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.
Security threats come in all shapes and sizes, and Shield Security Doors are designed with that in mind. It’s important to understand the function of security doors: they buy you time. The idea of an “impenetrable door” is nothing more than a myth. Every door can be defeated, from Fort Knox to the White House bunker to your linen closet. All it takes is time, tools, and skill.
That’s also why security ratings for doors such as the US State Department forced entry standard and Underwriters Laboratory (UL) fire ratings are measured against time. The State Department forced entry standard has three levels: 5 minute, 15 minute, and 60 minute. UL fire ratings range from 20 minutes to 3 hours.
Here are some of the threats that our doors protect against:
Our goal at Shield is to provide a product that is reliable, versatile, and discrete. For this reason, each door is custom-made to meet the aesthetic and security needs of its environment. The combinations of designs and security features are virtually limitless. If you can think of it, we can build it.
Such a variety of options means that Shield doors and windows can be used just about anywhere. They are equally suited for an embassy in a high-threat country as they are for high-end real estate project in Manhattan. No two projects are alike, so no two doors are alike.
If you don’t care about aesthetics, securing your home is easy. You could put up a ten-foot chain link fence, top it with rows of barbed wire, steel bars on your windows, and replace your front door with an industrial steel door. That will pretty much guarantee your home is well defended from intruders. It will also guarantee that you have the most visually unappealing home on your street and create several other problems:
Despite the fact that these measures do in fact secure your home, they would still attract plenty of unwanted attention. That is a security risk in and of itself. You don’t want strangers and suspicious neighbors taking pictures or poking around in your business. The most secure home is the one that hides in plain sight, not the one that is known throughout town because it looks like a prison.
At Shield, we believe that the secret to good security is to keep it a secret. All our doors and windows are custom made and can resemble anything. We offer the same forced entry, ballistic, and fire certifications as the ugly industrial steel doors, so you don’t have to choose between security and aesthetics. We can turn your home into a fortress without changing the architecture or design.
In order to be forced entry and ballistic resistant (FE/BR) certified, doors have to pass a grueling series of tests performed to the US State Department Forced Entry standard, SD-STD-01.01 Rev. G. This is the testing performed on doors installed in US embassies around the world, as well as other important government offices and facilities. There are three forced entry levels: five minute, fifteen minute, and sixty minute.
The Shield Embassy Series door is rated to the five (5) minute level and consists of 0.5 man-hours of attack time while the Shield Fortress Series is rated to the fifteen minute (15) level and consists of 4.5 man-hours of attack time. The State Department standard also holds an equivalency to the ASTM F3038 - 14 standard, so Shield doors also meet ASTM F30308.
Forced entry tests involve a team of attackers trying to breach the door by exploiting weak points in the allotted amount of time. A five minute test consists of a five minute attack on the lock side of the door, five minutes in the center of the door, and five minutes on the hinge side of the door. Naturally, the fifteen minute test consists of fifteen minutes spent on each attack point.
The five minute test calls for a two-man team while the fifteen minute test calls for a six-man team. A variety of tools are used in the testing, including sledge hammers, axes, pry bars, picks, wedges, and a battering ram.
Since the testing team spends five or fifteen minutes on each location, an actual intruder would need significantly more time to penetrate the door.
The attack locations are all considered dissimilar areas: hinges, seams, and the like. The goal is to open, remove, or penetrate the door to a large enough degree that they can pass a standard-sized testing object through the opening.
For the ballistic test, the doors must withstand dozens of rounds placed in specific shot patterns on the door and frame using 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO rounds. Each shot is lined up separately and fired using a test barrel in order to keep to the requirements laid out in the standard.
Passing these tests is the ultimate seal of approval and ensures that customers know they are getting a quality product that will keep them and their families safe no matter who comes knocking at their door.
A recent article by Fortune.com covered the security risks of using IP-based and other online security systems. Last month, hackers infiltrated the smart locks used by the Seehotel Jägerwirt hotel in Austria. The hackers locked guests out of their rooms and disabled the hotel admins from using the system. This attack came at the peak of the skiing season and the hotel was fully booked. The hackers demanded a ransom to be paid in 1500 Euros worth of Bitcoin before eventually giving up control of the smart locks.
This wasn’t the first time this hotel has been compromised, and it likely won’t be the last, even if they change to a different smart lock. A Techcrunch.com article covering the Def Con hacking conference found that approximately 75% of smart locks have poor cyber security measures and are easily defeated. Thanks to Austrian fire codes, none of the guests were locked into their rooms or the hotel; the fire code mandated manual locks as backups in case of such an event. Despite the fact that nobody was in harm’s way this time, the danger is still incredibly real. In this instance, guests were locked out, separated from their belongings. This is a huge inconvenience and a financial issue for the hotel, but nobody was hurt. They very easily could have been.
