Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do I Look Like a Home Defense System?

A couple weeks ago there was a home invasion not too far from Mr. B. and MidWest Chick.  Mr. B. writes of it in his post titled 1 mile from my home  A trusting older woman, someone's grandmother, living in a nice area out in the country, opened the door to a young man who did not look out of place, asking for help because his car had broken down.  He and his accomplices, who had been tipped as to the fact there were guns in a safe and money, came in, beat her badly and robbed her.  A quiet day, a small town, everyone thinks it won't happen to them. 

You've all probably saw those old ads on TV showing the guy in the hooded sweatshirt stalking some woman coming home from the store and trying to get into the house. The alarm goes off. The security company is on the phone with her in about one nano-second, assuring her the police are on the way as the would be-rapist runs away like a little girl. Thank you Acme Security Company!

Another one, some young babe wearing small bits of spandex is exercising on her treadmill which is set up in her living room, next to the front door, in front of the open window (sure, that's how I exercise). Shifty looking guys dressed all in black, including the" Spenser for Hire" dark colored watch caps, scurry in front of the window, leering at her. Then, the front door is kicked in. With one kick,  no less, instantly setting off the alarm, out they run.. Thank you Acme Security! It's a nice idea, but no security device is going to work well if it doesn't have brain-equipped users linked to it and police VERY close by to respond to the call.  It can be a deterrent but not a guarantee. For folks with no other methods of protection, it can be a false sense of security.

Even if the alarm company immediately alerts the police (one time a dog walker sent mine off by accident, they never did show up, probably never called), it could be 15-30 minutes or more before they are there.  In that time the criminals could have cleared out any jewelry and electronics I had, stolen all my Terry Pratchett books, raped the yard gnomes and drank milk directly out of the container in the fridge.

The commercials make me laugh. But not at the home invasion scenario. It's very real. According to a Department of Justice report, 38% of assaults and 60% of rapes occur during home invasions. According to that same report, 1 of every 5 homes will experience a break-in or home invasion. That's over 2,000,000 homes.

The kick in the door scenario does happen, though with the door I have, it would take a whole lot more than one kick from a guy wearing black sweatpants. Charging through the front door, or coming in through the garage, which you left open, is one way. But frankly, hot burglaries usually start with knock at the front door. Do you know how many people will simply open their door to a knock? The criminal may not strike that time, but simply assess your home AND you, pretend to have the wrong house and leave. Have nice things in plain sight? Check! Look small and or helpless? Check!

The humorous 2nd amendment sign notwithstanding, I don't advertise that I have guns, so not to be burgled for them. I do keep burglar alarm signs and stickers up in likely entry points. But they don't have to worry about the alarm, if it's off and you just open your front door.

Common Scenarios include-

*A uniformed individual tells you that they are in the area checking for a gas leak,or a problem with cable or utilities and asks to check out your property. Do you have any idea how easy it is to buy a uniform and make an ID on a computer?

*A uniformed individual informs you that they have a delivery of some sort, usually flowers, telegram or a package.

Knock Knock! MAMMO-GRAM!

Knock Knock! LAND SHARK!

*The individual informs you that they are collecting for a charity or some other good cause.

*A stranger claims to be in some kind of distress and asks if he or she can use your phone or your washroom. That is oh, so common. The person looks ordinary, you are trusting and feel sorry for them. You open the door. Even if I have a pocket pistol on me, I am STILL not going to open the door, I'd simply offer to call the number of their choice from inside and the police for assistance.

The attack can be swift and violent. Home invaders often come prepared with handcuffs, rope, duct tape, knives or firearms  Home invasions aren't "we're going to burgle and empty house and surprise, there are people".  They plan it when you are there, inflicting violence on you being part of the fun.. Think they'll let you be if you are docile? Think again. Many in-home robbers ENJOY the intimidation, domination, and violence and some even claimed during trial (for the rape and manslaughter that ensued) that it was a "rush."

There are some common sense measures of protection -

*Keep a bright porch light on at all times after dark (try for 100 foot visibility on outdoor lighting).

*Install outdoor motion sensor lighting in the parts of the house that may be breached out of sight from the street. Hide it, so it's not obvious, and easily disabled.

