Posts Tagged ‘security camera’

Security at the Front Door – Updated

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Empty roomYou walk through the door of a small business and into the reception area. Surprise! There’s no one in sight! You stand there for a while, then call out: Hello?  Hello?

You have just witnessed a BIG security breach!

Since most workplace violence happens as a result of a robbery attempt, that empty business has certainly encouraged any would-be robber. And whoever comes next into that reception area will be the prime target.

Role of the receptionist in business security

As receptionist, you may consider yourself a customer service representative. That may, in fact, be what your job description stresses.

But you are also the gatekeeper.

Let’s look at some questions you should be asking as you consider taking a job as receptionist. And if you’re the employer, what YOU should be thinking about for that position. It’s a key one.

1-Is your workplace particularly vulnerable?

Some jobs have a higher risk than others. For example, do you . . .

  • Deal with cash or other particularly valuable property? (ex. bank)
  • Deliver or exchange passengers or packages? (ex. hotel)
  • Encounter unstable people (i.e. in law enforcement, health care)?
  • Work alone or with just a small group of co-workers?
  • Work late at night?

The most at risk times for office thefts are early morning, lunch hours, and around closing time, particularly on Fridays or holidays. Is your reception area staffed by just one person during those times? What happens when that person needs to go to the bathroom?

2-Is your reception area laid out in the best way possible for security?

Generally, the receptionist should have a clear view of the entrance, and be able to see everyone in the lobby area. By the same token, good visibility lets the receptionist and other employees be aware of suspicious activities taking place outside.

Good visibility includes keeping doors and windows clear of signs, keeping the cash register in a central place where it can be seen from the outside, and keeping counter tops and displays low so no one can sneak in and hide. And, of course, visibility is improved with good lighting.

Note: if your receptionist deals with cash deliveries, consider a bolted down DROP safe that allows envelopes to be deposited without the safe door being unlocked. Such a secure safe might cost only a couple hundred dollars – and it’s designed for efficient transactions and to keep someone from trying to fish the money back out!

These two drop safe examples from Amazon show different configurations, with costs ranging from just over $100 to around $300, depending on features and size. Amazon also offers expert installation for an additional price. Click on the images for full details and current prices.

3-Are there any physical restrictions on who comes into the lobby and who goes through into the rest of the work area?

Is there a desk or other barrier between the receptionist and visitors? Does the receptionist “buzz” people in from outside or do they just walk right in? Obviously, in a restaurant or retail outlet, as in the picture above, the entrance will not only be unobstructed, doors are likely to be wide open. In an office, however, you’d expect some sort of formal reception area or lobby.

Do staff members and visitors use an electronic keypad or key to get through the lobby into the work area, or are they buzzed through by the receptionist?

4-What responsibilities does the receptionist have for security?

An “entry level” job may be what is being advertised, but as a receptionist you need to know answers to security questions like these:

  • Does the receptionist greet everyone? Keep written or electronic track of who arrives and who leaves, and when? Do you use Visitor ID badges?
  • What policies are in place for regular visitors (vendors) and family members? Does staff insist on identification from repairpersons?
  • Does the receptionist know about any people who are prohibited from entering?
  • Does the receptionist have a map of the property with rooms and escape routes marked, in order to assist First Responders who may arrive in an emergency?

Another question to add to the above: Are temps or subs made aware of all these responsibilities?

5-Does your front entrance have visible surveillance equipment? 

We’ve all seen them from time to time: wide-angle mirrors placed in strategic locations to eliminate blind areas.

And more and more we are seeing both outdoor and indoor cameras placed as an effective deterrent to shady or criminal activity; posting a sign adds to the effect of the cameras. Some people even mount fake cameras for the deterrent effect, although experienced criminals can tell the difference. (After an incident has occurred, of course, cameras are only useful if they are real, and monitored.)

So the question then becomes, if cameras are installed, how are they monitored? From the front desk? From another location?

6-What about perimeter security?

A comprehensive security system might also send an alarm if doors and/or windows are unexpectedly broken or opened. The system shown below, less than $200 at Amazon, is an example of such a system appropriate for a small business.

Note the console, magnetic locks for doors and smaller ones for windows, the siren and, the “key fob” (red button) that serves as a portable panic button. For about $15 each you can add extra fobs to this system. Employees can monitor the system as they move about, which allows the control console to be placed out of sight. (Click on the image to get full details and current prices at Amazon.)

