Letter Re: Home Invasion Robbery Countermeasures--Your Mindset and Architecture

Tuesday, Dec 30, 2008

Dear Mr. Rawles:
First and foremost thank you for your novel "Patriots" which I am currently reading.

I live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. As of late there seems to be a rise in the number of "home invasion" type of crimes in this area. Every morning that I go to work I hear about a new incident in the metroplex. This has led me to put inside locks on my bedroom doors and purchase my first gun. I consider myself one of those "know enough to be dangerous" people, but am planning on taking a handgun safety course . I'd like to know your thought on preparedness for these "home invasion" crimes which are on the rise. Once again thank you for your novel which has opened my eyes to just how unprepared I am. Sincerely, - Geoffrey T.

JWR Replies: You've surely heard the phrase "caught off guard." In my opinion, almost the entire American citizenry has been systemically "off guard" since the end of the US Civil War. There are two fundamental weaknesses that make American homes vulnerable to home invasions: a condition white mindset, and appalling architectural weakness. I'll discuss each.

Condition White Mindset

First and foremost is an almost universal Condition White mindset. This refers to the Cooper situational awareness color code for "unaware and unprepared". The vast majority of the urban and suburban population spends 90% of their daytime hours in Condition White. They do a lot of idiotic things, like failing to keep their doors locked at all times, and failing to keep loaded guns handy. Most folks lock their doors only just before retiring each evening. So most daytime and early evening home invasion robbers simply stroll in to unlocked houses and catch the occupants flat-footed. By adopting condition yellow as your norm, and by taking the appropriate security measures, you will tremendously lessen you vulnerability to violent crime, including home invasions.

Architectural Weakness

Secondly, 150 years of relative peace, stability, low crime rates, and cheap energy have worked together to push American residential architecture toward very vulnerable designs. Modern American homes are essentially defensive disasters. They have huge expanses of glass, they lack barred windows or european-style security/storm shutters, they lack defensible space, and they often have no barriers for the approach of vehicles. Another ill-conceived innovation is the prevalence of floor plans that situate the master bedroom at the opposite end of the house from the children's bedrooms.

For the past 25 years, one of the hallmarks of "bad neighborhoods" in the US has been the prevalence of barred windows and beefed-up doors. These are neighborhoods where the prevailing crime rates have pushed the majority of the population into Condition Yellow as a full time baseline mindset. Given the upswing in crime rates that will undoubtedly accompany the coming depression, I wish that everyone in the ostensibly "good neighborhoods" had this same outlook. I don't find it all surprising that criminal gangs now specifically target wealthy suburbs for home invasions, for two reasons: A.) That is where the good stuff is, and B.) These residents are sheep for the slaughter (given the prevailing condition white mindset.)

One of the most chronic defensive lapses is American suburban architecture is exterior door design. Typically, entrance doors either have widows immediately adjacent, or set into the doors themselves. Even worse is the ubiquitous sliding glass door. Nothing more than a brick or a paving stone tossed through the glass and bingo, instant access for home invaders, with the fringe benefit of instant fright and surprise for the occupants just inside, who will likely be startled by the crashing noise and flying glass. SWAT and MOUT trainers call this a form of "dynamic entry". There are umpteen variations. You may recall the use of a piece of patio furniture in Robert DeNiro's dynamic entry of Van Zant's house in in the movie Heat. Another is the vigorous application of a 5- or 6-foot length of steel pipe or a more specialized tool, in (the proven "break and rake" technique preferred by the British SAS and SFOD-D (commonly called "Delta Team") to quickly clear any protruding shards of glass).

America in the Near Future = Welcome to South Africa

In South Africa, the crime rate has been so high for so long that it has changed the way that people live in a day-to-day basis. Every stranger is viewed with extreme suspicion. Automobile drivers regularly refuse to pull over if they are involved in a minor traffic collision, for fear that it is a pretext for a car jacking.

