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Your home is your castle, so act like it.

Moat optional.

Owning and training with firearms and other weapons is well and good, and of course I recommend it highly for anyone who is serious about surviving an encounter with criminals. But there are other steps we can take, some of them remarkably easy and inexpensive, that will reduce our risk of having that encounter in the first place. While I've spoken before about the vital necessity of having good situational awareness while out in public, it's also important to focus on safeguarding the one place where we should be able to completely relax: our home.

Your home is where you surrender to the blissful unawareness of sleep. It's where you become completely vulnerable in the privacy of your bathroom. It's where you allow yourself to be distracted by screens, or loud music. It's where you're willing to go outside without worrying too much that someone might be hiding behind the nearest tree or lurking in the shadows. It's your safe place, but for many of us, our home is in actuality remarkably unsafe. That safety we cherish and count on is often an illusion based entirely on wishful thinking.

Envision your home as it might appear to a malevolent stranger: is it cluttered and chaotic (suggesting a reckless personality) or peaceful and ordered (suggesting a cautious personality)? Is the decor tasteful and clean (suggesting you have valuable property worth stealing) or shabby and uncoordinated (suggesting you are lazy about maintaining your surroundings)? How many potential means of entry are there on the ground floor, and how well secured are they? Is there an alarm system? How close are the nearest neighbors, and would they be able to hear you scream in the middle of the night? And so on.

Don't assume you can count on your neighbors for help.

To make your home more secure, you need to start thinking about it from the perspective of someone who intends to hurt you. To hurt you, they need to either surprise you as you're coming and going, or find a way inside--with or without you there. Is your home inviting to the casual criminal or would it take a more determined invader to gain access to you and your family? These are questions only you, or the unfortunate experience of a break-in, can answer. Find the answers before a violent criminal does.

Modern alarm systems can be hardwired and sophisticated, with expensive monthly subscription plans and strict 24-hour monitoring. Or they can be generic DIY systems like Ring or SimpliSafe that you install yourself, with the option of a monitoring plan and useful add-ons like doorbell cameras and two-way speakers embedded in motion-activated exterior floodlights. If money is extremely tight, even something as simple as a chain of loud bells hanging on the inside of exterior doors can serve as a crude warning system that someone is trying to gain entry to your home. A barking dog might not always be a deterrent to a hardened criminal, but it can warn you that intruders have arrived.

Whatever you do, have some way to prevent a silent entry through your exterior doors. Door jammers (Amazon affiliate link) are inexpensive devices that, when locked into place, help prevent a door from being kicked in or knocked down from the outside. Security bars (Amazon affiliate link) for sliding glass doors are also available. Remember that most criminals are opportunists and will give up on trying to break into your house if it seems too difficult or time-consuming. Most aren't willing to risk getting caught by hammering on the same door for 20 minutes when they could just move on to the next house.

Windows can be secured in many ways. Ground floor windows can be reinforced with a strong plastic film (Amazon affiliate link) that makes them much more difficult to break. They can be locked in their frames with a simple metal bar or wooden dowel, which prevents them from sliding on their tracks. Or they can even be nailed shut, though this presents a potential fire hazard and is not something I'd recommend. Planting thick, thorny shrubbery like holly, cactus, or rose bushes under windows can also help deter casual thieves from peeking inside.

As you begin to think more carefully about home security, involve your family and have a plan. What should everyone do if a bad guy breaks into the front of the house? The back of the house? One of the children's bedrooms? Mom and Dad's bedroom? Where should everyone go to barricade the door and call 911? What's a secondary location to safely meet if the first one is compromised? Who is authorized and trained to use firearms and where should that person be in relation to everyone else in the room? These scenarios must cover not just home invasions, but fire, flood, tornadoes--anything you can think of that might threaten your family at home. Where are the flashlights? Whose cell phone remains charged on the nightstand every night, no matter what? Is there a panic button for summoning help?

You don't need a safe room to stay safer from criminals, fire, and natural disasters. What you do need is a coherent plan and lots of practice. Many firearms instructors, myself included, offer classes aimed at helping you stay safer and more secure at home. These classes may or may not include a live fire (shooting) portion, but all should emphasize the many things you can do to fortify your living spaces and have a plan for dealing with disasters before they strike.

Plan ahead, think it through, and stay safe out there!