At a Cub Scouts meeting a few years ago, my son and I were tasked with creating a home fire escape plan in order to earn a merit badge. We wrote out what we’d do in case of fire, how to tell if the fire’s outside your door and how to move through smoke. We teach fire safety to our children in order to keep them safe from a fire inside the home, but what do we teach them how to be safe from violence entering our home from the outside?
If you look at the floor plan for a typical home, you’ll soon see that there are obvious potential points of entry for the bad guys to come in. The plan to secure this home (or yours) is threefold:
Secure the exterior
Strengthen the interior
Prepare a refuge
1. Secure the Exterior
You know that old joke about the two hikers running from a bear and the one turns to the other and says “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than YOU!”?
That’s what the outside of your house should look like. You don’t have to live in Fort Knox to be safe, you just have to make your home appear a little more difficult to break into than the home next door to it. If someone really, really wants to get into your house, they’re going to get in, but any casual burglar is going to look for an easy mark to victimize, and not a bank vault.
Some quick and easy ways to secure the exterior of home are:
Exterior lighting: You don’t need to light your home like a prison yard in order to make it safer. I have a simple decorative lighting system in the front yard and some spotlights in strategic locations that light up the dark corners around my house. They make my house look great and also make burglars consider going to another house down the block.
Bushes and shrubs: Consider planting some bushes beneath accessible windows in your home that look attractive yet have some thorns and pointy bits that will discourage a crook from entering through that window. Also, keep the other plants in your yard trimmed so that they don’t provide cover for the crooks as they prepare to enter your home.
Signs: I am not a big fan of the “I don’t dial 911, I dial .357!” type of sign in the yard: Why advertise to crooks there’s highly desirable prizes for them (your guns) inside your home? If they know there are guns inside your house, all they have to do is wait until you leave and enter at their leisure. If you have a burglar alarm (more on those later), advertise that fact instead: It gives crooks one more reason to move along to another house.
Strengthen the Interior
Burglar Alarms: While it’s true that the alarm noise probably won’t scare a burglar off, an alarm watches over your home when you’re not around. Also, an alarm system with a smoke detector can alert you to a fire inside your home when you’re not there. The fact is, you can’t watch over your house 24/7, but an alarm system can. In addition to all this, an alarm system connected to your doors and windows can give a few vital seconds to make ready and grab the important gear you need to protect your family.
Exterior Doors: These are a big weakness in most houses or apartments. If your homeowner’s association or landlord allows it, consider installing a decorative steel security door or something similar on the front and back doors. If that’s not possible, reinforcing the jamb, striker plate and hinges will slow down most break-in attempts to the point where they’ll consider giving up and trying something else.
Windows: Are there locks on the windows in your home? Are you using them?
Pets: Dogs have been used as a warning system and theft deterrent for thousands of years, and they perform that role admirably to this very day.
Prepare a Refuge
Okay, so now your dog is barking and the alarm is going off and the bad guys are in your home. What do you do?
At this point, you should get you and your family to a safe place and keep them there until the threat is over and help arrives. Your job isn’t to defend your big screen TV; your job is to keep you and your family alive and safe. If the plan for a house fire is to get your family out of the house as quickly and safely as possible, the plan for a home invasion or armed burglary most likely be to get your family into your safe room as quickly as possible. Just as a good fire escape plan has two escape routes for every family member planned out in advance, a good home defense plan has a plan and a backup plan in case that first one fails.
Where should your safe room be? Depends on the home. Remember, time should work in your favor, not the bad guys', so your safe room needs to be somewhere you can get to ahead of the bad guy and hold him off while you wait for help to arrive. Let’s examine this floor plan illustration: If this were your home, what area would you designate as a safe room? What are the most-likely break-in points for a home invasion, and where would you and family go to be safe if that happened?
What should your safe room look like? Simply put, it should be more secure than any other room in the house. Make sure the door to the safe room locks, and reinforce the door with a heavy-duty striker plate at the very least. Safely store a loaded firearm in the safe room, and team it up with a first aid kit, flashlight and a charged cell phone. Why a cell phone? Any cell phone, in a service plan or not, can call 911 and summon help and having a cell phone dedicated to summoning help in an emergency gives you one less thing to worry about when your life and the lives of your family are on the line.
I realize that this is sobering stuff to think about, but it can happen to anyone. If you have smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher inside your home because you’ve accepted the fact that fires happen inside the home, you should also realize that your house might be targeted for theft or violence and plan accordingly. Accidents (and crime) happen: It’s what we do to prepare for them that determines if there’s a successful outcome for us...or the bad guys.