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Another look at home security

With a new year comes new challenges as well as renewed concerns. One of the biggest concerns is home invasions. Although it’s something most people would agree they worry about, not a lot of people actually take the necessary steps to make their home less attractive to potential burglars. Below are just a few of the options you can take that can help decrease the likelihood of someone breaking in.

First, if you have an alarm, SET IT! It sounds simple but the number of people I talk to that don’t set it blows my mind. The biggest 2 reasons are because of pets and just forgetting. Most alarm companies have motion sensors that can exclude animals automatically, so their motion doesn’t set off the alarm. But for those with Great Danes or other bears that are so monstrous that they could trip it, look at alarm system that don’t have motion sensors. Glass break, door, and tamper sensors are all better than nothing. For those who forget to activate the alarms when they leave or at night, technology can help here. Use your phone to set alarms in the evening and morning for setting it. Some of the more sophisticated systems can also detect that linked phones have left the property and automatically set the alarm for you.

Another simpler step is to make sure your doors and windows have adequate and working locks. With doors, we should be looking at the strike plates of the doors to ensure the length of screws in them are long enough to go through the door frame and into the stud beyond, if possible. If you have a deadbolt make sure to use it, and lock storm and screen doors. Sliding doors should have locking bars to prevent them from easily being opened from the outside. This is as simple as getting a 2×2 piece of lumber cut to length. All the first-floor windows should be locked, and blocked if possible. Its also important to look at the windows that tip in/out to make cleaning easier. Ensure they are locked into their track and can’t easily be pushed out.

There are countless home security checklist out there for free that delve into more details. The biggest thing you can do is look at your home the same way an intruder would. What is the easiest way for them to get in. What would slow them down or stop them at the spot?

As always you should always take additional training, such as the USCCA Home Defense Fundamentals class. The course offers lots of additional ideas on interior and exterior security, as well as developing and refining your own home defense plan.

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24-Hour survival bag

With the recent evacuation of over 80,000 people from their homes in California and the hurricanes that have displaced so many families over the last few months, I thought it would be prudent to share some key items everyone should have in their “bug-out” gear. There are a lot of different views on what you should have in your bag in the event you are displaced by weather, civil unrest, or any other crisis.  I’m not going to touch on the reasons why you are choosing to leave the safety of your home and “bugging out” to a backup location. Hopefully you’ve thought of this as a possibility and already picked where you are going to go if you are temporarily un-homed. This list will be specific to a 24-hour evacuation/bug-out bag for 1 adult. The same list would be accurate for 72-hour bags, you would just increase the supply of food and water accordingly.  Now children, infants, and pets have different needs that need to be considered which we will touch on in another post.  

First thing you need for your bag, is well…a bag.  Seems simple but you need a sturdy water-proof bag that can hold all of your necessities during this tumultuous time.  I would recommend a backpack, something you can shoulder comfortably and can evenly distribute the weight on your body.  Something that you can wear while walking, running, or even climbing. But you don’t want anything so large and cumbersome that it could be caught on a large branches or prevent your from dragging it behind you if you have to crawl under obstructions.  I would also suggest having something with multiple compartments so you can keep your supplies segregated in a way that you can find them in the dark and you don’t have to dump the whole thing out to find your matches or epi-pen if you need it. 

Now that we can carry the gear, let’s talk essentials. Water, food, and clothes/shelter.  FEMA has a good guide for food and water that you can look up, it’s worth the read. A healthy adult needs roughly a half gallon of water per day.  You could need more because of climate or health conditions, but you should account for at least a half gallon per day each. Foods during an evacuation should be considered based on the length you anticipate being displaced, or the length of time it takes you to get to your backup location that will have more food/water. The first 24 hours you should have foods that can be eaten without heat or utensils.  Things that are comfort foods and high in calories and nutrition. I would stay away from powdered meals or MRE style foods for a 24/72 hour kit. You should also stay away from saltines or heavily salted foods which will make you thirstier. My kit includes protein bars and unsalted cashews. I enjoy the cashews and the protein bars give me the energy I need to keep going. They also take up very little room in the bag. If you already have a bag together, be sure to check on it regularly, as food can expire.

