Be Safe

Making a Plan in Case of a Home Invasion

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Someone tried to break into our house last week.  Seriously.

It was about 11:30 pm—my husband was sound asleep, my toddler was tucked in and out like a light, and I was the only one awake (I blame pregnancy insomnia).

I heard a noise that sounded like something falling into a wall, and my first thought was that perhaps our cat had knocked something over and into the drywall.  It happens from time to time, and I wasn’t too worried.

But then I heard it again, and much louder.  It was clearly coming from the back of our house… perhaps our back door.  My intuition told me something was not right.  Who would be outside in the snow in our backyard at this time of night?

I jumped out of bed and turned on the back light.  I couldn’t see anybody, but I could clearly see fresh footprints in the snow leading right up to our back door and then leaving again, disappearing into the dark.

What the heck?  Was it someone in need of help?  If so, why wouldn’t they come to the front door?  I immediately alerted our neighborhood watch, but was so unsure of the person’s intent that I did not call the police. How naive of me.

However, in the light of day the next morning, I could see the footprints leading from back door to back door, hitting the neighbors’ houses, too.  No one reported a break in, so I am guessing that the guy was checking back doors, hoping to get lucky and find one unlocked.

This little incident could have ended so much worse than it did.   Why did the guy turn away?  Because I turned on a light?  Because I dead-bolted the door?   I am really not sure, but I do know that if someone really wanted to get into our house, they would definitely be able to.

It is a good thing we have a plan in place in case of a home intruder—we won’t exactly be winging it if someone does manage to breach the door.   

I highly recommend that everyone have a plan, because burglaries happen.   They are scary, and lack of planning could leave you frozen in shock and reeling for what to do next.  This is not a guide for ways to prevent burglary… that will be in another post.  I simply want to give you a jumping off point for making your own family plan in case the worst does happen.

Burglaries happen!

The first step in making a realistic plan for what you and your family will do if someone breaks in is realizing that this can happen to you.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, a burglary occurs in the US every 18 seconds.  In 2010, there were an estimated 2,159,878 burglaries!   

If you are lucky enough to have never had a break-in, that is wonderful!  However, it would be very ignorant indeed to think this could never happen to you.  Even in nice neighborhoods with low crime rates, you still need to have a good plan, just in case.

Heck, even if you have a security system, armed guards, and a fleet of rottweilers, it is still a good idea to have a plan, though most burglarers will skip over your house.  Prevention is definitely effective.

What is your #1 goal for your home invasion plan?

Some people care so much about their STUFF that they want to create a plan that focuses on asset protection more than anything else.

Let me advise against this.  Your stuff doesn’t matter.  I don’t care if you have a precious art collection or house the hope diamond in your underwear drawer.

A good plan will protect your family, not your stuff.  Let the burglar take what they want—they will get caught eventually.  On a related note… buy insurance!

If your stuff is what is most important to you, your plan will likely include heading the burglar off and confronting him.  This could result in someone getting seriously injured or even killed.

If protecting your family is what is most important, your plan will focus on getting out of the house safely (if possible), or quietly barricading yourselves in a locked room if getting out isn’t an option.

What will you need if someone breaks into your house?

Okay, so we have determined that this could really happen to you, and that your goal is to protect the lives of your family, but what else do you need to think about when creating a realistic and flexible plan in case of a home invasion?

Well… a good place to start is to think about what you will need.   

You need to make sure all your family members are safe.  So sticking together would be an asset to your plan, especially if you have little kids.

You will need to call for help.  Where is your landline located? How about your cell phone?  Is it always on you, or do you keep it nearby where you sleep?  Does everyone have a phone?  Is your phone charged when you go to bed?

You will need a safe space.  Getting out of your house would be the safest option.  How would you get out?  Do you have ladders tucked under the beds that you could use?  Is getting out through the front door even an option, or will you pass the burglar?   

In my house, our sleeping spaces are on the third story, so getting out via a rope ladder with little children isn’t a good option.  So we plan to go with option 2: retreating to a room with a door that can lock where we barricade ourselves in, making it extra difficult for the burglar to break into.

