Here’s What Experts Say Is Exactly What to Do if Someone Breaks Into Your House
Your first response when you realize someone is in your home will be panic and a surge of adrenaline. Having a plan in place can go a long way toward helping you stay calm and make the best choices you can to protect your home and family.
Break-ins are a violation of one of our most sacred and personal spaces: our homes. A criminal breaking into an empty home is a concern, but the threat of a home invasion when the residents are at home is what keeps many people awake at night. While most homeowners fear an overnight break-in, FBI statistics show that most home invasions occur during the day, so homeowners are more likely to be surprised by a burglar in the daylight hours than upon awakening from a sound sleep. This gives the residents of the home an opportunity. Very little will stop a really determined burglar, but having a plan in place and a few minutes to execute it makes a positive outcome more likely. Thinking ahead, as difficult as it may be, can save precious time when deciding what to do if someone breaks into your house.
Burglars can be creative, and situations can shift unexpectedly during a crime, so there’s no way to map out exact plans for every eventuality. Planning home defense tactics isn’t as simple as, for example, fire safety planning, where residents can choose which exit they’ll use depending on the location of the fire, because home invasions do not follow a predictable path. Plans for a break-in response need to be simple and flexible so that they can be quickly implemented in a variety of situations. Layers of preparation and planning can provide some peace of mind.
What to Do If Someone Breaks Into Your House: Tips
- Invest in preventative measures, such as upgraded security at entry points, lighting, and professional home security systems with monitoring to make your home less appealing and less accessible to burglars. If potential burglars hit roadblocks as they attempt to gain entry, you may be calling police to investigate an attempted invasion rather than an actual one.
- Have a plan in place that your family is familiar with to reduce panic and lost time.
- Remember that the vast majority of home invaders are chasing easy-to-sell valuables and aren’t there with the intent of harming residents. According to the FBI, most burglars don’t intentionally choose targets when residents are home, so they’re surprised to discover people in the house. Don’t panic, and follow your plan.
- Don’t try to confront a home intruder instead of calling the police, regardless of how confident you are that you can prevail. Call the police and secure the home’s residents in a safe space. Physical confrontation should be a last resort.
- Do not attempt to chase a burglar or would-be burglar after they have left your home.
- Making a plan can be emotionally difficult, especially for families with children. It’s a good idea to keep the outline of the plan simple for younger household members so as not to create unnecessary fear or trauma.
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STEP 1: Protect your home by making it less appealing to potential burglars.
First, make sure your home isn’t the easiest target on the block. Wondering how to prevent a home invasion? This is a case where the best defense is a good offense. A study at the University of North Carolina that examined the actions and motivations of burglars showed that 83 percent of burglars check for a security system before breaking into a home, and that 60 percent will find another target if they see one. While not everyone wants to invest in a home security system, steps like adding exterior lighting, upgrading exterior doors, windows, and locks, and installing window coverings that block valuables from view will make potential burglars more likely to move on.
STEP 2: Have a code word that your family will know about.
How can you alert your family to a home invasion emergency? A code word known to everyone in the house can work similarly to a fire alarm. Military experts in home defense tactical operations suggest simple phrases such as “ESCAPE” or “GET TO SAFETY” to alert the home’s residents that it’s time to enact the safety plan. These experts emphasize the fact that the phrase should not be cutesy or used as a joke—it should only ever be used in an actual emergency.
STEP 3: Designate a room in the house as your safe room. Make sure the room has a phone and a heavy piece of furniture.
The next step in developing an action plan for home invasion safety is to choose a room where the family can protect itself. In some cases it is ideal to escape the home. However, that’s not always possible and isn’t necessarily a good idea, as it can separate the residents or expose them to harm, so it’s a good idea to have a room where the residents can protect themselves. A room with a strong door and door lock, along with a heavy piece of furniture that can be shifted to barricade the door, and a window that can be used for egress is the best choice. It is also important that this room has a telephone so that the residents of the home can call the police and remain on the line as soon as the door is secured. Don’t count on having your cell phone with you—you don’t want to realize you put it down somewhere when you need to call for help. A handset in a charger or an extra cell phone that stays plugged in and charges is a better plan.
STEP 4: Act quickly and gather in the safe room.
Should a home invasion occur, the residents of the home will need to act quickly. If possible, take a moment to listen so that you can make your best guess about where the intruders are and where they’re moving. Using the code word should trigger everyone in the home to swiftly and quietly move to the designated safe room without drawing attention to themselves. If your home is equipped with smart speakers or home assistants, you can program the receivers to recognize the safe word and automatically dial the police.
“However, if there’s a way out of your home—like through a back door—then this is your best move. Call the police immediately once you’ve removed yourself from the threat,” says Rob Gabriele, managing editor and home security expert at SafeHome.org.
STEP 5: Call 911. Do not leave the safe room until the police arrive.
Once everyone is secured in the safe room, call 911 for help. Follow the instructions of the dispatcher and remain on the line. Remain in the safe room until the police arrive. It is important to note that silence on the other side of the door does not mean the intruders have left, so wait until the dispatcher on the line confirms that the scene is clear and an officer has reached the door. Then you can safely exit.
STEP 6: Cooperate with the intruder and avoid confrontation.
Ideally the previous steps will prevent you from having to interact directly with the intruder—this would be a best-case scenario for everyone. However, sometimes regardless of preparation and precaution, you’ll find yourself face to face with the intruder. At this point, an adrenaline rush may make you feel like the best plan is to start fighting, but an intruder unexpectedly confronted with a resident may panic and behave unpredictably or violently. This is not a time to be a hero.
If at all possible, allow the intruder to take whatever belongings and valuables they came for and leave, at which time you can call the police and begin a report. Regardless of how valuable and irreplaceable the items may seem, they are not worth risking your safety. Avoid staring at the intruder, and follow any instructions that are given as best you can to avoid further escalating the situation. The moment may come where confrontation is unavoidable, but you’ll know you’ve done everything possible to avoid it.
A Note of Caution
These steps should help you formulate a plan to prepare for and act calmly during what may be one of the most stressful and frightening events of your life. They reflect the current best practices advised by home defense tactical experts. Home invaders are by nature reckless and unpredictable, so there’s no way to guarantee a good outcome. Sometimes despite your best efforts, a home invasion can result in property loss and personal injury. Following these steps as recommended by law enforcement and defense experts will help you stay calm and give you the best opportunity to make smart choices toward a positive outcome, and they should give you some peace of mind.
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