7-Have you established any internal policies for managing a hostile situation?

Has your receptionist received training on how to handle difficult people or threats?

Does the receptionist have a “panic button?” (That remote fob, mentioned above? Or a built in button?)

Do you have a “code word” that would let someone know a dangerous situation has developed?

How would you let all workers know there is an emergency situation at the front entrance?

Good suggested answers to all these questions are available online and through professional training. Keep reading for some resources!

What’s the next step for your business?

The questions in this Advisory are meant to stimulate a more thorough discussion.

  • If you’re the potential (or current receptionist) you will have a better idea of what you might want in the way of improved security.
  • If you’re the business owner, you’ll have a better idea of steps to take, too.

Here are some resources.

We have seen incredible TV footage of ordinary people handling dangerous situations with aplomb and skill. However, the rest of us need training for these situations. Many qualified programs are available. For example:

  • Local police may offer security assessment and training for business owners, managers or HR professionals in your area. For example, some of the tips in this article came from the Portland Police Bureau.
  • Department of Homeland Security offers free courses, materials, and workshops, particularly for schools and school employees.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers specialized training for health workers, hospital administrators, etc. Here’s the link to the complete list:
  • YouTube and Vimeo have dozens of free training videos available for your use. Just type in the keywords “violence in the workplace” to see what comes up.
  • Commercial training organizations such as Fred Pryor, HR Seminars and SkillPath offer seminars either online or in locations around the country.

Your business insurance carrier may be a good resource, too. And security preparations may reduce your insurance premium.

“But our business is different.”

Every business is different. That’s why every business requires a CUSTOMIZED plan for security. Consider getting help from a security consultant if you have questions.

But don’t put it off. Every business has a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace.

Take the time now to consider what you can do at your workplace to increase the chances of preventing or lessening the chances of a dangerous situation at the front door.

Disclaimer: We’re not police or security professionals so the information here, while we believe it to be authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. Also, please be aware that laws and regulations vary from state to state – so get advice from your own First Responders.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

If security is something you’re interested in, take a look at this Advisory, too: It provides a more complete overview of different monitoring equipment and basic monitoring systems good for home or small business.

P.S. Business owner or manager? Print out this page and use it to start a discussion with staff. You may not need to follow through with all these suggestions, but you should at least have an idea of what other businesses are doing to protect their workplace — and their receptionist.





Intruder! Do we need a security system?

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Security Camera catching thief

Home and Business Security Options

Have you seen the ads showing a package thief caught in the act?

Or the ad that shows the “escaping teenager” on the roof, caught because she set off an alarm when she opened her window?

All these ads are designed to make you consider the value of a security system. And while the ads are compelling, they really don’t tell the whole story behind the available technology.

In fact, they don’t make it at all clear where a simple self-contained security camera leaves off and where a comprehensive monitored security system begins.

If you’re a new business owner, or someone newly concerned about security and safety, take a look at the questions and answers below. They’ll help you come up with a shopping list customized for your personal needs.

Disclaimer: security equipment and commercial security “packages” change regularly, so as you shop, be sure you are comparing current offers.

Questions to ask about security.

The first version of this article appeared in Emergency Plan Guide nearly two years ago. In the time since, some things have changed dramatically! The “classic” security camera set up shown in the image below – camera connected to DVR connected to monitor — still exists, of course. But in many cases, wires have been replaced by wireless connections. And now, instead of a computer monitor, connections are made to cell phones and tablets.

That’s not all that has changed. As you review the following questions, consider what you really need for your location and your circumstances. As you might expect, the more features you want, the more expensive the system.

Security Camera Buyer's Guide

“Do I want wired vs. wireless?”

Wires are reliable as long as they aren’t damaged or cut. In fact, they may be more reliable than wireless, which can  suffer in extreme weather or because of electronic interference.

And of course, wireless systems can be hacked!

So, whether you choose a wired system or a wireless may depend on your location or your security level requirements. Think it through.

Oh, and if components are wireless, they still need to be powered, so you’ll have to consider when and how to replace batteries.

“Should I manage the system myself, or have it professionally monitored?”

