Safe as houses: Ways to ensure your home is as secure as possible
No matter how many times we read about house break-ins, robberies or, worse, families being attacked or held hostage in their own homes, or hear about closer-to-home incidents around the braai, home safety remains a concern for many South Africans.
“Crimes of this nature remain a problem across the country, which is why it is important for homeowners and tenants to do what they can to ensure their own safety at home,” says Floris de Kock, principal at Leapfrog Polokwane.
While nobody wants to feel like they’re living in a prison, it is important to ensure you have the basic safety and security features installed – and in working order – at home.
“Things like burglar bars in front of windows that open and safety gates at the doors should go without saying,” De Kock believes, noting that not only are these the first steps to giving you peace of mind but they also help to increase the value of your property. Ensure, and regularly check, that the main locks are in order and be sure to keep a spare set of keys away from the property with somebody you trust. Many homes today have alarm systems, which is another effective means of keeping your property safe. In fact, many home insurers require that a property have an alarm before they agree to insure it.
Test the alarm regularly and report any possible faults to your provider immediately.
“You don’t want the alarm to fail on you in an emergency because its maintenance wasn’t taken care of,” De Kock points out.
There are a number of other security features that one might consider, such as security cameras – particularly around the perimeter of the property – and electric fencing. Both these options require a significant capital outlay, which doesn’t always suit everybody’s pocket. A budget-friendly option in this regard is to ensure that the property is “open” and not surrounded by foliage, shrubs and trees that hamper visibility and that could offer a would-be perpetrator an unseen way onto your property.
Outside lights tend to also be effective as a deterrent. Install them strategically around the outside of the property and leave them on throughout the night.
“Exterior and garden lights also go a long way in making your outdoor space look and feel more appealing, so it’s always a worthy investment,” De Kock adds.
Have and exit strategy
Ominous as this sounds, it’s useful to have an escape plan in the event of things going awry, particularly at night. Do you know how you would get out of your house if somebody came in through the front door? Could you break the window and make a run for it from there?
“Probably one of the worst ‘safety’ things you can do is lock yourself in completely. We’ve all heard those stories of people who had no escape route because of burglar bars covering the entire window and a safety gate that locks them into their own bedroom,” De Kock says. While it doesn’t need to be a formal strategy, it is at least something worth thinking about and discussing with your family.
One of the characteristics of safe and resilient communities is that the people in them are committed to looking out for one another. In the case of an emergency at home, it’s your neighbours that can reach you the fastest – certainly faster than your friends and family and mostly likely faster than the emergency services too. This is one of the reasons why it is useful to know your neighbours. Make a point of introducing yourself to the ones closest to you and carry on the effort by stopping for a quick hello if you see them outside.
“It’s human nature to care more about people we’re acquainted with – in whatever small way – than with strangers,” says De Kock. Your neighbour is the one likely to notice and notify you if you forgot your garage door open at night, or if there is a suspicious character lurking around your house during the day. And be a good neighbour too by doing for them what you would like for yourself in terms of keeping an eye out. Security systems are important, but vigilance can also go a long way in keeping our neighbourhoods safe.
A practical example of this is to notify your neighbours if you’re going to be away from home for a while, and ask them to keep an eye on your place. Or inform them if you’re having people in and out of your property to have work done. It may even be worth creating a street, complex or neighbourhood WhatsApp group to share relevant news and information with the people in your area.
Better even than a WhatsApp group is to join the Neighbourhood Watch, if there is one in your area. These civic organisations regularly prove to be one of the most effective ways to reduce and combat crime in neighbourhoods. Typically the neighbourhood watch works closely with the police and private armed response units to push crime out through visibility and vigilance.
“There are usually a number of ways in which to get involved with the neighbourhood watch, ranging from volunteering to patrol (in your car) for a few hours each month, through financial donations, or even just by recognising and promoting the work they do,” De Kock says. Safety and security is a collective concern, and not one that is limited to property owners though of course safe neighbourhoods do wonders for the value of a property.