*Look at your windows, some are so cheap they can be lifted out of the frame with a couple of tools, even if locked.  There's info on line on beefing up windows, money well spent.

*Get to know your neighbors (unless they have 3 wrecked cars in their yard, two pit bulls and a "my other car is a meth lab" bumper sticker).  One neighbor is a police officer, I let him know when I am leaving for any period of time and if (and who) will be house/dog sitting, the other a retired military officer, and educator. Both know that if the dog is barking for no reason (squirrel in yard) or there is anyone at the porch they don't recognize as a regular visitor, to check on the place.  I do the same for them.

*Do NOT open the door for any reason if you don't recognize the person. All legitimate repairmen and delivery people carry identification cards with photos and are instructed to show it to you. If you weren't expecting them, call the company to verify the visit while they wait outside the locked door.

*Install solid core doors, with heavy duty locks. Use four three-inch screws to secure heavy duty lock strike pates in the door frame. A good solid entrance door, preferably a steel commercial door and frame (like the ugly gray ones you see on industrial buildings) is a very good way to slow down entrance. A similar door with dead bolt for the bedroom door is useful too. It buys more time- wake up with an assailant or four standing over your bed and this really sinks in deep. (Yes, they can be made pretty with wood veneer, both the doors and the assailants, for the goblins the wood veneer is usually an inch thick and about 2' x 2' x 6'.)

Remember though, the door isn't generally the weak point when someone is trying to force their way in. The part that generally fails is the door frame where the lock penetrates.

There is a fix to this that's neither difficult or expensive.  Normally, all of the force of the dead bolt is only applied to the wood directly behind the hole. If you carve out a slot in the frame behind the deadbolt that runs 5 or 6 inches above and below the deadbolt, and then screw in a strip of metal, you spread that force out over a much larger portion of the door frame.

Lock all doors, windows, and garages at all times. I don't reload in the garage with the door open with my back to it.  I don't care how nice it is or how many kids are out riding their bikes around the neighborhood.

I won't even talk about these new cheaply constructed family homes in subdivisions made out of vinyl siding, a few beams , some insulationand drywall.  Frankly, you could break into mmost of those with a good knife.  Physical security of the structure is important.  If the structure is open to easy penetration you better have some back up warning system, be it motion, dog or whatever, that something is afoot.


*Keep windows clear but if you do have a few plants, make sure they are the small ,very spiny variety to make access difficult and hiding about impossible.  If you have a home alarm, don't forget to wire the windows, it's not always the door they come through..

*Use a secondary blocking device (a simple piece of wood will do) on all sliding patio doors and windows.

*Set the home perimeter alarm at night, if you have one.

Lock your door to the garage at all times.. I could jimmy a garage door open if I had to.  It's not that hard.

*If you have a family, have a security meeting. I can't stress this enough. Make sure your children are aware of the dangers of opening the door to people they don't know, even if "Mommy's or Daddy's in the next room". If someone does get in, have a plan as a family. Have a code word for the young ones or unarmed that means "heads up for danger and run". 

Effective personal defense responsibility is a learned behavior.  It should be core curriculum for all children.  Sadly, too often, the weakest link of a home security system is the habits of occupants

Now that you have the basics down, some more hints to keep you safe.

Gas , telephone, electricity and cable lines are checked from outside, not inside the home. If the person claims that they are there to enter your home for a utility or cable company and/or you are suspicious of the credentials they present (holding them up to your window) do not open the door and phone the company for confirmation. If the service is such that they do need to come in (installation, etc), and you are a female living alone, call a friend over to hang out with you when you set up the appointment.  I've had big burly shooty friends BE the person in the house when the service person arrived so no one knows I live alone. That's not being helpless, that's being smart.

Most delivery men will agree to leave a package outside your door. If they demand that you sign a form, you can call call the company and confirm that you are about to be in receipt of a package. If it's my neighborhood FedEx or UPS guy with the very recognizable truck, I tell them I will meet them at the truck, and will sign it out there. They don't mind, especially as I usually bring them out a cold water or fresh coffee and a cookie (I've relied a lot on delivery in rural areas).

