Thursday, October 8, 2009

Some Experience with home security in the US

Hi FerFal,

Iv been reading your blog for the past couple months and I thought that I would give you some insight to the security issues Americans face in the suburbs and to how those could be exploited more if the SHTF. Most of the houses around here have little to no security save for an alarm system to scare off burglars. All walls are basically 2x4 construction with rolled fiberglass insulation with some aluminum siding on the exterior walls, anyone with a good sledge hammer, chainsaw or angle grinder can get through these walls in a matter of seconds. Most doors are added for looks so they are usually 75% wood with thin sheet steel and glass, thats only the front door. The basic may be a standard exterior door or could be a sliding glass door to give that "open feel" to the house. Large exterior windows that at best are dual pane to act as insulation. The sheepish idealogy of people is also frightening as they see anything other than a security system as being excessive, I recently added a chain to my front door and many friends thought I was being paranoid by having it.
(Edited to add by FerFAL:
Hi Briar, thanks for your email. American construction isn't designed to take much damage, just . Around here homes are mostly made with reinforced concrete structure, a couple layers of plaster, bricks and a layer of waterproof cement.
While not ideal it will usually stop a 9mm round, and other handgun calibers, and I assure you this type of construction has, without knowing it, saved lives in these violent times.
The day before yesterday a baby died from a stray shot during a gang fight, shot under the armpit, through the window while held by his mother, 8 months old if I remember correctly.
That type of 2x4 frame, hollow walls you have in USA, that will hardly slow down a 9mm projectile unless it hits a beam. Careful with that door chain, most can be broken just pushing or with a 1/2 hearted kick)

My home was build in the 60s so it has the advantage of having heavy plaster walls with chicken wire underneath which would make it hard to get through. November of last year I was broken into and had computers stolen from my house with the whole place locked up, it was easy for them. They got in by going to my garage and busting a piece of glass out so they could reach in and unlatch the window and turn it a bit which followed by giggling it so get it open all the way, from there they were in.
(Edited to add by FerFAL: That’s typical. Doors should be solid and avoid any glass in them. Specially when located in places where they can brake it and unlock the door. I’d recommend reinforced doors for all exterior doors, including the garage one)
Being out where we are the threat of gangs attacking our homes is minimal but the possibility of desperate people living nearby coming after homes that appear to have resources is well within reason. (Edited to add by FerFAL: Humble advice: No idea where “Out where we are” is, but notice the following. You already suffered a home invasion, so you are wise in considering even greater problems or threats as things get worse)Many upper class homes are having generators installed in their homes which is great except they are located outside and sometimes these people leave their doors open in the day feeling confident no one will violate the upper class are they live in. If food supplies were to dwindle for any reason it would be easy for a small group to take out a window and ransack fridges or cupboards as most of them are located within reach of the rear sliding glass doors.
(Edited to add by FerFAL: No need to wait for starving mobs. With poverty and unemployment on the rise, a police force that has a hard tiem keeping up, the crime problem will become pretty clear. Opened doors to use the generator? Big mistake, bad guys can simply walk in on you. Another reason why the courtyard house design looks so attractive to me: A secured, open space. Search the blog for some posts regarding courtyard homes)
On a Side Note - on the topic of knives for self defense the state of Ohio law on knives states that you cannot carry a knife which purpose is for fighting or self defense regardless if the person has a CCW. The way the determine what the knife is for is based on the opinion of the individual officer that encounters you about having it. So in summary you can carry a gun and shoot people to save your life by whatever you do don't use a knife.
(Edited to add by FerFAL: There are some good multipurpose knives made by ColdSteel, Spyderco and Benchmade. Use it often for several tasks ( a visibly worn blade), and you can explain that such a knife is an everyday tool for you. That’s what I would do, since I use a knife to cut cardboard and open boxes as well as other tasks on daily basis. Sure, with those laws, don’t carry a dedicated fighting folder)
Thought you mike like some insight as to how ignorant Americans' concerns about security in the suburbs can be.


Thanks for your email.
Some advice regarding blackouts, looters, and criminals in general. This is an issue I know a bit of, so please trust me on these recommendations:

1)Open doors, windows, for whatever reason? Absolutely not, for no reason whatsoever. Door and windows locked at all times, ALWAYS. When we have to ventilate the house some, we open windows that have burglar bars or are out of reach on the second floor. Still we keep an eye on those, since ladders have been invented a while ago and they kind of work. :-)

2)During a blackout, looters loot empty houses people. Not houses where there’s light, and specially not houses where shots start getting fired from when looters feel bold enough to approach.
Think as a looter for a second. Would you rather find a nice empty home to brake in, or would you rather risk getting into a gunfight, or have to deal with occupants? Easy targets folks, they go for the easy targets first.

