Maintaining Security at Home
As they say, a man's home is his castle. For most people, home has now become their main base of operations. It is a major concern when a home is invaded. SafeWise experts recently conducted a State of Safety survey which revealed burglary to be the most dreaded of all property crimes.
According to an FBI report, there is approximately one burglary taking place every 30 seconds. In the US alone, this resulted in a 2019 collective property loss of $3.0 billion.
What most people are concerned about are nighttime break-ins. Yet the majority of burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when people are away working, at school, or performing some errand. There is a growing need for effective strategies that deal with the core problem rather than the effects. In these challenging times, there are four tips that could help keep your home safe from intruders.
- Identify vulnerabilities
- Use layers of protection
- Pursue smart alternatives
- Maintain a proactive approach
Burglary is the most dreaded of all property crimes. There is approximately one burglary taking place every 30 seconds. In the US, this resulted in a 2019 collective property loss of $3.0 billion.
1. Identify Vulnerabilities
Safewise UK conducted a study and found that 47% of burglaries are not preplanned. They are executed on impulse. In other words, almost half of cases occur unrehearsed, in much the same way a person strolling down the street may suddenly decide to stop and buy something in a shop because they've seen it displayed through a glass window. There may be is something about the appearance of the home that causes it to become a target.
One does not have to wait until after they have joined the growing list of victims to take action. They could start right now by switching into 'outsider mode' for a moment and take a long, hard look from a would-be intruder's perspective. What could you use to your advantage if you wanted to stage a break-in? Are there trees whose presence provides access to windows at certain levels? Are there windows whose latches can be easily manipulated from the outside with the right tools? Are there flaws in neighboring properties that can be exploited to gain access to yours?
There is one other way that may not be so obvious. It may be an understatement to state that social media is presenting burglars with an unprecedented opportunity. Thieves are literally shopping for homes to break into, and shared online content gives them the material they need to find their way around when they get there. In today's world, it is reckless to post photos, videos, and other sensitive information concerning oneself and one's whereabouts without giving thought to possible consequences.
These days, it's hardly even necessary to figure out how the interior of a targeted home looks like and where to find items of value. Research on social media can give a perpetrator a complete outline. That video of a pet performing antics around the house may have been entertaining and may have satisfactorily netted a volume of likes, but it also exposed the home's privacy and layout. When identifying vulnerabilities, each member of a household needs to be aware of what they are sharing online and how it could affect collective safety.
Vegetation around your home can accentuate its visual appearance and make the place beautiful. However, tall shrubs, broad trunks and clumps of bushes can also be convenient hiding spots for burglars who prefer going about their business unobserved. To avoid inadvertently giving cover to intruders, always keep the vegetation around your house well-trimmed.
One reason why thieves do not carry along with them all the tools necessary to make a successful burglary is they have factored in the likelihood that everything they need will be at their disposal when they arrive. People often keep hardware and other equipment like cutters, pliers, hammers, crowbars, ropes, and ladders, where they can be readily accessed. Storing tools in a simple backyard shed or poorly secured garage makes the work of the thief easier.
Find ways of eliminating giveaways. Packaging of expensive items carelessly disposed of outside the home could attract the wrong type of visitor. Newspapers piling up on the porch, congested mailboxes, absence of sound and movement, curtains drawn together during the daytime are all indicative of a vacant home. There are burglars who will intentionally leave flyers at the front of a home, just to test how much time it takes for occupants to react. If you plan on not being at home for a while, make prearrangements to avoid giving out such signals to outsiders.
There are also other considerations that are easily overlooked. For example, mirrors are useful to occupants in a house, but they can also be quite convenient for a burglar. Could the way mirrors are positioned about your house give a stranger an advantage? For instance, a mirror situated across from an alarm switch could show a peeping thief whether it is armed or not. Certain mirrors reveal more about the house than they should to someone looking in.
2. Use Layers of Protection
The Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF) funded a research called "Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective". Dr. Joseph B. Kuhns from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology headed the research team and they collected responses from over 400 convicted burglars through surveys. The participants were selected randomly from different states and the study was conducted to better understand a burglar's thought process and motivations.