Basic systems are set up to alert you by phone of activity or of a breach. Activity could be as simple as someone approaching the front door. You could, of course, miss the alert if your phone isn’t operating or isn’t nearby.

A monitored system reacts to a broader set of activities, and when it detects a breach, it reaches out to alert the monitoring company, which then alerts you and/or others, including perhaps police or fire.

Whereas a basic system is pretty much one purchase and a DIY install, a monitored system involves service personnel to guide you through the installation or, more likely, to do it for you. This may include installing a number of connectors, monitors and cameras and tying the system in to your home for business computer network. Naturally, you will pay for that personal installation service and for the monthly monitoring, as well.

Costs vary widely. Equipment costs for a home system start as low as $100 for a single camera but are more likely to be twice or three times that much. (Costs for even a simple business location are likely to be higher in part because there are more rooms and more spaces to monitor.) Monthly monitoring costs may add as little as $10/month but most monitoring companies fees seem to be in the $39 –$59/month range for home services. (Watch for “sign-up specials” you can take advantage of!)

“Do I need indoor or outdoor security?” 

Outdoor “barrel” or “bullet” security cameras (as shown in the illustration above) have a hood that protects them from the weather. “Dome” style cameras, with a curved face, are most popular indoors, and can also be weatherproof for outdoor use. (They have an advantage in that you can’t tell which direction the camera is pointing. You’ll often see them in casinos or in other public places.)

The latest models of doorbell security cameras are smaller, best described as a simple box with a small camera lens – not too dissimilar to the camera in your smart phone.

A complete system may have a variety of camera types. The main thing to remember: while an outdoor camera can be used indoors, the reverse is not necessarily true.

“Do I want an alarm only, or do I want to see video?”

The simplest video systems run continuously, without interruption. If something happens, it is caught on the tape. (You’ve surely seen videos showing convenience store robberies, or scenes from street cameras.) When the tape is filled up, it is stored for a given period of time and then written over.

A continuous video creates hours’ worth of images that are difficult to search through if you need footage for insurance or crime purposes.

So, you probably want a motion-activated system for your home or business, something that you can set to complement known traffic patterns. Movement or a change in condition (window being opened, for example) sets off an alarm that can go to your smart phone or computer, or, as already described, to a monitoring service. Movement can also start a camera that takes still photos or video that you can view on a computer screen in your office or send to your smart phone.

 “What quality picture can I expect?”

The question really is, how much detail do you actually need?

Do you need to be able to recognize faces on a 6 x 12 foot front porch? Or read license plates 30 yards away in the company parking lot? Think about how far away the object will be and the horizontal distance you want to cover.

The more detail you want, the higher the price of the equipment you’ll need. In many cases, however, you do NOT necessarily need the highest quality.

Having cameras with varifocal lenses will allow you to set the same camera for different uses. Some versions are P/T/Z – can be panned, tilted and zoomed remotely, for utmost flexibility.

“What about nighttime views?”

Most cameras have the infrared night vision built in, and automatically switch from day to night mode. Some cameras are paired with separate, motion-activated spotlights to provide the amount of light necessary for filming.

 “Do I hear and can I speak to the person being filmed?”

The porch camera ads on TV show the homeowner telling the intruder to get lost. (Or you hear a friendly dad’s voice acknowledging the arrival of the kids.) Being able to hear and speak to the person who has activated the alarm are again additional features. They will cost more and require more bandwidth in the system.

LEGAL CAUTION: The above paragraph describes SPEAKING to another person via your security system. RECORDING a person without his or her knowledge is a whole different thing!  In fact, Federal Wiretap Laws specifically prohibit recording unless at least one person in the conversation knows recording is taking place. (In California where we live, both parties must be aware of the taping.) So before you invest in a camera with audio recording capabilities, make sure you know the law in your state. You probably don’t want this capability!

OK, so much for the basic choices. Now . . .

“What additional features might I want?”

Some monitored home security systems offer more than just the surveillance and intrusion features we’ve discussed so far.  Options could include:

  • Panic buttons – Press to call for help if you are threatened in your home. Silent alert goes to monitoring service and to police.
  • Life support systems – Press to call for medical help. This is the so-called “life alert.”
  • Fire and CO alarms — These can be added to the system to alert residents and also the monitoring company in an emergency of this type.

And the final important question . . .

“What kind of customer support will I get – and what will it cost?”

