What can I do if an intruder breaks in that DOESN'T require a gun?
June 4, 2013 6:48 AM   Subscribe

I am a newly single mother. I live in a small town that is fairly safe, but you never know. I do not want a gun in my house since it raises the chances of a gun-related accident with children.

I lock my doors, and I have a big dog (but he's friendly).

My question is: what is a good way to stop an intruder if one actually gets in? Mace? I've considered getting a gun and loading it with blanks as a scare tactic that wouldn't endanger my child....

Other thoughts?
posted by SarahBellum to Human Relations (65 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Even a gun loaded with blanks is dangerous: look up the death of actor Eric Hexum.

I think your best bet is going to be preventitive security: locking your doors (and windows!), yes, keeping an eye on what's happening around you and your home, perhaps get a security system installed.
posted by easily confused at 6:52 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I can't really answer your question, but I'd just like to point out that blanks aren't safe.
posted by dortmunder at 6:52 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would strongly suggest you do not attempt to stand your ground in this situation. A better bet is to set up an alarm, so when it sounds you can grab your child and call 911. Depending on the circumstances, lock yourself in a room or run away. Mace might be good if you are trapped, but avoiding direct confrontation is your best bet.
posted by spaltavian at 6:53 AM on June 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

The best weapon you can have nearby is a phone, which you use to call 9-1-1.
posted by mkultra at 6:53 AM on June 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Very few people want to break in to an occupied house. Get a security system, make sure you have a means of calling 911.

If there is a specific person who wants to do you harm and that is why you think someone is going to break in, you need to work with the legal system to get a restraining order.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd suggest an alarm system with wired (to the wall, your bedroom) and portable panic button. Not a gun with blanks - not safe around children, either.
posted by tilde at 6:56 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not only are blanks not safe, you don't want to escalate a situation to a lethal level with a non-lethal "weapon."

Phone, alarm, panic button. And good locks.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:58 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can get these personal alarm things which emit an incredibly loud burst of sound which would startle the fuck out of anyone.. if they got really close, putting it to their ear would physically hurt them. Just a thought.
posted by h00py at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are things you may be able to do to modify your home to make it less attractive/vulnerable to break-ins. :)
posted by mdonley at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also if you can, get to know your neighbours, and establish a mutually care-taking relationship with them over time. They will look out for you and your home, and you will do the same for them.

I live in a block, and we have a facebook group for the area, where we put a shout-out whenever there are weirdos hanging around, or if there's been a crime incident, so that we all know to be wary. Also we call round if there is shouting or banging. The last time I had a knock on the door, in fact, I had fallen over doing a handstand. It was comforting, and simultaneously rather embarrassing.
posted by greenish at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Get a 'Beware of Dog' sign and post it in a prominent location. Burglars are willing to risk dealing with alarm systems if they think they have a shot at bypassing it. Or if they set it off, they can extract themselves before the cops can respond. But if there is even just the threat of a dog, they will move on and look for easier pickings.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:10 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I lock my doors, and I have a big dog (but he's friendly).

You're done. Look into automatic security lights, maybe get an alarm system, or if you're really paranoid, a keychain pepper-spray can (which you have been trained to use and store safely and effectively), but really, no-one wants to mess with a dog of almost any size.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:12 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Safe room, safe room, safe room.

Your imaginary intruders won't be trained terrorists with European accents and high tech gear. All you need is a bathroom with a bolted, solid core door, and a cellphone. This is a $200 Home Depot project.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2013 [24 favorites]

The trick is to prevent the house looking attractive to someone breaking in. When they're in the house it's kind of too late and your only realistic option is to stall them while you can call the police (so locking yourself in somewhere).

As a lone person (woman or otherwise), isn't realistically going to be able to physically defend yourself against someone who has broken into a house not caring if it was empty or not. Prevention rather than dealing with the end result is more effective.

If someone is breaking into 'a house' (ie not targeting you personally) they will break into the one that looks least occupied and least defended. So a visible security system and maybe some external motion triggered lights would be a start. Make sure there are signs of occupation in the house when you are home (timed lights in the street facing rooms?).

Basically, you don't need to fortify your home so much as make it look like more hassle than any of the other homes. Making it look lively and active (and with an alarm) will likely do all you need if the neighbourhood is fundamentally safe - you'll be more likely to get a smarter burglar in that situation who will be looking for minimum hassle, so empty houses.
posted by Brockles at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

As others have said, please do not get a gun loaded with blanks. There's probably no better way to get an armed criminal who just wanted to steal your iPad to shoot you than to make him think he's being shot at.

I understand your wariness about having guns in the house. I am a single father of a small child and a gun owner, but my guns are kept in a locked metal cabinet making them completely useless on very short notice.

