A little while ago, the police released this video of a home invasion in Milburn, New Jersey. It shows a man brutally attacking a woman in her home in front of her three year old daughter and with her one-year old daughter upstairs. This footage is explicit and acts as a reminder of something I’ve written about often: only you can protect yourself when violence comes your way. To do that, it is important to have practical information and that’s why I wrote this “How to survive a home invasion” article.
This topic is disturbing for many people because first of all, they rarely (if ever) come into contact with violence. It’s just not a part of their lives and they no longer have the knowledge or skills to handle it. But more importantly, this is a scary topic. Not only does the invader come into your house, he also threatens you or actually does harm you. At worst, he takes your life or that of one of your loved ones.
It’s human nature to want to stick your head in the sand and pretend this problem doesn’t exist. Human nature, yes, but it doesn’t help you survive a home invasion. So the first step in securing your home is accepting that bad things can happen to you there. If you can accept that at a gut level, you’ve taken the first step towards a solution.
Before we go on, take a look at this video so the rest will make more sense. It is explicit and not suitable for work or children.
They caught the bastard, so there is some good news here but even though this is a graphic example of a home invasion, it isn’t the worst one that ever happened. Some are less violent than this one but others are much worse. Please read this last sentence again. It illustrates one of the fundamental aspects of violence:
Sure, there are patterns to recognize and predictions you can make but when that thug enters your home, you don’t know what he’s going to do to you. Nor do you know how he will react to whatever you decide to do. Or how far he’s willing to go to get what he wants.
You just don’t know.
You can’t know.
If you can’t know how it will play out, then I believe it is only sensible to gather as much information as possible, think it through, talk to experts in various fields and form your own conclusions. You might decide that some of the advice I give here below doesn’t apply to you. Or you might tweak it a bit to fit your specific situation. Either way, you can only get to that conclusion if you do some serious studying of the problem so you can decide on a reasoned and thoughtful course of action.
So by all means, don’t look at what I write here as a definitive guide on to how to survive a home invasion. Instead, consider it more as a source of information to get you started on keeping yourself and your loved ones safe in your own home.
How to survive a home invasion
As with any other aspect of self-defense, surviving a home invasion is not about just one thing. It’s about an integrated approach that takes into account a wide variety of factors. In an of itself, one factor isn’t what determines the outcome. But all of them together, especially if you build your home defense in a way that each part reinforces the other parts, is what keeps you safe. I’ll list the factors I believe are the most important but there are others you can add to this list (feel free to do so in the comments section). Like I said before, use this list as a starting point and branch out in whatever direction works best for you and your environment.
You’ll also quickly discover that your subconscious mind gives you plenty of reasons to ignore some of my recommendations: “It’s too hard.” Or “I don’t want to do this.” Or even “I shouldn’t have to do this in my own home.” These are all rationalizations that help you ignore the scary problem. But it won’t go away just because you choose to pretend it doesn’t exist. Whenever you hear that voice inside your head talk like that, take a moment to think rationally: do you really believe you are not capable of taking action on that specific factor or is it just making you uncomfortable to think about it?
Regardless of your conclusion, be honest with yourself as your final decision might mean the difference between surviving a home invasion and suffering the consequences of one. Once you make that decision, your conscience should be clear that you did the best you could with the information available to you. Anything less than that will cause you tremendous grief should the worst happen and you face a home invasion that leaves you and others injured or killed.
Finally, I’ll add some resources at the end of this article if you want more in-depth information.
That said, let’s get started.
A good layered defense starts with continuous gathering of information. Some of that information won’t change often whereas other parts of the puzzle change all the time. So you have to be on the ball and keep track of everything. The good thing about this aspect of your home defense is that it’s easy: there are all sorts of sources of information you can contact easily. Use the internet, news sites or call the police and neighborhood watch organizations to get what you need.
Here are some of the things to consider:
- Know your neighborhood. The better you know your area, the faster you’ll spot it when something or somebody is out of place. For instance, you should know when there is an unfamiliar car or van parked in the street. In and of itself, that’s not cause for alarm but it is a reason to bump your alertness level up a notch. When you see that car parked on your driveway as you come home, then you know it’s time to take action and just drive off while you call the police. The same goes for when that car is in your neighbor’s driveway: you don’t leap into heroic action but you call either your neighbor to check (you have his number, right?) or straight away get in touch with the police.
