Thursday, March 15, 2012

Home Security Basics

Home Security Basics

Forty five murders a day, one property crime every 3 seconds, a burglary every 10 seconds, a violent crime every 20 seconds, a robbery every minute, and a forcible rape every two minutes.  According to the US department of Justice 38% of assaults and 60% of rapes occur during home invasions and 20% of homes will experience a break-in or home invasion. It may be necessary to protect yourself, however there are better plans to limiting or preventing unauthorized entry without simply just planning on returning fire. Just as you don’t want to walk around New York with a backpack, camera around your neck, and map in your hand, there are several security basics experts have shared with me to help you become more secure and reduce the chances of your home, contents, and occupants becoming a target.

The game we are forced to play with criminals is one of deterrence and delay.  The less appealing you and your home look, the better.  Additionally the harder you make it to gain entry, the less likely the criminal will attempt to continue.  The generally accepted rule is that if you can delay a criminal by four minutes, they will seek another less challenging target. 

85% of all thefts and break in related crimes are by non-career criminals. If you leave your tool box out overnight, it may be the neighbor kid who picks it up, not an organized band of nefarious criminals you picture in your head.  The vast majority of crimes including rape are ones of opportunity, so lets not make it easy for those with easily tip-able morals. Not all crooks are dumb, and most realize that if you are taking this much trouble to make it difficult to get in the house or at you, that once in, things will become even harder so they will pick another easier target. The best you can do is make it as difficult and un-inviting as possible for them to gain entry.

PASSIVE VS. ACTIVE SECURITY MEASURES
Most security experts have all conveyed to me the same basic two principles of passive versus active security.  Passive security options generally are considered to provide deterrents for criminals before they gain entry into your home. Active security measures kick in after the the intruder has decided to forcibly or otherwise enter your home.

Things like motion detection lights and deadbolts are typically though of as passive security which operate on their own once set. Other items the thieves would encounter after un-authorized entry such as a formidable Liberty Safe could also be considered passive security measures.

Active Security measures on the other hand required that you do something.  That action could be as simple using using binoculars to view suspicious vehicles in your neighborhood, calling the police, or complex as being faced with using deadly force to defend yourself and your family. For this article I will omit defensive tactics and all things firearms and stick with the more passive security options you should consider. 
OUTDOOR LIGHTING & LANDSCAPING
One of the top security improvements is to have good outdoor lighting.  This can be in the form of manual, or automatically controlled photo-sensor or motion-sensor lighting.  Automatically controlled lighting is always the recommendation because it will never forget to turn on when the sun goes down.  Motion sensor lights are also handy and can also trigger a variety of other light bulb socket compatible security products.  One of my favorites is a high output horn that can be used in place of a light bulb... imagine that surprise as an intruder is scouting around a house. 

Experts note that well lit homes and landscapes are at a significantly reduced risk of burglary. Keep the area around your home either well lit or covered by motion detecting lights.
Shrubbery surrounding the home should be kept short to prevent someone from hiding behind it for concealment while attempting entry through a low window.  Most of use have mulch around the home, however I suggest river rock instead.  For the homeowner it is far less expensive in the long run compared to re-mulching each year and will provide a audible crunch if someone is lurking and walking close to the house.

The first goal of a criminal is not to be spotted or heard and a well lite home with short shrubbery and crunchy rocks will look less inviting because there are less places to hide and lurk.

EXTERIOR DOORS & LOCKS
The single number one recommendation for security is to use a deadbolt on each exterior door and the next would be recommending solid core steel doors, followed by heavy duty strike plates.  Standard non-dead-bolted doors can be defeated easily in seconds by a trained criminal so each and every exterior door should have a deadbolt type lock with at least a 1” throw.

It may sound obvious, however the #1 entry technique used by thieves is to just walk right in via an unlocked door or in some cases an open door. Statistically this occurs because mentally we are not leaving our home for a while, we are just running down to the grocery store, only heading over to the neighbors, or the kids will be right home. If someone is watching your house, they could walk right in and take whatever they want and in a matter of seconds be gone all while you are at the neighbors dropping off a wild mushroom gratin and your kids are upstairs ignorant of the intrusion rocking out on the iPod.  Lock your doors as you enter and exist your home each and every time for the safety of you, your family, valuables and general security.  I played a little joke on a buddy once after noticing he leaves all his doors unlocked, previous to the passage of concealed carry in our state.  I knew his schedule and he found me sitting on his couch drinking a beer, eating leftovers in his living room... great joke by the way if you know they are unarmed and he now locks his doors.

