Friday, January 27, 2017

Steps to Prevent Being a Victim

We all want to avoid being the victim of a robbery or, even worse, a home invasion. While no security company or expert would ever propose they can eliminate all threats; there are steps you can take to mitigate the risks of becoming a statistic. Today, we're going to look at steps you can take to "prevent the crime." These steps are designed to fit inside our framework of phases 1-4 of Phases of a Crime.

Steps to take
Always start from the outside and work your way in. Criminals rarely start their crime when already inside the home. This rarity is confined to your friends, kids, or the occasional hired contractor getting sticky fingers. A few suggestions:

Outside Looking in.
Don't give them the key. Ladders, fixed objects (air conditioners, lawn furniture, ornaments or other objects that could allow someone to gain access to second or third floor windows. Don't leave anything accessible to a would-be thief to make the job easier.

Locks and detached buildings. Look at all detached buildings to ensure they have locks, closed and latched windows, and are as secure as possible. Again, access to your valuables outside the home are an easy grab for criminals and could assist them in gaining access to your home. Think of your home as your castle and the exterior buildings as your resources. Your attention is on the castle, but you need to ensure any attackers can't use your own resources against you.

Where are your keys?? We've all been there... We're standing in front of our front door in our heavy winter coat, frozen to the bone, searching for that key that seems to have buried itself deep within your pocket. Then, out of nowhere, it dawns on you - you loaned it to your brother who's out of town!! Sound familiar? Well, this is my story. I was that person only 2 years ago. Here I am, a security guru, trying to break into my own house. On a good note, I was unsuccessful and even had a locksmith in front of my door for 3 hours trying to gain entry. I ended up having to sign a waiver to authorize him to cut into the door. Bad. That's when it dawned on me to hide a key somewhere no one else would look. Today, I have a key hidden a decent distance from my home. No, I'm not going to share where my key is, but suffice it to say even if someone does find it, they won't have any idea what it's for. Some suggestions I'd share are to look for a place where you can gain access 24/7, somewhere no one is going to look, and somewhere far enough from your home that a would-be assailant can't stumble across it by accident. I shared this with a close friend and he now has a key hidden behind a Walmart in one of those store bought false rocks. The Walmart is about a mile from his home. A good enough distance that no one would ever know it belongs to him, but close enough that he can get a little exercise if he happens to lose his key. Think remote and think secure. It's also a good idea to periodically check on the key. I check my spot about once a season - ever 3-4 months. A hidden key doesn't do any good if it vanishes.  By utilizing these "dead drops," as they are called, you can prevent a would-be criminal from finding a key hidden on your property.

Windows. Windows are great. They provide natural light, a cool breeze on warm days, a way to watch the snow fall without freezing in the process, and countless other benefits. They also provide a great way to enter a home. Criminals know from experience that windows are a weakness in most homeowner’s security. They're left open at night throughout the hot summer months, they're often left unlocked (most of us have dealt with those stubborn window's that won't latch), and they're often easier to pick than front doors. It's an often-overlooked step to check that your windows are in good repair and functioning properly. It's also a good idea to use a supplemental locking mechanism. Such supplemental items are as simple as a wooden rod placed above the window so it can't be raised without removing the rod. Some even choose to paint a yellow stripe around the rod to let would be criminals know it's futile to try and pick the window. Should you choose to do so, ensure you place the same thing in all your windows - you don't want to let them know which window is easier.... For the best protection, you'll want to ensure ALL windows have sensors tied to an active and functioning security system. And be advised, not all criminals target first floor windows.

Illumination. Let's shed some light on the threat, pun intended. That should always be the motto. Identify and mitigate. Criminals, especially the more common ones, do anything in their power to avoid detection. Lights are among the best tools to make their day go bad, really quickly. You should have illumination on all sides of your home to cover at least 50, and preferable 150, feet around the home that is either always on or motion activated. If it's motion activated, you want to ensure it will be triggered at least 25 feet from the home. Most sensors today are immune to animals, but you'll want to verify that as well. There's nothing worse than a light that constantly goes on when a cat wanders through your yard. Eventually you'll become immune to responding and the light becomes more of a nuisance than a tool. There are also circumstances where high intensity floodlights aren’t possible . However, as a rule, you want to be able to see as far as possible from the home. The more illumination you have the less likely you are to becoming a victim.

Gaining Access
Doors. You're going to want to ensure your doors are hung properly within the frame.  They need to be secure within the jamb and firmly up edged by the weather strip.  Don't provide any space for a thief to work his way into your lock or gain access to the inner workings of the lock itself. I've seen far too many locks and doors in my day that are either weakly hung allow a criminal to shimmy the door out without even touching the lock, or a lock that isn't straight allowing someone to wedges screwdriver inside and break the lock right off. You want the door to be flush with the seal, the locks to be on straight and professionally installed. Your safety is riding on the door to do its job. It is recommended to install longer 3" screws in the strike plate as-well-as utilizing a "long-throw" deadbolt to secure your exterior doors.  Allow only those you want to pass and encourage those you don't to move along.