If you purchase a stand-alone system through Amazon or any other major retail outlet, you are probably buying from a third-party distributor, not the manufacturer. The amount or quality of support will vary dramatically. Before you buy, make sure you will have access to full documentation, at least, and check on the terms of the guarantee.

If you decide on a monitored service, you’ll want to know even more details before you sign on the dotted line. For example . . .

  • Will the company set an appointment and come to my home/office to do the installation, or am I responsible for installing the equipment?
  • Do I pay extra if they do the installation and set up?
  • Must I buy all the equipment from the monitoring company? What if I already have some cameras I want to use?
  • What is the procedure for repairs/fixes if the equipment stops working?
  • What sort of contract is required? (How many months?)
  • Is there a fee to discontinue the service?

So now, if you’re ready to shop . . .!

Four examples of basic security camera systems

I picked these three best-selling models because they had consistently good reviews while demonstrating the variety of features discussed above. As you can see, prices vary. Click on the images or links for full details and to get exact prices at Amazon.

Zmodo 8 channel wireless system

Zmodo 8CH Wireless Security Camera System – 1080P HDMI NVR with 500GB Hard Drive, 4 x 720P HD Indoor/Outdoor Wireless Cameras Night Vision – WiFi Easy Installation No Video Cables Needed

This model fits the definition of a classic security camera system. Plug in its cameras (or hardwire them), and they transmit wirelessly to the included hard drive, where up to 90 days’ worth can be stored. Watch playback on your computer or, with the Zmodo app, on your phone. The system works outdoors and indoors, day and night. This product has a strong guarantee, and even offers an extended protection plan as well as upgrades. Price for the 4-camera model at Amazon as I wrote this is (rounded) $180. If you want the 8-camera model, add another $80. (Be sure to click on the image below to get the current price.)

Ring Doorbell Pro

Ring Video Doorbell Pro (Existing Doorbell Wiring Required)

Ring has been doing a lot of (good!) advertising, and getting a lot of chatter on our local neighborhood website. So far, people seem very pleased with their purchases. This version, which takes advantage of existing wiring, costs around $250. (You can have it professionally installed, by appointment, for another $125.)

As it suggests, this single camera is installed at your door. If someone rings the bell, or triggers the motion sensor, you get an alert and can see and talk to them using your tablet or smartphone or PC. (You can actually check in any time you like, whether or not someone is there.) The quality of the video is good.

A battery-operated earlier version from Ring is available for around $200. It seems to work as well, although it has a narrow, one-setting field of vision while the Pro model can be set to different zones. Note that this system “protects” only the one entrance where it is installed. Other doors, windows, etc. are not included.

Just added: Ring Cam with Alarm

Ring Spotlight Cam Wired: Plugged-in HD security camera with built-in spotlights, two-way talk and a siren alarm, White

The advantage of this camera is that when it is activated, and you receive the alert on your phone or ipad, you have more options. At night, a spotlight gives you an idea of who has set off the alarm; you can acknowledge the person’t presence or ask a question; if concerned, you can immediately set off a siren alarm.  This version shown is wired permanently into its location. Other styles are stick-on.  Prices start at around $200 for full featured equipment. Note: this camera also works with Alexa.Fortress for business

Fortress Security Store (TM) S02-B Wireless Home and Business Security Alarm System DIY Kit with Auto Dial + Outdoor Siren and More for Complete Home and Business Security

I included the Fortress as an excellent example of a straight-forward home or business security system designed to deter intrusion. This system does NOT depend on cameras. Rather, it is is designed to alert after hours (or whenever you set it) if there is a break through a window or door (guarded by magnetic sensors) or suspicious movement in rooms (armed with passive motion sensors). When security is breached, the system immediately calls a designated phone number (you can program up to 6 different numbers) and sets off a LOUD siren (inside and also outside); you can play a recorded message or custom sound.

To disable the system and enter your building, punch in a code on the keypad, or use a portable key fob.

For home use, there’s a panic button. And you can can call the system anytime and listen in to what’s going on in your home or place of business. Click on the image to get accurate pricing; the system price was around $170 as I wrote this article.

Eight reviews of popular monitoring systems

A reader of Emergency Plan Guide directed me to this excellent resource. (Thanks, Jericka!) It’s a review site that compares eight popular monitoring companies: ADT, Vivent, Frontpoint, GetSafe, SimpliSafe, Link Interactive, Protect America and LiveWatch.

