  The first is insurance on your valuables.  Most homeowner policies limit what and how much they will cover and reimburse.  Generally, you have to get a policy rider to cover high value items.  This will be relatively expensive, certainly more expensive than buying a $5,000 safe and using it for 30 years.  Secondly, insurance riders require that you divulge to the company exactly what it is you are insuring.  This is a big security concern as there are any number of ways the knowledge of the valuables you keep at home can leak into the criminal world.  Last, you have to consider the possibility the insurance company will go bankrupt and be unable to pay you for a loss.

Two alternatives for securing precious metals are bank safe deposit boxes and private vaults outside of the banking system.  Use of either of these options could significantly affect your decisions about a residential safe.  Some experts discourage bank safe deposit boxes for precious metals because of the possibilities of being unable to access them during a “bank holiday,” and of having the metals confiscated by government as was done in the US in 1933.  Keeping your precious metals in a private vault has advantages over safe deposit boxes and residential safes, but access in an emergency or disaster is still a concern.

Remember that the institutions that are known to have the most to protect use layer after layer of protection.  Think of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and it’s hoard of gold.  Think of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it’s priceless art treasures.  These kinds of institutions use locked doors, electronic alarms and access controls, safes, vaults, safe rooms, 24/7 human surveillance and armed security personnel.  Take a page from their book and think of security in layers: don’t just think of one simple solution for all threats all the time (like a safe).

http://www.thesafesource.com/choosing_a_safe.htm

http://ftknox.com

http://wilsonsafe.com

Other

Amazon.com offers a wide range of home security systems and products for you to install yourself:  

The Home Security Superstore is one of many sources for home security products (but not firearms or ammunition):

An interesting product to make windows much more difficult to shatter:

A tough product to make doors much more secure from kick-ins:

Severe threat environments

This wiki primarily addresses personal safety/home defense in “normal” situations in the so-called developed world, as do most books, articles and posts on the subject.  However, there are situations, which could be labelled “severe threat environments,” which require a completely different mind-set and protective measures.  Severe threat environments can be defined as having three primary characteristics.  First, residents (and criminals!!) know there will be no reliable law enforcement response when their homes are attacked.  Second, criminal attacks on homes in the area are a near-daily threat and occurrence.  Third, the threat of death and severe bodily injury during these attacks (compared to simple loss of property) is much more elevated than in normal situations.

In the U.S. in 2012 there are no true severe threat environments.  The only places one might suggest as qualifying for that label are at most borderline situations.  Places like Detroit and Flint, Michigan; Camden, New Jersey; Oakland, California; and some remote Mexican-border areas of Arizona all bear some disturbing similarities to severe threat environments, but they don’t technically qualify.  (Some parts of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina did qualify as severe threat environments but only for periods of hours or at most a few days until law enforcement and military resources could resume patrol and response.) The main reason these high crime U.S. locations don’t qualify is that, for the time being, residents can still count on law enforcement to respond when their homes are attacked, delayed and inadequate as that response may be.  In a true severe threat environment, criminals know they can attack homes with near impunity because law enforcement is overwhelmed or has actually ceased to function.  Criminals know they can brazenly attack a farmhouse, cause any amount of noise and commotion, use all manner of violence, and take hours (if not DAYS) to complete their attack and looting before the residents will have any hope of law enforcement (or military) response, which in reality may literally never come.

In severe threat environments, the game-changer is the perceived lack of law enforcement response, not the frequency, intensity or brutality of the crimes.  If the police aren’t going to respond to your sophisticated $15,000 surveillance and intrusion detection system (or your frantic calls to 9-1-1), what’s the point of having one?  You can’t count on help coming and the criminals know they can ignore the whole thing and do whatever they want to do.  In normal situations home defense is built on the foundation of a certain police response which the criminals want to avoid at all costs.  If your windows are locked, the average criminal will not break the glass because that makes too much noise which is too likely to be noticed and result in the police being called.  In severe threat environments, it doesn’t matter if your windows are locked, or if you even have glass in them, because the criminal will crudely rip them out (frame and all) if that’s what is required to make entry.  So, in severe threat environments houses should be built with as few windows as possible and every one should be covered with securely anchored iron bars.  Exterior walls should be bullet-proof.  Instead of realizing your home is most vulnerable while it’s empty, in severe threat situations you can’t afford to EVER leave your home unoccupied by at least one armed person.  In fact, the whole concept of a “home” in normal situations has to be upgraded to a “compound” in severe threat environments.