According to this study, the majority of burglars gain entry into homes through unlocked doors and windows, or by breaking them in. No matter how safe the neighborhood has been known to be, members of a household need to be aware of the importance of double-checking that all openings are secured before departing from the house or retiring for the night. This also goes for entrances or exits that household pets use since thieves have been known to use them as well. While this may sound obvious, it is a practice that is often forgotten amid the hectic busyness of modern living.
Reinforced doors and windows impede the intruder's progress. In many homes, the back of the house is not as secured as the front and this typically affords thieves an easier and less conspicuous way in. But whichever entrance they choose, dead-bolted doors are much harder to kick in or pry open. You could install automatic deadbolts like Liftmaster 841LM Automatic Door Lock which snaps into position each time a door is shut. Windows can be firmly reinforced by using special films like the 3M safety and Security Film.
Contrary to what many believe, storing your spare keys in the glove compartment or visor of your car is not a good idea, even if the vehicle is locked. Similarly, keeping duplicate keys under a doormat or flower pot is inviting trouble, since thieves are typically aware of such tactics. Some people try to improve on this by using diversionary items which can be ordered online and setting them near the entrance, like a hiding place for keys in the shape of a rock.
One thing to note however, is that there are people out there for whom stealing is a full-time job. It is how they earn their living. So they will have the patience to be quiet and observe. if they have been staking out the property and the activities of the occupants for a while, it will not be long before they discover such diversionary secrets of gaining unrestricted access. Therefore as a rule, always keep your car keys and house keys separate and avoid placing them where they can easily be retrieved.
Warning stickers, decals plaques and other signs may cost less than $10 but putting them around the windows and doors of your house can mean the difference between deterring an intruder and suffering a tremendous loss. For those who cannot afford a complete home security system, dummy cameras or other imitation surveillance gadgets mounted conspicuously over entrances can also be effective in warding off any would-be intruder.
3. Pursue Smart Alternatives
When people think about properly securing their homes, they typically think of setting up an alarm. However, according to one county government report, 95-98% of alarms are triggered falsely. An experienced burglar knows that when an alarm goes off, neighbors are not likely to react. Besides, the execution of a burglary takes 10 minutes on average, from start to finish. The thief knows that the security company or even the police will take longer than that to show up. So the former still has the advantage of time on their side even if the thing goes off. Besides, whoever is alerted outside the home may need to first confirm that the threat is real before swinging into action.
This does not mean that having an alarm will not scare off an intruder. Much to the contrary. However, an intruder's biggest concern is a witness. Having an automated smart system that controls security (like lights, cameras, locks) and gives you immediate notification of any unusual activities is a big asset. Burglars will typically be put off once they realize you have a process in place which, among other things, records their every movement. VeriLock® Security Sensors, for example, can alert you immediately a door or window is open or unlocked, thereby also helping you save money by conserving energy that would have otherwise been lost.
Other kits like the Frontpoint Wireless Security System include cameras that start recording immediately motion is detected. Instead of investing in a security camera that just shows you footage, it is best to get a multifunctional one like Blurams Home Security Camera. The app gives you views from up to 4 cameras on one screen. It comes equipped with AI facial recognition that distinguishes loved ones from strangers when they enter the home. Video recordings are automatically uploaded to the cloud and so can be viewed from any location. You have complete control of the camera from your phone and can set privacy zones if you don't want certain areas to be captured. It also includes voice recognition and comes with a two-way audio feature.
You'd be surprised at how many people leave their homes only to be later assailed by doubts and concerns as to whether they properly secured their doors and windows. They either return to check again or carry the inner misgivings with them to their place of occupation. There are smart door lock solutions like myQ that eliminate this problem and give homeowners control by alerting them if their doors have been left open. Wherever they are, the app can notify them via smartphone each time the house door or garage door is opened or closed. The owner decides who to let in (e.g. a member of the household, a trusted repairman, or a courier) and who to keep out of the premises.
The other advantage of having smart devices installed in your home is that they can reduce your homeowner's insurance by up to 20%. Insurance companies recognize the extra level of protection. So check with your insurance provider for particulars on their preferred security system. Also, consult with a reputable security company to find out the system best suited for the lifestyle needs of your household. When using all such systems, take precautions to prevent your mobile device from being hacked into.