The reviews are long and detailed, and based on experiences with people who actually installed and used the systems. Definitely worth a study before you sign up with ANY security monitoring system.

The link:

If you have experience with any of these systems, or with a different system, please let us know so we can continue to update this guide!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team



Holiday Security Mistakes

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Tempting Christmas window All ready for the holidays?

Here are 3 security mistakes people tend to make at this time of year. Take 2 minutes to check them out. It would be wonderful if you and your family could avoid them all.

  1. Packages are SOOOO tempting!

Sure, you know better than to allow packages to be delivered to an empty house.

Just a week ago I was stopped on the street by a patrolman who showed me a picture of a kid taking a package from a front porch. (The picture had been taken by a home security camera. More on those later.)

And when you’re shopping, take the time to put gift purchases into the trunk of your car. If they won’t FIT in the trunk, at least cover the back seat pile with a dark and preferably dingy looking blanket. Better yet, make an extra trip rather than let packages sit unattended in a parking lot in full view.

And at home, don’t position your tree and all the lovely presents right in front of a window as in the picture above. Someone could break the window, grab the presents and run.

Packages are so tempting — to thieves!

  1. “We’re so proud of our emergency preparations.”

The holiday season often means more visitors to your house. The guy to string the lights on the roof. UPS and Amazon delivery people. All the invitees to your Christmas party!

Every person who comes onto your premises has the chance to take a good look at what you have – and that includes some of your emergency preparedness items.

Your gardener sees the locks, the security cameras and lights you’ve installed. The delivery guy walking past your open garage door sees your tools and the cupboards and shelves packed with food and water. The computer guy you bring in to troubleshoot your new network sees your ham radio set-up, not to mention your laptop and printers.

It’s natural for a visitor to tuck this sort of information away. And in a big emergency, your house might become a target for one of those visitors, now turned desperate.

What can you do to cover or camouflage emergency supplies? Yes, be proud of the sensible steps you’ve taken. But with a bit of creativity you’ll get more of them out of sight. You can be just as satisfied and maybe a whole lot safer.

  1. Take out the trash!

We’ve all read the novels where the criminal is identified because of stuff he puts in the trash. (Harrison Ford left orange peels and fake ID photos in the wastebasket in The Fugitive, remember?)

If you’re making a lot of purchases and getting a lot of gifts, you are going to have more trash than usual. And it may attract the wrong kind of attention.

Save and/or shred receipts or statements that have account numbers. Some receipts for online purchases may show up in your email. Protect them from casual view. Don’t stuff empty cardboard boxes (with pictures of TVs and electronic games and security cameras and drones!) into the trash; break them down and recycle anonymously at the recycling place.

And if you’re traveling during the holidays, make sure newspapers, leaves or other trash doesn’t build up outside while you are gone. That trash, plus a dark and empty house, is a real invitation to trouble. (Ask a neighbor for help, and invest in some timers for lights and/or radios.)

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, don’t you or your kids announce via social media or on a phone message that “We’re away skiing for a week!” Ouch!

We wish you the pleasure of giving, and the excitement of receiving. But we sure hope it’s not spoiled because you overlooked taking these sensible precautions.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We’re writing an Advisory about “Hiding valuables in plain sight.” Sign up for all our Advisories to be sure you get it.



Better Home and Office Security

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

“Who’s that at the door?”

Who is at the front doorIf you hear someone knocking, can you tell who it is without opening the door?

As the days get shorter, more and more of us — business people, parents of busy children, everybody, in fact — find ourselves out and about in the dark. And while crimes can happen at any time, being in the dark certainly gives us less chance to see trouble coming.

I am all for simple and effective security solutions. Here are a couple of improvements we can all consider.

Better Perimeter Security at the Office

If you are alone in the lighted front office, and it’s dark outside, you may wish you had an extra layer of security around yourself.

(Now we’ve written before to business owners about the importance of securing entrances to the business. Upgrading your entire perimeter with mechanical or electronic security devices – fencing, gates, lighting, etc. – would be costly and time-consuming. Of course, it may be worth it to strengthen your insurance coverage and to avoid legal threats. If you’re interested, here’s a link to that earlier Advisory :

But getting back to the convenience and safety of the person alone in the office . . . here is one easy upgrade worth considering.

