Any resilient community is going to need some form of security. Unfortunately, we cannot trust the best interests of everyone around us to avoid conflicts. There are times when home defense may be necessary to defend life and property from others.
However, there are methods of home defense that do not require weapons. This month we’re going to look at the principles of DIY home security and how you can keep your family safe in the event of an emergency or invasion.
The primary goal in any security situation is to survive. The second priority is to protect your belongings from others who would take them or destroy them. A key principle of home security is that your home needs to be difficult enough to break into that the casual criminal will not want to take the chance of breaking into your home.
If you own a home, you may already be practicing some home security techniques and not know it. If you have bushes under your windows, this not only makes the home attractive but also makes it harder for burglars to enter your home. No criminal wants to deal with bushes. Keeping your doors and windows locked is another deterrent. Anything that slows the criminal down long enough that you can call police or arm yourself is crucial.
With these principles in mind, let’s examine what goes into home security
Outer Perimeter and Inner Perimeter
Most homes have some distance between the public road to the actual home. The edge of the space between public property and your property is called the outer perimeter. Improving the security of the outer perimeter, or “hardening” to use security parlance, can be done in a number of ways.
The first is to control access to entry and exit points to your property. For instance, you can put up a fence or a hedge along the roadway to prevent people from coming onto the property except through the driveway. You could also put a gate at the driveway. Wooded areas may need something like a barbed wire fence placed along the property line. Don’t make your fences too tall, though. If they are and a burglar does slip through then it will be hard for other people in the neighborhood to notice something is wrong.
An easy deterrent is to place a sign saying that your property is protected by an alarm system. True or not, most burglars aren’t willing to take the chance of tripping an alarm system. There are alarm systems for the outer perimeter you can install, such as sensors on your driveway.
Another important part of outer perimeter security is light. Ideally you don’t want light only around your house. You want it on the approach as well so other people can see someone on the property at night. Your neighbors are also part of your outer perimeter security system. Neighborhood Watch organizations are like guards for your outer perimeter.
The inner perimeter is the walls and structures around your house. Simple security protections like door and window locks are part of inner perimeter security. Installing deadbolts and chains are a good way to reinforce doors from intrusion. Putting in low bushes around windows is another way to deter burglars. Tall plants in front of windows aren’t advised because they can grow big enough that a burglar can slip between the house and the bush and hide their activity. Motion-activated lights and CCTV cameras are another way to deter criminals who get too close to your home. Like an alarm system sign, just mounting a camera and making it appear that it is operational can be enough to make most criminals think twice.
Structure hardening is anything done to a structure to make it harder to penetrate. Large office buildings in dangerous areas may use structure hardening techniques to prevent a car from ramming into the building or to reduce damage from explosions or flying glass. We’re going to assume you aren’t living in a place where IEDs are a regular occurrence and talk about simpler techniques.
The most likely places for a criminal to enter your home is through a door or a window. If your inner and outer perimeter security isn’t enough to deter them, then these access points need to be strong enough to delay the intruder long enough for you to mount a defense. This is easier than you may think, though some DIY experience would be very helpful.
First, your door should be either a solid wood door or a steel door with a minimum of 16 gauge thickness. Your hinges should also have pins that are not removable. A deadbolt with an inch of tongue minimum is also advised. A keyed version would be better, but this may not be legal in your area depending on building codes.
However, a door is only as strong as the door frame and strike plate. A well-placed kick in a strong door can transfer enough stress to crack the frame and allow entry. Start with the strike plates. Your strike plates should be heavy duty four-screw types with three inch screws. If you live in a structure with weak integrity like a mobile home, consider hiring a contractor to beef up the strength of your door frame.
Alternatively, there are also rods that you can install that will absorb the force of a kick. These rods normally go in a hole in the floor and brace themselves under the door knob. They absorb the shock and slow down the intruder.
Another thing to watch for is door windows. If you must have glass in the door or along the sides of your doorway, make sure it is reinforced. A simple way to do this is to buy a sheet of Lexan polycarbonate and cut a pane that fits your windows. Install it on the inside of your house and your windows will take quite a beating, although it is not bullet resistant.
