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Opinion: Secure your home this Christmas - expert advice on home and personal safety

Jonathan Pim of Manguard Plus security offers some practical advice to avoid thieves and opportunists this Christmas.

Jonathan Pim

Updated Dec 20th 2021, 11:00 AM

MANY HOMES AROUND Ireland are now filled with Christmas cheer, adorned with Christmas lights and decorations, with some even sporting the increasingly popular signs invoking ‘Santa Stop Here’.

And when things go to plan at Christmas, Santa will be the only surprise visitor to your home. Unfortunately, this time of year can also attract the unwelcome kind of visitor in the form of an opportunistic burglar.

It’s a time when people spend money on expensive gifts and push the boat out on those online orders, those presents under the trees have value and we carry more cash than usual.

Holiday seasons have always been a draw for thieves, ever since the first present was placed under a tree. The good news is our homes are more secure these days and there are sensible steps you can take to make sure your belongings stay where they’re meant to.

How to stay secure

Simple habits that you build for your home over time can help deter burglars and opportunists. Remember, they want to get in and out of your home, premises or car easily and quickly; thieves want to be able to get their hands on your money without being noticed.

A common thread that runs across all professional security advice is the need for awareness and prevention. Really, little things done well are hugely effective. Situational awareness is critical and that just means being aware of your surroundings.

Technology is such that a lot of people are spending a huge amount of time staring at phones and tablets and are not paying any attention to what’s happening around them. This gives thieves, particularly opportunistic ones a huge advantage. Equally, they are increasingly using technology to help them break into cars, in particular.

We have issued an alert this Christmas warning people not to store expensive pieces like laptops or tablets in cars as criminals are using Bluetooth signals to identify if these gadgets are in the vehicles.

We can also think about our own personal security, as individuals. Without wanting to live in fear, it’s important to be alert. When you’re out and about ask yourself, is somebody following you, are you walking down dark alleyways without knowing where you are going? 

When driving, is a car travelling too closely behind you, is your house alarm monitored – an alarm that continually rings is a sign to would-be thieves that your home or premises is not monitored.

If at home, do you neglect to turn on your alarm; a surprising number of burglaries occur when householders are at home. If you have valuables at home consider installing two safes that might make it more difficult for burglars to steal. When you’re parking at an event do you consider that the area may be pitch dark on your return to your vehicle? It’s all about forward-thinking and being prepared.

Most robberies are carried out quickly, again, they want to get in and out of your home easily and unnoticed. Statistics show that if a burglar can’t access your property within three to five minutes then he/she will leave and go elsewhere.

So, what can you do?

Sometimes, the simplest and easiest measures taken by you can be the most effective. Go outside your home and try and think about how you would get in if you were locked out. This has the effect of getting you to think about how others see your home and how easy it is to access it.

Is there a window open, a tree you could climb, keys under the mat, a ladder lying around? Are overgrown bushes giving coverage to intruders? Are leaflets and other printed materials littering your porch?

A few minutes doing a simple reconnaissance can protect you and what’s precious to you. Simple things done well can cause enormous problems for would-be burglars. Make sure the only one who can get in without a key this Christmas is Santa.

Alarms

All homes should be fitted with an intruder alarm which should be monitored by a recognised monitoring station. Recognised Public Security Alarm (PSA) installers can assist in identifying a reputable monitoring station for you.

Your home should be fitted with alarm sensors on the front and back doors with a minimum requirement of Passive Infra-Red (PIR) Motion Detectors in the hall and main downstairs rooms.

If your budget allows, all ground floor windows should have contacts fitted. If the motion detector does not cover an area, then the windows must have a contact/vibration detector.

Consider your circumstances, and depending on your situation you might decide to get a panic alarm fitted as part of your alarm system. If you install panic alarms they should be located in the bedrooms and perhaps in the kitchen area.

Apartments are more secure than houses, but they also need security. A home alarm is essential. Windows and balconies accessible from the outside need to be protected. Attention should be paid to any balcony or window near an adjoining roof. Consult the Management Company of your apartment block if you have any concerns about the security arrangements at your building.

Security when you’re out

Leave lights on. This is very effective. You can buy timers in any suitable hardware shop and then time your lights to come on once darkness falls. Ensure you have an external light in place which is in working order. A porch light can illuminate any visitors calling to your home after dark.

Motion sensor lights are worth the investment, particularly for bigger driveways. Simple locks are also highly effective.

It may sound like the obvious thing to do, but during the busy Christmas period, it can be easy to forget to just hide valuables; don’t have them on show.

Some insurance companies will pass on savings on your premiums too if you have safes and lockboxes fitted. Insurance providers differ so do check this out.

Shred any documents containing your name and address, account details, pin numbers and bank account details before you put them in the recycle bin. Be very careful about your social media posts.

