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Imagining your family attempting to escape from a home invasion is one of the scariest thoughts there is. Unfortunately in the world we live in, there’s always the possibility that someone could break into your home. The best way to defend yourself is with knowledge about prevention and what to do in an invasion situation.

This guide aims to help keep your family as safe as possible against an intruder. It will go over ways to prepare your family for this kind of emergency, safety measures you can take around your yard and home to prevent invasion, and what to do in the event someone breaks in. Keep in mind that this guide is meant to create a foundation of preparation and education. In the event of an emergency in your home — even if you only suspect there may be an intruder — you should always call 911 for help immediately.

Preparing Your Family

At a Glance

  • Plan all of your possible escape routes: Map out all of your home’s exits, create an escape plan, and practice it with your family.
  • Create a safe room: Choose a small, windowless room in your home to be your safe room in the case that exiting the home safely during an invasion isn’t possible, and stock it with supplies like a flashlight and spare cell phone and charger.
  • Special considerations for children, disabled or senior family members, and pets: Plan ahead for easy access to exit routes for young children, special needs family members, and family pets.
  • Don’t just be a good neighbor, be a wise one: Talk to trusted neighbors about how they can identify signs of trouble in your home, and even consider creating a code word to alert them you need them to call the police.

Plan all of your possible escape routes

You never know when an invasion may occur, but you can certainly be prepared no matter the timing. It can be an intimidating conversation to have, especially if you have children you don’t want to frighten, but you must have it. Compare it to a school fire drill: you practice an emergency situation so that when the time comes, you know what to do. In a true crisis the response will feel more natural, so you won’t forget what to do in the midst of your panic.

To start, map out all of the exits in your home including windows. Make sure your entire family knows how to operate locks on everything, including any child safety locks older children should be aware of. Create an escape plan for each room, and then practice them. Do a mock run-through of the emergency call to police. Go over how to give your name and address to the police, as well as important directions that may help authorities reach you sooner (for example, describing your locations as “the house with the large white porch”).

Your home escape plan should include a safety destination outside the house — in most cases a nearby neighbor’s home — where you can call for help. Go over exactly where to run in the event of an emergency and have controlled practice drills. It’s easy to panic and forget what to do in the middle of a crisis, so going through the motions ahead of time can create a stronger connection to the memory. And don’t forget to let your neighbor know he or she serves as part of the emergency plan!

Create a safe room

You should also designate a safe room — it should be a small, windowless room with a door that can be easily locked from the inside. You can choose to build on and fortify if you prefer, but adding a deadbolt to an interior closet can be a fiscally-responsible alternative. Inside should be a charged emergency cell phone, backup battery, and charger, a flashlight, and even a bullhorn that can allow you to better call for help. Some bullhorns even come with a siren feature that can fool an invader into thinking he’s set off a home security system. Some choose to keep a firearm and extra ammunition in their safe room, as well.

Special considerations for children, disabled or senior family members, and pets

Make sure you have a specific conversation with your children about getting out of the house as quickly as possible. Though it seems obvious, make sure you spell out that they shouldn’t stop to grab anything while attempting to escape from the house — not a brand new smartphone, not a special necklace, nothing. Remind them that objects can be replaced, but no loss is worth their lives. They should also never look for you before attempting to escape; it’s important they know the best way to help is to get themselves to safety and immediately call the police.

You’ll also need to take special considerations if you have any disabled or senior family members living at home. Their rooms should be on the first floor to make exiting as quick as possible, and the safe room should be somewhere accessible (not in an upstairs bedroom if their room is downstairs). You can even create a special safe spot in their room if mobility is limited. A medical alert system is another great way to summon help in an instant and can be worn or kept bedside.

If you have pets, establish that whoever is in the room with the pet should help him exit safely. In the case of multiple pets together (for example, if all of your dogs sleep in your children’s room), assign a pet for each child to look after. Try to keep them close at night so you can grab them quicker in an emergency.

Don’t just be a good neighbor, be a wise one

Talk to trusted, well-known neighbors about your family’s emergency plan. The more quickly they’ll be able to identify trouble in your home, the better. You can even come up with a code word if something is amiss; if your child is too frightened to explain what happened or an intruder is telling you to dismiss the neighbor checking in, a simple code word or phrase can signal that the police need to be called immediately.

