Archive for category Home Safety

Am I being followed by that vehicle?

The key point to remember is that you are much safer in a moving vehicle, even a slow moving vehicle, than when in or around a stationary vehicle.  So if you think you are being followed keep moving and consider the following strategies.

If you are able to, make three left (or three right) turns in a row.  You have essentially just driven in a “square circle” as it were, and the likelihood that you are NOT being followed is now almost zero; anyone who is still following you after this route detection / evasion maneuver should be considered a serious threat. A less brazen person would probably terminate their pursuit knowing they have been spotted.

Now proceed at safe speeds to the closest busy road, preferably a well light boulevard or even a highway.  Drive below the posted speed limit and turn on your hazard lights. This will draw attention to your vehicle.(In this situation you want to be pulled over by the police!) Slowing down also will allow you to get your bearings while operating the vehicle safely. While doing so initiate a 911 call. Try maintaining a consistent heading and make note of the cross streets. Most states require a hands free headset this making talking to the operator easier and safer.

Let the operator know you are being followed and then let the operator ask the questions. If you see a red light ahead, slow down and try time arriving at that intersection when the light is green so you don’t have to come to a full stop. If you have to come to a stop, leave a car length between you and the vehicle in front of you giving you space to maneuver if you have to. (You should make this a habit even if not being followed)

The operator will keep you on the line and he or she will direct a police car to intercept you.

This scenario is one reason it is always good to have more than half a tank of gas and to be always be generally aware of your location. A report in Seattle several years ago indicated that 25% of cell phone callers to 911 did not know enough about where they were making it almost impossible for emergency services to respond. Situational awareness is key.

In a situation like this it goes without saying you should not drive to work, home, your child’s school or any destination you frequent. This includes a friend’s house. If you will drive to a fire station or police station, let the operator know to which one you are heading so that a first responder can be curbside when you arrive. There have been cases where the person being followed has pulled into a busy grocery store lot in broad daylight and the perpetrator was brazen enough to still have tried to cut them off as they made their way on foot into the store.

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Home Invasions. Make Your home A Harder Target


Psychologically we are able to fathom a cagey burglar breaking in and stealing something when he knows we are not home. The notion that two or more criminals would burst in and invade when they know we are home is chilling.

This is not just a property crime. Home invasions include a display of power and a desire to control and terrorize, rob, kidnap, rape, assault or flat out murder the victim(s).  A growing number of invaders wear soft body armor and brandish intimidating weapons.  More often than not these are hardened criminals with extensive records who will not hesitate to resort to violence. The good news is that overall, home invasions tend to be on the decline, but solid safety and security protocol should always be in place. After all, favorable statistics mean nothing if heartless criminals target your dwelling.

Here are some things you can do to harden your home and make it less vulnerable to a home invasion.

If the home is recessed from the road, does the driveway have good lighting? A British study reveals that dusk-to-dawn low level lighting is thought to be a more effective deterrent than motion detector lights. I like both! Be sure the garage, parking area and sides of the dwelling are also well lit. Prune or remove bushes and shrubs that offer natural cover, especially near ground floor windows and all entrances.

If your property is fenced, take the time to close and lock gates. Ask yourself if your 230 pound nephew on football scholarship can kick in your front or side doors. If the answer is yes it’s time to beef up the frame, the door itself and all hardware. Deadbolts should have no less than an inch of travel into the frame.

Applying modern laminates to the glass makes breaking through a window more difficult.  Sliding glass doors must be reinforced. Windows to the basement should have bars.  A bed of small river pebbles strategically placed in front of windows make a quiet approach more difficult.

If you have an alarm, use it. Criminals know that most home owners never arm their systems. Know how to use the panic features. If you have a wireless panic button fob, keep it on you. Teach your children how to use the panic button too. When you park in the driveway, bring the remote to the garage in with you. Always lock your internal garage door. This is a common entry point since invaders know we tend to leave that door unlocked.

It is best to close drapes at dusk, dawn and during night time hours.  During their surveillance phase, criminals will feel less sure about attacking if they cannot establish who is at home, in what rooms, and if they can account for everyone in the dwelling.  Be aware that an invader might have done pre-crime surveillance of the home when delivering something, or working as an installation technician etc. Instruct children to never open the door for a stranger and be wary of any unexpected visitor, even during the day.