This kind of information gathering applies to all aspects of your area: who lives there, who visits regularly, when are their gardeners or other service providers around, etc. The more you know, the easier it is to tell when something unusual is happening, like an unknown person hanging around (possibly staking out your house). Once you spot an anomaly, don’t dismiss it. Analyze it, check things out and take appropriate action. In many cases, it’ll be a minor thing you can forget about. But when it turns out something is happening, you’ll at least have more time to act than otherwise would be the case.
- Follow the news. Set a Google alert for “home invasion” and your city, county or town. That way you’ll be alerted if there’s a rise in home invasions near you. You should also keep track of when crime is on the rise, where the bad parts of town are, when the parts start shifting and get closer to your home, etc. Basically, whenever there’s crime in your area, you should know about it. Then you take action to harden your defenses or at the very least, check up on your existing ones.
- Know your first responders. Investigate what the response times are in your area. That way you know how long you have to hold out at the minimum if you make it to your safe room.
- Keep up to speed. New safety and security systems come out all the time. What was once extremely expensive (security cameras) is now almost ridiculously cheap and affordable for most people. So even if certain security measures are too expensive for you right now, check again in a year or so. They might be within your price range then.
The bottom line here is to keep your eyes and ears open. You cannot make good decisions if you don’t have good information. This is just as true for preventing a home invasion as it is for choosing how to harden your home. So gather information and use it.
Harden your home
Now you can get started on the physical defense of your home. This is the part where people usually focus on because it’s easy and comforting: you install a better lock on your door and you feel safe. That’s great but it’s a false sense of security if your windows don’t lock properly. Once again, it is more effective to have an integrated approach and look at how you can harden the security of your entire property instead of only working on the easy parts.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Install an alarm system. Get a good alarm system and then have it on when you’re in the house too. Newer alarm systems can be set in such a way that they only go off when somebody breaches a door or window so it doesn’t have to be an intrusion on your daily life. Though you might still not like to set it all the time when you are home, remember that home invaders often just kick down the door to gain entry. If the alarm is on when this happens, it will go off and act as a deterrent at best. At worst, you have a couple more seconds warning to prepare. Either way, you come out on top.
- Get a dog. Burglars in general and home invaders in particular don’t like dogs. Even a small one can make a lot of noise and attract attention they don’t want. Big dogs can bite the crap out of them, hospitalize them or worse. So if you like dogs, get one that is a good guard dog. Personally, I like German Shepherds but that’s just me.
- Install safety doors and windows. Again, remember that home invasions often start with the guy kicking the door in. If you install a great lock but don’t reinforce the door and door frame, he can still kick down that door. The same goes for windows. Get a professional to take a look at your house and suggest a solution within your budget.
- Secure your fence. People often overlook the outer perimeter of their property but that’s where your safety begins. If you have a fence or hedge, make sure it isn’t easy to get over or through it. My former neighbor did just that: after the third burglary, he put barbed wire in the hedge that lined off his house. It was hard to spot unless you knew it was there and miraculously, his home was never hit again…
- Peep hole. Install a wide angle peep hole in your front door and test it out: see if somebody could hide when you look through it. If need be, make adjustments to ensure full visibility. But more importantly, use the peep hole every single time and drill everybody in the house to do so. A security system that doesn’t get used is useless.
- Camera system. There are many different camera systems in a variety of price ranges so you’re bound to find one you can afford. In my opinion, having a cheap version is better than having nothing because even a cheap one will show you who’s at your door, allowing you to decide to open it or not and what to do next.
- Environmental obstacles. There are some additional things you can do to make a home invasion more difficult for criminals: plant thorny bushes and other obstacles in front of windows so there is no easy access. If you don’t like bushes, there are big, strong plants with razor sharp leaves you can put there as well: climbing over an agave sucks blocky nuts. Use gravel around the house and on the driveway to make it harder to sneak up undetected. And so on.
- Panic room. If at all possible, I would suggest you make a panic room to retreat to when a home invasion happens. You can do this on the cheap by selecting an existing room and hardening the entries and exits to it. Then you place a cellphone and weapons there to call for help and defend yourself if needed. Or you can have a security company install one with all the bells and whistles if you have the budget for it. Either way, you need to regularly drill how, when and why to get into the panic room with all inhabitants of the house or it won’t be of any use to survive a home invasion.