Threat Escalation and Proactive Countermeasures

Modern military planners often talk in terms of threat spirals. In essence, a given threat escalates and it inspires a defensive countermeasure. The ideal situation is "getting inside your opponents threat spiral"--meaning that your anticipate your opponent's next escalation, and proactively take countermeasures, insulating yourself from the future threat.With that in mind, here are some thoughts on potential home invasion threat escalation and countermeasures (perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers would care to add to this list):

1.) More frequent home invasions. The worse the economy gets, the more crime we can expect. Home invasions and kidnappings are likely "growth" areas.

2.) Use of dynamic entry tools by home invaders. We can expect them to use commercial or improvised door entry battering rams and Hallagan tools--like those use by police. This means that just standard solid core doors by themselves will be insufficient. Switching to steel doors and.or adding sturdy cross bars will become common practice.

3.) Possible use of vehicle-mounted battering rams.

4.) More frequent and elaborate police impersonation by home invasion gangs.

5.) Larger, better equipped, and better organized home invasion gangs. Larger gangs will be able to invade a home--conceivably even when there is a party in progress.

6.) The potential use of cell phone jammers.

7.) More elaborate ruses as pretexts to get homeowners to open their doors. For example, not only will the "point man" be dressed as UPS driver, but there will be a very convincing looking UPS truck parked at the curb.)

8.) More home invasions at any time of the day or night.

9.) More use of pepper spray and other irritants by home invaders.

10.) Use of large diversion such as explosives to draw law enforcement to "the other side of town."

11.) More elaborate intelligence gathering by home invasion gangs--researching exactly who has cash, fine art, gemstones, precious metals, or jewelry in their homes. (BTW, this is just another reason to practice good OPSEC.)

Given these possible threat spiral escalations, you might consider building a dedicated "safe room". I can think of no better way to get inside the bad guys' threat spiral. Such a room could serve multiple purposes, including "panic room", gun and valuables vault, storm shelter, and fallout shelter. (And hence, provide you family with solutions for multiple scenarios. The folks at Safecastle (and other specialty contractors) can build these both aboveground or underground, with special order inward-opening vault doors.

You mentioned putting a lock on your bedroom door. This is usually insufficient, since most interior doors are hollow core, they typically use lightweight hinges, and they have insubstantial strike plates. Most of these doors can either be knocked down or knocked though, in very short order. I recommend replacing your bedroom doors with heavy duty exterior type doors (preferably steel) with heavy duty hinges and one or more deadbolt locks. If your house has all the bedrooms isolated on one hallway, then I recommend adding a heavy duty door at the end of that hall, and keeping it locked at night. (Basically a "safe wing" for your house) Then, inside of that safe wing, you should have a far more secure dedicated safe room that your entire family can retreat to, before the outer layers of defense succumb to physical attack.

Redundant communications are important, so you can solicit outside help. Both the master bedroom and the safe room should have hard wire ("POTS") telephones that are serviced by underground lines with no visible junction boxes. Be sure to test using a cell phone, as a backup, from every room. Having a CB radio in your safe room also makes sense. OBTW, one of my consulting clients in New Mexico intentionally installed a vertical 3"-diameter air exhaust vent from the ceiling of his safe room/fallout shelter to his roof. Using a broomstick, he can pop the slip-fit flapper valve loose, and then use the pipe as a conduit for flares from his HK P2A1 flare 26.5mm flare pistol! He reported that he has tested shooting meteor flares "up the spout", and it worked fine. Very clever.

The Ultimate Solution: Designing for Security from the Ground Up

I most strongly recommend that the next time that you move, that you buy a brick or other masonry house and upgrade its security, or better yet, start with a bare lot, and custom build a stout house with and integral safe room, from scratch. As previously discussed in SurvivalBlog, two good starting points for house designs are Mexican walled courtyards and building with square bastions (also known as Cooper Corners). These projecting corners eliminate the "blind spots" that are common to typical square or rectangular houses.

For greater detail on this subject, I recommend Joel Skousen's book "The Secure Home." My novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse" also has some detailed design description for ballistically armored window shutters and doors, as well details on constructing neo-medieval door bars.

If you are serious about custom building or retrofitting an existing house for increased security and/or adding a safe room, then I recommend the architectural consulting services of both Safecastle and Hardened Structures.


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