If you purchased your home and the locks were not re-keyed post move in, re-keying your entire home should be done on the next business day; who knows how many duplicate keys are floating around at this point.  A sub-contractor, I had never meet who had supposedly worked on our home during the building phase, let himself in to a garage door about a month after we moved in at around 9PM and found himself staring down the barrel of a 357 revolver and was forced to the floor. He “thought he had left something here”.  After questioning by police, I am still a little dubious about his motives, however the lesson was learned for both him and I. Re-key your damn locks and assure you are the only ones with copies no matter what the realtor told you.  If you didn’t personally do it assume it was never done.

Upgrades to exterior locks are keyhole-less exterior blank plates for your dead bolt locks which should be placed on less accessed or supplementary doors.  These blank plates will replace your exterior lock keyhole with a flat blank and will prevent someone from picking the lock on those secondary or tertiary doors. 

Bump keys and lock picking has become a standard entry technique for the nefarious which depend on standard lock cylinders.  A locksmith demonstrated a double picking of a standard and deadbolt lock to me recently and was through in about seven seconds after picking both locks. Typical pins in a lock look like little cylinders which move up and down and follow the contour of the key to un-lock a door.  Picking or bump keying efforts realign cylinders however having a locksmith replace your existing lock pins with upgraded “Mushroom” pins almost completely prevent any bump key entry or lock picking.  Mushroom Pins, are shaped like little mushrooms and will twist and catch to prevent lock picking even with an electric lock pick gun.  My locksmith charged me $20 per lock installed and also demonstrated it could not be picked.

Other high security lock options are the Schlage Everest Primus and Everest locks which have a set of side bar pins as well as standard key pins. These locks are non-pickable and the serialized keys can only be made by registered locksmiths for extra security.

INTERIOR DOORS & LOCKS
Most of us paranoid types lock our exterior doors, however interior doors should be locked as well when appropriate. This will provide an additional level or security a delay to a criminal which will give the police time to respond to your alarm and if home, provide you with additional time to protect yourself and your family.  

Many home defense and security consultants recommend a solid core “security” door for all master suites.  These are basically higher strength doors similar to your garage access doors which are not the typical hollow core varietal most prevalent for interior doors.  These are kick and entry proof resistant and are reinforced with additional frame and hinge reinforcement as well and turn the bedrooms into quasi panic rooms.  They will buy you time if someone means you harm.  The second part of that security door is accessorizing it with a exterior grade lock and deadbolt.

GARAGE DOORS
It should go without saying, but leave your freaking garage door down unless you are pulling in or out of your garage.  Over half of all burglaries occur due to garage doors being left open.  It is an easy crime; walk in the open garage and walk out with whatever you can carry. Unfortunately almost 90% of Americans also do not lock their interior garage doors so thieves could also walk into the house also.

Most electric garage doors now have scrambling technology which prevents crooks from driving though neighborhoods with a couple standard remote frequencies to see who’s garage door they can open. Modern garage doors also feature opener “locks” on the wall mount door openers which prevents each garage door from responding to any transmitters. The best idea is to keep these switches in the off position at night or any time you are not using the garage doors to maximize security.

WINDOW SECURITY
We all now live in glass houses which provide lots of additional access points beyond the front door.  Window glazing is a more affordable option over bullet proof glass and iron grating that makes you feel like you live in a prison. Window glazing can be as simple as fitting 1/16” or 1/8” Plexiglas directly over an existing window and securing it in each corner with double stick tape. Acrylic will shatter, Plexiglas is the generic impact resistant version of GE’s Lexan.  This setup is found on homes on golf courses and will defeat golf balls and at least a couple crow bar swipes, but it still may still crack the window.  Up that to ¼” and it can stop a .22LR round, 1” thick will stop nearly all handgun rounds.

Advanced security films, or also referred to as hurricane window films, are another window glazing option to provide substantial security as well as UV protection and tinting.  In my research I have found that you can expect $200-$300 per standard window for the treatment which can defeat a baseball bat blow buying you time and most likely deterring a criminal. In some cases these films will also qualify for an energy credit, provide less cooling needs in the summer, reduce fading of your carpet and furniture, and offer some tinting to limiting viewing into your home.