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It’s also important to remain on alert at all times. Most of the people you deal with are probably great people, but even the best of us can turn to dark motives if the situation arises. Don’t divulge the details of exactly how your home security system works at the Memorial Day barbecue and don’t be too forthcoming with strangers. A passing interaction about your new TV with a delivery man may seem harmless, but thieves have been known to research potential marks and may even pose as a worker or lost driver seeking directions to get closer to you or more familiar with your home. Be wary of anyone new who enters your home and always check to ensure nothing is left incorrectly; heightened suspicion aside, a guest may not realize he left a door or window open that could pose a security breach.

Do what you can to be modest about your possessions. Don’t leave an expensive piece of art in clear view of the window or the box for a new big-screen TV on the curb for any passerby to see. Keep your garage door closed and all external doors locked no matter the time of day. (If you like to get some fresh air during the day, look into window locks that activate at a given height.) Try to pay attention to the kinds of cars your neighbors drive so that you’ll be quick to spot one that doesn’t belong. If you see a person or car hanging around that seems questionable, make a non-emergent call to the police to have them check it out. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and even if yours was a false alarm, it could be a sign to would-be invaders that suspicious behavior doesn’t go unnoticed in your community.

How to Prepare Your Home

At a Glance

  • Make your presence known: Make sure your home’s address is clearly visible so authorities can find you in an emergency.
  • Keep your yard maintained: An unkempt exterior indicates to criminals that no one is keeping an eye on your home, making it a higher target for a break-in.
  • Install motion sensor lights: They make it more difficult for would-be intruders to conceal themselves, even in the dark.
  • Perform a home security check: Approach your home as a stranger would and check for vulnerabilities: visible valuables, unlocked windows and doors, or an easy-to-spot spare key.
  • Consider purchasing a home security system: It can protect your home by keeping unwelcomed strangers out, and can even contact authorities in the event of an emergency.
  • Hide your valuables carefully: Avoid securing your prized possessions in obvious hiding spots, instead opting to store them in a safe that’s bolted to the floor, or an atypical location like a broom closet or kitchen cabinet.
  • Reinforce external windows and doors: If a lock is easy to pick, you’re more susceptible to a break-in.
  • Lock up: Never skip the process of securing your home before leaving the house or going to bed at night. It only takes one time for an intruder to take advantage of an unlocked door!

Make your house easy to find and identify

Your house address should be clearly visible from the street day and night in any kind of weather so that police and rescue can easily find it. Make it even easier for authorities to spot your house by keeping something distinguishable on your front porch or in your yard — a tire swing on your oak tree or a red chair on the porch, for example.

Be mindful of your yard’s upkeep

A messy, unkempt yard suggests that there’s often no one home, and could make your home more susceptible to a break in. You don’t have to get fancy — just keep your grass mowed and any shrubs trimmed, especially those close to windows. If you prefer to keep hedges high for privacy, use thorny plants that will prevent intruders from getting too close. And those pesky pizza flyers someone stuffed into your front door or porch? Sometimes those are placed by a would-be thief to see how long they go untouched, so don’t let them collect.

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Get motion sensor security lights

The last thing an intruder wants is to be spotted, so make a sneak attack more difficult with motion lighting around the perimeter of your home. Make sure the positioning of the lights eliminates any dark corners outside your home, doesn’t create window glare, and doesn’t shine directly into any of your neighbors’ windows.

Do a home security check to find vulnerabilities around your home

Walk around your property with the eye of opportunistic thief: What valuables are in clear view from the street? Are all external doors locked? What about the windows? Do you have a key hidden in a relatively accessible location? You may even be able to contact your local police department to have an officer come out and survey your property if you feel you need a second opinion.

Install a home security system

Whether you want surveillance cameras or motion detectors, you can find a home security system that fits your family’s needs. Be strategic in its installation — the window over the kitchen sink tends to be a hot spot for entry and a second story doesn’t scare off experienced intruders, so place alarms and motion sensors where they’ll be most effective. If you have decorative glass as a part of your front entrance, don’t place the control panel where it can be easily seen. Make sure everyone in your home knows how to use the system, including how to counteract false alarms. It should be second nature to disarm and rearm the alarm and never skipped, even for a brief trip to the store — thieves don’t take the day off, and neither should your security system.

Be strategic when securing your valuables

The secrets out about the usual hiding places: medicine cabinets, dresser drawers, night stands, under the mattress, and just about anywhere in the bedroom, living room, or dining room. If you don’t have a safe, think outside the box when it comes to hiding your treasures: the broom closet, basement or attic, or even in the kitchen. You can even hide decoys in more obvious places so that you will know where to find thieves during an active break-in and how to avoid them while you make your escape.

