Category: Security Tips
Summer is officially in full swing, and that means it’s vacation time for millions of Americans. In fact, 35% of Americans planned to take family vacations this summer. Leaving the rat race behind for a relaxing visit to the beach or an amusement park is a long-standing tradition; however, you don’t want to come back to the aftermath of a break-in.
Along with planning the perfect itinerary, you also need to plan ahead to keep your home from being targeted by burglars while you’re out having fun in the sun. Make sure your rest and relaxation don’t get hijacked by a criminal, and avoid these four common mistakes that roll out the welcome mat for thieves.
Mistake #1: Telling Burglars You’re Out of Town
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is for the bad guys to figure out that your home is currently vacant. The biggest culprit is social media. A recent survey by Eyewitness Surveillance found that 78% of burglars use social media to find their ideal target. With nearly one-third of all vacationers posting pictures of their adventure while they’re away, it’s easy to see why criminals rely on social media.
The Solution: Instead of posting vacation photos immediately, save them up and make a fun friends-only album for loved ones to enjoy once you get back. If you absolutely can’t wait to share your awesome vacation pics, create a private group and share info and photos about your vacation in that group only. Other signs that tell a thief your home is empty include piled up newspapers or mail, a neglected lawn, and a porch light that never goes off, so plan to avoid those as well.
Mistake #2: Leaving a Key Under the Mat
No matter how many times we hear what a bad idea this is, many of us continue to leave a spare key under a welcome mat or potted plant. Canary Home Security found that one in 10 people still leave an extra key hidden somewhere outside their door. The top places people hide keys include in an unattached garage or shed; under a mat, pot or garden ornament; and on the windowsill.
The Solution:. Before you hit the road or board that plane, make sure that any spare keys hidden around your property are removed. If you need someone to have access to your home while you’re away, give them a copy of the key in person, or better yet, upgrade to a smart lock that lets you control your locks remotely or uses a code instead of a traditional key.
Mistake #3: Not Talking to the Neighbors
You want to keep mum about your vacation on social media, but you can benefit from letting your neighbors know that you’re going to be out of town. This way they can keep an eye out for any suspicious activity at your home. It’s one of the most convenient, affordable, and effective home security strategies you can implement, and all it takes is a quick conversation.
The Solution: Be sure to give your neighbors ample notice that you’ll be out of town. If you’re on friendly terms, you might also ask them if they can pick up your mail, roll out your garbage can on trash pickup day, or even park their car in your driveway. This will help give the impression that your home is still occupied, and will encourage burglars to move on to a different target.
Mistake #4: Providing Easy Access
Almost 30% of all burglars walk right through the front door or gain access through an open window. They particularly like ground-floor windows that are easy to enter and are partially obscured by trees or hedges. Another way to make your home appealing to a thief is to leave a ladder out, leaning against the roof.
The Solution: Be sure to do a final inspection of all windows and doors before you load up the suitcases. Make sure everything is locked up tight, including the garage door. If you have a sliding glass door, insert a wooden or steel rod into the runner for added security. Remove any ladders or step stools that you regularly use and put them in a locked garage or shed. You can also achieve stronger peace of mind by investing in a security system. If you opt for a system with home automation, you can even double-check the locks while you’re on vacation right from your smartphone.
There’s a lot to remember to ensure that your family vacation goes off without a hitch. As you’re packing up swimsuits and extra sunscreen, don’t forget to make home security part of your vacation planning checklist.
Many of us wait all year long for our vacation, and the last thing we want to think about is the safety of our home when we’re away. Stop those nagging worries before they start by taking the right measures to safeguard your home before you hit the road.
- Let someone else keep an eye on your house
One of the best ways to enjoy your vacation with complete peace of mind is to utilize a monitored security system. Monitored systems do more than set off an alarm to scare burglars away—they have someone watching the activity at your house 24/7. Whether your garden gets raided by local wildlife or someone tries to get in the front door, a monitored security system alerts the monitoring system right away so that they can call in the necessary backup to ensure that you return to your home the same way you left it.
- Disconnect the garage door
This is one vulnerability that many homeowners overlook, but it’s becoming a more common entry point for criminals. Make sure thieves can’t hack your garage door opener, and disconnect it while you’re away. Be sure you have a secure manual lock, and you won’t need to give your garage door another thought.
- Activate the neighborhood watch
Whether your neighborhood has a formal watch program or not, it’s smart to let neighbors and the local police know that you are going to be out of town. Ask them to keep an extra eye on your home and reward them with a little souvenir when you get back. Many police departments offer vacation security checks, so find out about the program in your neck of the woods and take advantage before you jet away.
- Make your spare key disappear
No matter how cleverly you think you’ve hidden your spare key, criminals are savvy to most homeowners’ tricks. The best way to ensure no one gains entry to your house via an extra key, is to get rid of them. If you usually keep a key hidden somewhere for your kids or a pet sitter, remove it. If you have someone stopping by to water plants or check on Fido while you’re away, give them their own key—and hand it to them personally. Even better, you can upgrade to smart locks that use a code or remote entry so that you never again have to worry about keys falling into the wrong hands.