But I don't worry about what happens if an intruder breaks in. It seems so unlikely that it's not worth contemplating. If I honestly felt scared by that idea, what I would do is move to a safer neighborhood.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing the dog. And it doesn't have to be big - just alert and loud.

If having a gun in the house - even with blanks - makes you uncomfortable, consider how hard it will be to effectively use it in a moment of crisis. I think you're pretty much covered with the dog and the above suggestions for good lighting, locks and all of the usual safety tips.

If someone actually gets in? Lock yourself in a room and call the police, period.
posted by jquinby at 7:16 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

A phone and dog are your best bet, even a normally friendly dog will be a deterrent and alarm system. Check to make sure your not in one of those places where budget cuts mean that the police don't come when you call 911 (horrific recent story about a woman who called 911 to say that someone was breaking into her house, and they didn't send anyone till he had broken in and assaulted her - Woman Raped After Cuts To Police Force Leave Residents Unprotected ). Teach your kid to hide, flee or follow you by making a game of it - have some keyword commands - fly away to your nest little birdy! (run and hide) Duck Duck Duck (follow the mother duck like duckling) etc.
posted by 445supermag at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am pretty pro-firearms, so much so that I would have advised it if you hadn't specified against it in your Ask. Let me absolutely, categorically tell you though, DO NOT GET A GUN AND LOAD IT WITH BLANKS. This is pretty much the worst possible thing you can do. The defensive purpose of having a gun is not to show the gun, but to shoot with the gun. Showing the gun, even if they think it is a real gun, alerts any intruder that you are unlikely to shoot with it. It increases your danger without bringing anything (like lethality) to the table.

There are finger safes, if the safety of your child is the only reason you don't want a gun (MeMail me if you're interested, I won't otherwise waste your time detailing something you may not want)

If you want a non-firearms option, here are some options that I would suggest:

1) Not regular mace, but bear mace.
2) A blackjack - you can keep it by or near the nightstand, and only use it if the intruder attempts to grab you

Your real concern though is going to be getting to your baby in a crisis. I'd practice house drills - practice getting up, grabbing the baby, and getting out. If you are not prepared to kill to defend your home, stand your ground is a really bad tactic for you.
posted by corb at 7:19 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I'm sure that being newly single makes your responsibilities and lack of back-up seem alarming, but honestly, try to shake off the "you never know" level of worry. Most houses are never broken into; most people are never victims of crime; most seemingly safe towns/neighborhoods are actually safe. Crime rates are lower than they've been at any point in the last 40 years, but TV shows and sensationalist news stories make us feel less safe -- try to help your rational mind realize otherwise. Look up Lenore Skenazy for a steady stream of Worry Less input.
posted by acm at 7:20 AM on June 4, 2013 [20 favorites]

It's really inexpensive to have a telephone cable and receptacle run to wherever your "safe room" is so you can have a phone in there. In my area at least, any landline (whether you pay for phone service or not) can make emergency calls, so you won't have to pay the twenty or thirty bucks a month just to maintain it.
posted by resurrexit at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2013

I live in a small town that is fairly safe, but you never know.

It is worth having a reality-based assessment of your risks, however. There is "You never know" and there is "The chances of something happening are vanishingly small and living in fear is its own jail cell"

So I'd go two directions

1. Make your place as uninviting to break-ins as possible within reasonable (and location-appropriate) standards
- motion sensor lights outside
- locks on windows and doors
- curtains
- looks lived in
- good relations with neighbors

2. Make sure you have a worst-case scenario plan
- second the "bear mace" suggestion
- phone within easy reach
- place you can go with your kids(s)
- safety preparedness with the kid(s) (can include other stuff like fire/weather situations)

If it makes you feel better, there are alarm system options but they are expensive and I'd only consider them if a risk assessment indicated they were needed. And then I'd look at your own anxiety levels to try to bring them into reasonable ranges (not saying they aren't just saying this is part of an effective strategy for dealing with the unexpected) whether this involves exercise or a self-defense class or just turning off the local news channel. I've been where you are (newly single, though not a parent) and I went through a very similar thing and I slept with a machete next to my bed because I was sort of irrationally scared of the unknown. I would not recommend it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You've got some good advice above: cops, mace, alarm