Of course, no one in their right mind would WANT to live in a severe threat environment and would leave such a situation if they could.  Nevertheless, people sometimes find themselves trapped in such situations or make the difficult choice to stay and fight for their lives, their property and their communities.  So far, Americans haven’t had to face these situations except for rare and temporary break downs in law enforcement following natural or man-made disasters.  However, this may change if the country experiences a serious, sustained economic decline that decimates law enforcement resources and leads to a serious erosion in community commitment to the rule of law.  Until that time draws nearer, it’s probably not a good use of space here to go into much detail about how personal safety/home defense are radically altered in such situations.

For those who are curious about these issues anyway (including those who may be living in one of them today outside of the U.S.), the writings and instructional videos of Fernando Aguirre are probably the best place to start.  “Ferfal,” as he is known, lived through the economic collapse in Argentina in 2001 and shares his experiences and wisdom from that time.  His book Surviving the Economic Collapse has a great deal of wisdom gained through the school of hard knocks there.  He also has a blog (http://www.themodernsurvivalist.com/) which includes over 40 posts on home security in severe threat environments.  If you want to begin to wrap your mind around that topic and bend your preparations in that direction, this is the place to start.  If you live in a high crime location or you are wealthy enough to be targeted by professional burglars or home invaders, Ferfal will have some insights for you that you may believe worthy to implement even though you aren’t in a severe threat environment.

True crime to learn from

See how easy it is to kick in a front door!  A pair of burglars are intent on breaking in.  There’s a UPS slip stuck to the front door telling them no one’s home, but they’re cautious and use two common methods to be sure.  The first burglar is wearing a uniform and has an ID badge on his shirt when he knocks on the door.  The uniform might have been intended to not raise the homeowner’s suspicions if someone happened to be home.  The uniform also might have caused a neighbor or passerby NOT to call the police if they saw him knocking on the door.  (On the other hand, they may have been planning a home invasion if someone answered the door.  If you had answered the door and the two of them tried to talk or force their way in, what could you have done?  Once they got in, closed the door, and got you under control, what could THEY have done?)  When no one answers, his accomplice takes a turn knocking on the door while dialing the home’s phone number to be extra sure no one’s home.  Then with one simple kick the steel-clad door comes open, and the thieving begins.  Undoubtedly, this homeowner has a burglary alarm system including this hidden camera, but the burglars went in anyway knowing they could count on 2-5 minutes to steal what they could find before police would even be notified and on their way.  What could a burglar find in your house to steal in 2-5 minutes?  Most people are shocked how much can be found and taken in such a short amount of time.  

Dogs can be a deterrent to attacks at your home. 

  And

But oftentimes dogs are useless!  In this case, a homeowner installs a camera system at her home after being burglarized once and monitors it on her computer at work.  She calls police when she sees the two burglars enter her house through the pet door.  Notice that the two dogs and a cat are totally useless.  However, the bird makes a little bit of a racket!  Police apprehend both burglars because of the homeowner’s call to 9-1-1.  http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/fortifying-yourself-and-your-home-against-crime/56117

Typical pre-burglary surveillance by a criminal.  If you see this kind of behavior at your house, or a neighbor’s house, call the police immediately.  Don’t wait for the suspect to actually start the crime before calling.  A burglary is about to happen (this male went to the rear and forced entry). 

Watch this TV news report of two women and a child who waited 35 minutes for police to arrive while watching a burglar persistently trying and ultimately breaking in to their home.  One of the women had to fight the man off with a vacuum cleaner (!!) just as the police arrived.  It could’ve been much worse.  What would you have done?  What if the burglar intended to kill or hurt the occupants and he got in three minutes earlier?  

Cameras don’t stop burglaries, and they don’t always lead to arrests after the crime.  This homeowner was counting on his neighbors, his dog and his camera to prevent the crime (another useless dog!).  Worst of all, he left guns laying around in the house unsecured.  You’ve got to secure your guns and valuables even if you have a dog, a camera or even an alarm system.  http://www.ignatius-piazza-front-sight.com/2011/03/28/front-sights-monday-blog-a-good-lesson-for-every-gun-owner/

Armed home owner repels four armed home invaders at his door. 

Burglars break in while teens are home alone.  Do your kids know what to do?  Look how the burglars knock first at the front door to make sure no one’s home.  The boys are home after school but they’ve been instructed not to answer the door when home alone.  After getting no answer at the front door (which is what they hoped for) the burglars then force entry in the rear where they’re less likely to be seen.  See how easy a sliding glass door is to break into?  Get the high security channel locks for them.  If you teach your children not to answer the door when home alone, teach them also to watch whoever knocks on the door (they can watch unseen from a window) to make sure they leave after knocking! 

This burglary which started about 11:23 am was completed in about 8 minutes.  That’s usually faster than police can arrive.  As you can see, this break in looked highly suspicious from the street but apparently no one called the police.  No matter how good your alarm and anti-burglary measures are, and how reliable your neighbors are, your valuables have to be secure enough not to be found or successfully removed in at least 5-10 minutes.

The gruesome Petit home invasion in Cheshire, CT.  This started out as “just” a burglary, but went much, much further.  This happened in a very low crime town.  Entry into the garage and then the main house was child’s play.  The family had their guard down continuously and were easily victimized, in spite of having the financial resources to have a high quality alarm system and high security hardware throughout the house.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire,_Connecticut,_home_invasion_murders

Resident shoots burglar fighting with her fiance: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2011/03/22/news/cops_and_courts/doc4d88aae9d60b1596678457.txt

Man bitten by burglar when he comes home to find the burglar in his house.  Standard advice if you come home and observe evidence that someone may have broken in to your home is to stand outside and call police, and then wait there for them to arrive. Wait close enough to get a good look at a burglar who comes out, but not so close the arriving police think you might be the burglar or the fleeing burglar might believe he has to attack you to get away. 

See also

References

4 Comments

WH's picture
WH
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 17 2011
Posts: 14
Thank You

Incredible article. Thank you so much for pulling all of this information together and posting it. Aside from a break in when I was only a few years old, my family has never had to deal with anything threatening. Interestingly, I've "known" intellectually for a long time that I have lived a comfortable life, almost too comfortable, and that people all over America and the world are suffering from some kind of conflict, some on a daily basis. Your post helped in helping me out of my comfort zone and pushing me to take action. I almost pulled the trigger (no pun intended wink ) on a security system from vivint security. Do you know of vivint? (Vivint.com). Let me know what you think of their system if you're familiar with it. Also considering a safe, dog (with an emphasis on training it properly), personal home security and firearms training for me and my family  (which is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle), and other things.

The world is going to get crazy in the future. My peaceful town won't be so peaceful for long. Thanks again for posting....

WH

thc0655's picture
thc0655
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 27 2010
Posts: 660
Vivint.com

I can't personally speak for vivint.com and I don't know anybody who can, but having seen their intro video I can say they are on the right track and catching up to the amazing technological advances in the field.  Do a little research yourself, and I'd love to find out what you learn so I can add to my own knowledge.  It might turn out to be a valuable addition to this wiki.

Send me a personal message if I can be of further assistance.

Tom

Sherry Canon's picture
Sherry Canon
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 17 2014
Posts: 1
Great Article!!!

Love the way the article is written .You have noticed to include even the smallest detail. I am afraid that I have not installed a burglar alarm in my house.But my grand mother have an elderly emergency system (

) from Myalarmcare in Canada.But both serve for different purpose right?

Hunde1950's picture
Hunde1950
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 1 2014
Posts: 2
It was a thoughtful and

It was a thoughtful and  informative article. I have a home security system installed from Toronto, Ontario.  With this system, I can see and speak to whoever is at your front door through your smartphone, while the inside of your home is protected with its live two-way voice home alarm monitoring. These two services bundled together give you the optimal protection for the inside and outside of your house. Rather than relying on electronic gadgets, we must  use our common sense also. Playing an audio tape and setting timers for the lights and lamp are two things that can be done. You can also ask your  neighbors to keep your front yard clean so that the ones trying to break in get an impression  that the residents might be back home. 

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