Add a perimeter alert system.

What is it? It’s a wireless motion detector that sends an alert when, for example,

  • a delivery truck arrives at the freight entrance
  • a car comes through the front gate
  • a person appears at the back door.

The model below looks perfectly adequate and is not too expensive. A brief description is below the image — click on it, or on the link, to get all the details at Amazon. CAUTION: As always, compare prices carefully at Amazon! Prices vary considerably, since vendors set the price they think they can get. And sometimes, they’re looking for a quick sale, and you can benefit!

Wireless Driveway or Entry Announcer

This model has two parts. The motion detector — about the size of a baseball — attaches to a building or wall, where its sensitivity and visual field can be adjusted in a variety of ways to suit the location and your needs. It can send a signal for up to 2,000 ft. to the receiver, generating different tones to distinguish between the different alerts.

The receiver plugs into the wall; the detector operates off a 9 volt battery.

Naturally, you’d have to buy one sensor for each entrance you want to protect.

Would something like this make sense to the person alone at the front desk or in a back office at your workplace?

Better Perimeter Security at Home

Lately we’ve seen more and more internet-driven devices that offer home comfort, and now more home security.

Various companies offer “home security programs” that consist of multiple door and window locks, cameras and a console that connects to a remote monitoring office. You can set the alarm system to work while you’re away, or set it at a lesser level so it’s on at night when you’re asleep. In an alarm is tripped, the monitoring company or the police are called. Typically, these systems require professional installation and have a monthly charge (and a contract).

Again, for this Advisory I was looking for something simpler and less expensive.

Something focused on the front door at your house. 

  • If someone knocks at your front door, do your children automatically run to open it?
  • Do you have to peer through the curtain or a window to see if you can recognize who is there before you open the door?
  • What happens if someone knocks in the middle of the night?

Do these questions make you wince?

If so, you may want to consider installing a video door bell.

You’ve seen the ads. The scary-looking guy comes to the door with a questionable story. Without having to open the door, the mother see who he is, tells him she’s not interested and sends him away.

I took the time to look into these devices. Here’s some of what I learned.

First, there are at least a half dozen on the market. All have the same basic characteristics:

  1. A video camera films your entrance.
  2. The camera is triggered by a motion sensor or a person pressing the doorbell.
  3. The camera connects to your home wi-fi system.
  4. A downloadable app allows you to view the video and also to speak with the visitor via your smartphone or tablet.
  5. You can save and store the video for later viewing.

As you can imagine, different products have variations on these features. So, when you’re shopping, compare with the help of these questions.

  1. Consider the video quality you want or need. And how big is the image? What’s the resolution? The best video camera tends to be the most expensive, of course.
  2. What triggers the camera? Someone actually pressing the doorbell? Or simply approaching the door? From how far away?
  3. How much flexibility do you have in setting up the motion sensor? Range, multiple ranges, sensitivity, etc.
  4. What about its source of power? Is it hardwired through your regular doorbell, or battery operated? Do you have a choice?
  5. How well does the system operate at night or in other low light conditions?
  6. How is the video footage stored? How long? What do you have to pay for storage?

And a couple other things to consider to protect your system from being hacked.

  1. Can you set your own password?
  2. How will the security updates be provided by the manufacturer?
  3. Can you disable remote viewing (and just use your system while at home)?

With all this information in mind, and after reviewing the top doorbell video products, here’s the one that seems to be the best seller. I’d start by looking at it.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro

This model is at the upper end of the price range. It has to be hardwired. Since it looks like a regular doorbell, it doesn’t announce itself as would a mounted security camera. Oh, and it comes in four different colors.

Once again, look carefully at all the models, and at all the prices before you buy. Maybe it could be an early Christmas present?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I’ve written before about outdoor lighting as a security device. When the light outside my bedroom window foes on at 4 am, I am pleased to know it’s working, and to know I can look out and see just what triggered it. That peace of mind is worth a lot — and that’s what I’m trying to achieve with the security recommendations in this Advisory!



Protecting Yourself From Home Invasion

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

(This isn’t the kind of blog post we normally write. But because it’s so much in the news, it seemed important to touch on this emergency situation.)