More than anything, have a plan, and have another plan for when that one falls apart:
- What neighbors can you call? Post their numbers all over.
- Cordless phone with a hidden base station (and more available chargers), or better still a landline in the closet.
- A closet and/or bathroom you can secure that will keep someone out for as long as possible; you aren't making an impregnable panic room, but it should stall a person who isn't carrying tools, at least.
- An escape plan. Another escape plan. (this is fire safety too.) Don't count on door exits. If you'll need to go to a window, figure out what you'll use to smash that window and protect yourself from glass. (Top of the toilet tank is usually a giant piece of ceramic, great for breaking glass.)
- What neighbors can you go to, and how do you get there? Do they have aggressive dogs, high fences, are they around all the time or often away? As far as you know? Do they have guns? Nearby businesses and their hours? Learn all of this.
- Drill everything in the plan, and learn what works and what needs work. You don't have to freak out the baby-- a few heavyish items in a pillow case will stand in nicely. Drilling will help you keep calm and make decisions if the terrible thing happens.
- Don't forget that people don't always come in through doors; they come in through windows on every floor.
- Bug-Out Bag: this is a mainstay of preparedness. Make a bag that you'll grab if you have to run out the door from any emergency. The best ones will sustain you from 48-72 hours, but you can start small, and get something that'll cover your and baby's needs for around 12 hours-- enough to last through the night if nobody else can help you, long enough to get help. Keep it updated for the seasons, for the size of your baby. (Check it every 3 months-- take it apart, replace things, put it back together, use up whatever you took out.)
posted by Sunburnt at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the advise about not looking like an easy target is correct. Burglars don't want to get caught, so they look for targets that look vulnerable. If you look like you are vigilant and on guard by the means other people have suggested, more likely than not they will look elsewhere for an easier target. And just generally be a good observer of your environment, looking around, being aware of your surroundings, etc.
posted by Dansaman at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2013

For safety's sake, I'd recommend preventative measures (stuff you can do to minimize your chances of being burglarized) over confrontational measures (stuff you can do to hurt/confuse/incapacitate an intruder).

After my house was broken into (they used a stepladder and pried out an entire window -- glass, screen, wooden frame and all -- that is inaccessible at ground level, then took the window with them when they were done robbing the house), I installed these bars on all the windows that didn't have them already, and stuck alarms on every exterior-facing window and door.

I am not sure that spraying mace indoors would be advisable since it could blow back and hit you and/or your child, but perhaps there are more targeted options on the market (mace is illegal in my state, so I'm not sure). If they were legal in my state, I'd get a taser, but for now, I sleep with a baseball bat and a cell phone next to my bed.
My real plan, if someone breaks in while I'm home, is to grab my dog and a leash and lock myself in a bedroom with egress, then bust out a window and get outside as quickly as possible.

I don't think I'll ever again be able to feel "safe," per se, but doing all of that has helped me feel like my chances of getting broken into again have at least been somewhat reduced. Next up on the list is installing security doors for every entrance.
posted by divined by radio at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't engage. Prepare. Lock interior doors. Have a phone handy by the bed.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:11 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

What you want are portable fire escape ladders in the bedrooms, especially your child's bedroom. In case of emergency pack up your kid and go out the window.

Train your child never to answer the doorbell. When we had an attempted breakin during daylight hours, the burglar rang the doorbell first. My child answered the door to an attempted robbery, which wasn't cool. Another important prevention mechanism is to be vigilant and leave valuables out of sight in windows. You may want to position your Christmas tree and gifts away from the window.

Security systems are well and good, however security systems will not alert you if there is somebody at the outside of your home attempting to pry windows and doors. The security system will tell you when the person has gone through the window/door or broken the window. Be prepared to evacuate at that time.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:12 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read an article some 20 years ago in which the author claimed that in interviewing (former) burglars, if given a choice between being faced with a dog and the homeowner with a gun, they chose the homeowner. No small part of this has to do with the difficulty of negotiating with a threatened dog.
posted by plinth at 8:12 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to live in an country with strict gun control laws and lived alone. The local police suggested not only all the usual security precautions others have mentioned they also suggested a strong lock on solid wood bedroom door and a phone in your bedroom. Basically you hear a noise you lock yourself and your kid in and call the cops, if anyone tries to come you yell out you've called the cops. They suggested a landline as if worse comes to worse and you are too scared or can't talk they can trace the calls. You should be sleeping with your doors shut for fire safety anyway, and apparently thieves don't like to enter rooms with closed doors as they don't know what is on the other side. Doesn't mean they won't I guess but it might make them think.

Be careful with security measures that you don't end up making a cage you can't get out of in an emergency too, so any bars etc should open from the inside.

The number one security measure the police suggested though was a noisy dog. They don't have to be vicious, just vigilant and noisy. If the dog starts barking and carrying on lights come on in the house before anyone actually gets inside thieves leave to go for easier targets.

