Preparedness has gained a lot of attention and a whole new meaning in 2020. First, everyone got hit with the threat of infection. Next, a lot of supplies which some households stock regularly, while others buy as needed, went out of stock in the stores causing further panic. Next came civil unrest because folks could not seem to obey simple instructions and suddenly the bad guys became saints and poor victims, but I digress. Altogether, I have to be honest – I’m waiting now for a threat of a meteorite strike or an alien invasion! It seems that in 2020 anything is possible!
With any and all threats, for years there have been groups of folks who had a plan and those who got caught unprepared. For some folks the plan is to get the heck out of Dodge, while for others it is to shelter in place and build bunkers or bunker-like structures. What is often overlooked by those who are ready to bug out, is that leaving is not always an option as your way out might be blocked by fires, protests, quarantine, or some other factor that is beyond your control. Additionally, if you planned to bug out, but have a family member that is sick and can’t be moved for a time or maybe is making his or her way back home to bug out with the group, you might have to wait things out. What do you do then?
Since March 2020, people including myself have experienced an array of problems starting from toilet paper shortage down to meat shortage. Coming from a formerly communist country, I have to say that I have lived a much worse version of it as a kid and while it was very inconvenient, it was not the end of the world. I recall being 6 years old and standing in line to the butcher shop with my mom, hoping that by the time our turn comes, there will be something left to buy. I remember abandoning all planned activities and getting in line to purchase toilet paper because there was a delivery made. We were hoping that more would be sold over the counter to customers then through the back to the friends and families of the store employees. Seems very similar to what we have experienced in the first half of 2020. So what’s different this time around?
Under the communist rule, the issue was poor planning, poor management of delivery routes and the fact that quality products were sold elsewhere (Soviet Union or the Western Nations) and the citizens were left with poor quality products or with nothing at all. It taught me how to plan for the future. Now I live in the United States and going shopping has not been much of an issue, but I do live in California, the earthquake capitol of the United States. This means that I have to be prepared any day of the year for a breakdown in supply infrastructure. WIth that in mind, I have always made sure that we had at least a month of food supplies and about one week of drinking water supplies with the ability to purify our own water, as needed. Add to that two generators for power, reasonable fuel supply, firewood and charcoal for the grill and the smoker, propane canisters for the portable stoves – I believe that we would do pretty good if push came to shove. If needed, we could make the supplies probably stretch beyond a month.
Unfortunately, preparedness nowadays needs to be taken to another level. Closures and breakdown of the supply infrastructure as well as manufacturing in some cases resulting from the virus combined with people’s panic buying have made life more complicated. Throw in civil unrest for whatever reason it occurred that particular week, there is a possibility that should things get really bad, the smell of food, the sound of the generator or even just the lights on in the house could attract unwanted attention. If you doubt that might be the case, look back at Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the following aftermath – how many people foraged, or rather looted and stole from those that had supplies and were prepared. Some did that to satisfy their own needs. Others did it for profit, by selling what they acquired through nefarious means often back to those who were robbed in the first place.
This brings me to my main concern: how to keep my family safe and keep what’s ours, ours. The threat of the breakdown of society and the possibility for lawlessness somehow felt worse this time around and back in March when the virus first hit triggering all the closures, I saw the writing on the wall. Mind you, things were still pretty quiet then, but it already felt like we were sitting on top of a ticking time bomb. I kept reflecting on the riots from the previous years and even though most of them occurred on the East Coast, I knew that with the right triggers they could occur anyplace. So what did the writing say you might ask? It stated: make sure your house and property is hardened against break-ins and assault. Now mind you, living in an urban area with houses being separated by about 6 to 10 feet from each other, that’s not as easy as being out in the country where you can have a clear view in each direction to monitor for approaching threats and set up early warning systems to notify you of danger.
Know Thy Neighbors
Living in a densely populated area, you have neighbors all around you. Couple questions that you have to ask yourself:
- How well do you know them?
- Can you rely on them in an emergency?
- How prepared are they themselves?
- How can they contribute?
Now that you have asked yourself these questions, next comes the most important part: discuss these questions with your neighbors. It might be a touchy subject with some, though you might find out that you are not the only one that is struggling with these issues. At the end of the day though no matter what agreements you make, you have to understand that in a lot of cases you have to count only on yourself and your family – anything outside of that is a bonus.
In our case we live in a 3,000 square foot, two-story house with one occupied bedroom on the bottom floor and two occupied bedrooms on the top floor. What concerned me is the fact that the bottom floor of any house has a lot of easy entry points that are not doors. We live in a fairly nice neighborhood, so we never saw any need for security bars in the windows. There have been a few break-ins in the area, but it is hard to find a place where there are none. Most of the break-ins were into the unlocked cars at night, though about once a year we hear about a house being broken into. Additionally, while security bars protect you against folks coming in, they do not protect you against folks throwing anything into your house trying to smoke you out.