3)Make it clear that the house is occupied, manned, and it wouldn’t hurt keeping you firearms visible if a mob is getting bold.

4)You can keep your home visibly lit with LED lights. If you must run a generator to keep the fridge going or any other reason, do it during the day, with the generator outside but right next to a window where you can keep an eye on it, doors and windows locked using an extension cord. DON’T leave doors and windows opened.

My parents used to have a house in Pinamar, a small holyday beach town about 300 km away from Buenos Aires. The house was close to the sea an had a terrific view, and we would do BBQs there and spend the evening in the open terrace in the back yard, from where you could see the beach.
Eventually crime got so bad, specially during the holyday season, we would keep hearing about neighbors and friends getting robbed, violent home invasions.
Of course, it’s a piece of cake: Criminals know where people go for holydays and relax from their normal security measures. Hang around outside the house and you’re as good as bait. All they have to do is walk around the house to the backyard, and force you inside at gun point.
Eventually we didn’t stay outside as much, and when we did we realized we couldn’t relax at all like we did, so my parents ended up selling the house.

Criminals are people folks, and they may be evil but they are not stupid. They take advantage of opportunities such as these, they know when people become softer targets, that they have money when going on holydays.
Same for looters. Looters mostly want to loot. Cowards hiding in the mass mostly. Few will want a murder charge over heir heads, and oh I promise you, they don’t want any extra 9mm holes in their bodies, just like everyone else.
Think folks. Think and plan rationally.



Don Williams said...

1) One of the problem with American suburbs --especially the older ones with one acre lots -- is that they are so spread out that they are hard to defend.
2) If SHTF, they are not viable. I realize the danger of the castle mentality -- if you hide within a fortified place, you're lost your mobility/freedom of action. It is essential to patrol out for at least a mile, to recon even further and to ambush enemies before they get near your home base.

3) But at the same time, you have to have a guarded, fortified area where families are safe, food/supplies are protected and people can work without having to hold a gun.

4) You can make something out of a row of townhouses built with heavy masonry, like they have in Buenos Aires. Armies have always known that urban warfare is something to be avoided.

5) But I don't see how you can protect the American suburbs -- houses are too spread out to build a wall around them. You might have families in a neighborhood abandon their homes and all move into a single house -- but there will be enormous psychological resistance to doing that.

6) How did things work out in Argentina, Ferfal? Did neighborhoods with widely spread out homes/large yards have problems? What did they do?

Bones said...

Criminals probably won't bother cutting through walls as they'll just find an easier target. I do think there will be a booming business in window and door bars. Those thin walls certainly won't stop a bullet.

You mention the deterrent effect of having a gun in view if there is a mob or riot. For under $300 you can take a common semi auto rifle in.22lr and dress it up to look like an AR for extra "persuasiveness". Most folks won't know the difference and the ones that do still wouldn't stand in front of it.

Anonymous said...

The following is a real story. In 2008 some guy who lived in a town in rural Nevada, about 60 miles east of Reno, got drunk at a casino and started talking about the large stash of USD he had in his house. So naturally, two scumbags went to his manufactured home with a sledgehammer.

They got in simply by smashing the sliding glass door, since many manufactured homes in the 1960s had a sliding glass door as the main entryway. Once inside they attacked the man with the hammer, but they killed him before he had a chance to tell them where the money was.

A neighbor got suspicious and called the cops, who found the dead man and the stash of USD, and eventually pieced together what happened. The scumbags were arrested and held on suspicion of murder.

I've also seen apartments built with a sliding glass door as the entry door. These doors are a security nightmare, yet they are extremely common in USA homes. Even worse is the 1950s entry door that had nine glass panels, including one right next to the knob. Some 1950s apartment buildings still use those doors, although most houses have been retrofitted by now.

American homes are NOT built for security, but built as cheaply as possible to make a quick profit for the original builder. Most doorjambs nowadays are simply very cheap and flexible wood. Windows are locked with a simple latch in the middle of the frame.

Bill in NC said...

The primary weakness in U.S. residential construction is the door frame.

Made out of cheap wood it is very easy to kick in (any deadbolt just rips through the frame) with just a kick.

