When Bugging Out is NOT an Option: Strengthening Security to Shelter in Place

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You have Questions, we try to answer.  The following series of upcoming Tuesday Prepping posts are in response to Reader Questions about what basic steps should anyone new to prepping or becoming aware of their own home’s vulnerability should take to prepare and secure themselves should the security situation in the USA begin to decline more precipitously than it is now.

There are a lot of posts about how to prep for a SHTF/TEOTWAWKI scenario and “bugging out” when that happens.

It’s just not practical – for a variety of reasons.  Most people who subscribe to this romantic notion of packing it all up and fleeing to safety in the hinterlands are living in a world not grounded in reality.  Generally, they’re people who have never lived off the grid or without modern amenities for any extended period of time.

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Here at the StopShouting Casa, we have lots of experience living in less than optimal circumstances, so we know a little of which we speak.  For 4 months a year for the first 17 years of my life, I lived in a small, hand-hewn hideaway in the remote bush, with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and “running water” consisted of hand carried buckets from the lake to the wood stove, where the water would be boiled to make it potable.  We didn’t call it “off the grid” back then, we called it “summers at the cottage”.  Later, I worked in some of the continent’s most remote areas, where our team was dropped in-country with our supplies by float taxi (airplane), only to be picked up in extreme emergencies.

Much later, married with young children, we relocated to a small rural community, where the phone was a party line, there was no cable or internet, and the principle source of heat was a wood stove backed up by propane emergency heat.  It was taken for granted that homeschooling in most of the winter months was a necessity as it was physically impossible to get to “school”.  We call these years the “Upscale Amish” period.  My DH, in his military life, has experienced “off grid” living in a variety of harsh climates from the jungles of Central America to the deserts of the Mideast and has seen what happens up close and personal when a country implodes, either politically or economically.  Our boys grew up sleeping under the stars and eating MRE’s by choice to emulate their own personal hero (Dad) with visions of Swiss Family Robinson in their heads.

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Been there, done that.  Let me tell you:  I like hot water on demand, refrigeration and clean 800 thread sheets.  No one should be wishing for a societal collapse to usher in a new political paradigm.  No one.

I’ll be writing a series of posts on Prepping, what is practical and what is not from my personal POV.

To start off our Tuesday series, I’m going to write about a real scenario that many people find themselves faced with:  what if “Bugging Out” is not an option except for the absolute, worst case, immediately life-threatening situation?

While most people are drawing up lists for pantries, esoteric hand tools and mini surgical suites, the first focus should be plusing-up the basic physical security of whereever you are currently living.

We’ve been faced with this exact scenario recently.  A condo townhouse purchased by an elderly relative which can not be sold (for reasons too complicated to explain in a post) is in an area which is undergoing a RAPID deterioration in both physical security and personal safety.  Demographics are changing, and with that deliberately manufactured demographic shift a concomitant rise in crime such as breakins, thefts, carjackings and assaults is being felt.

The condo townhome board, “behind the times” as it were, still insists on denying property owners the right to install metal security gates or hurricane shutters, citing “visual blight”.  What once were selling features – large picture windows, expansive patio doors and soaring screened in porches – are now viewed through a different lens.

I will discuss today three simple and unobtrusive ways a property owner in this situation can “plus-up” the physical security of their dwelling without the enhancements being obvious to the casual observer.

First – Garage Doors.  Save for the industrial type doors for commercial applications, there is no residential grade garage door in the world that will completely survive the onslaught of a mob dedicated to breaching your perimeter.  However, some simple fixes can make your home difficult to enter and should buy you enough time to adjust your security posture and take appropriate actions.

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The most obvious one would be to replace glassed sections of doors with sufficiently thick shatter proof acrylic sheeting like Lexan securely mounted into the frames (more than just pinned in place with screws or brad nails).  These types of products can be found in any hardware store, and can often be cut to custom size on site.  The same goes for any sidelights around doors or ground floor windows.  Even if you can only budget for one window per paycheck, starting with basic security upgrades will pay greater dividends in the long run than buying expensive water treatment systems or night vision gear.  If you’re not the handy type, this is the type of retrofit than any local glass or mirror supplier/contractor can do.  Call around for prices, there can be wide variation in quotes.
This is the type of replacement product I am talking about

The second simple low cost thing a homeowner can do is to take steps to secure the garage door so that it can not be forced up on the roller track.  Solving this problem can be achieved as easily as placing a metal C-clamp completely through the track above the rollers.  In our home, we use two high quality bicycle locks on either side, and it is part of the standard security perimeter checks family members do to ensure our home is secure for the night.

Second – the Front Door and other Main Entry Points:  How do you secure front doors retroactively?

