Monday, July 14, 2014

Home security and earthquake preparation tips

So we're gonna start today's post on a bit of a downer.  A couple of years ago, our house was broken into while we were both at work.  The burglars took every single piece of jewelry I owned, except for my watch and wedding/engagement rings, which I always wear.  This also means I lost my other wedding jewelry (we had just gotten married a couple of weeks prior), my MIT class ring, and literally .every.single.other. piece of jewelry I owned.  Nothing of huge value, but plenty of sentimental value.  They also took a pillowcase to stash the goods in - SO annoying to still look at every night, since our fancy splurge bazillion thread count sheet set comes in a very distinct and difficult-to-replicate shade of rust.  Annndd they took a Playstation 3 controller!! Annoying because for some reason I still can't figure out how to program our replacement one to not fall asleep after 2 minutes.  But I digress...

Anyway, while the damage could have been far worse, I want to share some info today that I wish we had done before anything bad like this happened.  It's a terrifying feeling to think that someone prowled through our house and looked through all our stuff.  This experience also totally changed my mindset about emergency situations that I always thought were rare instances - fire, and particularly in the Bay Area, earthquakes.

Securing your home

Many police departments provide crime maps of recent crimes so you can get an idea of how seriously you need to beef up security.  If there have been burglaries (i.e. forced entry) anywhere close to you within the past few weeks or months, this is a good sign to take things seriously.  Don't count on your neighbors, luck, or "that won't happen to us" to keep your home safe.

Front door setup

Our front door had been kicked in, and was beyond repair.  If you happen to be replacing an exterior door anyway, this is a really easy extra step to take.  Instead of installing your door so that it opens inward when you walk into the house, have it open outwards.  This makes it far more difficult to kick in, which is otherwise relatively easy to do and probably the most common method of forced entry.  (Much more common, we're told by the security company, than breaking glass, which can injure the burglar.)

If you care, it is a little awkward opening the door to answer the doorbell, but that's an inconvenience I'm willing to live with for a more secure home.

In-wall hidden safe

The police told us that once a burglar enters your house, they want to get in and out really quickly.  They will definitely be going to your bedroom, and looking for jewelry which is easy to carry and pawn.  If you have really valuable jewelry, or small items that have a lot of sentimental value, I'd recommend getting a safe - they're not going to bother with it.  There's also all sorts of cheaper camouflage (hidden lightswitch, clocks, etc.) options.

Garage door cord

I'm not sure how often burglars actually break into a house this way, but it's so easy you might as well.  Cut the little red plastic handle off of your garage door release cord, which is apparently really easy to pull from the outside using a coat hanger (see videos all over youtube).

If your garage door breaks and you actually need to use this for its intended purpose, you can get a chair or ladder and easily pull it.

Security system

If you live in an area where crime is really really rare and don't want to spare the monthly subscription fees, there are also some DIY options that will just set off an audible alarm but won't necessarily alert the police.  This is still far better than nothing, because once a burglar hears that alarm they are going to SCRAM.  Just do it.  Having your home invaded and stuff taken is the worst feeling.  Seriously.

But if you have neighbors who've had homes broken into, just get the real deal and have a control center that will contact the local police department.  Plus, you will probably get a discount on your homeowner's insurance which will help offset the cost.


While we're at it, why not prepare for other potential disasters?  You can do the following to prepare for a major earthquake, both for safety and to protect your stuff:

Assemble an emergency bag: enough supplies to survive for at least three days, ideally a week
Glue down small valuables using Museum Putty, which I got from Amazon.
Strap down big TVs and top-heavy furniture using QuakeHOLD! products, which I picked up from Home Depot.

Here are some more earthquake tips from the state of California.  I find that I have to look up on a regular basis what to do in an earthquake because I think about it so rarely.  So if you live in California, read that page!


Our security system has a fire alarm hooked up to it, so if there is a fire when no one is home, the local fire department will be alerted.  In the burglary freak-out session, I went around and made sure our smoke detectors work, so test those batteries!

Fire extinguisher: make sure you have one for small (note: small) kitchen fires.
I've been told in a fire extinguishing training by a fire fighter that if you give the extinguisher a REALLY good shake about once a year, they actually won't expire like the labels say.  If you have a grill far away from the kitchen, consider putting an extinguisher close to there too.

So I'll get off the soapbox now and stop there.  Be safe and be prepared, everyone!

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