The molding around the frame must be removed and reinforcements added.

Burglars don't like to break glass, since that emits a distinctive sound which carries (and they might get cut crawling through a broken window)

Greg in CA said...

Dual-pane windows, especially with (thin) metal bars inside, are an excellent compromise between aesthetics & security.

Not as secure as external bars, for sure, the bars can be kicked out. And not as good looking as large panes of glass, no way, the bars interrupt views. But, they offer a large middle area for disguised window bars in areas that don't have/want external window bars, or for family members who don't like the prison bar look. Dual-pane windows with thinner, painted metal bars between the panes are a good choice.

Also dual-panes windows give twice the noise, hassle & time for burglars when breaking.

Don Williams said...

1) Any glass can be breached with little or no sound. A long standing burglar tactic has been to cut a 6 inch square of the glass with a glass cutter, tape an X across the square with tape, then softly crack the square loose where it was scored by the glass cutter and lift the square out (the tape keeps the glass from falling and making a noise.

2) The above procedure can be done with little or no noise in about a minute or two. Then burglar reaches in through the hole and unlatches the window.

3) You can bolt the windows to their frames with screws so they can't be lifted --but that means the window can't be used to escape from a fire.

Anonymous said...

Ferfal -- You are doing great work and have helped more people than you can imagine with your blog and your book (which I have read twice so far). Security in the U.S. suburbs, as noted by the other posters, is a nightmare waiting to happen, but unfortunately just one nightmare among others waiting in the wings. Thanks to you, folks have a source of great advice/suggestions on how to prepare!


P.S. "brake" is when someone slows their car..."break" is when someone smashes a glass...

Jason Cato said...

It is interesting that you recommend bright lights during blackouts, while JW Rawles recommends blacking out your windows so no-one knows you are the prepared type.
I take your word, though because you have lived it.

Anonymous said...

don, i dont know about milke long higes, reconnaissance or ambushing enemies. that sounds more like a military operation than protecting your house. i think if you reinforce your windows and keep your doors locked, and especially if you have a fence surrounding your house or at least the back and side yards you will be ok. Of course, always keep your weapon on you.

Don Williams said...

Re anon at 9:54pm: "that sounds more like a military operation than protecting your house."

It depends upon what kind of environment you think arises. Case A (anon's) would be living in something like a modern day urban ghetto: police eventually show up if you call, but government does NOT maintain law and order in your neighborhood because you are too poor (in taxes and campaign donations) for them to care. So they just fall back and protect the wealthy neighborhoods.

Case B (Mine) is one in which economic collapse has progressed further -- in which the cops do NOT show up in your neighborhood if you call -- and roving bands of bandits know that.

Anonymous said...

Don, in case you are talking about my post about the robbery/murder in Nevada, keep in mind that small town governments in Nevada are extremely corrupt, and they usually don't care about you unless you're from a prominent family. The cops eventually do show up, but prodding them to do anything is usually a waste of time unless somebody got killed.

I heard of a burglary in western Churchill County (very bad Deliverance type area) where the victim was a new resident from California, and the cops ignored the trails in the snow and just took a few notes and then left. People out in the desert tend to keep guns handy because the cops can't be relied on-much like Argentina.

If there are no cops at ALL, it changes the situation entirely, but that's not my understanding of Bs As, apparently the cops' main duty is to organize wiping up the blood, they don't actually bother catching the crooks.

I think that there will be cops after SHTF, but they'll be more like a private security detail for local bigwigs and a way to force people to pay their taxes. If you're getting robbed or kidnapped, forget it, unless you're connected.

Already cops here in Sacramento seem to spend a lot more time hunting down tax evaders and levying fines than catching real crooks. Stings to catch unlicensed self-employed workers are common, as are all sorts of traffic traps. But if there's somebody breaking into your house, they don't care. I think that's the future.

Anonymous said...

"Case B (Mine) is one in which economic collapse has progressed further -- in which the cops do NOT show up in your neighborhood if you call -- and roving bands of bandits know that."

Have you ever called a cop? I have. The first thing they do when they show up is run a background check ON YOU. They scope out your residence and treat you like the perp. I will NEVER call the cops again. They are the last people I want in my home, especially since the cities and towns will run out of money first and they will be as hungry as the roving bands of gangs. Pay attention to the drug trade on the Mexican border and also learn the lessons of Katrina. The cops are not here to serve and protect you. Better to figure that out now than later.

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