If you have a safe, be sure it’s bolted to the ground. Although many think that a state-of-the-art lock system will keep away pesky burglars, most will simply take the entire safe with them when possible. Securing your electronics to a mounted display or entertainment center makes them more difficult to steal and significantly less likely to be grabbed. Lock up your laptops, tablets, gaming systems, and speakers when they aren’t in use and at night, as well as any purses or briefcases.

wall-safe-1044168_1920Bulk up your windows and doors

Each external door should be fitted with a deadbolt lock with at least a one-inch throw. You can kickproof doors by installing a sturdy frame, a deep box strike, or even replacing them with a solid wood, metal, or fiberglass door. Make sure peepholes are low and clear enough that all members of the household can see visitors. Chain locks are a helpful way to help communicate with visitors before letting them in, but be sure the chain is strong enough that it can’t be easily overcome (especially if you have physically disabled family, an elderly family member at home, or children). Windows can be lined with privacy film to blur the outside perspective, or you can really up the security with metal bars.

Lock up regularly

Don’t go to bed until you’re sure everything is locked up. You can even make it the family routine to have each member choose a room or zone to check. If everyone is in the habit of checking doors and windows for security in addition to habitually locking them, your home can dramatically decrease its risk for a home invasion.

Active Intruder: What to Do if Someone Breaks into Your Home

At a Glance

  • Run: This will probably be your first instinct, and you should follow it whenever it’s possible to do so safely.
  • Hide: Your next best option is to find a secure location in your home out of view of the intruder, preferably a designated safe room.
  • Fight: As a last resort only, you may need to confront the intruder.

Run

Your first instinct should be to get out of the house as soon as possible if you think you hear intruders. Perform your emergency exit just as you would in a drill, being extra careful to stay quiet and unseen. Be completely aware of your surroundings no matter where you are, even if you’ve successfully made it outside; you never know if there’s an armed lookout who may try to stop you.

Move as quickly as possible and take cover when you can. As soon as you get to safety, call 911.

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Hide

If you’re not confident you have a safe way out of the home, your next best option is to hide. If you have a family safe room, get there quickly and quietly. You should have a code word amongst family to use when it’s safe to open the door and some way to keep it secure, whether it’s a lock or a heavy piece of furniture.

Use the emergency cell phone to call for help. If you can’t talk for fear of being heard by the intruders, keep the line open and quietly whisper, “Help” or “Send police.” Emergency operators are trained to deal with extreme situations, so they may even give you an alternative way to communicate with them. Some areas offer Textto-911, though a voice call is always the best option if possible. Keep the line open so the operator can hear what’s going on and react with the appropriate extra help — if she hears yelling or gunshots, she can call for an ambulance right away.

If intruders are preventing you from getting to the designated safe room, quickly get somewhere out of the sight and path of the intruder, ideally to a locked closet. Lock or barricade yourself in, turn out the lights, and call 911 if you can.

Stay hidden until you’re absolutely sure the coast is clear, either with your code word from a loved one or confirmed identity of the police. If you have your firearm on you, be sure to let the police know.

Fight

If there is absolutely no other option, you may be forced to fight your intruder. This is a last resort especially in cases where you aren’t certain of whether the intruder is armed.

There is a chance that you can overcome even an armed intruder, but the key is catching him offguard. It’s best if you can overcome him from all angles with a group, but if you’re alone approach him from the side or behind so he’ll struggle to reach you. Aim for blows to the nose, eyes, and throat that will disorient him. Don’t relent until he’s subdued enough for you to get away safely. Choose your moment wisely: a good chance at getting away may not come immediately but instead present itself at the right moment, so stay sharp and alert even if you get caught.

You can even be creative by using what’s around you as a defense. Household cleaners, chemical fire extinguishers, even hairspray can all be used to disorient your intruder and make your getaway.

Never attempt to pull a weapon on an armed assailant who has a gun on you unless you feel it’s truly your last chance. Don’t bargain over any property, and be as cooperative as possible if you get caught. Don’t attempt to follow anyone after they’ve left; instead, focus on making sure your family is alright. Call 911 as quickly as possible.

Though you don’t want to spend your days constantly paranoid of an intrusion, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility. With the proper preparation, home security, and planning, your family can be ready for anything, even a home invasion.