Locks. We're going to be spending a great deal of time discussing the specifics of locks down the road, but for now let's just talk basics. Locks are intended to both serve as a deterrent and as a gatekeeper. They allow those who possess a key to pass. The trick is to ensure the lock is in good working order and to ensure only those who have a need for the key to have one. This gets tricky when you've given keys to neighbors, relatives, babysitters, and even complete strangers.... I remember travelling abroad a few years ago and stayed at a local bed and breakfast. Being the security type, I was floored when the host stated that the key they gave us worked all the locks in the entire building. I couldn't help myself from testing the key throughout our stay. Needless to say - it worked! There wasn't a lock in the building I couldn’t pass with my key! That meant our valuables weren't exactly secure being left in the room... The moral is, don't just give your key out to anyone. That key is as valuable as all your belongings and potentially your life. A few recommendations
1.    Change your locks every 1-2 years. This can be as simple as having your locks rekeyed by a locksmith or getting a rekeying tool kit.
2.    If you're using a numerical keypad it's no different. Don't pass along your passcode to anyone and change it every 1-2 years if not sooner. Key codes are too easy to change and should be done more frequently.
3.    Don't match garage door codes, touch screen locks codes, and security codes.. They serve separate purposes and should be different codes.
Security System. Security systems are, in most instances, a next to last line of defense. Think about it, the siren is telling you someone has broken through your perimeter (lights), primary defenses (locks), and is currently inside your home. It's paramount that your system can do a few things.
  • Tell you where they've passed into your home. This means every point of entry needs to be covered (doors, windows, basement/cellar crawl spaces, etc). You must be able to identify where they've breached to avoid those areas
  • Tell you if they've somehow circumvented the access point sensors. There are determined criminals who have gained access in creative ways... Methods include cutting through exterior walls and drywall to gain access into walkout basements. Contractors leaving garage/basement doors unlocked to hide inside the home until the owner’s head to bed and even coming down larger chimneys... That's where motion sensors come into play. If someone is inside the home when the system is activated it won't detect a breach through an access point. You'll want to ensure you use your motion sensors as best as possible at night.
In upcoming posts, we'll discuss best practices for setting up a system and we have a team ready and able to assist should you have any questions. CLICK HERE!

So, we've made it up to your primary point of entry. We're inside the home. Security doesn't stop at the threshold. Some would call me paranoid, and I can't contest the moniker. But, I take all steps to ensure the safety and security of my assets and loved ones. I'm going to go into some more subjective measures to help protect you and your family and recommend you give them consideration.

Imagine for a moment that you're a criminal. You know you'd get the best return on your risk by breaking into a home. But, you want to ensure the time is worthwhile and that you're mitigating the risks as-best-as possible. You drive through a few neighborhoods and start looking for a target that's less likely to be secure. You notice a few homes that leave their garage doors open fairly frequently. You notice none have any indicators they own a firearm (NRA stickers, boxes for shotgun shells, military or law enforcement sticker, or several other categorical indicators), no security stickers or signs, and shades are always wide open. You also notice a few homes seem to only have single or dual occupancy. You decide to approach the homes for a little more intelligence. You throw on a contractor's outfit, grab a clipboard with a few pieces of paper from a template you found online and start knocking. You tell the homeowners who answer that you're doing a safety and security assessment for the home builder that built the home 15 years ago (they can ensure you're not the original buyer or would know who the original builder was by tax records). You then proceed to ask to see the electrical panel and permission to walk the perimeter of the home to look for quality defects and to assess how the home is aging. Now, the would-be criminal has a reason to start looking around your home. You have two options. Decline (which is the right answer) or to accept. If you accept you're allowing the criminal to see anything and everything in, and around, your home. The things they could do and would be looking for could take the next 10 pages to type. Needless to say, we're going to assume, especially after reading this, that you'll decline. So, they've at least made it to your entryway. If they've made it this far they will be looking for a number of items.

Do you have any of the following easily accessible for a quick in-and-out job:
  • Keys (quick auto theft)
  • Garage Door openers (steal it and come back a few weeks later....)
  • Purse & Valuables (A place you empty your pockets onto when you get home)

Things they could be looking at to assess what else could be in the home:
  • Pictures. How many people are in the home? Do you have teenage boys who likely have gaming consoles and electronics?
  • Security System Panel & Sensor type. Is the system a generic big box brand they could be familiar with bypassing or otherwise deactivating
  • Shoes. Again, looking for occupancy, athleticism (possible physical threat), sizes (bigger shoes mean bigger people), occupancy (fancy clean shoes often indicate professions and can confirm based on size of home and other indicators such as vehicle type).
  • Electronics. Do you leave your cell phone at your entryway? Could they steal it or destroy upon entry?

This isn't intended to scare or deter you from taking action. On the contrary, this is intended to help you better understand how the threat thinks. How they perceive the world and how they operate. Taking steps to counter these efforts is all it takes. If you, as a homeowner, simply decline to allow the would-be criminal inside your home, limit the available information and resources at the entryway, they will simply move along. Security starts and ends with you - the homeowner. Make today a Security Focused Day!  

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The information contained herein is intended as informational and the opinion of Omega Six Security. We take great measure to ensure we're providing the best available information possible. But, it is just that, information. Readers must acknowledge that you are the first and last defense in any situation that could arise. Proper education, research, training, and maintaining good situational awareness will always help. We, at Omega Six Security, want to do all we can to assist in educating our members and readers alike. However, we always, recommend you reach out to local law enforcement, legal representatives and other subject matter experts to better understand your rights and responsibilities based on your individual circumstances. The information herein is for informational purposes only and does not constitute any form of counsel, legal or otherwise. Readers acknowledge and hold harmless Omega Six Security, LLC and the author and accept sole responsibility for any actions taken based on implementation of any information herein.

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