You may be working late or planning to head off on an extended holiday trip. If so, having timers strategically installed in your house is a good idea. Lights can be set to turn on automatically when it gets dark, ensuring your property always stays illuminated, while at the same time indicating that it is occupied. Timers can also be programmed to activate other electronics such as the radio or TV.
4. Maintain a Proactive Approach
Stay abreast of what is going on in the neighborhood. Have there been recent incidences of attempted break-ins? If so, what was the modus operandi? How frequent are such cases in your vicinity? How do such thieves typically gain access to homes? Arming yourself with information will help you know what needs to be tackled to ensure your property is adequately guarded.
One reason home invasions are so risky for occupants when they are present is that it usually catches them completely by surprise. It takes time for a family to figure out what is happening, and to agree on what should be done about it. Intruders use the element of surprise to their advantage because they know by the time someone responds, it is typically too late. If you live in a neighborhood that has had recent incidences of home invasions, be proactive. Don't wait until after an incident occurs. Have a security plan prepared ahead of time. Each member of the household needs to be aware of their role in the action strategy.
Keeping valuables in a home safe, especially one that can be easily found, is a bit of a two-edged sword. It does not really matter how secure or impenetrable, an armed burglar can coerce occupants into unlocking the safe and emptying its contents. Diversion safes, on the other hand, are much cheaper and provide more security since it is the last place a thief will think of looking when they enter the house. If you must store items in a regular safe, consider a bank vault or some other secured space away from home. Burglars usually run tight schedules and will rarely be inclined to bundle occupants of a home into a car to go seeking for additional sources of wealth.
You should be able to have a clear view of the surroundings from your home, but outsiders should not be able to view the interior of your house. While having large glass doors and windows is magnificent, it works against you if thieves can see the layout, tell where the expensive items are kept, and determine whether or not the occupants are at home. Even if your home has never been broken into, watch out for unusual signs like scratches or other marks appearing on your locks, latches, or mailbox, indicative of an attempt. Suspicious signs should be photographed and reported immediately.
Ensure that your home area is well lit. The more shadowy or darker the environs are, the more convenient to thieves who naturally avoid anything that exposes their hiding places. Preferably, the lights you install should be motion-activated. Expired bulbs should be replaced and malfunctioning street lamps and other outdoor lights reported to the property manager. There are hardly any protective measures that can compare with the cost of having the place burgled.
Before the onset of cyberspace, thieves would break into houses to search for physical items of value. Nowadays, it has become much more sophisticated than that. They no longer need to figure out how to balance a mega flatscreen or some other heavy item through the backdoor. Your identity is of more value than a cartload of household products because it can profit them in the long run. Aside from securing valuable items, avoid exposing sensitive documents. Always shred anything that carries your personal information once it is no longer useful and keep all your financial statements and other private documents safely locked up.
When casual workers or repairmen show up, their movements about the house should not be taken for granted. Someone fixing a broken pipe in the basement or a sink in the bathroom could leave a window unlatched for easy access later. Contractors, maids, gardeners, handymen, and other servicepersons who come through from time to time may appear reliable, but you always need to be on your guard. Don't hesitate to ask for identification. You'd be surprised at the lengths a gang member masquerading as an ordinary worker will go to in order to earn the complete trust of a homeowner.
When I was in elementary school, our parents got a housekeeper who stayed with us for a long time. She would perform her chores as would be expected and stayed at home to care for our little brother while our parents were at work and the rest of us at school.
One day we returned to be met with a frightful sight. The gate and main door were wide open. Upon entering, we started piecing together what had happened. Our 'housekeeper' who had worked her way into winning our trust and confidence had taken advantage of our absence to arrange for strangers to come over with a vehicle. Together, they had helped themselves to whatever they fancied in the house before taking off and leaving the place wide open. Since she understood our routine very well, they must have started quite early and even done more than one trip.
We did not know how many hours the house had been left in this condition, but the worst blow was that our little brother, who had not yet even learned to walk, had been left by himself nearly the entire day. We found him bent over in the front yard where he had cried himself to sleep. It was shocking to think that none of the neighbors had noticed or taken any action. It was a terrible situation to come home to, but things could have been much worse.
The takeaway lesson here is that it is always essential to check the background of those who have access to your property irrespective of how long they have been working for you. According to reports, many burglars were initially guests in the houses they broke into. Always do your due diligence and take all the necessary precautions.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.