Recently, I talked to you about Planning Your Home Defense Strategy. In that article, I mentioned the need to harden your home; giving some ideas about how to do that. I'd like to take some time now to go more into depth on how to do that. Proper hardening of your home can make a huge difference in your ability to defend yourself and your family, both on a day-to-day basis and in the wake of a disaster.
We must start with the realization that conventional ideas about home security are worthless. They are all based upon the assumption that locks only keep honest people honest. Most people accept that bit of wisdom and hope that the bad guys will just leave them alone. While I can accept that there is some truth to that statement, I also recognize the hidden flaw in it. That is, if that's all that locks can do, we need to find something better than locks.
The fact of the matter is that based on national averages, statistically every home in the country will be broken into about once every seven years. Of course, that's an average, which means that some people will never have their home broken into, while others may have their home broken into every year.
Nevertheless, the simple fact that those are the odds seems to me like enough of an incentive to make my home more secure. On top of that, there is the potential for looting and even worse, in the wake of a disaster. This isn't something just made up by Hollywood and it's not just fear mongering. Looters and other criminals come out of the woodwork in the aftermath of a disaster.
Just look at Hurricane Katrina if you need evidence for that. Crime was so rampant in the city of New Orleans, that government officials felt forced into declaring martial law. As part of that, they decimated the Second Amendment, confiscating guns from law-abiding citizens. Why? Because crime was so rampant, that it was dangerous for the police and rescue workers. The confiscation of guns was an unsuccessful attempt to make things safer for them.
Keep in mind that Katrina wasn't really a life-threatening disaster. Yes, people died in it and yes it did a lot of damage. But it wasn't the type of disaster that eliminated food sources on a long-term basis; nor was the situation so desperate that people couldn't leave the city to go someplace where they would have food, water and the other necessitates of life.
Desperation, as it is said, makes people do desperate things. So, when Hollywood portrays people killing one another over food in the wake of a major disaster, it's actually rather realistic. Without the restraints that the law places on us, mankind can quickly revert to our base instincts. In that, it is the strong who will survive. Unfortunately, that usually means those who are most willing to use violence to further their aims.
So, on top of the risk of normal everyday criminals and even the criminals that surface in the wake of a disaster, there is also the risk posed by a major disaster, one that could threaten our very existence. In such a case, you can be sure that your home's defenses will be critical to your survival.
Start with a Layered Defense
Military theory has a lot of ideas which can be helpful in defending your home and family. While not everything that the military does can be easily adapted to a home situation, one of the most useful theories is that of a layered defense. Properly created, a layered defense gives the defender (in this case, you, the homeowner) a distinct advantage in any attack.
I'm not real sure how long the concept of a layered defense has existed, but it was clearly in use in the Middle Ages. Castles were designed with the concept of layered defense in mind, and the best castles usually had more layers of defense. This gave the defenders more time to defeat the attackers, while at the same time, giving the royal family a chance to escape, if necessary.
Early American forts were built with this same idea in mind. I remember visiting Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain a number of times, as a child. This fort, built in Northern New York state, was intended to serve as a protection from attacks out of Canada, long before the United States was a nation. At that time, the French built it to protect from attacks by the British, but during the Revolutionary War it was used by the American Army to protect from attacks by the British.
Fort Ticonderoga is a rather small fort, consisting of a central keep, with several forebuildings surrounding it. These in turn are surrounded by two separate retrenchments, an inner one and an outer one, from which the troops could fight, before retreating to the forebuildings and eventually to the keep. The last stage of defense, if the walls of the keep were breached, were from the various low towers of the keep itself. This gave Fort Ticonderoga a total of five layers of defense, making it hard to breach.
Granted, you can't really turn your home into a fort or castle, and in truth, it probably wouldn't be a good idea. Even so, you can provide yourself with various layers of protection and stages of defense. If you have a lot of land, you can do so even better.
The idea is to have a series of barriers and fighting positions which allow you, the defender, to retreat slowly, fighting from each succeeding position. At the same time, it provides a series of obstacles which the attacker must fight through, in order to get to you. This gives you more time to kill off attackers and the attackers more time to realize that it will be too costly to defeat you, and turn away.