- Use timers
Instead of leaving one light on that never changes the whole time you’re away (criminals are very familiar with this tactic to try and fool them), put lights on timers to mimic the normal movements in your home. You can also put a radio or TV on a timer, which gives the added bonus of sound, which helps deter would-be burglars. The addition of a motion-sensor light outside your home’s main entry points is another good idea—burglars hate being in the spotlight.
- Stop deliveries
This includes mail, newspaper, and any regular shipments you receive. Nothing tips off a burglar better than a growing pile of unclaimed mail. The post office will hold your mail and deliveries for you until you get back. Avoid random packages being dropped off, by letter friends and family know that you will be away, and ask them not to send anything during your absence. If they must send a package, have them send it to a nearby delivery site and ask if it can be held there until you return. Both FedEx and UPS can accommodate such a request.
- Don’t neglect the lawn
Another clue that no one is home can be a yard that is growing out of control. If you normally keep your lawn trimmed and neat, be sure to hire someone to keep up the maintenance when you’re away. If you leave town in the winter, the same goes for snow. Be sure to have someone on call to get out a shovel if a big winter storm hits.
- Stay off social media
It’s so tempting to post a bunch of pics celebrating your escape from the day-to-day grind, but this can be a signal to others that your home is just sitting there vacant and ready to be compromised. In our instant-gratification world it can feel frustrating to have to hold off on uploading your awesome vacation photos, but your patience can pay off when it comes to keeping your home secure. After you get home create a special album and share all the videos and pics your vacationing heart desires.
Getting out of Town is always fun, so make sure your next getaway isn’t ruined by a break-in. Use these tips to deter thieves and help keep your home safe and secure no matter where you are. If you have another vacation home safety tip that wasn’t on our list, let us know in the comments!
Leaving kids home alone is always nerve-wracking, even when they’re technically old enough to stay by themselves while you make a quick run for milk. Because there will be times when your children are home on their own, it’s smart to prepare them (and you) for this eventuality.
If you do nothing else, these five strategies will make sure your kids stay safe—and keep you from having a panic attack.
- Plan for Safety
Having a plan in place can make all the difference when kids need to be home alone. Cover all the bases by including everything from an emergency contact list (include poison control and police in addition to neighbors, friends, and family) to a fully-stocked first aid kit. Your home alone safety plan should also help your child know what to do in different situations, including a fire, natural disaster, or other emergency.
Before leaving them home on their own, review the plan in detail and run safety drills to help them understand and remember what needs to happen in an emergency. Make sure your emergency contacts know that they’re on your list, and give them a heads-up when you have to leave the kids home alone. It also helps to add reminders about things like how to answer the door when you’re away and when it’s time to call for help. Keep the plan in an easily accessible place and review it regularly.
- Set the Ground Rules
Ground rules that cover what kids can and cannot do when they’re home alone should be a significant piece of your overall safety plan. Include guidelines that address emergency situations and normal, everyday routines.
- Cooking: Depending on the age and ability of your child, you may want to make the stove and oven off-limits when you’re away. There is much less risk with the microwave, so if you let them use it, be sure to practice with them when you’re at home so they’ll be comfortable and confident heating up food when you’re not there. The knife drawer should also be locked up tight.
- Answering the Door: The safest policy is not answering the door at all when kids are home alone. This eliminates the need for them to remember a script about what to say and do. If you make exceptions to this (such as a neighbor or relative stopping by to check in) be sure kids know in advance and institute the use of a safe word for extra security.
- Answering the Phone: If you still have a home phone, just let it go to voicemail. However, leaving a cell phone with your children is a great way to stay in touch with them and make sure they don’t accidentally answer the phone to a stranger and tip off their home-alone status.
- Friends: You need to decide if it’s okay for friends to come over when you’re not at home. This will depend on your children and their friends. If you do allow friends, be specific about who exactly is allowed to visit, for how long, and who will be dropping them off and picking them up. Clear and verify everything with the friend’s parents in advance.
- Screen Time: When the parents are away, the children will most definitely want to play. If you’re worried about too much TV or computer time, set a limit. Also, make sure parental controls are in place to keep kids from accessing inappropriate content.
- Locks: Check that all doors and windows are locked before you leave, and make sure children know not to unlock them while you’re away. If you have an alarm system, be sure to set it and make sure kids are trained with how to operate the system if they need to.
- Check In
One of the best ways to have peace of mind when you have to leave your children home alone, is to hear their voices on the other end of a phone. Be sure to check in with them regularly—and let them know when to expect your call—if you’re going to be gone for a significant length of time. You might also want to send over a neighbor to make sure everything is okay. Let kids know in advance about the approved visitor, including what time to expect them.
