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What To Do When An Intruder Breaks In

How Having A Plan Can Save Your Life

Itís 2 a.m. You are awakened by a noise downstairs.  More noise.  Someone is in the house!  Your heart poundsÖyour mind races.  What should you do?  Grab a baseball bat and creep into the hall to investigate?  Call the police and wait?  Try to escape?

Itís a terrifying situation that happens to thousands of people.  Each year, about 16% of American households experience a property crime.  Occasionally, a criminal breaks in while someone is at home Ė so it pays to know what you should do.


Prevent A Tragedy

Make a plan Ė now.  There is no single best strategy.  Some people can climb out a window and run for helpÖothers live or sleep on upper floors and are unable to flee for physical reasons.  If you can safely escape and get help Ė do it.

Once An Intruder Is Inside

Be very quiet and listen.  How many intruders are there?  Are they ransacking the house?  Are they making their way toward you?

Donít argue with your spouse about what to do.  This alerts the intruder to where you are.

Donít leave your bedroom with a bat or a flashlight.  A surprised intruder is likely to react violently.  You have better options available to you than attempting to confront the intruder.  If you have family to protect you cannot protect them if the intruder gets past you.

Get to a safe place.  A safe room is one of the best options.  Unlike what you have seen in the movies, it doesnít have to be large and filled with gadgets.  An interior closet with a sturdy door that opens out is just fine.  Put a deadbolt lock on the inside of the door and, most important, recharge your cell phone in there every night.  Then, if you do hear someone in your home, you can go in the closet, lock it and call the police.  Even if the intruder takes a phone off the hook to prevent you from calling for help, you will be able to call the police.  You should be safe until the police arrive.

If you donít have a safe room, gather your family in a room, lock the door and barricade it with furniture and other heavy objects.  Choose the most secure room with the best door and lock, stay there.

Make sure you have a charged cell phone.  Program your automatic-dial phones to call 911.  Itís difficult to push even three buttons when youíre panicked and your hands are shaking.  Tell the police dispatcher your address and situation in a few sentences.  Be specific.

Example: ďSomeone has just broken into my house.  It sounds like one person.  I donít know if he has a weapon.  Heís downstairs in the living room.  Iím upstairs in the master bedroom with my wife.Ē

Leave the phone line open so the dispatcher can listen to what is happening.

If the intruder reaches the room and turns the doorknob, be prepared to act.  Do not call out, ďIíve called the police.Ē  By doing so, you will give away your location.  Your bedroom door should have a lock.

Encountering The Intruder

Remain calm and cooperative if the intruder confronts you.  How you behave in the first 30 seconds can set the tone for all that follows.  When violence does occur, it almost always does within these first few moments.

Speak in as normal a voice as you can.  Make no sudden moves.  Tell him that you will cooperate.  Hold your hands up to shoulder level.  It appears compliant, yet it affords you the ability to have your hands ready for defense.

Avoid direct eye contact.  The intruder may interpret this as aggressive behavior and worry that youíll be able to identify him later.

The outcome of a break-in depends on the intruders.  Most burglars will flee unless they are surprised or confronted.

Home invasion robberies Ė a small but growing trend Ė can last for hours and are always violent.  They are carried out by thugs who try to intimidate home owners into divulging dafe combinations and bank ATM personal identification numbers, and handling over credit cards that canít be reported stolen while the owners are being held hostage.

Create a distress code with your burglar-alarm company.  If you are being held and your alarm has been triggered, you can signal trouble when its representative calls to authenticate the alarm.  Your signal might be, ďNo, I canít meet you tomorrow.Ē  Or just donít pick up the call, so the company will send the police.

The Weapons Options

Itís your right and personal choice to own a firearm.  People generally arenít willing to shoot when they need to.  You must be trained properly mentally as well as physically.  Guns are fired in less than 2% of home-intruder situations but a criminal seeing the weapon and fleeing are in dramatically higher percentages.  Also, you need to keep the gun loaded and nearby for it to be effective.  With children living in or visiting your home you need to have an adequate safe to allow you access and still keep the weapon from children.

If you have pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, or OC), only use it if you need help to escape.  Facial contact and inhalation of the spray will induce up to 45 minutes of coughing, choking, nausea and temporary blindness.  Even residual fumes can make your hiding place unbearable and can be hazardous to people with respiratory and heart conditions.

Your local police department can tell you if you legally can buy pepper spray in your state and where to learn how to use it.  As with any weapon you must have a plan and be prepared to use it.

If You Fight

Never take aggressive action unless you believe that you are in a life-threatening situation.  Escape almost always is the better option.

If you decide to fight back, look for an opportunity when the intruder lets down his guard.  Use a hard object to strike his eyes or throat as fast and hard as you can.  Donít worry about inflicting injury.  Run as soon as heís stunned, and yell to get someoneís attention.  The intruder would rather escape than become the center of attention.

Preventing Trouble

Many break-ins can be avoided.  Prevention begins with strong doors.  Most burglaries and break-ins occur through the front door (34%) or the back door (22%).

Install steel-covered solid wood doors that are at least 1.75 inches thick.  Make sure the doorjamb is steel as well.  Any glass panels in or near your doors should be made of unbreakable glass.

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Last modified: April 5,2013