Clothing and shelter during this time is another big essential!  The shelter could be as easy as sleeping in your car, a tent, or even a bivy sack.  I would make sure to put an emergency blanket in your bag, they are incredibly small and can help maintain your body heat if you don’t have anything else.  Clothes you should pack include a rain jacket, socks, and a shirt at bare minimum. You should already have on a pair of comfortable shoes or boots on. I can’t stress the importance of a change of socks during this time and the need to change them frequently! Google “Trench Foot” on your own to see the dangers of wet feet. I would toss a pair of gloves, a hat, and face mask in your bag as well.  

What about tools that you need?  Well tools for a 24-hour bag really doesn’t need to be much.  You will definitely need a good first aid kit, a dependable knife, a great flashlight, and a survival tin.  The tin should have things like matches, maybe a sewing kit, duct tape, compass, string, etc. The amount of tools you will need to carry will really depend on the route of escape you have planned.  If you are only going 5 miles down the road it’s one thing. If you expect to have to travel off-road then a shovel multi-tool is a great addition. Between the axe and saw on this invaluable tool, it’s also a great for self defense. Again, the tools you need will depend on your path.

Now I’m sure several people are going to see something missing from this list that is going to drive them insane and that’s a firearm.  Well I left that off intentionally for 2 reasons. First, not everyone is comfortable with a firearm, so for them having that on the list isn’t required.  Second, and more importantly for me, a firearm is a tool I carry every day, everywhere. It’s not something I put aside just for a bug out situation where I need to leave my house in terror.  The firearm is always with me, I already have it on before I know there is an emergency. 

A 24-hour bag doesn’t need to be extravagant, heavy, or cost an arm and a leg.  A decent homemade kit can be as cheap as $50-75 per person and weigh as little as 20 lbs.  These kits can be invaluable and because of the ease there is to put one together I highly recommend keeping one in the house and one in your car. Take the time to put your bag together, discuss your options and plans for evacuation and where you will go.  Waiting to put your escape plan and materials together until there is an urgent need is too late.  

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Recognizing potential violence

I’ve seen several stories lately in the news of random attacks on unexpecting victims.  The one I just read today, was about a deranged homeless man walking up a driveway and body-slamming a young boy onto his head.  As of the writing of this post, the boy is still in critical condition.  

This kind of attack highlights how infrequently we discuss the possibility of being attacked or how to recognize the signs beforehand.  These unprovoked attacks are generally horrific and traumatic for the recipient.  I want to explain some of early signs that you can look for before a physical assault.  In this post, I’m ignoring shootings and sexual assault and focusing on the blitz attack. A blitz attack is a sudden, overwhelming attack that can be vicious, focusing mainly use of the hands or a knife.  

Before I go on, I am not the end-all expert, and I don’t intend this to be a complete list of possible behaviors. These behaviors are specific to physical assaults.  Each person is different some will exhibit all of these and some may not.  The intent of me sharing these early warning signs is to educate you on identifying a possibile attack.  How you respond will be directly related to your training and awareness at the time. 

One of the first things I notice is the physical position of the individual.  To me, this means two things: their position in relevance to you and their position relative to other threats or escape routes.  Often someone who is planning to attack you will get inside your comfort zone, closing the gap they must overcome to physically hurt you.  The closer someone gets to you, the less room you have to respond to an attack and the fewer options you have to retreat.  Aggressors can also try to isolate you from friends or escape routes to ensure that they have a dominant position.  They may also position themselves closer to an exit to ensure a rapid escape after a blitz attack. The physical responses of a person are the next best indicators of intent. These are often subconscious, which can help give away their intentions. Things like changes in breathing, hands concealed or searching in a bag.   I specifically focus on their eyes, shoulders, and hands.  

Eyes can be tricky but very telling if you can learn to read them. Aside from the physiological response of pupil dilation before the confrontation, you will have someone who will usually stare through you.  Instead of being attentive and glancing from you to an object that you are talking about or to prevent uncomfortably long eye-contact, the person may almost be looking through you.  This distant stare is often associated with someone who isn’t paying attention because they are thinking about their next move, which may be against you. 

Their shoulders will mimic their stance. Most individuals will stand with their feet and shoulders square to the person they are talking to.  However, when someone is contemplating violence, they may stand with their feet slightly staggered to maintain balance during their initial attack.  So too the shoulders will angle with one closer to you and the other slightly farther away.  This is most common with someone who is going to sucker-punch or blitz attack. 

Open hands are usually a sign of peace or calmness.  If you see someone clenching their fists, this could be a sign of aggression.  Other aggressive tendencies may be shoving their hands far into their pockets, not just resting them. Their elbows will almost fully lock trying to push their hands further down.  A third thing to watch for is hands that go behind the body and the chest comes out and rocks forward.  This could be another precursor to them preparing to balance for an outgoing blow. 

The blitz attack is one that is usually the most vicious, happening in the blink of an eye.  These attacks are often so quick and violent that bystanders don’t even realize the severity of the situation for several seconds or minutes.  During this moment of confusion, the aggressor will casually walk away and melt into the crowd and disappear.  These are the attacks that are the most scary and can have little time or buildup to the attack. 

There are many different techniques, behaviors, and postures you can look for to identify possible aggression.  There is no overarching sign that will make everything instantly clear that someone is about to cause you or your family harm, which is why you should always be aware of your surroundings.  Talk to your children about ways to recognize when someone is acting erratic or what they should do if they are being approached by someone they don’t know.  I caution you to practice vigilance. Never let someone inside your personal bubble, know your escape routes, and train to respond instinctively to threats.  Without awareness and training, the precious half a second it takes for you to see the attack, recognize it, and respond may be too slow.

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First Firearm Choice

A lot of people ask me on input on their first firearms.  I am always incredibly uncomfortable answering this question for a variety of reasons.  Your first firearm is a very personal choice and needs to be based on your own needs, not mine.  My needs have been shaped by years carrying a gun for work and personal protection.  Below are my thoughts on what you should consider when buying your first firearm, or frankly any firearm.

First and foremost, what is the intent of the firearm? Is this a home protection only handgun? Plinking, competition, or every day personal protection?  The intent of the firearm will really shape a lot of your choices.  For instance, if I am going to get a gun for home protection only, meaning I won’t be trying to conceal carry it, then I would want a gun that fully fits my hand and has the most amount of ammo that I feel comfortable with.  There is no reason to get a sub-compact because many times you won’t be able to get a full grip on the pistol. 

Second is cost.  I will always caution people not to buy a firearm that is over $1,000 for your first purchase.  There are a huge range of great options for a lot less and if it’s your first one, you may not know if this is the right gun for you.  You may find later that a backstrap safety doesn’t feel good to you, or that the slide release is just a hair out of reach.  I would also caution against the cheapest options! Many times, the cheapest guns are that way for a reason.  Either because of reliability, cumbersome controls, or difficult maintenance.  Pick a cost you are comfortable with and know that you may not love the very first pistol you buy.

Next is features.  Do you want a manual safety, de-cocker, or options for replaceable sights, etc.? These can narrow down your search dramatically to help make the first choice less daunting.  Many people will tell you that you MUST have a safety, or ALWAYS buy a gun that you can change the trigger in, or NEVER whatever-other-sage-wisdom-they-have.  Ignore them.  What MUST ALWAYS matter to you is what you feel comfortable with.  If you won’t feel comfortable with a pistol that doesn’t have a safety, that’s what matters.  One feature that most people don’t think about and may be important to you is the availability of aftermarket parts. Some people love to customize the look and feel of their firearm.

Finally, and I’ve mentioned it a couple times now, is your comfort.  If you aren’t comfortable with the gun, you won’t use it. Plain and simple.  Hold the gun, rent one and test it out, talk to friends and read reviews, but be comfortable in your choice.  I love revolvers and they feel good in my hands.  Many new shooters find revolvers strange and awkward… and that’s ok! You need to be ok with the gun because you are the one that is going to own it.  No one else knows how it feels in your hands or how it feels when you fire the gun.   I caution you to take a safety course. You need to know how your newly purchased gun operates and how to do so safely.

Some of us were issued our first firearm and didn’t have the option early on, but for those of you who can make that choice of your first firearm, don’t make that purchase lightly.  I’ve bought a lot of pistols over the years and I still remember fondly the first pistol I purchased.  Remember to make sure it feels good in your hand, meets your needs, and has features that you want on it.  And again, I can’t stress enough the importance of taking a safety course. You can never have too much safety or training. 

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Securing your home

Home security is a billion dollar booming business that’s built off your fears.  And rightfully so, the world is an unpredictable and sometimes volatile place depending on where you live.  Previously, we talked about things to look at when buying a home. In this post I want to focus on some simple upgrades you can do to your new or current home to better secure it from intruders.  I’m going to ignore the common things like getting a security system, dog, and a gun and focus on some lesser known options you can look at for improved security.  That said, never underestimate a good dog and security system, they are often enough to dissuade most would-be thieves. 

Replace the door lock hardware.  I don’t just mean replacing the locks when you buy a new house, but the striker plate on the locks.  Most will come with ¼” screws which will in fact secure the strike plates to the door frame, but it doesn’t offer a lot of protection when someone goes to kick in your door.  I would opt for a longer wood screw, at least 1” long to fully grab the frame. 

When we talk about door locks I have to stress the importance of deadbolts.  If your door only has a knob entry it really isn’t secure.  Burglars can get past that style of lock with ease.  Deadbolts are a much sturdier way to secure a door when properly installed.    

If you have a sliding door you should add security pin or some other blocking technique to keep the door closed if the lock fails. An easy and cheap option is a length of wood cut to fit the distance from the frame to the door while its closed.  This only costs a couple bucks and most stores can cut it for you there.  Throw a little stain or paint on it and they blend right in while giving you some added security.  You can also implement the same techniques on ground floor windows making them harder to open. 

Locks and blocking mechanisms are terrific tools of the trade, but they are only as good as the door they are in. If you have hollow exterior doors they can be overcome fairly easily with brute force.  I would suggest a solid core door, they cost more but offer a much better level of protection.  I would also add a solid door to wherever in your house you would want to setup as a safe room in the event intruders penetrate your home. 

You can buy security system signs to post outside your house or on the windows, these are fairly cheap and can dissuade people from breaking in.

If you do get a dog to help alert you to unwanted guests, and EVERY door bell on the tv, avoid doggy doors.  Doggy doors can make a great way in for the slender thief as well as degrade the overall strength of the door.

These are just a couple of ideas I’d recommend that many people overlook.  The possibilities are endless on different ways to secure your castle.  However, they can all be defeated if you don’t actually lock your doors, arm the system, etc. Take the time to get into the routine.  When in doubt, most local police stations or several security companies will also do free security assessments for your home to help you better secure your home.

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Kitchen Fires at Home

Kitchen fires are an all too common hazard in most homes. There are an estimated average of 188,800 residential cooking fires per year according to FEMA. These fires result in an average of 195 deaths, 3,800 injuries, and $463 million in property damage. So what does that all mean? Order pizza more often? Go out to eat instead of cooking? Well if it was up to me, yes. But for those of us who cook at home, we all need to know how to extinguish your basic home cooking fires.

I won’t bore you with the definition of fire or the fire triangle (tetrahedron). But I will say there are 2 basic things you need to know. Without oxygen or fuel, fires die out. It’s usually just that simple.

So the first thing we want to do in the event of a fire is don’t panic! Easier said than done, I know.

If the fire is in the microwave or electric oven, turn off the power. Do not open the doors, this will starve the fires of fresh oxygen and it will die out on its own. Now don’t open the door again once you don’t see any fire because there may be enough heat to re-ignite the fire once you give it oxygen again.

If the fire is an oil fire on the stove don’t move the pan! Also, and I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT PUT WATER ON IT!!!! You may spill some oil and spread the fire around the kitchen. You want to take the lid to the pan, or one that is larger than the mouth of the pan, and place it on top. This again, will starve the fire. Some old wives tales will say to use flour. DO NOT! Small particulate/powders can cause explosions (google mythbusters coffee creamer episode). If you don’t have a lid, baking soda. Lots of it! It will cause a chemical reaction that also starves the fire.

Fires in the kitchen can get out of control very fast and cause lots of damage, injuries, and even deaths. Leave the fire in the kitchen to the professionals and go to your local Hibachi! Its much more satisfying and a lot safer.