There is a lot more you can do to harden your home but these are some of the basics.
Once you have the previous things taken care of, it’s time to install safety procedures. This means an action or a set of actions you routinely do to prevent a home invasion (amongst others crimes) or specific reactions to specific situations. Procedures work as long as you drill them in correctly. So if you aren’t planning on practicing them regularly, don’t count on them to work when you need them.
- Have your first responders ready. Practice dialing 911 on your phone. It’s easy to do right now as you read this but when you’re afraid for you life and your hands shake uncontrollably, this kind of training can save your life. If response times are slow you might want to put the direct number of the police station, sheriff’s station or that of whatever LEO outfit handles those calls in your neighborhood on speed dial and practice using it.
- Get a safety app. Almost every household has several cellphones in it now. Even young kids have them, so you should use this to your advantage. There are plenty of safety apps available but I recommend this one. It has many features but the one that stands out is that each alarm is monitored by a live person who contacts the authorities in your area. Not free, but worth looking into. Another solution is getting a good cellphone. I don’t know about other phones but my new Samsung Galaxy S4 has a safety assistant built in.
- Keep doors and windows locked. This should be a no-brainer but people still mess up on this front. The goal of security measure is to make it difficult for the criminals to get into your house. Locking all doors and windows at all times does just that. I personally lock the door every single time I come home, right after I get in. I also check my doors and windows every night before I go to sleep. It’s a habit that is easy to cultivate and yields direct results.
- Awareness training. Learn how to use the Cooper Color Code. It’s not a perfect system but it’s a great place to start for people with no training whatsoever. Not everybody is naturally vigilant, nor can everybody get to condition red easily if violence is alien to their lives. The Color Code is a way to handle this but it requires training until it becomes instinctive. In case of a home invasion, that work will pay off in helping you control your fear and adrenal stress (if trained correctly, of course).
- Gatekeeper training. Imagine your house is a castle with a huge draw bridge and as long as it is up, nobody can get in. The gatekeeper decides who gets in by lowering the bridge so he needs to be sure he only does so when it is safe. I use this image to train children on the importance of not opening the door for everybody who knocks and fetching an adult instead; it works. Likewise, have a procedure in place for your entire family about opening doors to give entry into the house. Who can open the door? At what time? When do you need to call an adult? What if there’s no adult around? Etc. Figure these things out and then train them so you all use these procedures without thinking.
- Escape plan. In the case of a home invasion, your goal is to either hole up in a fortified position such as a panic room or to escape to safety. Escaping from your own house takes some planning and once again, training. Figure out how to leave the house from each room and where to go to once you are outside, who to run to, who to call, etc. This is where people often fail to follow up: they don’t have a planned response for surviving a home invasion. Passive defenses like better locks and doors are great and they definitely help. But you should focus just as much on planning for worst case scenarios.
As you work on these procedures, you’ll discover many more. Take a close look at them and integrate what is useful for you.
The home invasion
This is the scary part: somebody has breached your home and is coming at you. Here are some of the possible actions you can take:
- Sound the alarm. Try to set off the alarm, yell to notify everybody in the house that you’re under attack, trigger your security app, etc. In short, try to both warn people on the outside that you need help while also putting everybody inside on guard.
- Escape plan. Now’s the time to put your plan into action. Whether it’s running to the panic room or leaving the house, implement it right away as every second counts. Everybody who lives under your roof should know this plan and have it drilled into their minds.
- Give up your property. If you can’t get away, let them have all the property you own. Don’t fight over it, it’s not worth your life.
- Negotiate/false submission. If they get the drop on you and the invasion keeps going, you might have to do something else. If you can talk (they might not let you or you might be unable to) negotiate for them to take your belongings without any interference from you. Whatever you do, don’t challenge or insult them as nothing good can come of it. False submission is risky though. Do you let them tie you up? Beat you up like the woman in the video? How much are you willing to take before you act? Wait too long and you’ll be unable to react due to injuries, so it’s a decision that has huge consequences.