The more details we learn about the recent home invasion in Washington, D.C., the worse the story gets: loss of property, torture, murder. And a fire set to conceal the evidence.

Home security

Secure enough?

Statistics about the frequency of home invasion are hard to come by. But authorities do seem to agree on some basic characteristics of home invasions, and basic steps to combat and even help avoid them. It just seems smart to review them all.

How does a home invasion differ from robbery or burglary?

Robbers and burglars usually act when they see an opportunity. Their crime typically takes place in public, so they are in a hurry and eager to get away as quickly as possible. They resort to force usually only to escape.

Home invaders are very different.

  • Most all home invasions are perpetrated violently by a team of two or more people.
  • Working together, they deliberately scope out the home and the habits of the family members, planning the crime for days or even weeks.
  • They are looking for people who have something of particular value to steal: money, jewelry, drugs.
  • They look for households where security is lax or non-existent.
  • They count on duplicity, force and intimidation to get into the home and overcome any resistance.

Once inside, they can relax and take all the time they want. In Washington D.C. the invaders made arrangements for money to be delivered, ordered pizza . . . and, of course, ultimately killed the inhabitants before setting fire to the house. Most home invasion robberies result in the death of family members since they have become witnesses to the crime.

What can you do to protect your home?

A home invasion once underway simply can’t turn out well.

So you have to put maximum effort into not letting it happen in the first place.

Recommended measures:

Heighten your awareness.

The better you know your neighbors, the more you and they will know about “what’s normal in our neighborhood.” Get used to noting travel patterns, visitors and their cars. Make note of strange cars driving slowly by or parking on the street. Such behavior could be someone “casing” your neighborhood. Share your concerns with law enforcement.

In an emergency, whether it’s an earthquake, a weather event or a home invasion, your neighbors are the best immediate source of help. Having an active neighborhood CERT group or a Neighborhood Watch program can help bring neighbors together and increase their knowledge and awareness.

Harden your perimeter.

Make sure you have lockable and locked doors and strong, locked windows. A simple door chain or glass door bar is useless in the face of a good kick. And a security system that is left turned off when you are at home is doing no good at all! Keep your system on so a door being opened alerts the house. Know how to use the panic button on the system.

Keep porches and alleyways well lit; check bulbs regularly. Plant bushes with thorns underneath window to discourage people from hiding there or approaching the house that way.
Without becoming totally paranoid, consider what you can do to make it harder for someone to break into the house.

Train your family.

Strong locks and a powerful security system provide no security if family members leave doors unlocked and readily open the door when they hear a knock.

A common ruse employed by home invasion teams is to send someone to the front door pretending to have a package to deliver. (As I was researching this article I read about situations where the “delivery person” was wearing a UPS, a pizza, and even a police uniform.) When the family member opens the door, other team members rush inside, overpowering all residents.

If it makes sense, install a wide-angle peephole in your door and train family members to use it. If you aren’t expecting a delivery, have the person leave the package outside the door and retrieve it later.


Plan with your family about how to escape the house in an emergency – whether fire or home invasion. Practice screaming out a command like “Patio!” or “Garage!” Family members should IMMEDIATELY escape the building through that exit, and not come running to your voice to see what’s going on!

Close yourself in a safe room.

A special interior room can be built as a safe room or “panic room” to protect you from intruders or from natural disasters. It typically has extra strong doors and locks and is stocked with emergency supplies along with emergency communications. If you have firearms, or expect shooting, be sure the safe room has bullet absorbing protection you can get behind, and consider where YOUR bullets would hit if you fire through the door or walls. (The costs of such a room vary widely, depending on location and purpose, and the room is best added during construction. But any bathroom or closet may be suitable for conversion to a safe room.)


Even in the face of probable injury, you must consider fighting the invaders rather than just giving in. Obviously, if you have weapons readily available, use them.

Once your family is totally restrained and controlled, you are out of options. Do everything you can to avoid this.

Are home invasions increasing?

Again, statistics are indefinite.  But it makes sense that as the traditional targets for fast money (convenience stores, gas stations) continue to limit the amount of cash on hand, and to add more surveillance cameras and security alarms, determined criminals will turn to easier targets – homes.

At the risk of being more paranoid than we’d like, it seems that taking a good look at deterring a home invasion just makes sense. I’d be interested to hear your comments on this Advisory.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team