Extra work means extra time, which means he or she is more likely to be caught by police.  Most burglars are quick, and it takes as little as 10 minutes for them to get in and out, so your best defense is making sure that your safe space takes a while to breach.  Another thing to keep in mind when selecting a barricade room is that most burglars head straight for the master bedroom first.  Have more than one room in mind for plans A, B, and Z so that you can be flexible as circumstances change.

You also may want a way to scare the burglar off.  Keep your car keys on your bedside table or in your pocket so that you can hit the panic button.  If your car alarm is drawing the neighbors’ attention, your unwelcome visitor should book it out of there tout-de-suite.

“What if” scenario planning

While creating your home invader plan, it is helpful to ask yourself “What if this happens?”  This exercise keeps your plans flexible and allows you to better think on the fly to adjust to your circumstances.

What if the burglar comes in through the kitchen window, the basement door, etc?  Would that require a change in plans?  What if you are all asleep?  What if your teen is home alone?

Most home burglaries happen between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.  What if you come home to find your house has been robbed during these daylight hours?  (Hint: Get out of the house and call the police.)

What if you are a stay at home mom and someone breaks in during the day when you are home with your children?

Keep thinking of “what ifs” so that you have a well-rounded and very flexible plan for multiple scenarios.

Talk with your family to create a plan that works for everyone.

Discuss your break-in plan with your entire family so that you are all on the same page and everyone can ask questions.   If you keep the plan to yourself, it isn’t much of a plan at all.

Give people jobs if it is appropriate.  For example, my family’s plan A has me going to get my toddler and bringing him into our room at the first sign of noise while my husband calls the police and puts them on speaker phone.  Make sure everyone is clear about their job, and knows that it could change.

If your plan A is to get out of the house, make sure everyone knows where you will meet and what you will do when you get there.

Practice the plan!  I wouldn’t recommend staging a break-in complete with ski masks, etc., because the neighbors might call the police.  However, you could say something like “glass breaking downstairs,” and everyone has to react according to plan.  Practice works better if it is an unexpected surprise (during dinner, just after bedtime, etc).

Don’t make your practice scary for the children, or freak them out by discussing how much danger they would be in during a break in.  This is really counter productive.  Instead, just introduce the family plan, give them a job appropriate for their age, and praise them when they do it well.  For example, a preschooler’s job could be to rock the baby quietly while you wait for the police.

I can’t NOT mention weapons while talking about home invasion…. so here we go…

Don’t grab a weapon unless you are highly trained and your security plan has failed.

Firearms are incredibly dangerous, and you could hurt a family member unintentionally.  Also, if the intruder has a gun on him, as soon as you brandish yours you can bet the bullets will start flying.  If police arrive and you are the one wielding a gun, you could be mistaken for the burglar.

Pepper spray is also not a good first choice, because if you discharge it, everyone in your house from your little newborn to great granny will spend the next couple hours blinded and in tears.

I am an ex law enforcement officer, highly trained in firearms tactics.  I have a gun at home, yet I would not even consider shooting an invader unless s/he was determined to break into my family’s safe space.  You can bet I would be ready to go as soon as we were safely barricaded and the police were called.  But I do not consider my family’s life in danger unless the intruder were to attempt to reach us. This is my opinion, and I am more than comfortable defending it in court if this were to ever happen.  I realize this is an unpopular opinion in most parts of the US, but there it is.

When making a plan for your family in case of a home invasion, it is important to take it seriously, because it really could happen to you.  Make sure your plan protects your family members above all else, prepare ahead of time to make sure you have what you need, practice “what if” scenario planning, and work together with your family to practice your plan.  Hopefully most burglars will be deterred by basic home security, but if someone does get into your house, you will have a plan ready that keeps everyone safe.

Let me know in the comments about any recommendations you have for other families to include in their home invasion planning!

Some quick facts about burglaries in the US

According to the US Department of Justice, someone is home during 28% of burglaries.

Most burglaries don’t lead to arrests (only 13.6%).  Get a home security system with cameras for a greater chance to catch the bad guy.

30% of burglaries are through an open window or unlocked door.  Guess that explains why my visitor was trying every house.   Lock your doors and windows!

Most burglars avoid homes with professional home monitoring systems.  It is worth the investment.

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