For added security make sure you have smoke alarms, CO2 alarms etc and teach your kid/s what to do when they go off.
posted by wwax at 8:16 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you know what the 911 response time is for your area?
posted by Feantari at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2013

Some alarm system companies have wireless (cellular) connections so you don't have to depend on a physical cable (phone line, coax) that can be cut.
posted by Brent Parker at 8:41 AM on June 4, 2013

You can buy something called a starter pistol that is no more dangerous than a cap gun, but much louder. This one would probably make your ears ring:

posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:52 AM on June 4, 2013

posted by NYC-BB at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2013

The danger isn't just in the gun itself, it's making someone think you have lethal force when you don't.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get a "Guard Dog on Duty" sign.

When I was a radio producer I interviewed a lovely ex-thief who had written a book about safety. One of the things that always stuck with me about home safety was his suggestion to get a few guard/attack dog signs and place them by your front door and by your driveway entrance.

He said that when he was a thief and saw that sign, he'd move onto another house because he certainly didn't know if it was true, but he would never take the chance on encountering anything in a house that would make noise and draw attention to his being there.

Dogs bark and the fear of that is apparently enough to keep potential intruders away. Seriously.
posted by kinetic at 9:21 AM on June 4, 2013

As another note on preventative measures, I think motion sensor lights can be very effective against intruders looking for the easy score (though you may have to do some adjusting so small animals aren't constantly setting it off).
posted by Glinn at 9:36 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking from experience, a loud alarm, with sirens both inside and outside, and signs posted and stickers on windows, is a huge deterrent. Like Divinedbyradio, My house was broken into by prying open a window on the "dark" side of the house. This window was not alarmed, but the back door was. When the burglars got in they walked right by an ipod, video camera, and still camera that were sitting on the kitchen table. They did this because they were trying to create a 2nd means of escape-the back door, which was alarmed. As soon as they opened the inner door to the mud room the alarm went off, and I imagine, so did they-right out the window they came in.

BTW most homeowners insurance will offer a discount if the house has a monitored alarm system.
posted by Gungho at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2013

Surprised noone's mentioned IP security cameras and DNA spray - plus signage of course, that's the point - as deterrents for burglars. No connection or recommendation to companies listed, just first things that came up on Google.
posted by cromagnon at 9:42 AM on June 4, 2013

Call your police department, and ask to speak with their Community Liaison Office or Public Service Officer. The police website should give you some sort of list of officer and employees. Give them your concerns, and ask if they can stop by your residence to give you security advice.
posted by lstanley at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Security cameras and then LARGE signs that say this property is monitored by security cameras 24/7. They look ugly. But they work. Home invasion a-holes will almost always case your home first and when they see the sign they won't come back.

And you should read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.
posted by cda at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2013

Nthing "beware of dog" signage. A random burglar is not going to know your dog is friendly.
posted by rtha at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2013

I just really think it's worth noting that while everyone i know has had things robbed from their house(and a number i can think of including myself have had B&E's where a door was smashed) i have never met or talked to anyone whose house was robbed in that manner when they were home.

Thieves do not want to break in to an occupied house. They have no way of knowing whether you're armed or not, and the guard dog sign+a dog that barks when someone knocks on the door or gets close to it is excellent here. But seriously, make the place look obviously occupied when you're home. Leave the TV on at a low volume until 3am or something, leave the lights on, play music at a reasonable volume, etc.

I'm fairly certain the guy who broke in to my last rental house did so because a neighbor pulled in to their driveway and he thought someone was getting home. The best thief prevention is being in the house. Seriously, look up the stats on "home invasion" robberies when people are actually in their house Vs just robberies, it's comparatively extremely rare.

I also think it's worth noting that my house stupidly had an un-reinforced series of glass windows on a hidden-within-a-sun-porch back porch area that was also behind a tall fence. If you want to prevent break-ins in general i'd go around and address obviously entry points like that.

But seriously, i think someone being in the house at all is the ultimate deterrent. I always planned for stand your ground/home defense scenarios until i realized that at 4 places i had lived they were robbed in some fashion, but it was ALWAYS when i wasn't home. Plan for that scenario, not for someone breaking in while you're there as anything but a distant-second scenario like a severe earthquake or flood or something.

One last thought on preview, my friend used to live in the woods near a fairly safe small town. His place did get broken in to(by crazy naked methheads! he had an IP camera or something that caught them) but they specifically waited until he and his family had been out of town for several days before breaking in. As i said, thieves really do not want to encounter other people.
posted by emptythought at 9:55 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Although you're getting some good advice (and some bad), I'll throw in my two cents.... buy a can of wasp spray.

It's just as effective in the eyes as mace, often has better aim and distance than mace, and gives you extra time to get away.
posted by matty at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've got a motion sensor front porch light, and it goes off when a car pulls into the driveway and of course, when someone comes up the steps. It gives me a huge sense of security just to be able to see anyone who comes up to my house.

