We have all seen movies with traumatic break ins that filled us with horror. The idea of someone coming into your home while you’re there is the worst nightmare of many. Fortunately, unlike movies, most burglars are looking to steal your belongings, not harm you. It's still pretty terrifying, though, to wake up in the middle of the night and realize someone else is in your house—and one can't exactly read a burglar's mind or know his or her intentions. Here's a pretty good overview if you find yourself home while someone is breaking into your house.
Before a Break In Occurs:
1. Make a plan. Have a plan before anything occurs—call a family meeting tonight! How many people live in your house? Can they all ambulate to a designated meetup space? If they can, great—pick a spot down the street where you'll all meetup in case of any emergency that requires you to get away from the house (this is good for more than just break-ins, it’s a great plan to have in case of a fire). If you have children or others that require assistance, make sure it is very clear whose responsibility it is to help them and what exactly they are to do. Now for your meetup spot: Is it a neighbor down the way? Let that neighbor know they're your safe zone. Your escape plan should take into account whether or not you can escape from each room in your house or apartment, and how to do so. If you have a room you can't get out of (or you're on the sixth floor and facing the back of the building), don't worry—we'll get to that in just a second. And be sure to check out all the ways to prevent a burglar from even targeting your home. In fact—
2. Your plan should also include preventative measures and measures to make your life just a little bit easier during a break in. For example, install a security system and make sure you know who's responsible for setting it at night. What are the expectations for who will set it when they leave the house? Who will check all the windows and doors before bed? Do you have an under-bed-ladder that reaches the ground from your window? It's a worthwhile investment (and again, not just for use during burglaries). Do everyone's bedrooms lock from the inside? If no, this is also a great piece of work for your to-do list. Consider also putting a lock on the inside of a closet, such as a deadbolt. Charge your cell phone. Never go to bed with a dead cellphone. Charge it and make sure it's either close to your bed or in the closet with the deadbolt on it. Charging your phone in a closet is also a great way to hide all those pesky cords—(think about charging your kindle, your iPad, your power drill in there too). Your room will look nicer without the cords, the light from the devices will not keep you up at night and you’ll have your phone in the case of an emergency,
3. Keep your car keys handy. Oh don't worry, we'll get to the why. If you have a car, consider keeping the keys in the same place as your cellphone when you go to sleep.
During a Break In:
1. Don't make a sound. Oh man, it's happened—maybe you've forgot to set the alarm, maybe the burglar's found a way past it. Doesn't matter. It’s important to know that when a break in is violent, it happens almost immediately, so how you react in the first 30 seconds is crucial. So many people want to yell to alert a burglar that they have made a mistake, that they've come into a house with people in it and that the police have been or are being called. Don't do it! Remember, we don't know what the burglar wants, and we don't know how he or she will react. Yelling simply gives away your location and will allow the burglar to find you faster. Instead, get up and lock your door* as quietly as possible. Listen very closely to see if you can guess how many intruders there are. Do you hear speaking? Is there any auditory evidence of a weapon?
2. Call 911 immediately. Now that the door is locked*, grab the charged cell phone that you have in an accessible location. Call 911 and state for the operator as clearly (and quietly) as possible, your name and address. Say that someone is in your house. If you have gained information from listening, state that information—one person or more than one person? Make sure you address the possibility of a weapon even if you haven't heard anything. A good example script to use is, "My name is [insert name] and my address is [insert address]. Someone is in my house and I require immediate assistance. I hear at least one person and I am unsure if they have a weapon. The sound as though they are located [insert room or floor]. I am located [insert room or floor]." Then stay on the phone with the operator so they can listen in and so you can openly communicate with them as you decide what to do. The sooner you call 911, the sooner help will be on the way. Plus the operator may have helpful advice in case something doesn't go according to your plan.
3. Unless you are a trained professional, don't grab a weapon. This includes firearms, baseball bats and pepper spray. They all sound like a good idea, but again, we don't know how the burglar will react to seeing an armed person. If they do have a weapon, they may be more likely to use it when they see you have one too. If you use pepper spray in an enclosed space, you and your family will also be affected by the pepper spray. If you use another weapon, such as a firearm and are not a trained professional, you run the risk of hurting yourself or a family member. And when a weapon is in your hand, you also run the risk of arriving police officers mistaking you for the intruder!
4. Escape is choice one. This is when you hark back to your emergency plan. Can you get out of the house from where you are without venturing from your locked room or into a place the burglar could potentially see you? Do it. Out a window, down a fire escape—all good choices. Just remember to alert the 911 operator of your position as you escape the house. Remember, police are on the way—they really do need to know if you, the homeowner, are climbing down a drain pipe. Remember to only escape if you can do so safely—hurting yourself in a panicked leap will put you in an extremely vulnerable position in these few moments before the police arrive. Make sure you have your cell phone and your car keys with you.
5. Hiding in a locked, safe place is choice two. If you can't get out (you're in that apartment we talked about earlier, facing the back of the building and on the sixth floor), gather your family and remain in a locked room or closet. If a lock is not possible, barricade the door as quietly as possible with heavy objects and furniture. Make sure to alert the 911 operator to your location and your actions. How many people are there in the room with you? Is there anyone else in another area of the house that they should be aware of? Make sure you have the cell phone and your car keys with you. Speaking of—
6. Remember those car keys? Now that you're in the safest place you could get to, press the panic button on your car keys. Many burglars will flee at the sound of a car alarm as neighbors are likely to wake up and look out the window. Because you are in a safe place either out of the house or locked away, you won't be putting your family at risk by making a noise. And that noise doesn't give away your location in the house. Many alarm systems have a panic button that comes with the system, often on a keychain remote. If you keep this with your keys, you’ll be able to trigger the siren in your alarm system whenever you need to- even if you forgot to set the alarm.
7. Wait it out. Whether you got out of the house or remained in it, don't move until the police clear the house. Confirm the existence of police in the house with the 911 operator, and confirm with the operator when the police knock on the door and tell you it's safe to come out.
*Unless you are in the room that your family is supposed to come hide in, as per your emergency plan. Then please wait until your family is there.
Remember that everyone's safety plan looks a little bit different—these are guidelines that assume you're home during a break in because it's the middle of the night. That might not be the case—maybe you're in the garage and it's four in the afternoon. Make your safety plan to fit your life, your house and your family. And remember—the best offense is a good defense, so make sure to take preventative measures like installing a security system (and remembering to set it).