If your kids have a cell phone, consider using GPS to keep track of their movements, or use an app like Find My Friends to make sure they’re where they are supposed to be. There are also specially-designed wearable trackers for kids that can let you communicate with them, see where they are, and even set up a geofence that will alert you if they stray beyond the boundary you’ve established.
- Lockdown Danger
Just because your kids are locked safely inside your home, doesn’t mean they are totally out of harm’s way. Lock up dangerous items like household chemicals and poisons. This policy needs to extend to the yard and garage as well. Make sure all pesticides, weed killer, bug spray, fertilizer, oil, gas, etc. are out of reach and under lock and key, if needed.
If you have guns, be sure they are locked up securely and that the ammunition is likewise secured in a separate location. Put a lock on the liquor cabinet, and secure all medications in a secure, tamper-proof manner. If your medicine cabinet doesn’t come with a lock, you can add one or invest in a lockbox to keep dangerous pills out of little hands.
- Use Smart Tech
Thanks to technology, you can literally keep an eye on your wee ones, even if you’re miles away. Whether or not you already have a security system, you should consider tools like surveillance cameras and motion detection to help keep children safe when you’re not there. If being home alone is a regular occurrence (e.g. after school) this can provide all the peace of mind you need to know your family is safe. Systems with home automation can let you see and talk to your kids, check in on homework, and even alert you when different doors or cabinets are opened.
For those who live in apartments, or aren’t ready to invest in a whole security system, consider a video doorbell. This lets you see when the kids get home after school, and can also include two-way audio that lets you talk to them. It also gives you a visual and a voice if a stranger does knock on the door when you’re away. Smaller, all-in-one security systems like Piper are another good option if you want smart security, but also need to keep your up-front costs down.
At some point, all kids will end up home without you. As they get older, this becomes more and more commonplace. Use these tips to make sure your family is prepared for this next phase. A few common sense strategies and using the technology available can make staying home alone a safe, enjoyable “next step” as your children grow and gain independence.
We take great measures to keep our homes and families safe, but even with fancy alarm systems and high-tech locks, we still need to teach our children about home security. Kids who are prepared feel more confident and less panicky if a real-life emergency or security threat happens.
Make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect your family—including these three important home security tips that every child should know.
How to Answer the Door
All children, and especially young ones, need to know that they should never open the door to anyone other than immediate family, unless otherwise instructed by Mom or Dad. When the doorbell rings or someone knocks and no parents are home, kids need to be prepared with a clear plan of action.
- Don’t say you’re alone: The first thing kids should remember is to never tell anyone that they are home alone. Instead, they should say that their parent or guardian is busy and unable to come to the door right now.
- Keep the door locked and closed: No matter what the person on the other side of the door says, unless they have been pre-approved by you, children shouldn’t open the door. If someone says they are a repairman or neighbor, your children must tell them to come back later. If a person claims to be a policeman, instruct your child to call the local police department to confirm—and they should let the person at the door know they are calling.
- Practice: Run “home alone” drills with your children before leaving them at home on their own. Practice knocking on the door and role playing different scenarios so that they feel prepared and confident.
What to Do in an Emergency
None of us want our kids to have to deal with an emergency situation, but they’ll be less frightened if they know what to do in advance. Here are the basic emergency procedures you should review with your children on a regular basis.
- How to call 911: Review when to call 911, and prepare your children for what to do if they need to call in an emergency. Be sure they memorize your address and phone number and can repeat them back to the 911 operator. Instruct them to listen carefully to what the operator tells them and to follow all instructions they are given. If you have a security system, conduct similar drills so they know how to use your security system to call for help.
- What to do if there’s a fire: Create a fire evacuation plan and run regular fire drills with the whole family. Make sure everyone understands where to go and what to do in the event of a fire. Explain things like leaving clothes, toys, and blankets behind so that your child can get out of the house as quickly as possible. Identify a meeting place and who the kids should contact if parents aren’t present or out of the house yet.
How to Lock Things Up
Nearly one third of all break-ins happen through an unlocked door or window. Whether you have an alarm system or rely on good, old fashioned door and window locks, your kids should know how to make sure everything is locked up tight.
- Show them all the locks: Take your children on a tour through your home and point out where every door and window lock is. Show them how to lock and unlock each point of entry and then have them practice doing it themselves. Remind them to check that windows and doors are locked whenever they are home alone, and after they come inside or close an open window. It may seem like overkill, but the safest way to ensure good habits is to have children lock a door or window after each time they are opened.
- Teach them about your security system: If you have a security system, make sure your children know where the access panels are and how to arm and disarm the system. Create a security code that will be easy for your children to remember, but emphasize that it’s a strict family-only secret. Have your kids practice arming and disarming the system, and make sure they know to never disarm the system without your permission.
At American Alarm Systems, we want to keep you and your children as safe as possible. Review these important home security tips with your children, and let us know in the comments about any other safety tips you’ve used with your family.