In the situations where you are being asked for charity or assistance, use your most conservative judgment. Be especially careful if you see a large van or truck nearby, that may be there to load up your household goods after they've made entry.  I ask solicitors to leave a brochure, anyone else I would offer to call the police or family for them.  Do NOT open the door if you don't know them, male or female, for any reason.

The points here? If you open the door, your alarm is likely OFF. What are you going to do if the person just barges in? Think about it.

A alarm won't save you then.

I have a large barking dog, I intend to make all the noise I can, and I have a weapon where I can get at it. Firearms have been used many times to successfully defend a family from home invasion (though you rarely hear about it in the media) and can provide a means of self-defense in a life-threatening situation.

But you need to be able to get to it quickly. You literally have seconds once your home has been breached. Often handguns are kept unloaded or locked up to prevent children from getting their hands on them. Chemical sprays may be in a cabinet in the next room. You may not have time to get to them before being hurt yourself. I have a gun handy, and I mean HANDY.  Normally it is on me, I carry in the garage, I carry in the yard. I've sat up late on the computer writing with a snub nosed special in my jammies or robe pocket more often than not. I've worn a holster late at night enjoying a mug of tea that had more material than what I was actually wearing. Carry.  I have a couple guns in places you wouldn't expect, some knives tucked away, and most rooms have a chemical fire extinguisher (older home, funky wiring).

No gun, not going to have one? Chemical fire extinguishers can be a great little disorienting tactic til you can get out the door.

Think. Plan. That Bersa in the range bag in the back of the closet behind your skis isn't going to help you. YOU are going to help you. Knowing yourself, running a scenario, planning, you are more likely to keep your head. How you react depends on so many things other than the obvious, sex age, health. It's personality, culture, survival skills. How you react under extreme pressure, any special training skills and past experiences can save you. 

I've had survival training few women of my generation have.  My friends are, with few exceptions,  are serious shooters, many law enforcement or former special ops. It's a mind set I'm attracted to, that I learn from. Yes, I cry at happy endings in zombie movies but when the things get difficult I can be as tough. I've had to be. Survival isn't of the strongest, it's those who keep their head, breaking down what they need to do into the most elemental things. Clausewitz said "Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult." I remember that, and practice the simple things.

Some women say I'm crazy to keep a gun in my home. "He'll just take it away from you", I hear. One lady said, "I have a cell phone and a stick, I'll use that". That's your choice. You have that choice, in which you abrogate the ancient balances of hunter and hunter. You won't even be that afraid, there in that first moment, propelled by your unerring belief that you are just too good to be a victim, too smart, by god you vote for snappy dressers and drive a Lexus. Then as you look into the eyes of something only those of us who hunt predators have seen, you will know the moment when fear takes you completely. Skin, blood, bones, all will fill with it, memories of childhood innocence, memory of pride, all gone. Nothing left but the fear seeping into every cell. As you wet yourself, your last coherent thought will be sound of pleas for your life as your hands are bound and some thug with gang tattoos drags your 13 year old off to the back room.

Myself. I'll take my gun and take my chances. Call me a gun nut, call me right wing extremist. But I will hold on to that polished lucidity that differs me from the predator. A sense of morality, the power of faith and will, and John Moses Browning. I will protect my life and those I love, or I will die trying.

But having a gun in the home for protection does no good if you are not proficient with it; if you are down with a knife wound and your spouse doesn't know how to fire that Ruger revolver. If ammo is costly for practice, use a .22. for practice.  Just keep the basic hand/eye skills up. You need to be proficient even if you are frozen with fear, your hands blue, your blood slowed. You may only have one shot.

Sure it's easy to go to the range in the warm air, birds chirping and sun shining, but that's not when you will be firing. It may be low light, your adrenalin will be pumping, you may be shooting with something other than your regular hand, due to an injury. Are you going to use your weapon like you train, in cold and in heat, snow and in wind, left hand, right hand? Or are you going to stand there shaking, holding the useless gun you know you are not going to be able to fire, not now, not ever, tasting in your saliva that brass aftertaste of fear. Fear that is a dinner bell to the hungry predator.

