Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

As some of my close friends know, my house was broken into while I was on vacation near the end of October. We didn’t lose much of monetary value, although the sentimental value and overall emotional impact was pretty high. We learned a lot – we have cameras in the house, so we were able to watch the robbery in progress (yeah, that was painful). So I thought I’d share some lessons and take-aways.

First, understand that this didn’t happen because we were on vacation. It happened because thieves target houses midday, when everyone’s supposed to be at work. They rang the doorbell. Takeaway: an Internet-connected doorbell or intercom system, so you can remotely respond and try and convince someone you’re home. “Hey, I can’t come to the door – I’m on the crapper – but what do you want?” It’s also a way to get a picture of their face, although our thief was very aware of cameras and kept his face out of the frame as much as he could.

Second, have an alarm system. We do. But there are some specifics of the alarm that you need to think about, and this was a big area for us.

  • Thieves are accustomed to low-end, ADT-style alarm panels. They know that if they rip it out of the wall quickly enough, the alarm won’t go through and it’ll silence the siren. So having a remote panel, mounted in a hard-to-reach location, is key. Use wireless keypads if necessary, but keep that panel out of the way. By the same token, make sure it’s communicating to the central station via cellular, not only a landline. That phone line is the first thing a thief will cut on the outside of your house.
  • Our thief spent significant time ripping panels off the wall in an attempt to shut up the alarm. That included ripping Nest thermostats and pretty much anything else on the wall. That was excellent, as he burned valuable time and had no end effect. Moral: More crap on the walls.
  • The police, when they arrived, commented on how uncomfortable it was to be in the house with the siren going off. Moral: Install two more sirens. “Uncomfortable” wasn’t my goal so much as “permanent hearing loss.”

You can’t stop a thief who wants to get in – but you can slow them down. For example, we have a fire door that goes into our garage. It’s a sturdy, fire-rated door (has to be, by code), but we never locked it. Well, that was the entry point. So now, it’s a sturdy door with an auto-locking numeric keypad on both sides. The door already shuts on a spring (again, that’s code), so now it’s always locked.

My home wiring panel (networking and such) was in a closet, which the thief ran across almost first. Attempting to shut off the alarm, I imagine, he ripped every wire out of every port. Painful to re-wire, of course, and it caused me to lose remote access to the house monitoring systems. Going forward, that closet door is now a solid-core fire door with a deadbolt. I’m also considering adding a cellular modem to the security network as a failover route.

Further, the garage door is the thief’s preferred exit, because the getaway car can back right up for loading. Remove that big interior garage door opener button, and replace it with a keypad. That makes it far harder to open the door from the inside, making the getaway harder.

Buy a safe, and bolt it to something, like the wall or floor. Put your jewelry in it. Make it in a convenient place, so you’ll use it. You might think, “we don’t have expensive jewelry,” but the thief isn’t going to stop and appraise stuff, he’s going to scoop it all into a bag. In our case, an actual pillowcase from our bed. Yeah. Emotional impact. Point being, deny access to anything that looks like it might be valuable unless you’re totally okay with it being stolen.

Any other safes – we have one for laptops when we’re not taking them with us on a trip – need to be bolted or chained to the wall or floor. We’ve also made sure expensive monitors and TVs are secured to something, like the wall. Again, this won’t stop a thief – but the more you slow them down, the less they can get before the cavalry arrives. They know that, and they’ll tend to just take what’s easy.

Put a couple of really obvious-looking security cameras on your house, so that you’ll see someone’s face as they approach. “Hey, you’re already on camera, dude.” is the message. Keep in mind that high-mounted cameras need to be looking far away, not straight down. Thieves will hear hats and hoodies, which will prevent a high-mounted camera from seeing them. WiFi-enabled HD security cameras are cheap these days, as are WiFi security DVRs. DiskStations, for example, make fantastic security DVRs that can be remotely accessed, do motion detection, the whole nine yards. Western Digital even makes a “purple” model of drive designed specifically for the always-on security DVR application.

Look at your house. Assume someone is in it. What can you do to slow them down, while not massively impacting your current lifestyle? How can you harden that alarm system (it will get ripped out of the wall if they can find it)? What can you do to slow down access to valuables and electronics? Do you have cameras? Get a family member to run around the house like a thief – did you catch their face? Or could the cameras be relocated for better effect?

We’ve made some changes in our house. Nothing massive, nothing over the top, but changes that we think will be impactful. A few re-pointed cameras, for example, and different locks in a few places. Having your home broken into is a terrible, emotional thing – but you can mitigate both damage and loss if you take some time to look at common-sense mitigations.

3 thoughts on “Is Your House Thief-Resistant?

  1. Sorry to hear about that happening. Such a nightmare. But you’ve got some great pointers, and I’m probably going to take a few to heart.

  2. Did police catch the thief?

    1. Don Jones says:

      Sadly, no. And they tend to quickly pawn off whatever they steal anyway (which is one reason electronics aren’t so popular – pawn shops are a lot less willing to deal in them than jewelry).

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