Residential Security: A Layered Approach
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
The peaceful atmosphere of Los Angeles’ affluent Beverly Grove neighborhood was shattered early on the afternoon of August 17 when a masked intruder barged into the home of a 71-year-old woman.
The masked man drew a handgun, pistol-whipped the woman, and then restrained his stunned victim with zip ties before making off with some 200 hundred high-value watches that were reportedly worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The woman was a jewelry dealer, and the home invasion robbery appears to have been a targeted crime.
The violent Beverly Grove home invasion was merely the latest in a string of high-profile home invasion robberies that have affected Los Angeles in recent months.
This specific robbery illustrates that these robberies can happen at any time of the day and even in the nicest neighborhoods.
These robberies also have people asking about residential security, so it seems like an appropriate time to examine this topic.
First Things First
Before beginning to design and implement any security program, it is important to first conduct a thorough baseline threat assessment.
For a residential security program, the baseline assessment should provide a thorough understanding of the security environment where the residence is located, as well as the current and historical trends for crime, terrorism, and civil unrest in the nation and the city.
Clearly, the threats associated with terrorism, crime, and civil unrest in Los Angeles are different from those in Lagos, Nigeria.
The assessment must not focus solely on the threats posed by criminals and terrorists.
Threats posed by civil unrest, violent protests, martial law, or government-imposed curfews that could leave residents isolated and, perhaps, without basic supplies and services should also be considered.
A good residential security plan will provide for self-sufficiency in case of disruptions to infrastructure and transportation, as well as a plan for evacuation.
The assessment should cover the specific security environment of the neighborhood as well as the strengths and vulnerabilities of the residence itself.
As illustrated by the Beverly Grove home invasion, the contents of a particular residence can determine how likely it is it be targeted.
The effectiveness of local law enforcement and emergency response personnel must also be evaluated.
Security plans must account for situations where the police are unlikely to respond in a timely manner—or not at all.
This is particularly applicable to people who live in remote areas, where it may take hours for first responders to arrive.
The layout of the property the residence sits on, and the geography of the neighborhood around it also play important roles in security assessments.
Some areas are attractive to criminals and potential attackers because they offer easy access to the neighborhood from the outside and easy escape from the neighborhood after a crime.
Neighborhoods with trees and bushes, abandoned houses, vacant lots, and busy roads help those engaged in hostile surveillance to blend in.
Local ordinances or homeowner association covenants that restrict the construction of fences and walls, or the use of other security measures, such as window grates or exterior lighting, should also be considered in the baseline assessment.
Once the assessment is completed, then residential security planning can begin.
Concentric Rings of Security
Effective residential security planning utilizes a layered approach that begins on the outside and works in.
When assessing a property, generally think of it as having five rings of security:
- The area around the residence outside of the property line
- The property line
- The outer perimeter of the grounds or yard
- The exterior of the house
- A shelter inside the house
These rings should be designed in a manner that will deter a criminal or intruder and cause them to select an easier target.
But if the criminal is not deterred, the objective is to detect and then delay them until first responders can arrive.
The First Ring
Police provide the first ring of protection for most neighborhoods in developed countries.
In some places, the police are augmented by the efforts of neighborhood watch programs.
In more affluent locations, private security personnel can also provide protection in the first ring either as roving patrols for the entire neighborhood or residential security teams at the homes of residents.
If possible, the streets in this first layer should be well-lit at night to discourage criminal surveillance and activity.
The Second Ring
The second ring starts with a clearly delineated property line, which should be marked as private property.
When possible, the property line should include physical barriers, such as walls, fences, or hedges, to discourage casual or accidental intrusion.
When it comes to these barriers, aesthetics and the environment must be considered.
My residence in Guatemala was surrounded by a ten-foot wall topped with razor wire, but this type of perimeter would not be acceptable or appropriate in many neighborhoods in the United States or Europe.
However, there are some very attractive anti-climb fences on the market that can be augmented by systems to detect if the fence is being cut or if someone is attempting to scale it.
There are also some very good systems that can be used to detect movement that crosses a perimeter line.
CCTV systems are also becoming more capable and affordable.
Some of the CCTV systems have infrared or thermal capability, and the software packages on some systems can help discriminate between animal and human movement – a plus in areas with lots of deer or other wildlife.
In particularly dangerous environments or in case of a serious threat, security personnel should patrol the outer perimeter.
These can include armed or unarmed security guards who are on foot or in patrol vehicles.
Guard dogs also make excellent patrol and detection assets, especially when paired with an armed handler.
The Third Ring
On a large residential property, there may be quite a bit of distance between the outer perimeter and the residence.
In many cases, there will be an additional fence or wall delineating the yard from the rest of the property, and this wall or fence forms the third ring of defense.
Often this area will be better lit than the rest of the property.
In a tightly packed urban environment, there may be only a few feet between the property line and the outer walls of the house and rings two and three are condensed into one ring because the property line is the yard perimeter.
In large urban areas, many residences are apartments that require some different residential security considerations.
