My turn came a year and a half ago. When the unthinkable happens, things never go as expected and the need for a solid plan, clear communication and rehearsal quickly become obvious.
In my case, things unraveled at midnight when I got up for some water and heard a crashing sound. I could see huge sheets of our locked sliding-glass door flying into the converted carport, and heard screaming.
I yelled for my wife-who was asleep in the bedroom-to call 911, then loudly warned the perp the authorities were on the way, that I was armed and willing to use it. I threw on every light. Unfortunately, my yelling didn't awaken my spouse and the added illumination didn't slow the break-in.
Then I realized the criminal was screaming someone's name and saying, “Get out of there.” Now there are two, and the only thing between the one I cannot see and me is a locked kitchen door flimsy enough to rattle when I sneeze in its direction.
My next move could have been fatal, and were a plan practiced, probably never would have taken place. I theorized the unseen criminal used the backyard doggie door to gain access, and was seconds away from breaching the main house. So, I darted out, locked the door behind me, cleared to the back and turned to engage the glass breaker.
There was no response when I pointed my gun at the criminal's head through what little remained of the glass door. Just a blank stare, like no one was home. About this time, my wife awakened and asked from the kitchen if I was OK, and did I want the police.
My wife and I worked out a plan the next morning, walked through it and talk about it regularly. Our approach probably won't work in your case, but there are some common elements in every plan.
•Harden your house as a target. That doesn't mean razor wire around the perimeter, either. Do you have lights that work at your doors, windows and driveway? Criminals prefer to go unnoticed. My rake was used on my door, so put your tools away after use, too.
•Be a friendly neighbor. When I was in grade school the elderly woman next door often baked cookies for me, and one day when she was away I spotted some guys delivering a new washer (they even wheeled an empty box into to the carport from their truck). I called my mom at work excited about the new appliance, she called the police, arrests were made, and I enjoyed fresh brownies that night.
•Dogs are good for detecting unauthorized visitors. Don't scold it for barking when appropriate. Our standard poodle slept through my entire nightmare.
•Don't open your door to strangers. The latest home-invasion fad is for one person to knock at the door asking to use the phone to call someone for help. Once things are unlocked, all of the hiding thugs rush in.
•Lock your doors, day and night, and make sure they're solid enough to slow a Sumo wrestler on drugs. If nothing else, they'll buy you time to collect the entire family in the safe room, behind yet another sturdy door-armed.
•Never assume the sound of a racking shotgun or sight of a firearm is going to stop a criminal encounter.
•Never, ever, tell anyone where you have your guns and home-defense firearms. The same is true for your valuables, credit cards and emergency cash.
•Make a plan, practice it and give it layers. In most cases you will have an outer layer (yard), inner (house) and safe room. Tailor your approach to your family and home. For example, if a stranger is walking up to your front door, it should set off passive events inside the home. Doors locked, family located and moved away from the windows and phone(s) in hand. Turn on extra exterior lights and locate your home-defense firearm. Dim the interior light at the door. Your response and moves as each layer is being breached needs to be planned-hopefully never executed. Take my word for it, there's no time to talk about it when the unthinkable happens. Drill into the entire family that 911 will be called and that they will not hang up (you want your warnings recorded, so yell).
•Consider contacting your local law enforcement agency for professional advice. A number of police departments have community outreach programs that provide tips and a few even send an officer to eyeball your landscaping, door security and more.
•Get training with your home-defense firearm. Thankfully I'd collected myself by the time Sheriffs arrived, so I declared my gun, dropped the magazine, cleared, put it down and backed away as instructed. The drill is mandatory at the self-defense classes I've attended.
They caught my criminal in our back yard, tiptoeing with invisible tulips. The beefy and under-the-influence culprit turned out to be a woman. She claims the name she was calling was that of her dog-which officers found safe at her home. So I've improved my plan, it doesn't include a Patton-style offense, and this time my wife is on the same page in the playbook.