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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Home Security Tips I Learned from My Neighbor

Our neighbors headed to sunnier climes about four months ago. Since that time I have learned a few things about home security from them...actually it was from the things that they didn't do right. Such as:
  • They don't have anyone regularly checking their house while they are gone. It appears that they have their kids (maybe relatives?) drop by about once a month or so but that isn't frequently enough to stop problem before they get out of hand. What if a water pipe breaks as spews water for a whole MONTH before someone notices? What I do when we are away from home for a lengthy period of time is either get a house sitter or have the housekeeper come by weekly just to dust. There isn't much cleaning to be done, rather this is just to have someone check out the place and make sure all is well.
  • The relatives that come over to check their house apparently don't have a key to the house since about once a month I see them scurry around to the back of the house, lift up a planter, take out the "hidden" key, then return after a half hour or so and replace the key. Um, real safe thing to do. Good thing they live in a good neighborhood where the usually observant neighbors don't want or need anything they have in their house. Our solution is to have a couple of people (a trusted friend and the housekeeper) keep keys to our house. If anyone else needed to get in our house we would have them meet up with either of these two for a key hand-off.
  • The neighbors don't make any effort to make their home look "lived in" while they are gone. There are no lights on, no noise from the radio or TV, basically their house looks abandoned. When we go on vacation or are away for work, we leave various lights and TVs on a timer. Of course our neighbors may notice from the lack of activity that we are gone, but the random burglar may be thrown off by the lights and sounds coming from our home.
  • The neighbors didn't leave any emergency contact information with anyone in the neighborhood. Most of our neighbors are friendly enough to wave when passing and will occasionally invite neighbors they see outside over for a barbecue or garage sale but mostly everyone keeps to themselves. This can be good for people who like their privacy but, as happened this weekend, it can also be a problem. Just a couple of days ago an alarm in the neighbor's house went off. We are talking a shrill, screechy alarm that continued to sound for nearly 10 hours before I couldn't stand it any more and called the sheriff. He came out, took a look around, and asked how to contact the people because it wasn't within his duty to break into their house. After going back and forth a bit, with me telling him that if the alarm continued for very much longer I was just going to cut the power to the entire house, we finally decided that he should get the "hidden" key and take care of the problem. Fortunately he was reasonable about the situation and realized that I wasn't going to listen to the alarm very much longer. He got the key, went in, fixed the alarm, and left a note. This whole problem would have been averted if they had left emergency contact info with any of the neighbors or even left a card in the window stating "in case of emergency call___". Actually a card like this would be good to have in everyone's window. Should an elderly neighbor fall or a diabetic neighbor pass out, at least it would save emergency responders from breaking the door down and the proper people (the emergency contact) would be alerted to the problem and could come over.
  • The exterior of their home doesn't look like it was "prepped" for vacation. There are no exterior lights on at all--generally a welcome invitation to burglars. Fortunately it is now winter so the grass isn't getting overly long which is a clear sign that no one has been home for a while. I do see some papers piling up in their driveway which is also a clear sign that no one is home--these are the free papers, not the subscription papers, which are stacking up so if this happens where you live, you should be sure to call the distributor and tell them you want absolutely no papers delivered to your home.
  • Here's some other random things that I hope (but doubt) they did before leaving: take the garage door opener out of the car they left in the driveway. Take valuable items (guns, jewelry, expensive electronics) out of the home and leave them in the car of a responsible friend. Unplug all electrical items to avoid being toasted by power outages (we have had three outages since they left...don't know how their electronics have fared). Secure the garage doors by disconnecting the electronic motor and/or putting a metal bar through the tracks so they can't be forced open.
Well, they did one thing right. They picked the right neighborhood to live in. However, it doesn't matter how "good" your neighborhood is, if you don't take care to secure your home before you leave to go out of town, you run the risk of coming back to a home that may not be in the same condition as you left it.