YOUR ALARM ISN'T GOING TO KEEP YOU SAFE: THE WEAKNESSES OF THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO RESIDENTIAL SECURITY
One of the most common mistakes made by homeowners is the belief that installing a security system (e.g. an alarm) makes them impervious to threats such as a break-in. Security products are designed to achieve a range of objectives: deter potential intruders, alert you of a breach, record an event, buy you time by slowing down an intruder, etc. But no security system, be it a door, alarm, camera, or moat is impenetrable. Security can always be defeated.
The objective of a comprehensive security system is to buy you enough time for the police to respond or to retrieve a weapon before coming directly into harms way. Again, it’s a function of time. Whether you live in Fort Knox or a trailer, if a determined intruder has the right combination of tools, skills, and time, they will get in.
The Alarm System Fallacy
American families disproportionately rely on alarms for security, with approximately 15% of homes having one. Alarms serve two purposes: deterring some opportunistic burglars and alerting you to an intruder. Homes without an alarm are 300% more likely to be broken into than a home that has one. Alarms will deter some opportunistic intruders in search of a soft target, but it will not deter all opportunistic intruders and it will not deter a determined intruder who has done their research and is well prepared.
The second purpose of an alarm system is to alert you of a breach. This is an important function that allows you, your alarm company, and the police to respond more quickly than if you didn’t have an alarm. However, police response times vary significantly. The average nationwide response time for burglaries “in progress,” that have been verified by a 911 call, is 7 minutes. The average response time for unverified alarms is 30 minutes.
Most break-ins occur in less than 60 seconds.
An alarm isn’t going to stop a burglar from breaking into your home. It buys you a few seconds by alerting you as soon as their is a breach and it will deter some opportunistic burglars from trying. But by the time your alarm goes off, someone is already inside your home and chances are they will be gone long before the police show up.
CCTV and Surveillance Systems
Like alarms, the function of camera systems is often misunderstood. In residential settings, cameras are usually installed to record an event. They also have a deterrent effect, like alarms, because a potential burglar who notices cameras is less likely to target the home because they are more likely to get caught when the police have video evidence. At the same time, wearing a mask or balaclava easily negates it’s ability to identify an intruder, and a home with a camera might be seen as having something worth stealing.
Tim Wenzel of Facebook succinctly addressed the role of cameras in a recent article. He wrote:
“Cameras provide security.” No, they do not. Cameras are an investigative tool.
If you require them as a security tool, someone will need to be watching them."
Cameras will deter some opportunistic burglars and should help in identifying and prosecuting those responsible. But on it’s own, a camera is not going to stop a determined intruder from breaking in to your home and unless it's monitored, it doesn't buy you any time to react. It’s not going to keep you safe.
Alarms and cameras are important parts of a comprehensive security system that includes physical forced entry barriers such as reinforced doors and windows. On their own they have a deterrent effect, will alert you of a breach, and record the event, but will not prevent a determined intruder from gaining access. The core function of alarms and (unmonitored) cameras only kick in once an intruder is already in your home.
A comprehensive security system must include barriers that prevent forced entry, slow an intruder down, and buy you time to assess the situation, call the police, and/or retrieve a weapon. Even if high security doors are not in the budget, there are inexpensive, off-the-shelf products that will make your doors and windows more secure.
One of the most frequent challenges we deal with is “right-sizing” security: matching our security recommendations with a client’s needs. To do so, we have to overcome misconceptions and the “Hollywood” effect, which usually lead clients to seek a much higher level of security than they need.
We discuss their specific threat scenario and risks, educate them on the range of available security options, and propose options that actually address those risks.
New clients often request unnecessary (and expensive) security features that—considering their threat scenario—they simply don’t need. People have been conditioned by Hollywood and news media to associate things like bullet and blast resistance with security. However, those solutions tend to exceed client needs and overlook the far more common and realistic security risk we all face: forced entry and opportunistic crime.
The percentage of calls we receive for bullet-resistant doors is a reflection of this conditioning. Most of our clients, including millionaires and billionaires, are exponentially more likely to be robbed by an opportunistic criminal because they live in an exclusive neighborhood than be the subject of a credible death threat.
Another one of our favorite right-sizing examples is the RPG scenario:
Very few people have a need for a blast-resistant door to stop an RPG, but they like the idea because that’s what they’ve seen in movies.
Education: Forced Entry
Educating clients to help right-size security starts with an overview of our various forced entry door and window levels: 5-minute (FE5) and 15-minute (FE15), as well as the US State Department standard to which our doors and windows are tested.
Many clients reject the FE5 option because, in their minds, 5 minutes seems insufficient. It’s only after watching test footage that they realize an FE5 rating makes it more secure than virtually every other residential door on the market (with the exception of our FE15 door).
The State Department FE5 test consists of a highly skilled two-man team attacking three (3) distinct locations on the door for five minutes each (15 mins total) with a selection of axes, sledge hammers, wedges, and pry bars.
The State Department FE15 test consists of a highly skilled six-man team attacking three (3) distinct locations on the door for fifteen minutes each (45 mins total) with an expanded selection of axes, sledge hammers, wedges, pry bars, and 120lbs battering ram.
An example we use to help educate clients is from the Arab Spring. In September 2011, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was overrun by a mob of several hundred protestors. The six Israeli guards on-duty that night took refuge in the embassy’s safe haven as the mob ransacked the Embassy, until Egyptian security forces arrived to assist them. For several hours, all that stood between the Israeli guards and probable death was an FE15 door.
If that’s what the Israelis are using in Egypt, maybe it’s overkill for your front entry.
We go through a similar process when discussing bullet resistance. We offer three options:
Right-sizing security to meet a client’s needs is a process that often leads to a smaller sale; however, it is the responsible and ethical course of action. Not only does it help build a relationship of trust with clients, but right-sizing should be a pillar of our code of ethics as security professionals.