It seems like a safe suburban paradise. Beware the threats posed by your own home.
We’ve written before about the deceptive perception of safety we all experience in our own homes. We’ve also specifically covered the dangers of opening your door to strangers.
But there’s one other dimension of danger to be aware of. This is perhaps counter-intuitive – the danger of entering your own home, yourself, when returning from any absence (whether as short as going over to the mailbox or as long as a several week journey out of town).
Have you ever thought about the possibility of walking in on burglars while they’re in the middle of burgling your residence? This does happen, and more often than you might think. Here’s an example of how a bunch of girls came home to find three bad guys already in the house.
Maybe you’ve learned about situational awareness and the color code of mental awareness – good for you. And perhaps you do a reasonably good job of being in condition yellow while out of your home. But, for too many of us, what happens as soon as we put the key in the lock and walk inside our home? We switch off, and drop down to the sleep-walking unaware state that is condition white.
This might be a big mistake. Stay in conditional yellow for just one more minute, please. Just a few simple procedures will help ensure that there aren’t any uninvited guests waiting for you as you walk in your front door.
Before You Enter
First, as you approach your home, keep an eye out for unusual vehicles nearby (this of course works better if you live in a free-standing house rather than in an apartment/condo building).
If you see out of place vehicles, notch up your awareness level one notch. There’s no need to do anything more at this point, but go from condition yellow to condition orange.
Second, as you get close to your home, look at the doors and windows. Do they all look normal, or are there signs of forced entry or anything else out of place.
If you see signs of forced entry, don’t go inside. Retreat to a safe position where you can keep an eye on the house and anyone who might be exiting it, and call the police.
Upon Entering With Other People Home
If you are expecting someone to be home, call out as you enter the dwelling to announce your arrival. It doesn’t matter what you say – ‘Honey, I’m home’ or ‘It’s me’ or whatever. The key thing is that you have a pre-arranged safe-word or phrase which people in the house will then call out back to you.
If they are fine, they’ll respond with the exact all-clear word/phrase – maybe it might be ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘I’m in here’ or whatever. But if there are problems, they’ll say anything else at all, or add to the all-clear word/phrase if by some coincidence their captors required them to say exactly that.
If you get no response at all, try calling out more loudly. If still no response, or if you get a response that isn’t the all-clear code phrase, immediately leave the house and retreat to a safe position. It isn’t your job to engage in any type of ‘hostage rescue’ scenario (they are very difficult at the best of times) and most of all, you don’t want to find yourself in the classic movie situation where the bad guy confronts you with a gun at your loved one’s head and demands you surrender and become an additional hostage/captive.
In the case of no response, try calling whoever it is you expect to be at home on their cell phone, or if they don’t have one, at least call the home’s main landline. If there’s no response, then you have to make a value judgment as to the significance of this. If the missing person is your wife, and you know she often goes over to visit the neighbor, and is always forgetting her cell phone, then that’s probably a low risk event, and you could check in with your neighbor. But if you have credible concern and expected the person to be home, and you know they’re almost always with their cell phone, you need to consider escalating matters. If there is an unusual vehicle on the street, this should add to your level of concern.
Maybe you simply wait five minutes and try calling again. But at some point, you’re going to have to resolve the mystery either by talking to the missing person or by calling the police.
If you got a non-safeword response, clearly you’ll be dialling 911 just as fast as you can, and waiting in a safe location for the police to show up.
Upon Entering With No-one Else Home
There’s a simple procedure you can adopt when entering your house in cases where you expect it to be empty. We’re not suggesting you ‘clear’ your house in a full-on drill every time (indeed, we suggest you should avoid ever doing this other than as part of a multi-person trained team).
Once you get inside your house, quickly move a short safe distance away from the door, but not too far. Being right in the doorway is a tactical mistake – any bad guys in the house may have seen you approaching and may be ready to ambush you at that point.
Then simply stop, stand still and do nothing except use all your senses to see if you can detect anything out of the ordinary.
Listen for any strange sounds. Smell for any strange smells. Look for anything unusually out of place.
It is amazing the type of clues – even unconciously sensed ones – which you might pick up. You might hear an unusually loud sound from outside, suggesting there is a door or window open somewhere else in the house. You might notice something out of place. You might sense the slightest whiff of an odor that you’re not familiar with. The house might be unusually hot or cold. A light might be on that you didn’t expect to see on.
You might pick up on one of these clues without even consciously realizing it – you might simply sense that something is wrong. Hopefully you’ll instead feel comfortable and can then proceed on inside and become successively more and more relaxed with each passing minute.
But what say something does feel wrong to you – something you can’t quite put your finger on? Of course, if there is something specific out of order or out of place, you should immediately evacuate the premises and retreat to a safe place where you can call the police.
But if you just have a vague sense of unease, you can’t really expect the police to respond to that. We have a simple suggestion. Continue to stand perfectly still (this is assuming you’re in a position where no-one can creep up from behind you, and where you might have a bit of cover/concealment, and hopefully you’ll have a gun in your hand by now.
If someone is in your house, they’ll either have heard your arrival or not. If they didn’t hear you, then before too long, you’ll certainly hear them moving about. If they did hear you come in and are themselves hiding in ambush for you, then – assuming they can’t see you where you are – in a very short while, they’ll start to get curious and anxious as to what you are doing. And although you can stand there for as long as you like, they can’t do the same thing. They’re in a vulnerable location, and now that you are doing something unexpected and unknown, their tension level will rise to the point where they’ll almost certainly end up doing something that gives their presence away.
If after this period of still silence, nothing eventuates, you’re probably okay. But if you’re still a bit anxious, leave the house, locking the door behind you, and carefully check the exterior, all around, for signs of forced entry, and also of course, looking in windows as you walk around.
The Sound of Silence
One point which may or may not be obvious from the preceding.
You should not leave the house with any noise sources operating. Or, alternatively, if you want to perhaps leave the television on so as to convey the impression of the house being occupied, turn it off prior to entering the house, with some sort of a remote control. Some televisions can be controlled through a Wi-fi app on a modern Android or iOS phone, others can simply be controlled by using a simple X-10 remote control system to turn them off.
When you go into a totally silent house, you can hear any significant noises that might be stealthily made by intruders. Any noise at all will mask their sounds, giving them the advantage.
Anytime you leave your home, you have no way of knowing what might happen during your absence, and you have no way of knowing what to expect when you walk back in again.
There’s no need to be paranoid, but it does make prudent sense to follow some simple precautions whenever you return back home.