We've probably all experienced being startled by a strange noise after going to bed and being instantly paralyzed by the fear of an intruder.
Fortunately, most of the time, those bumps in the night turn out to be little more than the ice maker or house settling. Nonetheless, according to statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 3.7 million burglaries occur each year. Most alarming is that someone is home 28% of the time–and 7% of those fall victim to violence.
So how can you protect your family, home and yourself? Prevention is the best line of defense. But it's equally important to be prepared and know what to do should a burglary occur when you're at home.
Door security. The front door is one of the most common entry points for burglars. In fact, it isn't uncommon for burglars to knock on the front door to see if anyone's home.
There are several things you can do to prevent unwanted entry into your home through doors. First, keep your doors locked at all times, whether you're home or not.
Also, install a deadbolt on all doors. Proper installation is crucial to your security. So follow the manufacturer's instructions to a 'T.' Better yet, have locks installed by a locksmith.
Many security experts recommend double cylinder locks, particularly for doors with glass panels, sidelights or within 40 inches of a window. A cylinder lock requires the use of a key on both sides of the door. For that reason, cylinder locks pose other safety risks and are an inconvenience. As a result, most people end up leaving the key inserted in the deadbolt on the interior, which defeats the purpose of a cylinder lock.
The safer option is to install a solid metal or wood door with a peephole.
If you have a sidelight, consider eliminating it and framing in the area. Alternatively, you can add decorative iron security bars to the sidelight. Security window film can also prevent entry, or at least slow down a burglar.
Typically, sliding glass doors don't come with very secure locks. But there's a variety of locks available for sliding doors, such as keyed patio door locks and security pins. A security bar or wooden dowel placed in the door track will also add a good layer of protection.
As with sidelights, security window film will make the glass more difficult to break. Decorative security film will also add privacy. Before you purchase security film, do your research. The thicker the film, the more effective it is in preventing glass breakage.
First, make it a habit to lock your windows every time you close them, even if you plan to reopen them later. Otherwise, it's easy to forget about them when you leave or go to bed.
The latches that come with most windows do offer some security. But did you know skilled burglars can pry open windows secured only by these latches? Therefore, keyed window locks or other security window locks add an extra layer of protection.
Also, as with sliding doors, a wooden dowel can be wedged in the window track. Security window film will also slow down burglars or prevent glass breakage.
Decorative iron security bars are another option. But they should have easy fire-release hardware so you can escape in the event of a fire. Also, make sure children know how to use the releases. Bear in mind these can also slow down firefighters from being able to make a rescue.
The cost of security alarms hasn't always been an affordable option. But today, there are window and door alarms to fit nearly every budget.
Although security alarms don't block access, they can be a deterrent. Some would-be burglars avoid homes with a security system sign posted outside. However, many burglars realize people often post signs when they don't have a security system and that most people often don't arm their systems, so it isn't a fail-proof deterrent.
Still, there are several benefits to security alarms. Many burglars are scared off when an alarm sounds. Also, you'll be alerted if someone enters your home. Depending on the alarm and service plan you have, it may put in a call to the police as well.
Before you buy a security alarm, do your research and get the best you can afford. Most security alarms don't alert you if a window is broken, only if it's opened. But there are glass-break alarms on the market, too.
Wireless alarms are often very affordable since you don't have to pay for installation. The drawback is you'll need to replace your batteries regularly. Still, they add a level of security and offer peace of mind.
Make sure all entry points to your home, including windows, are well lit. This serves as a deterrent and also makes braver burglars more visible to you, neighbors or passersby. If you don't want lights on all the time, install motion lights.
A very affordable option is wall mount solar lights. These can be had for only $25 for a half a dozen lights.
Indoor lighting also deters burglars by creating the perception someone is home and awake. So leave one or two lights on in the main rooms of your home at night or when you're away.
Other prevention tips
Don't hide a key under the doormat, planter or elsewhere. Burglars know people commonly hide keys in these and other places.
Keep shrubs and trees around your home trimmed, particularly near access points, so burglars don't have a hiding place.
Install window coverings on all windows and close them at night so burglars can't see in.
If you have a garage door opener in your car, keep your vehicle locked at all times. Also, make sure the opener isn't in view. Better yet, keep it in your home.
Don't forget to lock the garage entry door to your home. Many burglars can access garages that are locked or secured by garage door openers.
WHAT IF A BURGLARY OCCURS WHEN YOU'RE AT HOME?
Being prepared is crucial to reduce your risk of being a victim of violence. So first, consider ways you and your family can escape your home safely.
Two-story homes or apartments that aren't at ground level pose an added challenge. An escape ladder stored in an easily accessible spot is a worthwhile investment. You can also use the ladder to escape a fire.
If your kids are old enough, have everyone sleep with their bedroom doors locked at night. That way, if a burglar does quietly enter your home, you'll wake up if the burglar tries breaking into your room. Because bedroom door locks are easy to pick, consider installing keyed doorknobs.
A safe room in your home is also a good plan. Choose a room, closet or bathroom that's easily accessible to all family members, especially if a burglary occurs at night. A room with an escape route is optimal. Install a deadbolt on the door, and for better security, hang a solid wood or steel door in the room. If possible, keep an extra phone in there. In the event burglars do try to enter the safe room you're in, they likely will realize you're in there. Tell them "we" have called the police, so they don't think you're alone.
Carefully consider the pros and cons of keeping a weapon near your bed or in your safe area. Also, weigh out the type of weapon. Guns are more likely to be turned against gun owners. Plus, when kids are in the home, firearms should be unloaded and locked up.
Even weapons such as a knife or pepper spray can increase your risk depending on many variables. First, most burglars don't intend to cause harm. But if they feel threatened, things can quickly escalate, and you don't know if the burglar is carrying a gun or other weapon. Also, pepper spray has a high incidence of not working. Even when it does, the mist can end up in your own eyes, and anyone else's nearby.
Still, it's a good idea to sleep with your car keys next to your bed. If you hear a burglar, hit the panic button. Sometimes this will scare off an intruder who fears neighbors will be awakened.
Also, keep your phone near your bed at night and fully charged.
If a burglar is at your front door, tell him (from behind the locked door) that "you and your husband" are home and you've already called the police. Then immediately dial 911. Don't let a stranger convince you they're there for another reason and risk opening the door.
If you think a burglar is already inside your home, you don't know his intentions. Quietly grab your phone and lock yourself in a room, preferably one with an escape window. Be as quiet as possible and call 911. Give dispatch your address, followed by the details. That way, if your call is disrupted, dispatch knows your location. Then stay on the phone until dispatch informs you the police have arrived and it's safe to come out.
At this point, if there's an escape route in the locked room you're in, it's time to get out. Do so as quietly as possible while remaining on the phone with dispatch.
Finally, once you've developed a safety plan and backup plan, practice them with your family, so everyone knows what to do in the event of a burglary.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance lifestyle writer. She's also founder and director of KB Creative Digital Services, an internet marketing agency, at kbcreativedigital.com.