The hackers had total control over the system that supported these locks. Suppose the hackers wanted to gain entry to the rooms instead of prevent it. It’s the same principal in terms of the security flaws. A hacker could disable every lock in the hotel while someone else entered the rooms as the guests slept. This scenario is far more deadly than a small ransom to let the guests back into their rooms.
We often get questions from our clients about controlling their doors with an app and the answer is always the same: no. We consider the risks of internet-based security/access control systems to be unacceptably high, which is why none of our door or locks are online. Anything connected to the internet can be hacked with relative ease, especially compared to what it would take to physically defeat our doors.
The IP connected security system used by Seehotel Jägerwirt wound up being such a hassle that the hotel will be returning to traditional locks on all their doors. Their experience with smart locks has been a costly mistake and valuable lesson that smart locks are not necessarily safe locks.
Several of our previous posts have referenced “ballistic resistace” (or bullet resistance) as a key feature of high security doors. Without seeing it in action, it might be hard to picture how this works.
We’ve all seen ballistic resistant glass in movies or on tv. The bad guys open fire and their shots are stopped by a pane of glass, now covered in spider web cracks. We use a much less dramatic, but equally impressive technology behind our doors.
On our UL level 8 (rifle) rated door, we sometimes utilize a “self-healing” system. The door is filled with ceramic pellets designed to absorb the impact of a round. As the round pierces the paneling or skin of the door, they crush the pellets behind it. Their energy is totally absorbed and the round won’t go any further.
The aspect that is “self-healing” is that once those pellets get crushed, the pellets above begin to trickle down and fill in any gaps. The door acts almost like the hopper on a pitching machine, with pellets falling from top to bottom to replace those destroyed by bullet rounds. This is how the doors can withstand so many rounds in the same location without penetration.
This is a major advantage compared to ballistic glass or steel, which lack the self-healing properties of ceramics and therefore have a much lower failure threshold than ceramics.
Perhaps the approach most commonly used by security professionals with home security is the onion concept. This basic premise is that your home security should consist of multiple overlapping layers in order to deter and stop a potential intruder. These layers should exist:
The outside layers are things that you may already have such as gate or fence. Strategic landscaping such as trees or a tall hedge can also contribute to your security by obstructing the view and ensuring a would-be intruder doesn’t know what awaits them on the other side.
While these might not seem very important, they contribute to what distinguishes between a soft target and a hard target for burglars. Burglars are looking for a big fight. They want to identify the easiest targets where they’re not likely to get caught. If they cannot easily “case” your home, they’re more likely to move on elsewhere.
The second layer, the perimeter, offers many different possibilities. This includes things like:
Most of the first two layers of security are deterrents, meaning they aren’t going to prevent a determined intruder from breaking in but rather they make it more likely that the intruder won’t try breaking in at all, instead moving on to another house that looks like an easier target. The third layer of security, inside the home is your last line of defense and should be the most robust.
Once inside the home, forced entry resistant and bullet resistant doors are the most formidable barrier you can get to keep you, your family, and your possessions safe. Security doors such as ours shouldn’t be considered deterrents because they’re designed to blend in with the home and not stand out in any away.
Security doors inside the home or on the perimeter are what stops a determined intruder, who is undeterred by fences, alarms, lighting, and cameras, from getting in. Security doors are what keep you and your family safe from someone who really wants to get in, and gives you the time you need to assess the situation, call the police, or retrieve a weapon.
When designing your home security, be sure to use the onion concept and have multiple, overlapping layers of security. Deterrents are an important component in a comprehensive security system, but they aren’t going to keep a determined intruder out. A high security door will.
Keeping your family and your possessions safe should be at the forefront of every homeowners mind. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were roughly 1.6 million burglaries in the U.S. in 2015 and of those cases, 34% of burglars entered right through the front door.
Forced entry (like kicking a door open) is the most common form of entry during a burglary, accounting for almost 60% of buglaries while an additional 6% involved attempted forced entry.
The FBI reported that burglary victims lost $3.6 billion in property in 2015, and that the average victim lost around $2,300. This doesn’t account for the damage to the home incurred during the break in. Even if the burglars don’t take anything of great significance to the victim, a several thousand dollar loss can be an overwhelming setback depending on the victim’s finances.
What is perhaps most alarming about American burglaries is that residential burglaries make up 71% of all burglaries. This makes burglary, and burglary prevention, primarily a homeowner’s issue rather than a business owner’s issue.
Suburban homes with a generic front door are extremely vulnerable to burglary, and homeowner risk losing thousands in damages and stolen property. However, burglars are not without weakness.
Regardless if your budget is $100 or $100,000, take a look at your home’s security and ensure that you and your family are always safe. We’ll be happy to point you in the right direction whether or not a Shield door is right for you.