I'm not an expert, but I can guarantee that hand will NOT be shaking should I have to pull a trigger on someone in my home threatening to cut me, rape me, kill me. What about you? You will not know how you will react to a personal crises, but you can PREPARE.

The fact that you've read this long winded post means you've thought about it. What would you do? Activate an alarm, fight, run, grab your weapon, send a guest or family member out the back to run for help while you fight from within? You better think about it now because the 60 seconds you might be lucky to get, is not going to be time to plan it out.

For your alarm system may be asleep.


  1. Teriffic advice - thank you for the reminder! To the list of possible cover stories used by criminals, I'll add the door-to-door magazine salespeople. Usually young, usually female, usually pretty, and always (so far as I can tell) accompanied by men who are less young, less pretty, and less reputable looking.

    I had one of them try to push their way into my house once -- they'd tried to write my name down on an order form and I took the form from them -- and it was a near thing for a minute there. I've heard of cases of these guys carrying out robberies and rapes, too.

  2. Several years ago I was the executor of an estate. The house was for sale. The alarm company called me and told me the alarm was going off and did I want them to call the police (yes please). They called me back a couple of minutes later as I was on my way over to the house. The police in my town don't respond to burglar alarms.

    I got to the house and an associate of the realtor we had hired kept resetting the alarm rather than turning it off. Idiot!

    Still, idiot notwithstanding, I learned then and there that alarm companies are more about selling a false sense of security than the real thing. At least around here.

  3. Excellent post.

    We had those family meetings you mention when I lived at home, but then again my dad was a LEO, and knew what the reality was, even then. Especially in a small community, where everyone knew where the guy who put them in jail lived, and who his kids were.

    Canadian gun laws prevent the use of a firearm as a home defense weapon; safe storage laws here make them useless even as clubs; a topic some of the patrons and I discussed last time I bar tended. I mentioned I did have some strategically located, well balanced hunks of wood around (and yes have trained with them in combat style scenarios), but that my first choice would be my fire extinguisher, both to discharge and as a blunt force trauma weapon. I got some horrified looks from a couple of the patrons, I don't know if it was because I would think about a fire extinguisher that way, or because I would be willing to actually do it. Guess it was a good thing I didn't also mention the strategically placed blades that I palm if I hear a car in the drive, until I identify its occupants ...(and yes, I have trained with those too)

  4. Sometime back, for a friend, I reworked her medicine cabinet so it lifts off four screws. Behind it, a section of drywall was cut out. Inside the wall is a Mossberg Persuader, loaded, and sealed in plastic, hanging from a hook.

    The bathroom door is heavy duty with a deadbolt. On the other side of the bathroom walls are closets with cedar T&G which will slow down someone breaking in by way of the walls.

    I don't think it is adequate but she does.

  5. Great post, great advice for women AND men!

  6. All good advice. We're somewhat hermit-like and we only have family come to the house and since we're all of the same mind-set there is rarely every any "dropping in". I can't remember the last time I didn't answer the door with a gun on. As to the people that tell you "they'll just take the gun from you" I guess the answer is: "Maybe, but they'd have to beat me with it while leaking from multiple holes because it would be empty when they got to me."

  7. Great post Ms. B - covered all the bases!

  8. Oh, there you go again and get me started. The home alarm is just that. The definition of an alarm: "a sudden fear or distressing suspense caused by an awareness of danger; apprehension; fright".

    To me if the house alarm is going off, I am behind the curve. It is the LAST defense except for you. As you point out, a layered defense is key. Good lighting, solid doors and locks and most importantly a mind set to go with it.

    The electronic alarm cannot be dismissed, it is as I say the last defense in all cases. The unoccupied home relies on it totally. You point out having the windows wired, I humbly recommend motion and glass break sensors (microphones). Simply putting magnetic switches in the frames of the windows will not detect someone kicking the glass out.

    Don't rely on the "big guys" for an alarm installation either. This house had one installed after someone cam in through the garage, I can still see the drywall repair in the kitchen where the door was kicked in. Guess what. The installers of the happy alarm DID NOT wire the personnel or garage door.

