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When you think of providing security for your home and family, one of the first things that comes to mind is an alarm system.  Security companies make millions of dollars each year on residential alarm installations, and monthly fees for continuous home monitoring applications. For some, it is the peace of mind that their home is safe and thus worth the investment.  But is this the only area that should be addressed?  Are there other deterrents that can be applied before criminals attempt to break into your home? The short answer is yes, and understanding the three lines of home defense can add multiple layers of protection to help thwart criminal activity before its standing in your doorway.

Types of Alarm Systems

First lets talk about alarm systems. There are a variety of alarm types designed for different environments.  The most common alarms installed in homes and businesses today are:

  1. 1.Motion Detection - Designed to identify activity by detecting motion. Commonly used in hallways, garages and entryways. Some more advanced detection triggers can also identify heat sources.

  1. 2.Contact Break -  Applied to windows and doors, this type of alarm triggers when two contact points are broken.

  1. 3.Glass Break - Often used in commercial applications, this alarm triggers when a circuit connection is broken (i.e. glass is smashed).

  1. 4.Hold-up - Used in retail and financial businesses, it is usually activated by an employee during crime such as robbery or other breach of peace (Not to be confused with panic alarms available on most residential systems).

Additionally, video surveillance is also a great option, and smartphone/computer monitoring and activation applications are now one of the most used devices for alarm system operation. Alarm systems are often sold in packages ranging from around a thousand to several thousand dollars depending on how elaborate you want to go. 

Here’s where we get to the issue. Relying only on an alarm system has it’s problems. They are contingent upon other factors like user operation, weather/power outages and even improper installation. And the majority of systems are designed to identify a problem AFTER access has been breached on the perimeter (i.e. glass break or open door) or interior (motion).  They do little to deter criminal activity on the front end (a little sign on a wooded stick doesn’t scare anyone regardless of what the security company says). It can in some cases produce a false sense of security rather that a layered defense you should enjoy around your home.

By applying additional defense strategies, you then rely on the alarm system as a final layer of protection rather than your only form of intrusion deterrence and detection.

Crime Prevention

Criminal activity associated with residential areas are usually traditional crimes such as burglary, theft, criminal mischief and recently robbery/home invasions. Criminologists have long studied the behavior of individuals involved in criminal acts and have established that there are three basic elements to crime: Desire, Ability and Opportunity.

There is nothing we can do about the first two (despite what the pro-rehabilitative folks say), however we can have a great impact on the third by hardening our home defenses.  Because criminals act on opportunity, when we make the cost too high or the effort too great to act, guess what happens? They move on to an easier target.

Understanding the Three Lines of Defense

Like the elements of crime, home security can also be divided into three categories: 

  1. 1.Perimeter - Fences, Landscaping (shrubs) Lighting.

  1. 2.Exterior - Physical Barriers, doors, windows, roof, etc.

  1. 3.Interior - procedural control (using locks, maintaining keys, knowing how    to operate alarm system).

Security barriers also help strengthen defenses when applied.  These could range from psychological barriers such as installing motion detection lighting to your property, to perceptual barriers like light timers, mail pick-up and lawn mowing when on vacation.

What’s the goal? Create a balance of protection and deterrence using all three line of defense working together.

Target Hardening Strategies

Strengthening your home defenses can be costly, so it may take time depending on what areas you want to improve upon. But if you plan on making home protection a priority, here are some tips to consider:

  1. 1.Check doors and windows for structural integrity - focus on hinges, rotting wood, types of doors for area of house (steel door vs wood; frame type, etc.), handles and latches in proper working condition, locks in working order, keys and who all has them and also frame condition.

  1. 2.Effective Lighting - proper lighting is a psychological deterrent and prohibits camouflage, enhancing your ability to observe movement. Make sure it covers areas around the property with no gaps or glare, is convenient to maintain and operate, so making detection is of activity possible.  Light timers are also great both inside and outside.

  1. 3.Tactical Landscaping - Make sure shrubbery, plants and trees do not obstruct visibility for you to identify activity outside the home.  Keep them trimmed and low, tight to house if possible to prevent concealment by criminals.

  1. 4.Vacation Checks - Summer is here and most of us go somewhere for a few days, others maybe a week or two.  It is important that perceptual barriers are used when you leave your home for an extended period.  This includes stopping mail and paper delivery, even arranging having the grass cut. If you’ve asked someone to watch your home while you’re away, have him/her use lighting techniques inside the home.  Even more, move your vehicle (if you’re leaving one) around to appear that you’re home. Some police departments offer vacation checks, but be advised it is usually a courtesy only, and done at the discretion of the department as time and resources permit.  Bottom line- it’s nice if they can, but don’t count on it.

  1. 5.Instruct members of your family on how to operate alarm system - This includes arming/disarming, panic, error codes, passwords for security company in case of accidental alarm activation and identifying codes for different areas of the house.  For added security, change passwords and codes periodically.

  1. 6.Do a key count - Make sure all keys are accounted for all existing locks. If in doubt, change lock and distribute new keys.  Do not hide keys around home.  Criminals know this and look for them.

  1. 7.Arm Yourself - I am a big believer in responsible firearm ownership, and for many this option can be an added level of defense with the proper training and education.  Proper storage when not at home is also vital, because a stolen gun is a problem for everybody.   Finally, knowing the laws (such as the Castle Doctrine, Duty to Retreat and Stand Your Ground Laws) and which apply to your state when in your home, vehicle or walking about are absolutely a must.

  1. 8.Have a Plan - Whatever level of home security you ultimately decide to implement, have contingencies regarding common problems and even uncommon problems you may face.  Playing the “What If” game with others in the home is a good way to keep everyone prepared to not only act, but to act together should an emergency or other incident occur.

Finally, if you are still unsure of how to properly target harden your home, consider a Home Security Survey.  This is often done by security experts and even some law enforcement agencies, and will help you with recommendations on what to do.  Contact us at for more information. 

By James P. Rega II


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