In some cases, an upper-floor apartment in a well-secured building can be a wise choice for housing because the building management assumes the cost and burden of perimeter security, rings 1-3.
A well-secured apartment building is essentially a condensed version of a gated community.
Such living provides a degree of anonymity, while access is controlled by the use of security cards or doormen.
However, the quality of the building’s security system and personnel should be taken into consideration, as should the risk of living in close proximity to a potentially high-value target, who could draw threats to your building and potentially increase your risk.
Another issue with apartment living is that building management may not allow residents to add a security system or make other security upgrades to their units such as replacing substandard exterior apartment doors, locks, and jambs.
The walls, doors, and windows of the residence itself constitute the fourth ring of residential security.
This layer should be protected to the highest extent possible and, in many places, can be legally defended by force if necessary.
This ring consists of passive measures such as wall construction, locks, landscape features, and security procedures, as well as active defenses, like alarms, detection systems, and security personnel.
Special attention should be paid to the strength, quality, and installation of doors and locks.
A high-quality deadbolt can be very effective. Double-cylinder deadbolts should be used if the door is near any window.
A simple slide bolt into the floor can bolster these locks. Ideally, locks should be selected and installed by specialists.
However, the best lock in the world, even when set in a sturdy metal or solid core wood door, can easily be kicked in if it is set in a cheap wood frame with a thin jamb.
Jambs must be carefully evaluated, and there are several commercial products available to remedy this common weakness and strengthen doorjambs to make them more difficult to kick in.
The best locks and jambs are also useless if doors are left unlocked.
Close attention should also be paid to windows, especially ground-floor windows.
The locks on most residential windows are easily broken when the window is pried open, and even decent pry-proof locks on ordinary glass windows can be circumvented by shattering the window itself.
In fact, in many recent home invasion robberies in Los Angeles, the criminals are gaining access to the residence by shattering a sliding glass door using the type of spring-loaded glass punches commonly used by first responders to shatter car windows.
Shatter-resistant windows or clear shatter-resistant films applied to windows help mitigate this threat.
In locations with critical threat levels, ground-floor windows can be barred, as can any higher window that can be reached if the intruder climbs up a wall or tree.
Sliding glass doors can also be protected by sliding metal grates.
If windows and doors are secured with metal bars, emergency releases should be installed to facilitate an escape in case of fire.
Wherever possible, landscaping such as hedges should be kept away from walls near windows and doors or kept trimmed short so that they will not conceal a potential intruder.
Another passive defense is having the perimeter of the residence itself flooded with light; IR lights can also be utilized for a more low-key approach.
A robust residential alarm system is an important active measure to have.
The system should be backed up with battery power in case electric power is lost or disconnected.
A cell phone backup is also recommended in case the phone lines go down.
Motion detectors and glass-break sensors should be used to augment door and window sensors.
It is critical to remember that even the best alarm system is useless if residents do not use it.
“Panic alarms” should also be discreetly placed in strategic locations around the residence.
An intrusion into the residence itself must always be treated as an extreme emergency until security responders can clear the residence.
The Final Ring
If an intruder breaches the fourth ring and enters the residence (or if they even appear to be attempting to breach the fourth ring), occupants should move immediately to the final ring of protection, an interior refuge or shelter.
This shelter is an interior area that may vary depending upon the threat and design of the residence.
In some instances, this can include a section of the residence that is protected by a substantial interior barrier, but the refuge can also be a bedroom, bathroom, bomb shelter, tornado shelter, or even a large closet that is equipped with robust doors and locks that serve to provide an additional barrier to an intruder.
High net worth families frequently install a dedicated and hardened safe room in their home capable of withstanding a prolonged assault.
While not every residence requires a purpose-built safe room, every residence should have some interior shelter the family can retreat to in the case of an emergency.
This shelter should be centrally located on the sleeping floor or the part of the residence where bedrooms are located.
The shelter should be stocked with emergency supplies.
The shelter can be equipped with a firearm for defense, although the decision to maintain firearms for self-defense in the home is extremely personal.
In the hands of a trained person with the will to use deadly force in an emergency, a firearm can be very effective.
If firearms are to be kept in the shelter area, they must be properly maintained and secured inside a gun safe that allows them to be quickly deployed while preventing children and unauthorized people from accessing them.
The safe room should also be stocked with materials and supplies that the residents might need during an assault.
This includes first-aid supplies and medications residents might need immediately.
Auxiliary light sources, such as flashlights or battery-powered lanterns, will be needed if all sources of power have been interrupted.
A tactical flashlight with a strobe capability can also prove quite useful in such a situation.
In addition, drinking water and an emergency food supply, such as energy bars, are also good to have in an emergency.
These emergency items can be stored inside “go bags” that can be readily grabbed if the family needs to vacate the premises for some reason.
The safe room should also be stocked with a smoke hood for each member of the family in case the house catches fire or an attacker intentionally sets a fire to attempt to smoke the family out of the shelter.
Like any security precaution, a shelter is useless without a well-thought-out plan to use it, and every plan is useless unless it is practiced.
Because of this, families should run drills involving intruder scenarios, just as they conduct drills for fires, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters.