Security Onion

Written By: The Lowdown - May• 31•13

Northern 2011 09 10 DSC_5138The recent spate of armed robberies around Lusaka serves as a timely reminder to take a long hard look at the security of your home. The most important thing is to ensure your personal safety.


Usually, it is impractical to fully protect an already-built home from a determined intruder, however, a lot can be done to make it more difficult for intruders to get into your home and, more importantly, to make it harder for them to take you by surprise.


To do this you need several layers of security – to misquote a popular cartoon character; “ Good security is like an Ogre Onion.”




The objectives of good home security are:

  1. To deter intruders, by presenting such challenging security barriers that the prospective intruder is discouraged from attempting or continuing to attempt entry.
  2. To warn the house occupants of an attempted intrusion so that the house occupants can take steps to protect themselves and their property and, if a security monitoring service is used, to activate the  appropriate security response/counter measure.
  3. To delay or impede intruders to give the house occupants time to get themselves into a safe place and for security counter measures to take effect.
  4. To record and/or leave an evidence trail of the intrusion attempt so that intruders can be identified and/or insurance can be claimed.


Ideally, for personal safety, you need to be warned BEFORE intruders are in your home, and have time to reach a place of safety in your home that is strong enough to keep out a determined intruder for as long as it takes for someone to come to your aid. In practice, in Lusaka, this means that your home, when locked, should give you at least 5 minutes protection from a determined intruder and that your Safe Haven, within you home, should be able to give you at least 15 minutes of protection.


Good security has layers, like an onion. Lets consider some of these layers.


Most houses in Lusaka  are surrounded by a boundary wall or fence. This is the first physical security layer. Anyone who climbs over a wall or over or through a fence to enter a property can be charged with criminal trespass. A high, solid wall is good as it makes it hard for intruders to see into the property. If you have good neighbours you might prefer a boundary that allows you to see through and watch out for problems on each others’ properties. Any decorative features, trees or structures that make it easy for someone to climb over the boundary should be removed. An electric fence on the boundary that sets off an alarm if it is cut or tampered with is a good early warning system. Properly installed razor wire, anti-intruder spikes and thorny plants on or around the boundary are good deterrents. If you have dogs, a boundary fence or a wall defines their territory for them and they will usually protect that defined territory.


Security lighting is important. If you have  a night guard, he or she needs to be able to patrol the property without a torch. If you do not have a night guard, it is better to have security lights that are only activated when needed. Place security lights so that they would effectively “blind” someone looking into the property towards the house and try to eliminate areas of deep shadow where intruders can hide. Security lights can be proximity activated, so that they light up the area where there is suspicious activity and also activate an alarm.


There are many types of outdoor electronic intruder detectors. These can be a useful way of warning you that there is an intruder in your yard. It is difficult to completely eliminate false alarms from such devices, especially if you have dogs and cats. My preference is for Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) with motion sensing, which can monitor critical areas, warn you when it senses movement in these areas and also show you the area and intruder when it happens.


Moving onto your house; all windows whether they open or not, should have burglar bars. Ideally the burglar bars should be on the inside so that intruders have first to break the glass and then tussle with bars before they gain entry.


All external doors should have security gates and again, ideally these should be fitted inside the house. A good reason for putting burglar bars and security gates on the inside of windows and doors is that you can then install an alarm system that will activate the alarm when a window is broken or a door is opened BEFORE the intruder is in your home and WHILE the intruder is still faced with a security layer that should prevent entry for at least five minutes, giving you time to get into your Safe Haven and for security counter measures to take effect.


Most people make the accommodation wing of the house into their Safe Haven, but this depends on the layout of the house and is your personal choice. The important thing about the Safe Haven is that all the doors and windows to it MUST be extra secure and give you at least 15 minutes of forced entry delay. Ideally, this will also be where you sleep at night. You need to consider how you will secure the entrance to the Safe Haven during an emergency. My preference is for latch locks that will lock the gate as soon as it is closed. Padlocks can be used after you are safely in the Safe Haven.


Ensuring that your burglar bars and security gates are strong enough is important. Gaps between bars should be small enough to prevent a small child from getting through. A gap of 10 cm prevents even a baby’s head getting through the bars, which is important as toddlers have been injured by getting their heads stuck in burglar bars. The bars should be thick enough to prevent them from being easily bent or cut. Burglar bars should be strongly anchored into the wall and welded to steel window frames in as many places as possible. Intruders will use extreme force to get in, burglar bars and security gates need to be strong.


External doors that open outwards will have their hinge pins on the outside. Intruders can knock out the hinge pin and lever the door open, bypassing the lock. To prevent this, tack-weld one end of each hinge pin to the hinge and fit at least three 10 mm steel pins into the hinge end of the door that engage with holes drilled into the door frame when the door is closed.


The physical security of your home is YOUR responsibility. Take time to check it and look at every single door and window. Make sure windows close properly and can not be opened from the outside. Check that all your external doors and Safe Haven doors and security gates are fitted with good quality security locks and replace any locks if you think keys may have been lost, illegally copied or in any way compromised.


Quite often keys used in robberies are obtained from domestic staff, who usually live in less secure houses and locations. One way to deal with this is to have two sets of locks on external doors and security gates that domestic staff need access to – and for the domestic staff to only have keys to one of each lock, allowing you to ensure their safety and yours by locking both sets of locks when you are home.


Consider installing an intruder alarm system or at the very least a siren that can be used to distract and disturb intruders as well as alerting neighbours that there is a problem.


Employing a security guard is an option, but if the physical security of your house is good, the guard becomes, essentially, a gate opener and a human being in harm’s way if armed intruders get into your yard. If the physical security of your house is not good, the guard may become part of the problem.


Some parts of Lusaka have neighbourhood watch schemes that offer varying degrees of security assistance. Check and join if you feel that the service offered meets your needs.


There are many security companies in Lusaka that offer Alarm Monitoring and Response services.  I strongly recommend having a good Alarm Response service. Choose a company that has a mobile unit based close to your home and check that the services and level of service they provide meet your requirements. A good company will provide you with clear and understandable security advice regarding the weak points of your home and will respond quickly to any alarm activation.


Even the best physical security measures will not help if you don’t use them. Do lock your outer security gates and doors when you are at home. Do take care to prevent your keys from being copied. Use your alarm. Check it regularly. Make sure you have a working phone, radio or mobile phone in your Safe Haven. Walk your perimeter as often as you can, and check that all your security layers are in place and in good working order.


Avoid allowing casual access to your home. Don’t leave cash and valuables lying around in plain sight.


Spending a little time each day to lock up and secure your home might save you from having to deal with the dreadful consequences of an armed robbery.

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