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Home Security Layer 2: Home Improvement Tips

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In Concealment #17, we introduced a layered approach to home security. We discussed the importance of deterrence through community relationships, limiting and controlling access to your property, detecting threats early to increase response time, activating the 911 emergency system, establishing a safe room, and responding with lethal force when necessary. Having established the foundation of an effective home security strategy, we’re going to delve deeper into some of the fundamentals.

In this second part of the series, we consulted with several experts in various fields of physical security to get their first-hand experiences and observations concerning structural integrity. We asked them a series of questions to determine what techniques, tactics, and procedures are used by criminals to defeat physical barriers. Not surprisingly, we found many of their answers have common threads, lending credence to what they each have to say.

home security fence

A chain-link fence with privacy slats shields valuables from view and makes the fence a little harder to climb.

What are the most common techniques criminals use to defeat walls and fences?

Marcus Singletary: When I look at most fences/gates, I evaluate them based on wear and tear, height of the obstacles, and what’s used to secure them. Gates and chain-link fences are normally defeated by simply jumping over them. Other methods include opening unlocked gates or cutting through the chain links with handheld bolt cutters. Wooden fences wear over time, and a couple of broken planks can be manipulated into an entry point.

Securing the entrance of a gate improperly with an incorrect-length screw for a hasp makes it effectively useless. The hasp or door fastener looks secure, but if tested will surely fail. If you plan to use chains to secure a fence or gate, make sure you use a sturdy, heavy-duty padlock that is extremely resistant to physical attacks.

Anti-climbing spikes on top of walls and fences are a great way to prevent burglars from climbing over. They’re also affordable and available on the internet. A six-foot privacy fence will keep eyes out of your property and is a worthy security investment.

Ed Calderon: There is usually a selection process that occurs before the burglary, so you need to be aware of what you communicate to outside observers. Most burglaries are crimes of opportunity, and in most instances, the perpetrators aren’t looking for a confrontation. They look for an easy mark with small transportable valuables that can be fenced or sold quickly. 

home security cactus

A barbed perimeter might not stop a determined attack, but it’s effective in deterring miscreants and casual criminals.

To a savvy burglar, a Glock sticker on your vehicle may be an advertisement that you have valuable firearms in your home. Your social media posts can allow a burglar to track your routines and know when you are away on business or vacation. External visual cues around your home, like an overloaded mailbox indicating you’re away or valuables through your windows, are good target selection indicators for criminals. 

Burglaries usually happen during the day, so it’s important that your home is thoroughly secured before leaving for work in the morning. Even the most fortified home can be pierced through rudimentary social engineering if you aren’t vigilant about whom you allow into your house.

home security chain

Travis Dionne: Most criminals use whatever they have at their disposal to defeat whatever security measure they encounter. It’s harder to climb things that are dangerous, so making a simple climb as treacherous as possible with razor wire or other hazard on top of the fence will deter or slow a would-be intruder. Neighbors don’t always appreciate unsightly security measures, so try to be as discreet as possible.

How do criminals defeat locked doors, and what are some countermeasures?

MS: The most common methods of gaining entry are walking right through the front door, using brute strength (door kicking or body breach), destructive entry with tools (crowbar or tire iron), or walking through the attached garage door. Some homes have glass panels present on the door, which can be broken to open the door from the inside.

There are a couple of effective options to combat forcible entry. The least costly is to replace the 1.5-inch screws in the strike plates and hinges with 3.5- to 4-inch screws. For a little investment, Door Armor Max (available for ~$90 on Amazon) has a complete door reinforcement kit. 

home security tools

EC: Most of the tools that I have seen used to gain entry are small and concealable work tools, such as sledgehammers, crowbars, flat-head screwdrivers, or environmental objects like a rock. Two wedges between a wall and poorly anchored bars on doors or windows can be used to remove the barrier quickly. 

I have frequently seen various noise dampening devices for windows, like towels and a piece of carpet. On occasion I have even seen where criminals will tape up the whole window or affix window tinting to the glass before breaking it to maintain noise discipline. Specialty tools are rare, but I have seen newer professionals use things like cell phone-jamming devices and Wi-Fi killers that are easily sourced online to limit the effectiveness of security cameras and alarms systems.

Another common tool a professional burglar uses is urban camouflage. This could come in the form of disguising himself as a jogger, servicemen, a delivery person, etc. Since most of these burglaries happen during the daytime, they must be able to hide in the open. 

A simple PVC pole in the track of a sliding patio door is an effective and inexpensive backup to the door’s clasp.

TD: In my experience, criminals will usually use a brute force attack. The most common attacks on locked doors in the scenic East Los Angeles area where I live involve some form of prying. They will shove whatever tool they brought along wherever it will fit, whether that’s between the door and frame or the door and the lock handle and pry the door open. If your lock is made of a strong material like hardened or stainless steel and has been tested to withstand these types of attacks, you should have no problems. Make sure whatever lock you’re considering has some form of a grade to it, which should signify that it’s been tested, and make sure your door fits snuggly in the door frame with no large gaps that can be used for prying.

What are some commercial or makeshift products would you recommend homeowners to install or use to increase the structural integrity of their homes?

MS: 3.5- to 4-inch screws for the strike plate and hinges or, even better, a door reinforcement kit are easy solutions that provide a lot of protection against destructive attacks. A “Beware of Dog” sign or security company sign up front in plain view, even if you don’t have either, are good deterrents that make a would-be burglar think twice his target.

home security screws

Above left: Replacing the short screws that come with hinges and latch plates with longer wood screws is a simple way to reinforce your doors.

EC: Most of what I know about this comes from hitting cartel safe houses and drug houses. I saw a lot of insane improvised methods of fortifying doors designed to slow down law enforcement. Burglars usually try to keep a low profile and noise discipline is key for them. One easy, cheap way to fortify a door is with a door wedge, which is easy to kick into place on an inward opening door. There are also specialized door wedges that have a sonic alarm element built into them that will go off when the door is moved.

Plastic surface bolts on sliding doors are better than nothing, but a wooden dowel in the track is a better approach.

A tactic often used in crack houses is to install eye bolts on each side of the door and run rebar through the bolts to create a barricade. Another fast way to barricade the door temporarily is with a long, sturdy nail hammered into a wood floor part-way behind the non-hinged side of the door to prevent it from being pushed open.

A simple wooden dowel placed between the sliding potion of a window or sliding glass door and the frame is another cheap defense against less destructive burglars. The dowel can also be cut short to allow the window or door to be cracked a few inches during the warmer months.

TD: I would highly suggest window protection to any homeowner who wants to increase the physical security of their home. It doesn’t need to be applied to every window. Highly elevated windows or windows that are too small for a body to fit through may not require any additional security. Windows on the backside of a home though, and especially windows on or near doors, should be major considerations when assessing your home’s security. 

Our Subject Matter Experts

Marcus Singletary serves in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantry squad leader. Outside of the military, he teaches lockpicking and other forms of covert and overt entry. 

IG: @skypirate_actual

Ed Calderon’s study into the indigenous Mexican criminal culture, from occult practices to endemic modus operandi, has led him to be recognized as one of the world’s preeminent researchers and trainers in the field of personal security. 

URL: IG: @edsmanifesto

Travis Dionne is a locksmith at a California university. He’s been in this field for approximately 10 years, most of which has been spent in and around Los Angeles. When he’s not working, he spends his time shooting steel and camping with his dog and his girlfriend.


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