In a normal suburban home, you should be able to create the following layers of defense, working from outside to inside:
- A checkpoint at the end of the block or entrance to the neighborhood
- Your property line
- Your home's exterior wall
- A safe room
If you own a large piece of property, you could add a retrenchment, creating a fifth layer of defense, by simply digging a large ditch around your home or building a berm (a long pile of dirt) surrounding your home; in either case, working something like a moat of old. If you only have one or two possible directions of attack, it wouldn't need to surround your home, but merely be on those sides. However, since most of us don't have that much land, that's immaterial.
Establishing a checkpoint requires working together with your neighbors. You alone don't have the legal right to block off the end of your street and limit access. However, in a time of crisis, if you can get your neighbors working together, you can establish a group defense. In such a case, establishing a checkpoint or even a blockade at the end of your street is practical.
Of course, you'd want to make such a blockade defensible, not just visual. Even if your neighbors don't think it's necessary, take the time to build defensive positions, which anyone on your side can use to shoot from. The last thing any defender should ever do is shoot from the open, that's the risk that the attacker takes, it shouldn't be yours.
The second advantage of this is that it moves the battle away from your home. Rather than fighting attackers inside your home or even in your front yard, you would be dealing with them before they come near your home. That increases the safety margin for your family.
Finally, working together increases the number of defenders there are, even if they are not all well armed and well trained. Your attackers probably won't be well trained either, although they may very well be well armed. Nevertheless, having a group of people defending together increases your available firepower, as well as making it possible for you to shoot, without turning yourself into a bullet magnet.
As a general rule of thumb, you can't take any defensive action until people are on your property. The law allows you to use deadly force in self-defense. But proving it is self-defense, when they aren't even on your property, is difficult at best. Therefore, this is the point where you move from passive defense to active defense.
There is little you can do, which will effectively keep any attackers from crossing your property line. The best you can do in most cases, is to make it difficult, slowing them down. Even this is limited, because the things you would use to make it difficult also advertise to any looters that you have something worth getting to. A cement wall or even a strong steel fence sends the message that you are trying to keep people out, which my inference means you have something inside worth getting to. Regardless of what that is, they will interpret it in the light of their needs and desires.
There is one other thing that your perimeter can do for you, and that's shape the battle. Properly designed, a good perimeter steers any attackers towards entering at points of your choosing, so that they end up where you want them to be. That's useful, as it allows you to create a very effective ambush.
Your most important defensive layer is the exterior of your home. This is the point you don't want any attackers to breach. Therefore, you must invest the time and money into making the exterior of your home hard to get through. More than anything, this means making it hard to get through windows and doors. We'll talk more about this in a minute.
When I'm referring to a safe room, I'm not referring to it the same way that most people do. A typical safe room is a secure room with bulletproof or bullet resistant walls. The idea is that the family can use it as a place to retreat to during a home invasion, awaiting rescue by the police.
That might work fine in a home invasion during normal times, but it won't do you much good in a time where law and order breaks down. Without the police to come rescue you, retreating to such a place would only pin down your location, so that the attackers could find you and finish you off. Therefore, I am not in favor of such safe rooms.
Rather, the safe room should be someplace you can use to make a last stand, before escaping. As such, it needs to be bullet resistant, affording you some level of protection while fighting. At the same time, it needs to have an escape hatch, which you can use to get away, after beating off one attack from the relative safety of that room. Regardless of how successful your defense is to that point, if the attackers get you to that point, it's time to get out, unless you manage to kill the last of them.
Protecting the Entrances of Your Home
Statistically, the front door of a home is the most common entry point used by criminals. That is followed by first floor windows and then the back or side door. Second floor windows and doors are rarely used, although you shouldn't totally ignore them, especially if they are easy to get to. If you think about that order, it actually makes sense, especially considering the laziness of most criminals.
Part of the conventional wisdom about home security comes from the fact that 30 percent of all burglars gain access to the home through an unlocked door or window. So putting in good locks and using them, will reduce that category of crime. However, that's not all we're concerned about.
Burglars want to get in and out, without attracting attention. Therefore, they look for those open doors and windows. The last thing they want to do is be seen kicking open a door or throwing a rock through a window. Those actions are noisy and attract attention; attention that is often followed by a call to the police department.
But burglaries aren't the only thing we're concerned about. They are only one category of crime, and in reality the least dangerous. Ideally, we want our home protected from a marauding gang of hungry people, looking for food to steal and women to rape.
So, what we want to focus on is making doors and windows harder to break through. You're never going to make them impossible to break though, but you can do a lot to make them hard to break though. That will delay the attackers, possibly reducing their ardor. At the same time, it gives you time to react and take active measures to defend your home.