Exterior doors are a main point of entry for criminals during robberies and home invasions. This security graphic from 2010, though slightly dated, provides a close approximation of what the entry points and targets are for burglars

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Home Invasion/Security graphic courtesy of asecurelife.com

The most stunning item on this graphic is that fully 1/3 of burglaries come through the front door. Think about that for a moment. Your front door is the most likely place they come in through. This may be for a few reasons. Consider that you may be watched, they know if you lock that door or not. If they are watching you, they will know if you use your deadbolt (if you have one).

Although this may be a bit of a wake-up call to suburbanites, not all your neighbors are like you. They may have a “cousin” staying over because they were getting into trouble elsewhere, they may have friends over… you just do not know unless you are paying attention to your environment. Things like extra cars appearing (sometimes with out of state plates) and staying, a change in patterns of parties given, different children at bus stops as you commute out to work in the morning. These non-typical suburban implants behave differently. They often are truant, so during the day they may be seen wandering through yards and jiggling door handles to see what is left unlocked by careless suburbanites. They are nothing if not opportunistic. They will check front doors by canvassing for “support the school team” candy sales and similar ploys. Next time you see this coming down the block, wait and see how long and how persistent they are at your door. I have even seen them try to peer in through windows while playing this scam. This is no joke, these junior recon team members do this in “nice” suburbs because as John Dillinger stated, “because that is where the money is”.

So, to recap so far, you are probably being watched. In your own neighborhood. By opportunistic scouts on foot, perhaps by truants looking to move up in their gang watching you from the recesses of a nearby house (binoculars, through blinds or lace curtains, dark room… very hard to detect).

Your front door (any entry door, really) is actually very easy to reinforce. This is important as it provides you a physical barrier to violence and criminality and allows you to sleep better at night. You can replace the entire door with a commercial security door with multiple latch points in the frame (go to a Big Box Home Improvement store, take a look at the cost … and then come back here).

There are several points of improvement on a door that can easily be made by homeowners. You do not need to even be “handy”. The tools you need are basic, they can probably be borrowed from within your family or bought at a pawn shop/Habitat for Humanity if you are really pinched for cash (and who isn’t, these days?) Consider a cordless drill to be key, as doing all the screws by hand will wear you out and take quite some time. Have on hand assorted drill bits (for pilot holes), perhaps a wood chisel for countersinking and adjusting clearances.

The first item that should be improved upon for any standard suburban tract home exterior door is the door jamb. The door jamb is what breaks under forced entry, not so much failure of hinges and locks. The very frame splinters when subject to force. The screws pull out, latches fail. The key is to spread out the force so that no single point fails. This reinforcing product is effective, inexpensive and easy to install.

Self-explanatory video on how these door jamb reinforcement products work”

Third – Windows, Patio Doors, French Doors Etc. Windows and doors that are principally glass suspended in a door frame present a huge risk in a rapidly declining security situation.  The most cost-effective solution is to measure, cut and prepare plywood sheathing to install over the windows or doors if the security situation reaches an apex.  These must be prepared and test-installed well in advance of when they are needed, and stored in an easy to access location.  This solution has the down side of taking time and usually more than one person to safely and properly install.

Home Invasions leading to death or critical injury of the occupants are on the rise

Another solution is often seen in third world areas or American urban cores of cities – metal door screening or shutters.  Our apartment in Manhattan had folding accordian style metal window grates similar to these on all windows next to the fire escape which were locked in place at night or whenever we left the apartment, but these also pose a safety risk if they can not be easily unlocked by children or elderly residents of the dwelling.

However, for every day living, that’s not practical or desirable.  Plus, if you are in a HOA or Condo association like this relative, it will also be forbidden.

A recent entry to the home security market are products that mimic the look and appearance of “normal” screens, but are in fact shatter proof steel mesh that resists cutting and blunt force trauma.  These types of security upgrades usually are acceptable to most condo or HOA boards, or, in the most dire circumstances, could be stealthily installed without them being the wiser.  For homeowners who are looking at the big picture and realize that “sheltering in place” is the most likely scenario they will find themselves in, one has to balance the not insignificant cost of such this type of physical plant upgrade with the price to be paid if you and your loved ones are the victims of mob violence and/or a home invasion.

https://vimeo.com/63649068

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be continuing with our series on Prepping, starting with a review of basic security measures.  Our focus will be on beginning our review on the outside of your residence, including the perimeter and then moving our way indoors, looking at the “big picture” problems and practical solutions.

As always, we appreciate your feedback, questions and concerns.  You can follow us on Twitter at @stopshoutblog or email us.  If you’ve found what we share here useful, hitting the Tip Jar allows us to focus more on providing practical content that you can use.

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