Most social media users will understand this by now, but it also bears repeating – under no circumstances upload any social media posts announcing that you’re going to be out for events or away on holidays. As well as advertising your absence, you could encounter problems with your insurance provider in the event of your home being broken into.

The smallest nuggets of information can be pieced together by thieves. Don’t discount the role of your neighbours either, they are your eyes and ears. If you are going away give a key to a trusted neighbour and try and ensure there is no build-up of post or junk mail in that time.

Never leave keys to your home under a mat or under a plant for example. Also, when you’re at home please don’t leave keys on a hall table near your door. This provides thieves with an easy opportunity to steal them.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras can be expensive, however, shop around, there are more and more bargains to be had, and if you can afford them and feel you need them, they are an excellent deterrent and supplement the security you have in place.

Security when you’re home

Remember, never open your door if you’re unsure or uneasy about any caller to your home. If it is a service person making a delivery or inspection on behalf of a utility company, ask for identification, and if you are not completely happy, ask them to wait outside while you verify their identity with the company they claim to be representing.

A genuine caller should have no problem whatsoever with this and would understand. If you have an external camera, then review the monitor before opening the door. All external doors should be solidly constructed with a fitted spy hole and should be secured to a secure frame.

The front door lock should at least be a deadlock bolt but even then, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security; ensure all doors and windows are locked at night. A surprisingly high number of break-ins occur when the householders are at home. When locking up for the night, never leave keys in the inside lock. Internal doors should be lockable.

All windows should be secure and lockable from the inside while bearing in mind the safety requirements for your particular home. Have a prepared safety drill in place. Know your pre-planned escape routes in the event of a fire or gas leak. Consider how you are going to alert the emergency services if required.

Identify who is going to respond to your call for help; this could be a family member, a security company or a neighbour. These contacts need to be considered so that in the event of an emergency, you will have some form of a response element in place.

Personal security when out and about

Christmas is a wonderful time to meet up with family and friends and here’s some advice on your own personal security to help you ensure your happy reunions are not marred by people who may not be filled with goodwill to all.

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This time of year, in general, can present their own unique problems – weather and crowds are just two things that people have to contend with and both can serve to preoccupy us, thus giving burglars additional opportunities to strike. Again, awareness and preparation are key.

Before you set off on a car journey, take a few precautionary steps. Ensure you have enough fuel, oil and water and don’t get moving until you have your windscreens demisted and a clear view in all directions. Have a few basic essentials like energy bars, water and a warm blanket in case you breakdown. An emergency kit should also include a high vis vest, a triangle, torch, puncture repair kit or spare wheel and phone charger.

Make sure your phone is charged. Do not leave your keys in your vehicle while it is unattended. Leaving your car running to warm it up on cold frosty mornings dramatically increases your risk of it being stolen by opportunistic thieves.

When driving, be aware of your surroundings and leave room between yourself and the vehicle in front in case you need to make a manoeuvre. Most drivers will understand these safety measures, like keeping your doors and have windows fully rolled up, and leaving handbags and other valuables out of reach.

If you’re making early morning or late-night journeys do plan your route and be aware of your surroundings. Observe anybody driving too closely to your vehicle. Don’t stop for anybody. If there is a checkpoint, make sure it is a Garda checkpoint. Just open your window slightly and ask for official identification. If you’re uneasy, continue and drive to the nearest Garda station.

When you’re heading to a social event, think about how you are going to get to and from your social event; will you drive, take a taxi, use public transport or get a lift. If you drive, do observe your surroundings when parking; spaces look very different in daylight and be aware that it may be dark on your return.

If you need to pay for your parking at a pay point, ensure you have sufficient change and have it at the ready. Have your car keys in your hands. This saves you rummaging around for them. You can buy little key lights that give excellent visibility and help you find your lock if you don’t have automatic locks.

If using a taxi, make sure to use a reputable company, and ideally arrange your journey home before you go to your event. If using public transport, know the times of your provider and the distance you have to travel to get the bus, Luas, train or taxi. If a friend is picking you up, please select a suitable location and arrange a time for collection.

And the old advice is the best, never accept lifts from strangers, no matter how convenient this may appear. If out with friends do your best not to become separated from the group and ensure that everyone gets home safely. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be home. Confirm your safe arrival home with family or friends. It also helps too to have emergency numbers on fast dial on your phone.

All of the above may sound like ‘overthinking it’ but most of this is common sense and if you practice these safety measures, they become habit and will help make sure that you are not the person targeted by thieves over the holidays. Above all, have a happy and safe Christmas.

Jonathan Pim is a former Commissioned Officer in the Irish Defence Forces. He is now General Manager of ‘Manguard Plus’ security company.

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