You can also use Lexan to reinforce your home windows, though a more visual deterrent would be to install bars. However, this too may be illegal in your local building code. If so, there are places that sell window films that go over the glass and hold it together in case of a smash. These make it much harder for a criminal to enter. Don’t forget to keep your windows locked too. If you’re worried about your budget, focus on the first floor windows.
Safe rooms are special reinforced rooms built into a home. They are mostly seen in places that have earthquakes, tornadoes or other natural disasters, but many celebrities and wealthy people build them in case of home intrusion. They can do the same for you and your family as well.
Remember again that the goal in any home invasion situation is to survive. If a very determined criminal, or a gang of them, made their way through your home despite your defenses, you want a place you and your family can stay safe until the situation passes. A safe room is not a bunker. It is not meant for long-term survival. Nor is it a “panic room”. Having a safe place to retreat is prudent, not cowardly. Even if you feel confident enough in your tactical training and you have weapons, your spouse and children still need a place to stay safe.
All safe rooms should have the following features:
- No window access to the outside, but with enough ventilation to remain safe in the room.
- Reinforced walls. Cinder blocks are a quick way to reinforce walls, though there are many options.
- Your doors should have the same features as the doors we talked about above, or even stronger. If you can hide the door, even better.
- Enough food and water to last a day for everyone in your family.
- A way to use the restroom, or even a fully-functional bathroom in the safe room.
- Located where anyone in the home can get to it easily.
- A way to contact the outside, ideally something resilient like a land line on a second phone line, a two-way radio, or a ham radio.
- Entertainment to keep children (and adults!) calm during a situation.
- First aid gear in case anyone gets hurt on the way to the safe room.
Safe rooms can be built above or below ground. You can convert a corner of your basement into a safe room, or turn a storage area into a very small one. A good place to get plans for building a safe room is from FEMA at https://www.fema.gov/safe-rooms The number one rule with a safe room is to never leave it until you are absolutely sure the danger has passed.
One piece of equipment that can cover your entire property is a home alarm system. Just sticking a home alarm sign into your lawn can be enough to ward off an intruder. Home alarms come in many varieties from simple DIY alarms to professional setups with motion sensors, wireless operation, and silent alarms.
A basic home alarm works like this. Access points like doors and windows will have two strips connected to them and either a wire or a wireless connection that goes to a base station. If contact between the strips is broken, the base station will then sound an alarm. The alarm will continue to sound until contact is reestablished and a code is punched into the system. The base station may also be connected to a land line to notify the alarm company that there is something wrong.
More advanced systems may have home cameras that can give you live video feed to your smart phone of what is happening in the house. This is a great addition if you ever need to retreat to a safe room. You can even have motion sensors track where people are inside the house, switching cameras on and off as they move. Similar systems are used for elderly people who need someone to watch them, but can’t or won’t have anyone living with them.
Here are some examples of home alarm and security camera systems:
https://www.scoutalarm.com/ – Scout is a modular wireless DIY home alarm system. Scout modules need no tools for installation and come in several different colors. The entire system works wirelessly and connects with your smartphone. Their most basic setup will run you around $200 plus a monitoring fee of $9.99 a month, but it can easily climb high with extra modules, cameras, and motion detectors.
https://getpiper.com/ – Piper is less a home alarm system and more a full-on home camera system with two-way communication. It does have an alarm system, but its main purpose is to see who is in the house. The cameras have 180 degree vision and connect through your smart phone as well. If you need to check to make sure your kids are home, that the dog is in the house, or that your elderly loved one is safe, this is a system to use. It’s expensive though. For just one camera and no accessories the cost is $200. Three cameras and 5 accessories will run you $900.
https://nest.com/camera/meet-nest-cam/ – Formerly DropCam, Nest Aware is another camera system like Piper, but with some distinct differences. This camera can detect unusual noises and shapes and can notify you when it happens. It can also save footage for later review for up to 10 or 30 days. Like Piper, you can also speak through the camera. However, it does not have accessories like the Piper. Many of the extra services require a subscription fee that currently costs $100 a year.
No matter what your budget or home situation is, we hope that this article gave you some good tips that you can use to make your home and family more safe. Remember that having good relationships with your neighbors goes a long way to keeping your entire region safe. Good relationship make resilient communities.