Home Alone: What to Do in Case of a Break-in

Unlike in the famous movie where McCauley Culkin outsmarts the slow-witted burglars with clever booby traps, a real break-in is no time for fun and games. It’s a terrifying situation-and if you don’t already have a plan in place, it can be hard to think clearly. But break-ins do happen, sometimes when a family is home. If this happens to you, here are a few guidelines on what to do.

Leave the house if you can. Many crime experts will tell you to get out of the house immediately. This is good advice, if there’s a safe way out available and a populated area nearby to run to. But if you live in an isolated area with no nearby houses, or if you’re stuck in a third-floor bedroom, running may not be an option. In addition, if running means leaving behind a helpless child or elderly person, it’s understandable that you’d want to stay.

To prepare for this situation before it happens, know your escape routes. Practice leaving the house through different doors and safe first-floor windows. Notify a trusted neighbor beforehand that you would go to their house in case of a break-in.

Keep quiet. If a break-in occurs, do your best to keep conversation to a minimum. Even whispering, you could give away your location to the intruder.

Avoid confronting the intruder. If your first instinct is to defend your home, you’re not alone. It’s common for homeowners to want to confront intruders with knives, guns, blunt objects, or bare hands. And many people believe that if an intruder is confronted, he’s likely to run.

However, it’s never a good idea to try to attack. You don’t know what you’re up against-how many people there are, where they are, and what they’re armed with. In addition, it’s not true that all intruders will flee if confronted. In many cases, it can provoke violence. The intruder’s adrenaline is pumping from the excitement of the break-in, making him more volatile. And he could have a reason to attack if he thinks you know what he looks like and might prosecute.

The bottom line is that if the intruders get past you, you can’t protect your family. You stand a better chance of keeping everyone safe if you avoid confrontation at all costs.

Go somewhere safe. When most of us think of safe rooms, we think of what we see in the movies: a secret room lined in steel and full of security monitors. But a safe room can be as simple as a closet with a strong door and a deadbolt. You’ll want a door that opens outward; it’s harder to break down. You should choose a designated safe room before a break-in occurs. If you don’t have one, choose a room with an inward-opening door and heavy furniture you can use to block it.

Keep your cell phone charged. In a break-in situation, you can’t rely on your land line. Burglars can take them off the hook or cut the phone line, leaving you stranded. To get around this, keep a cell phone charged near your bed or in your safe room.

You should call the police as soon as you know there’s been a break-in. Keep your conversation brief and calm. Tell them there’s been a break-in; your address; the location of the intruders if you know it; and your location in the house. Keep the phone on so the police can hear what’s going on, but don’t talk if you don’t have to-you risk being overheard.

If you come face-to-face with the invaders: Keep calm. Do not make sudden moves-the person is probably jittery already, and may have a gun. Don’t make direct eye contact if you can help it; you don’t want them to think you can identify them.

Say you’ll cooperate, and hold your hands up to shoulder height to show them you don’t have a weapon. Stay calm, and don’t make sudden moves-the invader may have a gun. Avoid direct eye contact if possible; if you look directly at the robber, he or she may believe you’ll be able to identify them. Tell them you’ll cooperate, and hold your hands up to the level of your shoulders. This will show them you are unarmed, but it also leaves you in a position to defend yourself if they attack.

Work out a signal with your alarm company. If you have a home alarm, the burglar may trip it and the company may call to verify the alarm. The intruder may not allow you to answer it; in which case, make sure the company knows to send the police if you don’t pick up.

The intruder may also force you to answer so that the caller doesn’t get suspicious. In case this happens, have a signal phrase pre-arranged with your alarm company. It should be something the burglar won’t suspect, like “everything’s okay.”

If you have a gun, be prepared to shoot it. In a home invasion situation, guns are often not as effective as people think they are. Many people don’t keep their guns loaded at home, particularly if there are children in the house. Even if they are loaded, they’re likely to be locked away in a safe or cabinet-not easy to get to quickly.

Even if you’re defending your home, it takes nerves of steel to shoot a person. Be prepared to use the gun if you bring it out-the slightest hesitation could give the invader an advantage. If you decide to confront an invader with a gun, don’t bluff. The minute the invader knows you’re bluffing, you’re at his mercy. In almost all cases, it’s safer to escape than to confront.

A break-in can be terrifying. And when you’re scared, you can’t think clearly. Have a plan in place before trouble occurs-so you won’t have to figure out what to do when you’re in danger. Follow these tips, and you’re more likely to emerge from the experience unhurt.