Your home is your castle ... or is it?

November 2009

Your home is normally considered as a sanctuary where you should feel safe. The question is – is your home really safe from criminal intrusion when you leave for work or away on vacation? The latest crime statistics paint a frightening picture with regard to the increase in residential robberies in South Africa over the last year.

The traditional commercial targets for robbers like banks, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, jeweller’s stores have hardened themselves against armed robberies. With increased technology these establishments have installed sophisticated video surveillance systems, access control systems, employed armed response companies linked to alarm installations and other anti-crime deterrent devices. This has led to residences becoming a more attractive target. Unlike robbing a retail store, the robbers, given time are able to gain access into the home where they will not have to deal with the police suddenly arriving or customers walking in. Once the robbers have managed to enter the residence they can hold up the occupants and force them to open safes, hand over valuables, keys to the family car, and obtain PIN numbers to their ATM cards. They will try to increase their escape time by disabling the phones and sometimes leave their victims bound or incapacitated. In some instances the robbers will load up the victim’s car with the stolen goods and will drive away without anyone in the neighbourhood taking notice.
If you can delay a robber at the point of entry it will give you time in deterring them and time to call the police. The homeowner who fails to lock doors and windows or who will open the door without question at the sound of a knock are increasing the chances of a forced entry. The best defence against robberies is forward security planning. Families should discuss what steps should be taken in the event of an attempted break-in and robbery. Once you know how robbers work, you can effectively prevent most occurrences.
Physical preventative steps
Alarm systems
Alarm systems deter burglaries because they increase the potential fear of being caught and being arrested by the police. The deterrent value comes from the alarm company alarm decals on the windows and on outside perimeter walls. Robbers will usually bypass a property with visible alarm signs and go to another property without such signage.
CCTV systems
Many people choose to invest in a home surveillance system but they are only useful if monitored. There are companies that are prepared to do outside monitoring of the premises as they can record video and keep it stored for you to view later. If you travel a lot, a home surveillance system can be an ideal way to keep a check on your home while you are away.
Guard dogs
Guard dogs can be very handy to have around, as most dogs are more than capable of scaring away trouble with their bark.
Doors and locks
Remember, the robber will simply bypass your home if it requires too much effort or requires more skill and tools than they possess. The need is to 'harden the target' and make your home more difficult to enter. The robber will look for the weakest point of entry – the garage door followed by the back door. Use high quality Grade-1 or Grade-2 locks on exterior doors to resist twisting, prying, and lock-picking attempts. A quality door knob-in-lock set will have a ‘dead latch’ mechanism to prevent the prying open the lock with a shim or credit card.
An open window, visible from the street or alley, may be the sole reason for your home to be selected by a robber. Windows have latches, not locks and therefore should have secondary blocking devices to prevent them from being opened from the outside. Place highly visible decals on the glass door near the latch mechanism that indicates that an alarm system is in place.
It is necessary to show signs of life and activity inside a residence at night. A home with no lights on gives robbers the impression that the occupants are away. Light timers are inexpensive and can be used to turn on lights at designated times. However, they should be used on a daily basis, not just when you are away.
Exterior lighting is also very important especially when having to enter and park in your driveway. Good lighting is definitely a deterrent to criminals because they do not want to be seen or identified. Security lights with infrared motion sensors are relatively inexpensive and can easily replace an exterior porch light, side door light or garage light.
Home safes
Having a safe in your home is a wise investment. They are designed to keep robbers from gaining access to important documents and valuable personal belongings. Home safes need to be anchored into the floor or permanent shelving in a secreted section of the home. Make a list of your most valuable possessions and keep all receipts in a home safe.
Be a good neighbour
Good neighbours will watch out for your home when you are away, if you ask them. However, it is important to establish communications with your neighbours on all sides of your home. They can attend to alarm activations and report suspicious activity to the police while you are away.
Safe room
Have a room within the home into which the family can retreat in the event of a robbery. The room should be lockable from the inside where an alarm can be raised and help summoned. In the room there should be the necessary emergency items which include a cellphone, a torch, first aid kit, food and water. In addition a panic button should also be installed from the alarm system. Remember not to exit the safe room until either the police arrive or the robbers have left the premises.
Remember these important security steps
</i>* Hold a family meeting to discuss home security plans.
* Have an escape plan – safe room.
* Have non-threatening practise sessions where children are involved.
* Install a reliable alarm system.
* Set the home perimeter alarm at night, if you have one.
* Look to securing the perimeter of your premises (electric fencing, CCTV, Beams etc)
* Install solid core doors, heavy duty locks, and window security devices.
* Never open the door to strangers.
* Never rely on a chain-latch as a barrier to partially open the door.
* Use the door peephole BEFORE opening the door.
* Install a home safe.
* Establish a family safe room with necessary emergency items.
* Lock all doors, windows, and garages at all times.
* Make your home look lived in. Park a car in the driveway.
* Have a reliable guard dog on the premises.
* Improve lighting – especially when away. Use timer switches and sensor lights.
* When entering your driveway – ensure that there are no suspicious persons in the vicinity.
* Use your porch light to help you to see clearly outside.
* Call the police if the stranger acts suspiciously.
* Alert your neighbours to suspicious persons.
* Arrange for either a home sitter or close neighbour to look after the home whilst away.
* Do not tell people that you are away or on your answering machine.</i>

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