Don’t leave stepladders on the side of the house. They offer easy access to upper floors.  So always lock upper story patio doors and easy to access windows.

Keep all doors to the home locked, even during the day.  You would be surprised at how many people don’t, stating, “But we live in a safe neighborhood”.  Long gone is that nostalgic and care free Norman Rockwell existence. Anything can happen anywhere at any time. If someone is determined to get in, make them work for it. Anything that allows you detect and delay an entry buys you time to react. An unlocked door gives you neither.

Designate a “Safe Room” with a sturdy door where you can retreat with your cell phone if need be. Be sure that you receive a cell signal in this room. Keep an index card with your home address, a flash light, bottles of water and a fire extinguisher in the safe room. If you are not calling from a land line, the 9-1-1 operator will not know your address. You can easily read your address from the card if you are in a state of fear.  Make your children aware of this room and why it exists. Practice moving to it efficiently as a family. If you live in a larger or two-story home, you may want to setup more than one safe room.

Remain alert when leaving or returning to your neighborhood.  If you think you are being followed do not drive home. Proceed back to a well lit busy area or a police station and call for help.  In the case of the home  invasion and murder of Dr. Petit’s family in Cheshire Connecticut last year, the perpetrators first noticed Mrs. Petit and her daughters when they were in town shopping and then followed them home.

If you don’t already have one, get a dog. Large or small, they are excellent early warning systems with far better special senses than ours.  Dogs are also consistent in their vigilance unlike us humans who become complacent, take short cuts and eventually forget about the golden rules of home and personal safety.

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School Is In. A Safety Review for your Children.

(As written for Evergreen Safety Council, Seattle WA)

The summer is almost over and as our children  go back to school, this is a good time to review some safety ground rules with them.

Communications: Any safety plan is only as good as its communications plan. This should include having your children call or text you when leaving school and upon arriving at their destination. They should also let you know if their after school plans have changed. Be sure that yours and a reliable backup’s contacts number are programmed into their speed dialer.  Remind your children to trust their instincts and not to hesitate to call for help if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation even if this means dialing 911.

Awareness: Be more creative when reminding your children about the importance of awareness. Perhaps a short list of sound bites that conjure up more engaging visual associations will result in actionable instruction. How about “Remember to Cover Your Six” (the blind spot behind them) or “Keep your head on the swivel” (as fighter pilots do looking for the enemy) or “Keep your radar up!”   A relaxed state of awareness of our surroundings is the cornerstone of personal safety and children should be reminded not to drop their guard just because they are in familiar surroundings.

Posture and Gait: People who walk with confident stride and posture and who maintain a good heads up awareness of their surroundings are seen as less desirable targets.  In contrast, those shuffling along” heads down” with rounded shoulders and  not scanning their surroundings, are seen as easy prey. This group is usually distracted by a phone or iPod or often daydreaming.  This is not unlike in the animal kingdom where the gazelle that fails to look around while drinking at the river gets ambushed by the lion. Practice attentive body language with your children at home and make it a fun exercise.

Predictability: Our children come and go at the same time and most often walk the same routes to and from school the bus stop and other common destinations. This predictability makes them easier to locate and follow. Drive several safe routes with your child to help them map out their options.  Ask them at breakfast which routes they have planned to use that day which will help get them in the habit of employing this important safety strategy.

“Safe Havens” : Identify and review with your children the locations they know they could retreat to if they feel uncomfortable. Neighbors on your street who you know are home during the day along the walk home from the bus stop should be identified. Simply walking to a busy intersection nearby or entering a busy store of coffee shop if there is someone in their midst that makes them uncomfortable should be encouraged. From here they can call you for help and instructions.

“Fringe” Areas: Simply stated, this is any area where you could find yourself isolated.  This could be a covered parking garage or a quiet soccer field behind the school that no one can see from the road.  A busy school gymnasium that has just emptied out after a Friday night basketball game has now too become a fringe area. If you must return to retrieve something left behind, do so with a friend.  Remind you child to avoid isolated areas and NOT TO TAKE SHORTCUTS such as down service alleys behind grocery stores and office buildings! The long way around on busy streets is always worth the extra effort!

