You wake to an unfamiliar sound in the middle of the night, heart pounding, what was that noise? Is there someone in the house?
Arriving home from work or vacation, you discover that something’s not right when you walk in the door. A shattered window, a jimmied lock. Someone’s broken in.
For many of us, these are among our worst fears.
Fortunately, according to the 2016 Uniform Crime Reports for the State of Connecticut, property crimes like larceny and burglary in the state have been on the decline since 2006.
And though that’s good news, there were still nearly 7,500 residential burglary incidents in 2015 alone, making home security something we should be thinking more about, if we aren’t already.
Security experts say you can begin with a simple strategy: pay attention to your surroundings.
“On a daily basis it is important to remember that nobody is more familiar with your home and neighborhood than you are,” said Sgt. Eric Haglund with the Connecticut State Police Public Information Office.
One of the first lines of defense, he said, is simple awareness.
“While it may sound cliché, if something doesn’t look right, it usually isn’t.”
A surprising number of people still leave sheds, cars and even their homes unlocked, providing easy access for thieves.
According to Haglund, ensuring that all points of entry into our homes (and other property structures) are secured at night or when we aren’t home, is critical.
Recommendations include installing high quality deadbolts, trimming shrubs and trees to minimize places where potential intruders can hide, and using motion and flood lights to illuminate the exterior of our homes.
“In the warmer months, when possible, avoid placing fans and air conditioners in first floor windows, as it can serve as an unsecured entry point into a home,” he said.
Automation And Security, All in One
Homeowners seeking something more comprehensive may want to consider a home security system, which, as technology progresses, are becoming increasingly integrated with home automation.
“Today’s security systems are much more advanced than they were even a few years ago,” said Erik Turnquist, general manager of Standard Security Systems located in Bridgeport, serving all of Connecticut.
“They have the ability to check in to their properties with remote cameras, they can provide access with remote door locks, and internet door bells, control their energy consumption with remote thermostats, activate lighting and appliances.
“The possibilities are endless and limitless to what they can remotely control and monitor these days.”
Parents can also install technology allowing them to see when kids arrive home from school or remotely allow service providers like cable or repair persons in and out of your home. Check in on pets or remotely activate their automatic water and food dispensers.
Turnquist said that video monitoring can be set up just about anywhere and for any number of reasons, including looking in on elderly relatives.
An automated home security system has additional benefits including savings on homeowner’s insurance along with lower utility bills stemming from the ability to control heating and cooling remotely.
“If you don’t know if you turned the heat down or AC up before you left, you log in on your phone and you can adjust the thermostat from work, or wherever you are, vacation, and that’ll save you energy and money every day,” said Turnquist.
And experts say not all home security systems are budget busters.
Depending on the scale of security you’re looking for, installed systems start at roughly $229, and DIY systems, including cameras, can be purchased for around the same price, or less, at big box stores and Amazon.
Sharing Your House With the World
While using safeguards or security systems can play an important role in optimizing home safety, information shared online, including via social media, may be making you and your home, a target.
“There are ways that we’re sharing too much information and a lot of ways that we’re opening our homes up to the world, and we’ve got to stop doing that,” said Scott Driscoll, a retired law enforcement officer and president and founder of Internet Safety Concepts, LLC based Eastern Connecticut, an education and resource company for families, parents, students and educators to help make smart decisions about online interactions.
One of those ways is by posting pictures, which often have location tags.
“A lot of the apps and programs we use when we check in, use our GPS,” he explained. “So if we post something like a picture or happy moment, and GPS is attached to that posting, now people know where our home is.”
He went on to say that if subsequent postings indicate that we’re away or on vacation, it alerts those people to the fact that our home is vacant.
“It’s been proven,” he said, “that is one of the ways we become vulnerable.”
While it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to stop sharing their favorite moments online, Driscoll suggests that instead of posting check-ins live, wait a day or week to put up pictures or share thoughts.
“Checking in the next day, ‘I had a good time yesterday,’ is a lot safer than ‘This is what I’m doing right now.'”
Another way that we invite strangers into our homes is by posting pictures from inside it.
Kids and teens, especially, often take photos or videos while at home, then post them on various apps, which allows nearly anyone to see what’s inside.
“They’re showing all the possessions that their parents have worked so hard to get, and they keep these accounts open to the public because they want all these followers, so we’re putting a puzzle together on who we are.”
It doesn’t take much, said Driscoll, to then use that information nefariously.
To avoid providing too much electronic information, he recommends that kids and adults, alike, make their social media accounts private and not accept every friend and follow request.
“I always ask two simple questions: Who is this person and why are they so important that I want to communicate with them? We should not have any strangers in our world.”
He also suggests putting a limit on how much personal information we post about ourselves along with taking a few minutes to view ourselves online through the eyes of someone else.
“Look at our social media, look at our online lives through the eyes of someone else, and is that what we want the world to see about us?”