I'm a single mom too and I've had these fears myself. Even knowing the odds are extremely, extremely low (and not a single incident in the four years I've lived here), I still keep basically a baseball bat beside my bed, and a phone. I've never needed it but with it there, I can just forget about it.
posted by lemniskate at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2013

Unless you've made vengeful enemies, your personal safety at home is really at very little risk, no matter where you live.

Housebreakers are almost always looking to steal stuff, not to do violence to the occupants. And armed robbery is a much, much more serious offense than a straight up B&E or burglary, so it doesn't make much sense for the average burglar to have a weapon. In fact, they generally work to minimize their risk rather than maximize their profits: the threat of jail or armed confrontation is such that most burglars really, really don't want to get caught in the act, and will go for lower-risk, apparently unoccupied targets, even if the higher-risk target looks like a really rich haul.

So, when it comes to personal protection, you're already covered, because personal safety from housebreakers is already a pretty safe expectation. I suppose if you want protection from a desperate thief who's willing to use deadly force, the best thing to do is paradoxically actually to make your occupancy conspicuous. Even the most addled robber isn't going to deliberately choose the place which obviously has someone in it.

As to the protection of your property, well, even a friendly large dog is something of a deterrant, especially if he's the barky kind of friendly. Lock your doors when you're not at home and when you're asleep. Maybe put up some motion-sensing lights. Beyond that, there's kind of diminishing returns on any sort of significant investment in security.
posted by jackbishop at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just moved into a house with an alarm and the alarm company provides armed response. If your house has been wired for an alarm in the past, that will make it cheaper for you.

I can use it while at home as well as when I leave. The alarm company was able to deal with the fact that I have two dogs at home as well and set up the motion sensor to account for that.

The alarm company will tell you if there are any vulnerable points in your home security and give you suggestions for making your home safer.

If you can't afford an alarm system, you may want to try to buy window stickers and a sign for an alarm system off of ebay and put it up by your door.

Also, make sure you have deadbolt locks on your doors. I once locked myself out of my house and the locksmith went to the side door, used two little things that looked like allen keys and popped it open in under 30 seconds. I was amazed at how easy it was. He said a deadbolt would solve my problem and I got one right after that.

Also, if you have any doors with window panes right next to or in them, you may want to install some other locking mechanism to thwart someone breaking the window to open the door. It could be as easy as a slide lock, like for a window, that goes up into the door frame that you'd use when you are home.
posted by dottiechang at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2013

A ton of good advice for obtaining peace of mind and security can be found upthread.

That said, my .02 is that it really depends on what will make you feel better, as from my experience the chance of needing these security steps is thankfully small.

My wife often is home alone with our child at night and on some weekends, so we have adopted a plan:

1. Home Security System. We pay the monthly monitoring fee, but I know that the primary purpose in this is the signage and the physical, loud alarm. I made sure to get a few extra stickers from the installer to place one on every window and means of ingress as well as the yard sign. We also have the "alert" chime on for the alarm system, which will notify you through a beep if any of the alarmed areas (doors, windows, etc.) are opened/closed even with the alarm not engaged. If you don't want to pay for the service, perhaps finding someone you know who has ADT or a similar service and see if they can get another sign for you.

2. Trash awareness. We shred financial documents, and conceal empty prescription bottles in the trash after removing labels. We also break down packaging for expensive items (TVs, computers, laptops, etc.) and put these out right before trash pickup, especially around the Holidays.

3. Landscaping: We cut back bushes and foliage providing possible cover around windows and doors. We have doors that open out into the back of the house, but anyone gaining entrance must do so in relative open view of whoever may be looking.

4. Cheap Motion sensing floodlights. If you have any outdoor/patio lights, Home Depot sells a screw in Motion Sensor / After Dusk light which goes into a regular socket. You leave the switch on inside, and it will function as a motion sensing Light instead of having to do a full installation. I purchased "daylight" high wattage outdoor bulbs to go in these sockets.

5. Know Neighbors. We know our neighbors' relative schedules and cars, and they know ours. We notice suspicious activity, and while I haven't witnessed anything 911 worthy, I would call if something presented itself.

6. Cameras. My wife's main concern was home invasion over burglary, so I briefly toyed with the idea of IP cameras. Footage is stored off-site, and in my mind, in a worst case scenario (i.e. they are trying to actively kill her), a plea could be made to that criminal that they can either A) Walk away with a B&E charge, or B) Go down for murder or something far more serious.

I must say, I like Cool Papa Bell's idea of a simple safe room too. Just a solid door with a strong latch. A year after performing 1-5 above, I probably won't do it where we currently are, but a very easy and relatively cheap way to secure against intruders if the need comes up.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2013

I've considered getting a gun and loading it with blanks as a scare tactic that wouldn't endanger my child....

