Managing Security Expectations

Before we get into the suggestions, ideas, and other modifications I would like to share regarding how to make your home a little more secure, there’s a little dirty secret I am going to let you in on:

The unfortunate truth is that no amount of security will be able to stop someone if they really, really want to break into your house.

The average home wall is, from the outside in, some kind of siding, OSB or plywood, the occasional, spaced-out stud, and a sheet of gypsum.  Coincidentally, battery-powered drills and reciprocating saws are specifically engineered to quickly cut through that stuff.  The only real exception is genuine brick, and you do not see 100% brick homes much any more.

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That sheet of OSB (the blue edge) and one of those sheets of drywall (the white edge) are the only thing between the inside of your house and the outside.

So what good is security, then?  The good news is that most home invaders do not want to be that destructive, so security can delay your potential threat to the point where either you are better prepared to actively deal with it, or law enforcement officers can arrive to assist.  Additionally, it can slow a criminal’s attempts sufficiently that he may decide your house is not worth breaking into, on account of the attention he will receive.

This is why the commercial world treats security like an onion – layers upon layers of different systems, each supporting each other.  The homeowner’s final layer varies depending on the person, but additional measures can include alarm systems, upgraded locks, security windows and doors, lighting, and even landscaping.  Isolated, no one system is truly effective, but when combined they can create a net effect greater than the sum of their parts.

The trick is determining how many layers you need, versus how many layers you can tolerate; as the saying goes, “security is always too much until it is not enough”.  Too many homeowners approach home security from the standpoint of, “Oh, I lock my doors, and this is a safe neighborhood, so that’s enough.”  That is a great start, yes, but without any supporting layers, and without consideration of the specific hardware, those locks are not going to prove to be that much of a hurdle.

For example, if you have a door with glass in it, or a window near the door, putting a single-cylinder deadbolt on it is not the best idea.  All the criminal has to do is break the glass, and he can unlock your house.  However, when a criminal breaks a nearby window and finds no thumb turn thanks to a double-cylinder lock – where you have to use a key on both sides – it will slow him down.

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This double-core lock will prevent a criminal from being able to break the door’s glass and unlock the door.

People can take layers to extremes, though; having to undo and redo seventeen locks on a single door just to leave the house might be a bit much.

One must also consider the safety side of the question; notably, will your protection methods hamper your family or yourself if you have to evacuate your home in the face of a fire?  That double-cylinder lock is great for keeping criminals out, but unless you keep a spare key close – but not too close – to the door, you could be trapping yourself inside.

Which brings us to the last significant concern of security – it only works if you use it.  Having the best locks and security system in the world are only beneficial if you remember to lock them and turn it on when you leave.

Almost worse than not remembering to use a security system, though, is actively circumventing it when it gets in the way.  At a facility I worked at previously, all the buildings were access-controlled by proximity card readers, and one of the buildings had a new whiz-bang rotary door system.  It counted the number of people going through it, would not allow more than one person per card swipe, could not be forced in either direction, and had all the other bells and whistles.  The door was also prone to breaking down at terribly inopportune times, including with people halfway through the turnstile.  Since the rotary door was basically the only door on that side of the building, the employees’ “solution” was to prop open the adjacent handicapped-only door… which completely defeated the point of “access control”.

In other words, you should not only decide that you will consciously use the system yourself, but also ensure it does not either fail in a completely nonfunctional way, or does not provide sufficient nuisance for people to intentionally bypass it.

Before you even start looking at locks, security systems, or anything else, you first have to come to terms with what your security scheme can and cannot accomplish, how many layers of security you are willing to install, and whether you are actually going to use them.

Next week we will start with something simple – an improvement to your house that can make a big difference to the efficacy of your doors and locks, does not require any technical skills, and does not count on you remembering to use it.

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3 comments

  1. Unless you have things like windows on exterior doors.

    Forbid is a strong word. Often they have requirements if you have locks on exits. For example, if you have bars on windows, they may need to have release mechanisms on the insides to allow for emergency escapes. Don’t scare people with words like FORBID if what is really applicable is special rules. After all, it’s your house and unless you live in places where the government has decided that it better more than you do how to run your life, they generally don’t do health and welfare check-ups after you have moved in.

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