It’s no secret that South Africa has a serious violent crime problem. Home invasions are common. If you’re looking for information on how to secure your home effectively, you’re not alone. In this article, I am going to give you concrete steps that you can take to keep your family safe.
Sadly, for many people in South Africa, financial constraints mean their only option is to get a dog and lock the doors. If that applies to you, you are not alone.
If you are lucky enough to have some resources available, then there really is a lot you can do.
The trouble is that many people spend way too much money on the wrong things. They do security upgrades haphazardly without a plan and this leads to criminals being successful and money down the toilet.
The crime situation can be managed if we address the problem by taking the appropriate steps to mitigate the risks. The problem is a serious one and the solutions are not cut and dried.
The easy answer is to pack our bags and leave for countries with a lower crime rate. Many of my family members and friends have done so over the years. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Many of us still have close family here and leaving would mean losing out on birthdays and other special get-togethers. It would be great if every household could afford a close protection team. Unfortunately that is not economically feasible for the vast majority. This means that we must all be our own protectors.
This article on how to secure your home is fairly broad in scope and quite long. I know people are not always in the mood for that, so here’s a quick home security checklist. It should get you started in case you don’t have the patience for the rest of the post.
If all you’re looking for is a short, effective list, then implement these security measures at your home. If you get them right, then you should be relatively ok.
- Alarm systems
- Security gates
- Fences (In particular, electric fences)
- Burglar bars
- Strong rooms- Not that common yet, although this is changing.
- Guards if budget allows (This is not the norm for private residences)
- Pro-active security patrols
- Armed reaction
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive look at how to secure your home, then read on…
Step 1- Security mindset.
If you are serious about protecting yourself and your family, the very first thing you need to do is to develop a security mindset.
In order to effectively secure your home, you have to change your paradigm. You have to convert the way you think from enjoying, as my wife calls it “living in a bubble”, to thinking like a protector. One thing that’s been drilled into my head repeatedly working in security is that you need to think like the bad guy. It all starts with understanding the threats you face in your home. From there you can identify where your home is vulnerable and how this impacts the overall risk to your family. Only once you have done this, can you successfully implement the appropriate measures to mitigate the risk.
The truth is that security risk mitigation can get very expensive and may sometimes cause inconvenience. It’s unfortunate but it is a reality. The way to deal with this is to do what you can with what you have to secure your home. Try to find the balance between building Fort Knox and being able to move about freely. Some people will have a budget for all the bells and whistles. Some people will have the budget for broken glass cemented onto the walls. We also all have different tolerances for the inconvenience caused by our security measures.
Either way, we have to take control of our environment. There are great policemen and women, working hard out there. Sadly though, as a whole, the SAPS are under-resourced and undertrained. This means that we as individuals have to responsibility for keeping ourselves safe.
Step 2- Threat identification– What can happen?
When it comes to securing your home, correct threat identification is critical. It really is where everything begins. , first and foremost. If you want to know how to secure your home, you have to know what you’re securing it from. Chat to your local CPF. See if the crime intelligence officer at your local police station will give you stats. (They normally won’t.) SAPS do publish Crime stats though. They can be accessed here. Chat to your security company to ask them what crimes are common in the area. Research online by searching for your area + crime. Only when you know what threats you face, can you take the best action.
I have spoken to so many people over the years that assume everything is quiet in their neighbourhood. This is simply because they have not made the effort to find out. I spent 5 years sitting in weekly crime meetings with SAPS. I can say with confidence that there are definitely certain patterns in certain areas. These patterns also change over time.
You want to try to ascertain what types of crimes happen in your neighbourhood. It helps to find out what time and how the perpetrators get in. Try to get a profile of the common attackers in your area if possible. This is not always easy for a private citizen. Your CPF, security company or neighbourhood watch may have some good info if they are active.
If you live in the part of Joburg that I do, home invasions and driveway robberies are common. If you fail to take these into account or underestimate the frequency and the violence, then you would do so at your peril.
Crime is really area dependant and can vary in terms of the nature of the crime and modus operandi. Just remember one thing. If you live in South Africa and you’re getting your crime tips from websites in the USA, the UK or Australia, you need to apply a filter that reflects our reality.