As a gun owner, I think this is a really bad idea. This would just telegraph to the intruder that you have no intention of doing them lethal harm.

It is pretty obvious to me that you will not be confronting any intruder, so I recommend proactive security measures. It is very helpful that you have a dog. Otherwise, make sure you have stout locks on all doors and windows. Motion-activated floodlights are also a good idea.

Lastly, find a room that can be a safe room. I recommend an interior room without windows. I join in Cool Papa's suggestion of a bathroom. Replace the door with a heavy exterior door and frame that will allow you to install deadbolts and doorstops. Also, have a prepaid cellphone in there. You don't need to be able to live in there, just stay for an hour or two until the authorities arrive.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:20 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

With regard to 911, calling from a cell phone or a landline can make a big difference depending on your jurisdiction in the US.

In many small towns, it works like this:

(1) Call 911 from a landline ----> Your call goes directly to the police agency for your jurisdiction and they can dispatch police (They may be able to dispatch Fire & EMS, or may have to transfer you);

(2) Call 911 from a VOIP phone ----> Your call may or may not be received at your local police department. It might be routed to the PSAP at the county level for your jurisdiction and your phone number might not be displayed there. During a power outage, VOIP phones generally do not work. You can read more about issues with VOIP and 911 here.

(3) Call 911 from a cell phone ----> Your call goes to the county level answering point where Fire & EMS are dispatched from. Depending on whether the answering point in your jurisdiction is Phase I Enhanced 911 or Phase II, they may have the number from the phone you are calling displayed and the cell site from which the call was routed or that information plus the latitude and longitude of where you are calling from (which the FCC requires to be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters, but, the technology is not perfect and there are issues sometimes).

Calling 911 from a landline is preferred (landline in this context meaning a non-VOIP phone, can include a cordless phone) but a VOIP phone, depending on your jurisdiction, may be just as good.
posted by mlis at 11:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had pondered the same thoughts about keeping some kind of defensive weapon in the house but I have kids as well. The best conclusion I could come up with is a fire extinguisher. Helpful if there's a fire, of course, but could also be pointed at an intruder I suppose.

But maybe bear mace is a better plan and goes farther.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:48 AM on June 4, 2013

Train your dog to growl or bark when someone is at the door. Someone attempted to burgle my parents' home, and when the police came out to take the report, they advised my folks to let their 15 lb dog run loose in the house at night. Burglars don't want to break in with a fluffy noisemaker running around.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2013

As far as weaponry goes, you can't go wrong keeping a D-cell Maglite and/or a baseball bat by your bed. My LE family member doesn't keep a gun the bedroom, but keeps that heavy-ass maglite on the night table.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:22 PM on June 4, 2013

I live in South London. We have shootings. And stabbings. And home breakins. But we generally don't devote anywhere near the same time and energy to how we would deal with what are quite rare events as people in the US appear to, nor feel the need to arm ourselves to the gunwales or have safe rooms.

You don't know how you'll react if someone breaks in, although I'd bet if you were like most people (including me) you'd be shit scared and/or pretty pumped up. Hell, you may not hear the people who break in. Friends of mine have slept through burglaries. Burglars do not want confrontation or attention. They want easy targets.

Secure entry points to your home. Have a light that is motion activated by your front and back doors. Get a dog. If you don't want a dog, a cat may well still do the job of alerting you to loiterers even if it is no deterrent. Mine does. Keep a phone handy. Get insurance.

In the event you are being burgled, phone the police. Then lock yourself and your family in a room. In that room keep something weighty, about 20 inches long. If it comes down to having to use it, swing it with force and scream like a banshee. But don't seek confrontation if you don't have to. Your stuff is replaceable. You are not.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:36 PM on June 4, 2013

A gun loaded with blanks (or a realistic "non-gun", or an unloaded gun) is worse than no gun at all. Whatever you do, don't do that.

The suggestions of a room with a solid-coor door and a deadbolt seem reasonable. I'd consider keeping a landline phone in that room in addition to your cell phone, in case your cell phone doesn't work or you forget it.

Of course, that assumes that you're concerned with nonspecific house burglars (who are probably going to be in and out quickly, especially if/when they realize the house isn't empty, and have little interest in you or your child), and not someone who is actually breaking in with the intent of doing you harm. Those are very different threats and if you are seriously concerned about the latter it's a much different issue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I lived alone in a house in an "up and coming" part of town alone less than secure 100 year old doors I used these door alarms. They are really cheap and really loud. Will definitely give you a head start to calling 911 if someone tries to break in. Also they don't really sound like a car alarm so your neighbors might actually come over to see what's going on.