The Buddy System:  Encourage your children to walk in groups whenever possible. They should also buddy up when going to the restroom at the mall.  This is even more important if your child will walk along a quiet road or transition through a fringe area to or from school etc. Never go jogging alone on a park trail. This is where the buddy system is the golden rule that should never be broken. Another tip is to walk facing traffic making it difficult for a vehicle to pull alongside.  Maintaining distance from the curb is also a good strategy.

“Shadowing” When riding the bus home instruct your child to keep an eye out of back window as it gets closer to their stop. If they notice the same vehicle behind the bus for an unusually long period of time or seem to remember seeing that vehicle on a prior day they need to consider if the bus is being “shadowed”. Empower your child to bring any suspicious vehicle to the bus driver’s attention and to stay on the bus until an alternate arrangement has been made.  This is an example of where having a good communication strategy is important.

Intuition: If the mind is the best weapon, then our intuition is our ever present guardian that should NEVER be ignored. Empower your child with the understanding that even if their intuition turns out to be “wrong” from time to time, that there is “no harm in a false alarm” and to continue to honor that “gut feeling”

Larry Kaminer

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Three Important Features An Alarm System Should Have

Summer has finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest and promises to deliver some very hot days. This is a time when we can’t seem to open enough doors and windows for any cooling breeze. Keep in mind that criminals know this and see our properties as easier targets.  It is also a time when those of us that have alarm systems tend to use them less or even forget to use them.

In fact security experts I speak with are quite consistent when it comes to the following statements:

  • People will only install a residential alarm system after something bad has happened to them or a neighbor.
  • Within about six months of installation complacency begins to set in and people eventually stop using the system altogether.
  • Many system owners say they don’t even remember the code by which to arm and disarm their systems.

This might be a good time to evaluate your current system and usage patterns.

Here are some important features that Jim Payne, Vice President of Verisafe, a security system provider here in the Pacific Northwest, described to me in a recent meeting:

  • Daily Contact Check– Make sure that your system reports in to your monitoring center at least once a day, whether it’s used or not.  This assures that the communication link between your home and monitoring center is still intact.  Also, be sure to contact your alarm provider if you change phone providers as this could affect the ability for your system to work effectively.
  • Usage Monitoring -Make sure that your system actually reports to your monitoring center when you leave the home and turn the system on.  This allows a professional monitoring center to assure that the system is being used and alert you if there appears to be a problem.
  • Triple Path Communication – Most systems rely strictly on your home telephone line to communicate with the monitoring center. If your line gets cut or is down for any reason the system cannot communicate.  A switch to voice over IP  (VoIP) phone service could also have a dramatic effect.  “Triple path communication” allows a system to operate without a phone line.  It can be set to communicate through the internet, GMS cellular network or send SMS text messages if signal is very weak.  If one path is down the alternative paths can be used.

In closing, ask yourself how you would go about breaking into your own home? This will help you better understand the mindset of a criminal and the weaknesses they are looking to exploit. Don’t make assumptions either. Burglars will go to great lengths to find their way in like using ladders to access second story patios, or taking the remote from a vehicle parked outside and using it access the home via the garage.

For more information on residential systems go to

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Ladders Used To Access and Rob Second Story Apartments

Police in Puyallup and Fife are warning residents to be sure to lock sliding doors after a series of burglaries in which criminals used ladders to access upper story balconies.

Apparently they were stealing ladders off parked utility vehicles in the areas in which the crimes occurred. Of greater concern is that these burglaries were occurring at night while the residents were sleeping.

Living on the second or third floor does make your dwelling a harder target but do not make the assumption that it makes you immune to a break in.

-If you live in a two story house be sure that you store your ladders in your garage or a locked shed. This also denies access to other tools that could be used to force open doors or windows.

-Also be aware that even a short utility ladder that might not be long enough to reach the second floor could be staked on patio furniture in order to do so.

-Ideally the external perimeter of the home is well light and free of bushes and shrubbery etc that would offer convenient cover to criminal.

-If you have an alarm, be sure to use it. A dog of any size will also be a good early warning system and deterrent.

-With warmer weather on its way (supposedly) remember to not become complacent and pay attention to all doors and windows especially at dusk.

  • Do your children live off campus perhaps in an apartment or condo? This might be a good time to remind them to lock those upper patio doors and to exercise good discipline when it comes to perimeter control and access to the dwelling!

Related: More Home Safety Tips

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