Their tips may be solid as they pertain to their environments, however, our crime tends, in general, to be far more violent in nature. In addition, our police do not have the same response capability of those in a first world country. As a developing country, South Africa is unique. You may live a first-world life in your upmarket home in Sandton but the violent criminals that you may face will possibly come from areas 10 minutes away that are completely third world.
A good way to look at it is to make a list of crimes common to homes in your area and include any additional threats specific to you. This an example. It’s not exhaustive but you’ll get the idea, to help you formulate your own:
1-Threats arising from crimes common to my neighbourhood that could affect my safety at home:
- Home invasions- The guys enter your home, tie you up and rob you. Rapes and murders are common.
- Driveway robberies- As you pull into your driveway, guys that followed you home, attack and rob you.
- Hijackings- As above with the target being the car.
- Burglary- You’re not home or you’re sleeping and they break in and take your stuff.
2- Threats arising from specific issues due to the nature of my work:
- Kidnapping of a family member.
3- Current events in your area.
- Public disorder and violent protests- Don’t ignore the things going on around your home and their potential impact. A good example is the effect that the COVID-19 Lockdown is having on people’s income. Desperate people do desperate things.
Step 3- Vulnerability identification– How can the bad guys get in?
Now that you know what you’re protecting yourself from, you need to figure out how the attacks may take place. People really tend to not spend enough time on this as it makes many people uncomfortable. This involves figuring out what method of attack the bad guys will use. The design of your security solution and the layout of your property will either aid their efforts or prevent them.
Don’t underestimate the ingenuity of criminals to bypass security systems. These guys are often experts at committing crimes. This is literally what they do for a living. Play the “what if game”. Think about what could happen and determine how you can prevent it.
How would you break-in? In order to get a proper understanding of how to secure your home, you need to literally walk around it. Look at it from the point of view of a violent attacker. Pay careful attention to the perimeter walls that are adjoined to a neighbours property. Your neighbour’s weak security may lead to the place where a criminal can access your property. Here are some ideas to get you started identifying vulnerabilities.
- Can someone easily climb your neighbour’s wendy house and hop onto your roof?
- Do you have an area where people can see into your property?
- Does one of your perimeter walls have a vacant plot next to it?
- Do you take the bin out at exactly the same time on the same day each week?
The list is endless and each issue needs to be correctly identified and addressed.
Step 4- Consequences- Understand how you will be affected.
In order to correctly plan your home security solution, you need to properly understand the impact of the risks you face and the likelihood of the threats materialising.
The money you spend on them should be determined by the severity of the consequences and the likelihood of them happening. When determining how to secure your home, some examples would be:
Home invasion- I have a family. Home invasions in my area are often violent and women, in particular, are at risk. The consequences are severe. The likelihood of an attempt is high. This means I will spend every cent I can on mitigating this risk.
Theft of a motor vehicle– The consequences of losing my vehicle are medium and the probability of an attempt is high but it’s easy to mitigate as I have insurance. No lives are at risk, however, I will still take reasonable steps to prevent this.
Burglary- The consequences of losing my belongings are medium and the probability of an attempt is high but it’s easy to mitigate as I have insurance. No lives are at risk if we’re not home. I will still take reasonable steps to prevent this.
Theft of the lawn sprinklers on my pavement- The consequences are low. The probability is high as it’s happened before. Very annoying but I won’t be spending money to prevent it.
So to sum up. Once you’ve analysed what potential threats you face and identified where you are vulnerable, you need to understand the impact of an attack as determined by when it happens, how it happens and what the resulting consequences are. Not all risks are equal. I’ll go into threat and risk analysis in more depth in a future article for those who are interested.
Step 5- How to secure your home with a layered approach to Risk mitigation
Now that we’ve assessed what the threats are, what the consequences would be of each threat, if it occured and where we are vulnerable, we can really grasp the risks. We can now make informed decisions.
It is now time to take steps to mitigate the security risks. Essentially what this means is the following: I’ve seen that something can happen. I’ve seen how it can happen and I have decided that it is worth preventing it from happening. The question is what should we do?
The biggest problem that I have seen is disjointed security solutions that do one thing exceptionally well but leave big gaps. For example, people will put in very strong burglar bars on all the windows on one side of the house and then put none on the other. Sure cash for upgrades is always an issue but there are better ways to make use of your available resources.