Also there are very easy to install stick on window jams that you can put on any accessible widow making it a lot hard for someone to pry open a window.

And of course always have your cell phone in easy reach when you're sleeping.
posted by whoaali at 7:32 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm really grateful for all of the answers so far. Just to clarify, I'm not worried that a thief will break in to steal something valuable. I'm worried that a sociopath will try to rape me or my daughter. I don't have anything valuable, and I know that thieves prefer unoccupied homes. It's the ones who WANT the house to be occupied that scare me.
posted by SarahBellum at 5:45 PM on June 5, 2013

I've considered getting a gun and loading it with blanks

Blanks can be dangerous, but it's fairly rare for things like that to happen.

Bullets are much easier to get than a gun, and it's fairly common and easy for people to acquire them.

Both of these are good reasons to make sure a gun is secured.
posted by yohko at 6:34 PM on June 5, 2013

It's the ones who WANT the house to be occupied that scare me.

Several people above have suggested creating a "safe room", what about that is not possible or not what you are looking for here?

Is there a particular person you are worried will try to find you? There are some specific precautions for that sort of thing, is that what you need?
posted by yohko at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2013

With your update:

1) Is your mail accessible from the street, or does it come directly into your house or a locked mailslot? (I know this seems like a weird question, but I promise it's relevant)

2) You really need to work out a gameplan. You want to make sure your house is essentially able to withstand a short siege. What is the police response time in your area, on average? Find out, and multiply it by two - that is how long you need to be able to hold out.

3) How old is your child? Children can be taught that upon a certain word, or hand signal, they need to get moving swiftly to whatever point you have previously designated. (I taught mine the 'rally point' military handsignal, but I'm ex-military. Yours may be different)

4) You need to teach your child to get to protection and slam the lock no matter what is happening to you. This will help both of you - it will protect your child, but it will also free your mind from worrying about your child in relation to the intruder and let you properly fight back.

5) Have you thought about taking Krav Maga classes? They're the Israeli dirty-fighting martial arts - developed to fight Nazis - and they teach a lot of specifically handicapped scenarios - such as "I need to defend my kid against an attacker"
posted by corb at 6:52 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've thought about intruders a lot. I live in a house that had active squatters when I took ownership and has had multiple break-ins.

In my opinion, you should seek to prevent intruders by making your house look well-maintained and by installing multiple strong barriers. I'll quote fake: "I live in Richmond, CA, in one of the bad parts of town (the Iron Triangle)... Theft is a daily problem. In the warehouse that I live in, there is a layered approach to security. Example: the windows have iron bars to keep people out. Inside that is a heavy metal mesh to keep rocks from breaking the glass. On the glass is privacy film to keep people from seeing inside. Pretty effective."

Your layering could look like this: a locked fence, exterior motion-activated lights, metal exterior security doors, window bars, strong / reinforced doors and windows, good locks, a loud alarm, maybe a safe room, and maybe something like a Maglite or baseball bat near your bed. Below are a few thoughts on doors and windows, which are what I've thought most about.

- Gates, window bars, and exterior metal security doors do not have to be ugly. Ironwork can look like this and this.
- If you do use window bars, make sure to get quick-release interior handles and test them regularly for fire escape purposes.
- Prioritize your efforts beginning with the least secure doors and windows. For instance, if your garage door doesn't have a deadbolt, a 12-year-old could break in with a credit card. My first step was to put window bars over the windows that are at ground level on the sidewalk.
- If every door has a deadbolt, then look at the lock itself. Are they the bottom shelf Home Depot stuff that have a limited set of key types such that a potential robber might actually have a full set?
- Consumer Reports says: "Many of the dead-bolt locks we tested don't provide the level of protection you might expect. A few well-placed kicks or a standard cordless drill was all it took to defeat every lock except [one]." Locks' quality also ranges wildly when it comes to how easy they are to pick. Go to a specialty lock / security store and ask them to show you the options.
- Then think about the door's construction. Think about each piece of the door: the lock and handle, the door itself, and all of the points where one piece of the door attaches to the other. You want a good solid door and door jamb. Thieves broke into my house by jamming a crowbar between the lock and door frame, causing the door jamb to break like this. It probably took them only a few minutes to bend the cheap metal of my door, insert a crowbar, and snap that 1-1/4" door jamb made of, like, balsa wood. Now I want to buy something like this package that reinforces a number of weak points.
- Even little details matter. For instance, use long screws to install door frame materials, because you want the strike plates (the holes around the outside of the opening that your door bolt slides into) to be attached with screws that go all the way through the door jamb into the studs that frame your door. Security websites include all of this information.
- Similarly, consider your windows: their materials, their locks, how easy they are to access, how easy they would be for entry, and so forth.