Your front door is the single most important place to secure, as it is the number one entryway for any type of criminal activity. This will probably remain so, even in the wake of a major disaster.
The average front door can be broken into with a well-placed kick from a booted foot; even if it does have a deadbolt. That's because the weak point in that door isn't the door or lock, it's the door frame. The deadbolt is going into a piece of 3/4" thick pine, and the hole for the deadbolt is only 1/2" from the edge of that board. So, when the door is kicked, the deadbolt breaks through the frame and the door springs open.
A lot can be accomplished by simply making it impossible for someone to kick open the door. There are several ways of doing this:
- Replacing the wood door frame with a metal one. This usually requires a metal door as well, which may not look all that attractive on your home.
- Replacing the existing striker plate with a security striker plate. This is a longer striker plate (about one foot long), allowing the force of the kick to be spread over a larger area. However, the best security striker plates aren't the ones you buy, but one you make yourself. All you need is a piece of 1/8" thick by 1" wide strap steel, three to four feet long. Cut holes in it for your door lock and deadbolt, and drill countersunk holes for the mounting screws. This far exceeds the strength of a commercial security striker plate, as well as spreading the force over a larger area.
- Replacing the normal mounting screws for the striker plate and hinges (which are 3/4" long) with 3-1/2" long ones. This is long enough to go through the door's frame and into the structural studs behind it. So, the screws won't pull out when the door is kicked.
- Use a door security bar. This is a metal bar with rubber ends, intended to prop under the doorknob and brace against the floor. It's like the old idea of propping a chair under the doorknob, making it hard to push the door open.
- Add a "door club." This is a device that attaches to the floor and braces against the bottom of the door. As such, it is not visible, even if they break out a window. It is like having another deadbolt going into the floor. But like the security bar, it has to be put in place once the door is closed.
- Install security hinges to replace the standard ones. These have a tab in one leaf, which goes into a hole in the other leaf when the hinge is closed, acting like a mini-deadbolt. Installed with the longer screws I mentioned earlier, it makes it all but impossible to kick open the hinge side of the door.
Of course, for the best security, you want to use a combination of these ideas. You can actually use them all together, making your door extremely hard to break though. Short of driving a truck through the door, it's unlikely that criminals would get through with anything less than explosives.
One other thing that you might want to consider for your front door is the old-fashioned idea of barring the door. While not practical on a day-to-day basis, during a time of crisis, barring the door might be the most effective way of ensuring that nobody can break through it.
The hardest part of barring a door is that you need brackets to hold the bar. Those have to be well anchored to the wall, with something like large lag screws, which won't tear out of the studs easily.
For the best possible brackets to bar your door, attach them to the sides of the studs, protruding through the drywall on the inside of your home. That way, any force applied to the door and transferred to the bar will be trying to break the fasteners, rather than trying to get them to pull out. While installing them like this is difficult, especially finishing off the drywall neatly, it is the strongest thing you can do.
Windows are extremely hard to secure, because they are made of glass. As anyone who has had a glass slip from their fingers and crash on the kitchen floor knows, glass is very fragile. So the idea that putting a lock on a glass window will make it secure is somewhat lubricous. All anyone needs to get through a locked window is a rock, hammer or baseball bat.
This makes windows a real security problem, especially if you want to keep your home looking nice, while making it secure. There are basically three options you can consider:
- Window security film
- Burglar bars
People who live in hurricane zones know all about putting plywood over their windows. While unsightly, it does provide some fairly robust protection. In a crisis situation, where there is a breakdown of society and a chance of being attacked by a hungry gang, putting plywood over windows makes sense. Not only does it offer protection, but it will help make your home look abandoned.
Window security film is much like the tinted film that is put on car windows, as protection from the sun. The two differences are that it is much thicker and it is clear. These films range from 2 mil thick, all the way up to 12 mil thick. Obviously, the thicker ones are better. Attached to the inside of the window, the film works to hold the window together, even if the glass is broken, much like the inner layer of a car's windshield works.
While window security film won't make it impossible for someone to break in, it will make it take them a long time. The only way to get through a window that has security film in place, is to break the glass out of the frame, all the way around. That's doable with a hammer, but trying it with a rock will leave an attacker with cut up hands.
The other advantage of this film is that it is invisible. From the outside of your home, there's no way to tell that you have security film on your windows. It's even hard to spot from the inside, although you can see it, if you know what you're looking for.