- Fight. You might react with violence right away as they enter or attack them after they take certain actions. Whatever the case, if you do fight, go all out. Don’t hang back, don’t pull your punches but do your utmost to incapacitate them so they cannot harm you and your loved ones. If not for you, fight for your children if they’re present. However, it is more effective to decide when you’ll fight before it happens. Do scenarios in your head with different variables and decide how you’ll react to them: are you willing to kill to protect yourself? If not, to protect your loved ones? How much of a beating will you take (or let them take) before you act? Ask yourself the tough questions and answer them thoughtfully before the need arises. Making on the spot decisions in an adrenalized state while your life and that of others is on the line doesn’t always work out great. Personally, I have two firm rules: if I am to be taken to another location or if my children are taken away with one of the invaders, I will fight until my last breath to stop that from happening.
There is so much more to say about how to survive a home invasion but I think you get the gist of it: prevent what you can and prepare for the rest. Do so within your own capabilities and make the hard choices before the need arises. Follow up on everything and revise your procedures regularly, check the state of your perimeter and security upgrades, etc. Securing your home against home invasion is an ongoing process, not a one-time deal.
I would like to make two final points though:
- Don’t become paranoid. There is no need to become hyper-vigilant unless you live in a place where this is necessary. If so, you won’t need this article as you’ll already know all this. If that’s not the case for you, try to keep some perspective. Don’t overreact to every sound or minor event you hear or see. It will throw off your instincts when it always turns out to be a false alarm. Instead, learn to recognize what is actually an important issue and act accordingly. Then, your odds of immediately taking the right action when a home invasion happens increase dramatically.
- To live well, live hidden. Everybody needs to make their own choices but I believe there is wisdom in this old proverb. There is no need to paint a bulls eye on your back by flaunting your riches and property for all to see. I’m not saying you should live in a dump if you can afford a nice house. But it’s one thing to do that and very much another to advertise it by flaunting your riches for everyone who passes to see. Again, this is a personal choice you should make and it has both benefits and drawbacks.
Consider these two points along with all the other information here and take some time to digest everything. The consequences of your decisions on this topic can be immensely tragic so I believe you owe it to yourself to do this right: look up some more information and talk to many different people about it. Eventually, you will come to the point where you can make an informed decision on what to do and how to do it. If you can then look yourself in the mirror and say “This the best I can do” then proceed and implement everything. If the worst should happen, this is one of the few comforts you’ll have left.
Like I said in the beginning, this is just an article to get you started in learning how to survive a home invasion. This subject requires a lot more information than I can provide here so I collected some resources for you here below. If you plan on taking action and prepare your home defense systems, you might want to get one or more of the following books.
Good luck and be safe.
How to Live Safely in a Dangerous World by Loren W. Christensen. Lots of self-defense and safety information touching various aspects of daily life, including your home. A good place to start.
Street Smarts, Firearms, And Personal Security by Jim Grover (Kelly McCann). A similar book to the previous one, also includes a chapter on home defense.
Essential Home Security: A Layman’s Guide by Stan Wasilik. This book goes in depth on all the practical aspects of home defense: installing safety doors, securing windows, etc. A great resource for when you’re ready to start making changes.
Practical Home Security: A Guide to Safer Urban Living by Alex Haddox. Another practical book to help you secure your home. Basic stuff but all important.
Charles James says
Dennis Dilday, D.C. says
Good stuff. Thought provoking. Thanks Wim.
Jake Steinmann says
Nice post Wim. I’ve seen a few things pop up about this (including a few people who took this as an opportunity to try and sell their system or training). This is just sharing good info.
Thanks Jake. I’m a bit at a loss though: what have you seen pop up?
I received an email from one trainer who claimed that if the woman in this video had only known his system, she would have fought back the attacker. Another one on Facebook who said that this video demonstrated the need for his particular fitness system.
I’m all for thoughtful analysis, but using this as a marketing piece makes me a bit sick.
Wow, that’s pretty sad.
I should be really clear, btw, I’m not accusing you of doing that. I liked this piece a lot.
No worries, I didn’t think it was on me. I was just curious what kind of silly stuff people were using my article for. It’s sad to see them taking it to the “Buy my stuff!!!!” level.
nice posting man. hopefully it will open a few eyes.
this is a topic that i have been asked about in the recent memory while teaching martial arts. i really do not believe that you can ever possess the kind of diligence that would make you perfectly safe at home. hell, were else would you go to feel and relax? i hope this piece encourages people to better understand the threat that is out there.
well done wim.
Thanks, glad you liked it.