ALARM SYSTEMS
Homes without an alarm are 300% more likely to be broken into. At the very least, most commercial alarm systems provide a chime or beep when doors are opened even when unarmed.  If you have small children this is a really handy feature itself, however it is the very loud and annoying siren which can send criminals running.  

Things to consider when purchasing an alarm are the placement of the motion sensors and the type of alarm installed.  The most reliable alarm systems will be hard wired versions. In new construction this is easy, however in old construction wireless systems may be the only option.  Historically I have had problems with wireless systems, however I know some who recommend them.

Alarms generally have a Stay and Away setting with the Away setting arming the motion sensors covering window and secondary access points. Talk with your alarm company prior to the installation about your normal routines and maximizing your security by positioning the motion sensors so that you can arm the alarm in an Away mode after going to bed.  Our bedrooms are on the second floor, so the entire first floor is un-occupied each night and we can arm in the more secure motion sensor activated Away mode each night. The most important part of having an alarm is to use it religiously.

Most alarms have a battery back up, but don’t forget that tying small Christmas sleigh or cow bells to a door can also serve as supplemental security and provide instant audiable identification of which door was just opened.  There are inexpensive stick on door chime/alarms at most hardware stores for under $20 which I have used and work great for small homes and apartments.  In the garage, prop a shovel against your door.  For the Mel Gibson Conspiracy Theory fans, an empty glass beer bottle on top of the door knob also makes a loud and messy alarm.

SIGNAGE
Believe it or not, “Protected by” alarm company signs are deterrents, however make sure you have exterior signs prominently on each side of your home including out front.  Another effective option is to also have “Protected By” alarm company stickers on all your entry doors.  

One security expert noted that red neck signs such as “I don’t dial 911, I dial S&W” or “Warning trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again” have also shown to be as or more effective than the alarm company signs as deterrents.

HOME SAFE
For your valuables, the only thing your can do is to buy time.  The longer it takes for someone to get access your stuff, the better odds you have of keeping everything.  Recently I picked up a Liberty Fat Boy safe which is by far the best security investment I have made. Where there is a will and enough time any safe can be cracked, however they buy you loads of time and protection against both humanoid and natural disasters.  

The locksmith I had out was also the authorized Liberty safe locksmith and explained that should a safe need to be cracked it still takes him as a professional 3-4 hours with specialty equipment. He noted “cracking a safe is not like the movies”. Your average criminal may just leave after seeing you have a large safe... there are a number of noted stories of this actually occurring.


Liberty Safes feature a number of safety features additional or not offered on other safes.  Liberty Fat Boy Safes feature primary and secondary re-locker, awarded UL Residential Security Container burglary classification, triple case hardened steel plates protect lock from drill attack, DX-90 Monster Mech over-center cam (prevents side-bolt punching) 12 total 1.25" active bolts that extend 33% longer (making it tougher to pry all the way around) handle all wrapped up in a large immovable 710 lbs safe.

If you are the prepper type or fearful of an EMP, you should also consider a standard mechanical lock.  I have been told by a number of sources that dial mechanical locks are the most reliable safe locks and actually more secure than electronic locks. My original electronic lock was extremely convenient and had no issues what-so-ever however it has been swapped over to a mechanical version for the above reasons.  If you are in the slightest concerned with security, a Liberty Safe, such as the Fat Boy model I choose has a significant amount of space to protect your valuables.
LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE TIMES
Know your Response Times. I am certainly not advocating “testing” your 911 and response times, however the next time you do need to call the cops, you should time it.  Generally you will be on your own for around 20 minutes and if you are out of town it could be 30-45 minutes.  

Think about all that can happen in that time period... quite a lot.  Every security person I spoke highly recommended becoming proficient and comfortable with a firearm, because if the exterior deterrents, upgraded locks and doors, and alarms do not stop a determined criminal nothing other than deadly force will.

6 comments:

Ironwood said...

In the Mcmaster-Carr catalog I saw that several fake security cams were sold...are these at all practical or worth the money?

Major Pandemic said...

The security expects I know have mixed feelings about any security product which is provides the look without anything to back it up. The general consensus is that it is better than nothing assuming it does have an active indicator light. One expert was concerned that if someone tested it and nothing happened then thieves may consider your entire system just a paper shell.

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