We want to create a series of circles of protection around our home, like the layers of an onion. We need to create concentric circles around our living area that expand out to the perimeter and beyond. Each one needs to be as complete as possible. As far as possible we need to have means of Deterrence, detection, delay, response and management.
Every security situation is unique and every security solution should be customized to address the risks, however, the great thing is that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There are common tools that most South African’s are already very familiar with that you can use to secure your home. The key is not to look at how to secure your home from the point of view of just ticking boxes. On the one hand, it is critical to have a checklist in order to make sure you haven’t left out but on the other hand, simply ticking boxes will not necessarily address the risks appropriately and could potentially lead to security failures.
The 3 basic principals of security apply here.
- Physical and technical security
Going into too much depth on each one is beyond the scope of this article but one needs to understand that all 3 apply. Your “people” being your family and staff need to follow “procedures”, ie a list of basic rules in order to keep bad people from achieving their goals. Your physical security needs to facilitate this.
Now as I stated earlier, the common security measures that we use in South Africa to aid us in achieving this are as follows:
- Alarm systems- Detection of intrusion is critical. Each additional beam is like an ever-vigilant watchman. Split them up into zones to allow multiple layers with outdoor beams in the garden. Place indoor PIR’s inside the house in strategic places. Don’t forget the roof as this is often used in burglaries and home invasions.
- Security gates- You need openings to your home both on the perimeter and to the house. Make sure they are strong, attached properly and quick and easy to lock with good quality locks. Most important. Remember to lock them as they are useless when left unlocked.
- Walls – Good solid walls make for a good strong perimeter. They prevent evil eyes from watching what’s going on and they are tough to access.
- Fences- Electric fences on top of a wall increase the height of the perimeter barrier. They add a layer of detection, deterrence and delay. Other fencing options, when used strategically all have their place too.
- Burglar bars – When the bad guy wants to get in, there’s nothing like good old steel bars to slow them down. Bars give you and your security company more time to react.
- CCTV– A good CCTV system will help you to understand what’s happening with live information. This is useful with access control, to see who’s at the gate. It also helps to see where the guys are walking around on your property. It also can be a valuable tool for post appraisal in the right circumstances.
- Lighting- This is definitely something that can be included at a reasonable cost. We can’t leave lights on all night with electricity prices being what they are and the fact is that with load-shedding, they may not even work sometimes. That being said, lighting can be a valuable tool. If coupled with a good CCTV system, motion detector lights can be the difference between seeing and/or identifying criminals or not. When placed outside the perimeter, they can also alert passing security patrols to the presence of would-be intruders hiding in bushes.
- Strong rooms– This is certainly a big budget item when done properly and requires it’s own article. They are not common but definitely should be included if the budget allows. For regular families though it can be as simple as just putting a security gate in the passage to seal off the bedrooms from the rest of the house at night. This is of course, assuming that the windows in the enclosed area have burglar bars.
- Security guards- These are a big budget item and are not common in residential homes in most areas other than secure estates. Security guards can be an asset if budget allows and there is a growing trend to have them in certain wealthier areas. Having a security guard at the gate to perform proper access control and do regular patrols can certainly be a big win “if” they are trained and managed properly. A well trained, armed guard, can also provide a big advantage when entering and leaving the property.
- Pro-active security patrols- Unfortunately many areas do not have this option other than a community block watch. In areas where there are Pro-active patrols, you should certainly look into it. This model is expensive but has been shown to reduce crime by up to 80%. It is a critical security tool and should be made use of if available.
- Armed reaction– A good armed reaction company plays a vital role when it comes to securing your home. The reality is that if you don’t have one, then you may well be on your own when the poo hits the fan. Just make sure that they have a strong presence in your area and can access the garden via a digipad. Change the code frequently and advise the control room.
For me, the only reason not to use all of these to secure your home, if you live in a private house in Johannesburg is affordability. Some items are affordable for most. Some only for an elite few. For me personally, home security is a very high priority and worth significant spend.
I won’t go into depth about the installation and configuration of each in this article as each one deserves its own post. There are already numerous articles out there on the details of each. There are also a multitude of alternatives available and I can not possibly mention each one here.
Look at the above list as a checklist of commonly available effective tools to use in order to give your home a good level of coverage. Speak to an expert installer regarding each one to assist with installation. Just remember one thing. Most technicians are just that. They understand how to install products but they don’t always understand the big picture of how your home security works in synergy.