    Find someone local that you trust to install the alarm, or get a wireless one that YOU can install yourself. It is simple and UL listed monitoring for your self installed alarm can be had for oh, about ten bucks a month. Gives you a ten percent deduction on the home insurance too.

    I have much more to say all about this, but out of time.

    You speak the truth!

  9. mean, we're not supposed to drink straight from the milk-jug?

    Excellent article, though!

  10. I have a Trench Hawk hanging by my door. When i answer it my hand is on the hawk.

  11. Roomie and I heard a loud crash the other night - a home invader?
    Nope, one one my stacks of unpacked plastic moving totes lost it's integrity and toppled like a Pisa Tower!
    My roomie checked on me with her Nighthawk in hand!
    Home invasion is serious. Drug gangs dressing as Mexican Army Regulars are attacking drug houses in the Valley, in full regalia and armament.
    Be Prepared!

  12. Having Barkly around helps a lot. Burglars do NOT like dogs, especially ones over, say, 40 pounds.

    I had my house broken into once. They got the VCR, the TV and some jewelery. Every morning before my wife and I went to work we would let our 55 lb. German Shepard/lab mix out the door. He'd run around the field, do his thing, and then come back. We'd put him in the house and go to work.

    Well, one day we let him out and he didn't come back. Finally we went to work. We came back to double-axle tread marks in the driveway and a burgled house. And a dog. We figure that Rocky got a free steak that morning from whoever was watching to see us leave for work.

  13. Nice thing about the dog, he will love you when nothing else will.

    I really don't like the idea of the raiders upon my civilization, and I have lived in bunkers,with sandbags and rocket wire and razor wire.

    And now with strange LEO in black with ski masks, makes me certain it is no longer smart to open the door for any knock.

    But I can't see changing me, because of bad guys, kind of like changing me because of Oprah, paying attention isn't a bad thing but living in fear instead of caution won't get you out of bed.

  14. quick upgrade on the deadbolt lock. this is from my (SK) grandfather a life long locksmith. Get a length of black iron gas pipe just large enough for the bolt of the dead bolt to slip inside of. Then drill or open up your wall and drill through the studs behind the lock plate. run it at least 3 feet long through the door frame studs, at least one other stud and braced aginst another stud. when you lock the deadbolt it will now be part of a 3foot long spread on the wall studs.
    with 4 inch screws in the hinges, and the extra long bolt, the door will break before the wall does. be safe, T

  15. Brigid, great post, your sooo talented. I've had more than one discussion with the law about carrying a sidearm in my yard, driveway, etc. Seems they want to be the ones with a sidearm only. I always carry, even in the house, it helps keep you familar with the weapon and how it feels on you when in position. We have pre positioned a pistol in every room of the house,( and one in the freezer section of the refrigerator that I swap out every week ).... yes the freezer.

  16. Straight from the carton??? Nooooooooo......

    Those alarm ads do not amuse me, but I think they would be a great way for a gun company to advertise their products.

    It would be a short commercial.

  17. Heh....didn't we have a conversation about "realistic" alarm company conversations awhile back on your blog, Larry? Good times, good times!

  18. Great Post, It covers a lot of ground well.

    My only real addition (you hinted but didn't say it explicitly) would be the importance of living in a place that doesn't suck. Sure crime can and does happen anywhere but if you live between T Dog's house of Crack and an all night package shop where teen and 20 something goblins hang out the odds of an incident are a lot higher than in Mayberry or a nice little subdivision.

    As Massad Ayoob said (more or less) "Cops who have really studied the events surrounding a home invasion begin keeping a weapon on them in their home at all times." Having an immediate lethal option is so darn important.

    I answer the door armed and do not open it unless it is somebody I know or expect.

    Of course the use of an old lady or young girl as bait is to be expected. Nobody in their right mind would answer it for a 250 pound man with bad prison tattoos carrying a knife.

  19. Bits of spandex you say?

    Great post!

  20. I think it's a good idea to carry in your home the same way you carry out in the street otherwise you could run to the store for milk and discover your weapon sitting loud and proud on your hip in a very open carry unfriendly state.


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