Saturday, March 6, 2004

Good home security - It's a lock

By Elizabeth Betts Hickman
The Nashville Tennessean

When you hear the word "security" these days, it tends to be connected with the airport or the nation as a whole, as in homeland security.

But what about your personal version of homeland security - the security of your own house or apartment?

The good news is that there are things you can do to make your home less of a target, says crime prevention officer Geoff Odom of Nashville, Tenn.


Odom says many burglaries take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and of those, many of the homes aren't locked. So banish stereotypes that crime only happens at night, and lock your doors - all of your doors, all of the time.

"We tell people to lock your doors while you're in your yard," says Odom, who points out that it would be simple for someone to walk up and ask directions or strike up a friendly conversation while you're out in your yard, distracted, while their partner helps themselves to your open home.

Likewise, if you're in an apartment, lock your doors every time you leave, even if it's just to run out to your car or switch the laundry over to the dryer in the laundry room.


"Alarms detect after-the-fact entry, whereas locks protect from entry," says security specialist Bill Overton.

While that certainly doesn't diminish the benefit of alarm systems, which are widely recommended by security experts, Overton points out that this piece of information he heard at a safety training seminar is something to remember: If you're in an apartment, you don't have as much control over your locks as you would in your house, but there are some things you can do.

For starters, ask and make sure the locks have been changed now that you're a new tenant. Look for apartment locks that use double-keyed, or double-cylinder deadbolts (meaning a key has to open the lock on either side). You don't want a deadbolt with a thumb latch that could easily be turned (and thus open the door) if someone broke a single pane of glass.

For fire safety, make sure a key stays on the inside of your home near the lock but not within reach if someone broke a pane and was reaching inside for a key.

And keep in mind that all locks aren't created equal, says Overton, who's often called when someone is upgrading their locks after a break-in or security breach.

"Deadbolts come in a variety of qualities, from low to commercial-duty," he says. "Commercial equipment is made stronger, better and longer-lasting but it comes at a price."

At the very least, Overton suggests upgrading your deadbolts and buying high-quality sets that have large strike plates and two or three 4-inch screws.

"The first thing to do when you buy a house is to re-key the locks," says Overton, adding that it's not a bad idea to do this with newly constructed homes, too. "You don't know who has a key out there."

Quality residential locks start at about $20 and go up to $1,500 or so. For about $1,100, you can get a very sophisticated locking system with fingerprint technology.

"You can program your whole family into it," explains Overton, noting that the advantages are no keys to hide, lose, or keep up with, and the ability to quickly enter a door without fumbling for your keys or losing awareness of your surroundings.


"In my opinion, lighting is a very high deterrent," says Overton. He's not alone. Consistently, crime prevention experts point out that lighting is a key component to creating a safer perimeter around your home.

Outdoor lighting specialist Bob Lyons Sr. says good outdoor lighting doesn't blind you if you step outside, like a spotlight focused on your front door, but rather it creates a low level of light that surrounds the entire area around the house. Furthermore, good exterior lighting fixtures are pretty much hidden day or night.


You probably haven't thought about landscaping as a crime deterrent, but it can be.

"We call that crime prevention through environmental design," says Odom, who notes that you want would-be thieves to cross your abode off their lists.

Trim shrubs so that they don't block any portion of your windows. You don't want to provide cover for predators. If you're in an apartment, notice the landscaping and ask the management about areas that concern you.

Security tips

Alarm systems are a great deterrent. Keep in mind that just having the sign alone is a good defense, but having a monitored system can also provide other benefits, such as a separate fire alarm, a panic button if needed, and the peace of mind that comes from entering your house, seeing the alarm intact and knowing nobody else is in the house.

Think about things criminals don't like. "I always say there's nothing like a good pair of dirty size 11 work boots out front," says one security specialist. Likewise, "Beware of Dog" signs aren't a bad idea, either.

Consider getting timers for your lights. This is a good idea even if you're in town and just come home after dark. There are whole-house systems where you can coordinate inside and outside lights, but a simple solution that also works for apartments is to just buy a few timers. Another tip: Leave a radio on tuned into talk radio.

Do your best to secure sliding-glass doors. They are easy to lift out of the tracks, even if you have a bar in the track. Consider getting the security bar that actually fits midway up the glass door. They tend to work the best.

Keep windows closed and locked, especially at night, and especially on ground-level windows. Investigate the various window locks that are available, and again, if you're in an apartment, ask the management about additional security options.

At, Web site of the National Crime Prevention Council, find downloadable brochures, general information and specific security strategies.

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