The most common problem I see with home security design
I am repeating myself because I see this issue recurring, like an unwanted wart wherever I go. Remember what I said about a layered approach. We need multiple layers to slow down the bad guys. They need to combine to give us deterrence, detection and delay, whilst still facilitating response. The barriers must be set out in concentric circles and not just haphazardly with random gates blocking walkways.
The plan needs to be holistic. Remember, we need to keep criminals out but armed responders must have easy access to clear the property.
A quick summary of how your security system should be set up based on common intrusion methods.
This brief synopsis is what you need to have mind regarding the setup of the tools listed in the previous paragraph. Always look at your security solution from the eyes of an attacker. Let’s look at a situation that would be considered optimal for many families. Obviously the wealthy can afford more and the poor can afford nothing. Each measure is aiming to detect deter and delay the attacker in order to buy us time to achieve an appropriate level of response. For the purposes of testing the entire solution, I have written the scenario where we have an incredibly skilled attacker who is able to breach each layer. Obviously, if our security is set up correctly, this should never happen. Ideally, the attacked would be deterred at each level, however that wouldn’t show the flow of the attack in the way that I’d like you to understand it.
The attackers arrive and carry out their hostile surveillance of your property. Once they’ve decided that it’s a good option, they do their planning and arrive when you least expect it. These devious guys have studied your local security patrols regular routes and have figured out how long they have to breach your perimeter.
The criminals encounter the outer circle. They see a wall more than 1.8 meters tall with electric fencing. The only opening is a large steel gate with anti-lift brackets. They manage to breach the electric fence without setting off an alarm or getting an electric shock.
It takes a while but they know how much time they have. The bad guys are now in the garden. As they look around the property, they see the outdoor beams. They also see your dogs toys and figure you probably have them set on pet friendly. They crawl under in just the right places like the true professionals that they are, without setting off the beams.
They get to your back door and find a big sturdy, steel security gate. They look for a window but find them all secured with steel burglar bars. They decide the easiest place to break in will be the lock on your back security gate. They grab a wrecking bar and the 3 of them pushing together manage to force open the gate.
They walk into the kitchen and look around. The PIR (Alarm sensor) in the kitchen picks them up and sounds the alarm, sending a signal to the alarm company. The home invaders calmly walk up the passage towards the bedrooms, guns in hand. They have done this many times and know how quick they will be. They get to the security gate in the passage before the bedrooms and feel frustrated. They get to work again with their wrecking bar.
While they are doing their work and the security company is on their way, you have woken up. You’ve checked the alarm pad in the bedroom and seen that it came from the kitchen. You don’t go investigate. Instead, you grab your gun, your cell phone and your family and go into the designated safe area where you lock the solid door and push the panic button to reinforce the urgency of the situation to the armed response company. (Safe rooms are a whole topic on their own). You check your CCTV and see one of the criminals keeping a lookout near the back door.
The armed response company arrives at the gate. They call the control room and get the code to the digipad. This opens the sliding gate and they enter, a little too calmly as they have already done this 40 times tonight. When checking the area, they find the broken security gate and enter. They clear the accessible part of the house and find that the criminals have fled. They check if you are ok and they secure the area and notify their patrols to look for the attackers. SAPS are called and a post-incident investigation is done. The bad guys are long gone.
Step 6- Identifying common gaps and Closing the rings
The above scenario is just to demonstrate how, while any security measures can be bypassed, by combining them in a seamless way, where they work together, you really increase your chances dramatically of surviving a potentially terrifying ordeal. Now the real trick is to deal with any holes in your home security system before this happens.
To understand how to secure your home, you can’t look at security features in isolation the way a specialist installer might. You have to see the gaps. Imagine you have a polystyrene cup with a hole at the bottom. You pour water in and it goes right through the hole. You place that cup into another cup that also has a hole at the bottom. The water goes through both holes. Repeat with a third cup that has a hole and the same things happen. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not enough to have multiple layers. You also have to make sure that the layers of security are complete.