Ultimately, the best protection comes from installing burglar bars over your windows, either on the outside or the inside. I actually lived in a home that had both. I guess the landlord was paranoid.
There are two general types of burglar bars you can buy; off the shelf and custom. The ones you can buy off the shelf in a home improvement center are made of a light caliber metal tubing and are adjustable by one piece of tubing sliding inside another. They aren't as strong as the custom built ones, but are considerably cheaper.
Custom built burglar bars are made in a welding shop. While not common in much of the country, they are fairly common in the Southwest, where there is a lot of Mexican influence. Being custom made to fit the windows, they are much better, stronger and usually more attractive. Some welding shops are quite creative, making some very nice burglar bars. However, they are also much more expensive.
If you choose to install burglar bars over your windows, don't forget any windows you have in your doors. A well-locked door with a window in it is still vulnerable, as long as they can break out the glass and gain access to the home.
Sliding patio doors, like windows, are glass. Therefore, they have the same vulnerabilities as windows do. The conventional wisdom of putting screws in the top track and a piece of wood in the bottom track are just there to keep burglars from popping the door off its track. They won't stop a serious attack, any more than any other glass window will.
The best solution for a sliding glass door is to replace it with a standard entrance door. However, many people don't want to do that, because they are concerned about being able to see their children playing in the backyard. That's a legitimate concern and must be balanced against the home's security.
Barring replacing, any of the options used for windows can be used for sliding glass doors as well. Welding shops that make burglar bars can also make a gate to go over the sliding glass door, providing the same level of protection. With that gate locked, about the only way a criminal is going to get in is to back a pickup truck up to the door and tie onto it with a chain.
Second Story Entrances
The same ideas that work for your first floor entrances, will work just as well for the second story, perhaps even better. Most second story entrances don't have much in the way of easy access; so they aren't really much of an issue. But don't just count on that, check.
Take a good, critical look at your home, seeking out the places where the second story windows or even a balcony are easily accessible. We've all seen people access second story windows and balconies in the movies. While being Hollywood's rendition and therefore inaccurate, the idea that it can happen is quite real. Some break-in artists are quite athletic and capable of getting on a first-story roof, in order to access a second-story window or balcony.
What About the Walls?
Generally speaking, criminals aren't going to try to come through the walls of your home. However, I need to add a caveat to that. In the aftermath of a disaster, there's no saying what a desperate person might do. I won't even try to predict it. Some might be so desperate as to try and drive a truck through the wall of your home, just to get to your food stockpile.
While I'll have to say that the possibility of that actually happening is extremely low, I won't discount it all together. If it is possible, then someone may try it sometime. But, it's fairly easy to defend against. All you need is to build one foot tall, two foot deep planters around your home, especially in areas where it is possible for a vehicle to approach. That would make most vehicles bog down, before they get to your wall.
But there's another thing I want to mention about walls; that's how they hold up to bullets. The saying was that a .44 caliber bullet, as used in the Old West, could pass through six inches of pine. While few people carry around a .44, we have many other cartridges today, which can probably do just as well, if not better.
A normal home's wall (with siding) isn't anywhere near as strong as six inches of pine. So shooting through the wall of most homes is a rather simple exercise. Maybe they can't see where you are, but they can still make it quite dangerous for you.
Bricks are fairly good armor, at least against pistol rounds. A normal brick wall will stop most bullets fired from a handgun, except for the larger magnum rounds. Nor will they work against rifle rounds. Pretty much all rifle rounds, except for .22 LR, will go right through a brick wall, creating shrapnel from the brick.
So, you'll need to do something to armor the fighting positions you're going to use in your home. This usually means armoring the walls below windows, as windows are the easiest place to fight from. You can do this either by putting 1/4" of ballistic plate on the inside of the walls, installing bullet-resistant fiberglass wallboard in the place of the normal drywall, or putting a wall of sandbags below the windows, when and if the time comes that there is a breakdown in society.
A one foot thick wall of sandbags will stop any rifle round, except those from the most powerful sniper rifles. They are even fairly effective against machine gun fire, although repeated hits in the same spot will weaken the sandbag wall to the point of failure. Of course, larger caliber (.50 cal) machine gun rounds will do this faster than light machine gun fire will.The average home's floors will support a three foot high, one foot thick sandbag wall. That should be enough to provide you with protection from rifle fire. It's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than just counting on the wall itself.