If I had more money, I'd get a motion-activated security video system that I could monitor to see if anyone was checking out the property or an alarm system that responds not only to doors opening but things like window vibrations.

I can't say what you should do if they are inside your house because I don't think there is a single right answer. If confronted, should you run or stay still? If you pull a weapon, will they run or shoot? I value prevention because a face-to-face situation would be volatile, and they would have planned it and thus have the advantage.
posted by slidell at 9:41 PM on June 5, 2013

By the way, friends who hear my thinking on security and prevention say things like "I don't want to live behind bars" and "I don't want to wall myself off from the world." But none of them notice that they work in offices with a strong security keycard entry door and shatterproof glass, a manned security desk, a security keycard elevator, metal office doors, security videos, etc. Many layers of defense become practically invisible.

I find that the security features I've been able to afford have added to my daily experience. You lock and unlock your door several times a day. Flimsy handles that jiggle, with keys that barely slide in all the way, are irritating. But well-made locks are elegant pieces of machinery and, compared to the cheap stuff, a joy to use. Strong wooden or metal-core doors that latch cleanly and firmly are another small way of adding quality materials to your daily experience.
posted by slidell at 9:53 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

With respect specifically to the rapist/serial killer aspect: the problem in such a case would not be home security. The problem would be having a stalker. Very few violent people break into a house on spec with the hope that there's a person (of the sort they want to rape/kill) inside. The profile you're looking at is basically someone who has, for some reason, become obsessed with you or your daughter specifically. And that's bad news no matter how secure your home is, because if your home is secure, someone meaning harm to you will just take some other vector of approach.

The good news is, obsessive violent stalkers are pretty rare. Obsessive violent stalker strangers are even rarer. Knowing some self-defense (krav maga, mentioned above, is a good one; women's self-defense classes are offered at some gym and/or workplace benefit programs) might not be a bad idea on general principle, but unless there is a particular scary person in your life, this is pretty low on the list of daily hazards to worry about.
posted by jackbishop at 7:33 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just because I think it really relates to what you're looking for, I'll repeat myself and recommend one of these, not as a call to arms but because if you put something this loud up to the ear of a person who is attacking you it will cause actual extreme physical pain; enough to, in most cases, incapacitate them.
posted by h00py at 7:40 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm really grateful for all of the answers so far. Just to clarify, I'm not worried that a thief will break in to steal something valuable. I'm worried that a sociopath will try to rape me or my daughter.

Have a phone on you at all times, and if you are at all worried, or any time you answer the door, call someone and carry on a conversation in the visitor's presence, and leave the phone off the hook (in an obvious way) while you talk to any visitor, i.e. make it look like they're interupted a phone call:
Doorbell rings at 11 pm, you call your friend.
As you are opening the door a crack, leaving the safety chain in place, speaking into your cell phone: "If you guys are at that intersection, just go straight, you'll be here in about 10 minutes, just a second somebody just rang the bell"
Swivel the mouthpiece toward you shoulder, making it obvious the person on the line can hear the conversation: "Can I help you?"
Weirdo: "My car just ran out of gas, can I come in and use your phone?"
You: "Let me hand you my cordless phone, I need to finish my conversation on my cell, I've got some old friends stopping by in few minutes."
posted by 445supermag at 12:25 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: H00py: Yes, that is the kind of thing I'm looking for.

Thanks, everyone. I'm going to take a bunch of these suggestions: cheap door alarm, loud personal alarm, and practice safety drills with my daughter.

I really appreciate the warnings about blanks. I had no idea.
posted by SarahBellum at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could mount an alarm (really loud noise and bright flashing lights in imitation of the police) outside your home (on the outside wall) but close enough to the front windows to make it seem like maybe the cops had just pulled up. Put the trigger switch next to your bed or get a remote switch.

Assume the intruder has very carefully sneaked up and as quietly as possible forced his way into your home. He thinks he's been successful. But now you turn that thing on and it's like all hell has broken loose. He is going to jump out of his skin thinking the cops are already there and, you would hope, he is going to flip from intruder to extruder really fast.

The noise and lights should also attract the attention of all your (maybe concerned, maybe angry, but it doesn't matter) neighbors, which could be pretty useful if you're screaming for help in the middle of the night and you want neighbors and actual cops to know exactly where the trouble is. I'm no expert, but I don't think there's going to be much raping going on when there's a police siren wailing away and half the neighborhood is banging on your front door. Lots of neighbors looking also means you should have witnesses who can help you describe the guy they saw running away.
posted by pracowity at 6:08 AM on June 13, 2013

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