The bad guys are literally looking for the weak point. For example. Don’t install burglar bars on all windows but one. Don’t install an electric fence and leave the back wall without an electric fence. Don’t put a massive security gate on the front door and nothing on the back door. It sounds obvious but you can’t believe how many people do this. Look, if we’re honest, you may have no option but to stagger the security upgrades due to budget but … rather try to get one complete layer than 3 incomplete layers. What I see all the time is 3 windows with Burglar bars and the rest without. One wall with electric fencing and the rest without. You get the idea.
Rather complete a full secure layer and then add another layer when you have funds. People always seem surprised that the bad guys found the weak point. I’m not surprised. This is their job. They know what to do. In the same way that you’re looking for how to secure your home, the bad guys are just as dedicated to figuring out how to break in.
More than just looking at your physical and technical security, you need to see what you can do to prevent hostile information gathering as this usually precedes any home invasion or burglary. Think about how you can detect the information gatherers. An example would be cameras looking out into the street. Look at where you openly give away information.
An example I remember is looking through someone’s gate at his new house. The gate was made up of bars that allowed a clear view of the garage. The garage doors were always left open, giving full view of his BMW and on that particular day, two brand new flat-screen TV’s, still in their boxes. Remember we need to not only prevent bad guys accessing the property by taking away their means to do so, we also don’t want to give them additional motives for targeting us in particular.
Step 7- Implementing procedures to secure your home
So now you’ve gone to the trouble of correctly assessing the risk and successfully implemented your security measures. Is this enough? The short answer is no. You need to implement basic procedures about entering and leaving your house. You don’t need a set of procedure files for your home if it’s just yourself and your family staying there but you do need a strict set of rules that everyone follows. Everyone must verify strangers before opening the gate. No one must leave the gate open. Simple rules like this can be life-saving. It extends to when you enter your property, such as paying attention to who is in the road when you pull in. Breaking your regular routine where possible. For example, by arriving at different times to usual. Ensuring proper access control and making sure you verify any unknown visitors before letting them in.
Step 8- Teaching your family and staff to keep your home secure.
You’ve come a long way now as the protector of your home. The journey to securing your home is still not complete, however. It is vitally important that you educate your family and staff to do the same. All your effort is wasted if your spouse keeps leaving the gate open. If your gardener works on the pavement every Tuesday afternoon with the house keys in his pockets, he is an easy target and therefore so is your family.
Make sure that every member of the household knows where the panic buttons are and how they work. Ensure that if there is an intruder, they all know who to call and what to do. Make sure they all know how to verify visitors properly and how to stop bad guys from collecting info that can help them break in later.
Step at 9- Vetting of staff and live ins.
It’s terrible to think that someone who you’ve have let into your home and looked after could betray your trust, yet I have seen this happen again and again and again. Some people can live with a bit of cash going missing and some can’t. This is not the issue though.
The issue is real danger. If you have a domestic worker or gardener who either opens the gate for criminals or gives out information or keys to aid them in getting in and tying you up, then you have a very serious problem. If you’re seeking how to secure your home, then this aspect simply can not be overlooked.
Explain to anyone who passes an interview to work for you that you will do a criminal check. Insist on taking a photo of their ID or passport and make sure you get a criminal check done. Make sure you check references and ask if they were trusted. Remember that this person will have major access to your home. If you are too shy to check them out, it could cost you your money or even your life.
Step 10- Prevention Of Hostile Information Gathering
I’ve discussed this before but it deserves its own paragraph. Any security system can be bypassed if you have enough information. Before criminals attack you as you come in or even before they break-in, they need information. When you see people watching your house, ask your armed response company to check them out. The same applies if you have people arriving at the gate and asking questions.
The bad guys may peak over your wall. Take into account the electric fencing garden beams, burglar bars and cameras. As they walk past your perimeter camera, a motion-triggered light turns on. It highlights their presence. They decide that there is no way they can risk trying to break in. They are still determined though.
This has lead over the past few years to a disturbing trend of driveway robberies. The criminals study your routines. They see what time you come and go. They watch you sit in your driveway after you pull in. They notice that you leave the gate open while you check your WhatsApp. They are ready and waiting. This means it’s no good to just have physical security. If you really want to know how to secure your home, you have to see the big picture.
The length of this article is getting a bit out of hand so I’ll go into more depth about each area that I’ve discussed in future posts. Please feel free to ask anything you want in the comments and I’ll be sure to take the time to answer you.