What to do if you're home during a break-in

Posted March 10th, 2022 by SimpliSafe

We have all seen movies with traumatic break-ins that filled us with horror. For many, the idea of someone coming into your home while you’re there is the worst nightmare. 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. 

Prevention, such as installing a reliable home security system with monitoring, is the best defense against break-ins. In fact, according to the UNC Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, 60% of burglars said that the presence of an alarm system would deter them from breaking-in. That said, there are simple steps you can take to prepare for the worst in the event you find yourself home while someone is attempting to break into your house.

Before a break-in occurs:

1. Make an emergency 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 everyone can meet in case of any emergency that requires you to leave the house (this is good for more than just break-ins, it’s a great plan to have in case of a fire, for example). 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.

2. Your home security plan should include preventative measures and mitigation measures for break-ins. 

  • Install a home security system and make sure you know who's responsible for arming it at night. 

  • What are the expectations for who will set your security system when they leave the house? An easy to automate home and away mode can help ensure you don’t forget. 

  • Also consider a professional monitoring plan to go along with your security system. That way, in the event of a break-in, the authorities will be automatically alerted if you can’t make it to a phone.

  • Who will check all the windows and doors to make sure they’re closed and locked before bed? 

  • Do you have an under-bed ladder that reaches the ground from upstairs windows? It's a worthwhile investment (and again, not just for use during burglaries). 

  • Does everyone's bedroom lock from the inside? If not, this is also a great project for your to-do list. 

  • Consider also putting a lock on the inside of a closet, such as a deadbolt. 

  • Charge your cell phone 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 explain why later. If you have a car, consider keeping the keys in the same place as your cell phone when you go to sleep.

During a break-in:

1. Remain calm and don't make a sound. 

Maybe you've forgotten to arm your security system, or maybe the burglar has found a way past it. However it happened, your response during the first 30 seconds of a break-in is crucial. Your first instinct might be to confront the intruder, but there are likely better options. Remember, you don't know what the burglar wants, and you don't know how he or she will react to confrontation. Yelling simply gives away your location and will allow the intruder to find you faster. Instead, try to stay calm, and lock your door as quietly as possible. Listen very closely to see if you can determine how many intruders there are. Do you hear speaking? Is there any auditory evidence of a weapon?

Note: If you are in the room your family is supposed to come to meet in, as per your emergency plan, you shouldn’t lock the door until everyone is accounted for.

2. Call 911 immediately. 

Now that the door is locked, grab the charged cell phone you kept 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 plan.

Alternatively, a security system with professional monitoring ensures emergency personnel will be alerted as soon as there is trouble. Providing video verification with indoor and outdoor security cameras can also greatly improve response time (and deter intruders before they get started).

3. Unless you are a trained professional, don't grab a weapon. 

This includes firearms, baseball bats, and pepper spray. Confrontation might sound like a good idea, but again, we don't know how the burglar will react to seeing an armed person. If the intruder does have a weapon, they may be more likely to use it when they see you have one too. Additionally, if you use a weapon and are not a trained professional, you run the risk of hurting yourself or a family member (and causing confusion for emergency responders). 

4. Escape is choice one. 

Now is the time to refer 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. Try to alert the 911 operator (or home security monitoring professional) 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 drainpipe. Remember to only escape if you can do so safely—hurting yourself in a panicked leap could potentially put you in an extremely vulnerable position 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 (for example, if you're in that apartment we talked about earlier, facing the back of the building and on the sixth floor), try to gather anyone else at home 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 emergency services 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 they should be aware of? Make sure you have your 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 now 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 security alarm systems have a panic button that comes with the system, often on a key fob. If you keep this panic button with your keys, you’ll be able to trigger an audible or silent alarm (and alert professional monitoring) from your home security system whenever you need to—even if you forgot to set the alarm.

7. Wait it out. 

Whether you’re out of the house or still inside, 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.

Remember that everyone's emergency 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 loved ones. And remember—the best offense is a good defense, so make sure to take preventative measures like installing a security system and monitoring your home with indoor and outdoor security cameras.

Want to learn more about SimpliSafe? Read reviews from home security experts and find the right security system for your situation.