Summer may be a time to relax the reins – chill out in your yard, go barefoot – but you may want to think twice before completely dropping your guard or leaving that screen door wide open (and not just because of the flies). Read on to learn how to protect your home from crime this summer.
Shut the front door! And the rest, too
Some of us slow down during heat waves, but thieves are often spurred to action. Windows and doors left open for airflow provide easy access for bad guys, says Acting Sgt. Stu Simpson of the Calgary Police Department. Doors are thieves’ most common entry point, adds Simpson, so your first step should be to install deadbolts. Deadbolt kits are available at most hardware stores. If you must have a door with a window, be sure the glass is far enough away from the knob that an intruder can’t smash the pane and reach through to open the door. And don’t forget to shut and lock garage doors, especially those attached to the house (even when you’re inside or working in the yard). This guards expensive tools and cuts off easy routes into the house.
Windows should have strong locks and be resistant to prying crowbars. Reinforce basement and ground-floor windows with quality steel bars that unlock and swing open from the inside in case of fire.
Be a hard target
To further deter thieves, Simpson recommends leaving a gap in landscaping for “natural surveillance.” Limit shrubbery to a height of one metre and trim tree branches to a maximum of two metres long. Leave outdoor lights on from dusk until morning and attach timers to indoor lights when away. Install an alarm system with 24-hour monitoring. Simpson calls these techniques target hardening. “You want criminals to say, ‘Wow, this house has low bushes, lights on, an alarm, good quality doors – there are easier targets.’”
“Good neighbours are the best security systems,” adds Simpson. “Get to know each other. If something seems suspicious, listen to instinct and call the non-emergency police number.”
Tenants on guard
It’s a bit tougher to protect your home when you’re not the one paying the mortgage. Home-owners don’t need permission to install a security system, upgrade their windows or switch out locks. But renters do, and it’s a problem that policing organizations, apartment owners and building managers across Alberta are trying to address with the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
Under the program, buildings can become Crime Free certified by fulfilling security requirements determined by the local police agency. Building owners and managers must also complete crime-prevention training provided by police. Tenants do their part by agreeing to abide by the rules of the property and signing a Crime Free Multi-Housing lease addendum. More than 240 Crime Free certified buildings are now listed on the Edmonton Police Service website. “The program empowers tenants, managers and owners to keep illegal activity out of their rental properties,” says Const. Reid Nichol of the Edmonton Police Service.
The AMA-supported program also runs in Lethbridge, and other communities are considering it. “The benefits are many – from increased property values to improved personal safety for residents,” says Nichol.
Is your home safe when you’re away?
Heading out of town this summer? Here’s your pre-trip security checklist:
• Leave lights on or attach lamps to plug-in timers.
• Install outdoor motion-sensor lights.
• Lock up bicycles and any other recreational equipment.
• Cancel newspaper subscriptions and stop mail delivery temporarily (See Canada Post for details).
• Install an electronic security system.
• Keep a record of all credit card, personal and banking information in a separate, secure location in case any of this information goes missing.
• Shred old bills, receipts and other documents that contain personal and credit information before recycling or throwing them away.
• Have your electronic equipment and other valuables marked by the local police department so that these items are readily identifiable if stolen.
• Remove shrubbery and other outdoor objects that could be used to conceal or aid intruders.
• Remove valuables from vehicles parked outside your home and put an “all valuables removed” placard in the window.
Nine Steps to a Safer Home
Lessons from Edmonton’s Crime Free apartment complexes
Though the security requirements listed below are intended for rental buildings in Edmonton’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, tenants, managers, homeowners and building owners across Alberta should take note of these preventative measures.
1. Deadbolts: Suite doors must have deadbolts with 2.5-centimetre (1-inch) or longer throws. This way, if someone hits, or throws something at, the door, the bolt won’t retract on impact.
2. Deadbolt screws: If the door frame is wooden, the deadbolt strike plate has to be secured with 7.5 cm (3-inch) screws. The screws must be long enough to penetrate the first and second studs so that the plate remains secure on impact.
3. 180-degree peepholes. The view-finder must be horizontally centred on the suite door, at eye height, to allow for maximum visibility.
4. Hallway lighting: Interior hallways must be lit well enough that residents can identify facial features, such as hair, clothing and eyewear, from six to 7.5 metres away.
5. Street address: The building address must be clearly legible and comply with any municipal bylaws relating to address identification. In Edmonton, for example, number characters must be at least
7.5 cm tall. Rear building addresses are also strongly recommended.
6. Accessible windows and patio doors: These must have added security features, such as locks, that prevent them from being popped out or slid open. A dowel, hockey-stick handle or broom handle also works well.
7. Foliage: Trees and other foliage around the property must be pruned so that visibility of the building is unobstructed. Trees should be trimmed to 2 metres from the ground and shrubs should be no taller than 1 metre.
8. Outdoor lighting: The building exterior must be well lit, preferably with metal halide or LED lights, which
render colour well.
9. Graffiti zero-tolerance: Any graffiti must be removed immediately.
Don’t get burned
In the rush to fortify your home against intruders, don’t forget about another common home-safety hazard: fire.
Cut the risk
Despite the best efforts of Canadian fire-prevention groups, the leading cause of household fires is still unattended cooking. So don’t leave the room with that stovetop turned on. If you do have to answer the phone while cooking, hold onto your spatula, suggests Mark Hoveling, officer with Lethbridge’s Fire Prevention Bureau, so you’ll remember the stove. And whether it’s the oven or the microwave emitting black smoke, don’t introduce oxygen by opening the appliance’s door. The roast is ruined already. Turn off the heat or unplug the microwave, open the window and wait for cool-down.
Know the drill
Do you have a fire evacuation plan? Because you need one – on paper and posted somewhere visible in your home. It should take no longer than three minutes to execute and include, at minimum, the fire department’s emergency number, a safe meeting place outside the home and a floor plan identifying two exits from each room (see 3-minute drill). People can be overcome by smoke and toxic fumes within three minutes, says Mahendra Wijayasinghe, research and analysis manager in the Office of the Fire Commissioner of Alberta Municipal Affairs, while the average response time for fire crews is seven minutes. So get out immediately, and call 911 from your neighbour’s.
Most fire deaths occur at night, so practising evacuations (once or twice per year) in typical conditions is key. “People wake up groggy, perhaps after taking medication, and they can end up in closets because they get disoriented in the dark,” says Wijayasinghe. He suggests pressing the alarm button when your family is sleeping. Roll out of bed and crawl (where air would be clearest) out in the dark, for a more realistic estimate of distance to exits.