Plywood For Every Window
This got me thinking – since the windows have wooden frames around them, the easiest, quickest and most efficient way to secure them would be to install plywood. I took my tape measure and calculated how much plywood I am going to need to secure all glass entry points into the house. I took that number and then added three extra sheets of plywood to the list, for redundancy. It was an easy trip to Home Depot for supplies. While there I also picked up some 2×4’s in case I would need to shore up any part of the structure (more on that later). And while at Home Depot, remember to pick up extra screws, nails, and anything else that you think you might need to use. Oh, and don’t forget fire extinguishers, as those might come in handy when the local Fire Department gets overwhelmed for one reason or another.
In my neighborhood, we are located a good distance from any place that would be the start of a riot or some sort of unrest, as those rarely ever begin in the middle of a housing tract. Combining that with the news as well as monitoring the area, should give me enough notice to be able to install the plywood in time. I semi timed it: I measured how much time it would take me to get pre-cut plywood to each window, lift it up and use the cordless drill to secure it. It averaged out to 15 minutes per window and 30 minutes for the sliding door. The plan of course is to do anything street-facing first, which should be under an hour, and then deal with the backyard windows and the sliding glass door.
JWR Adds: I suggest buying a couple of boxes of “high security” power screws–preferably two lengths. These are ones with a square lug instead of the much more common Torx head or Phillip’s head. Some clever looters might have a screw gun with them, but odds are that they won’t have a square bit handy for it.
Unfortunately, that is only part of what needs to be done to secure the house. Having dealt with windows and already having security metal doors both in front and in the back of the house I am left with one more concern – garage doors. The garage is attached to the house and I store some of the supplies there as well, so allowing folks entry into the garage is not a good idea. Unfortunately, even though the garage doors look nice, they are the flimsy aluminum panel doors. Replacing them at the moment is not in the cards so I spent some time trying to figure out how to secure them. What I came up with while not most elegant, will work. I can put together a small frame out of 2x4s inside of the garage door opening and screw the garage door panels to the frame. Granted not the most elegant solution, but it will work. Also this could be done from the inside as the aluminum panels have railing reinforcements to stiffen them up. This is important because the work can be done from the safety of the inside of the house and the task will be somewhat time-consuming.
JWR Adds: Needless to say, if you have an electric garage door opener, then it should be unplugged or otherwise disabled just before internally bracing your garage door. Otherwise, the opener could destroy itself and/or your door.
At this point, you can consider Phase One of securing the house is complete. Phase Two could be considered securing the property or the compound itself. Most urban properties are similar to mine in the aspect that the front yard is street-facing, for the most part open, maybe with a smallish decorative fence. The back yard is more enclosed with a taller fence, maybe even a wall. This unfortunately means that little can be done about the front, short of building a tall wall which is not cheap nor is it fast and sometimes even impossible due to permitting rules in your area. So here all I can see that can be done is making sure that you have strategically placed cameras and easy access to the first story roof from the second-floor windows for overwatch and threat mitigation.
Let there be light!
Lights are an important part of securing a compound. They can serve as a good deterrent as most folks would prefer not to be seen while they are up to no good. A good source for lights are solar-powered ones that charge up during the day and operate at night. One thing to consider though is that the light should have the ability to be turned off remotely so that during the times that you want to play possum and not be noticed.
The next part that needs to be dealt with is access to the back yard from the front of the house. Side gates are often not lockable and not too sturdy. What you might consider there is to replace your gates with security steel gates or solid wood gates and set them up with padlocks. In my case I was halfway there – my gates were solid wood and all I had to do was make them lockable from the inside. After doing so, I took things one step further – I added an alarm to the gates so that if they’re not disarmed and forced open they would make noise. The alarm could end up being enough of a deterrent to whoever was trying to breach the gates, but in case they decided to proceed I would already be aware of the threat and could deal with it appropriately.
Securing My Back Yard
This leaves me with the back yard. Granted it has a 5.5-foot wall all around it, but it can be easily scaled. Only one of my neighbors has a dog and I no longer have a dog. I wish we still did as a dog is one of the best yard security systems you could have. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons that is not the case. So what can I do to increase safety? Two words – wireless cameras. I ended up picking up a couple of rechargeable units that operate for more than a week per charge, and you can easily conceal them in the yard. Unfortunately, when you step into the camera’s field of view, you can hear a loud click when the motion sensor activates the camera revealing the device location. The upside is that I get an alert on my phone and with a touch of a finger I can monitor the live feed.
You can also make overlapping fields of vision that will allow me to look at other cameras to see what’s going on should I lose a camera or two. An important thing to note is the fact that while the cameras need wifi to work, they do not need the internet to work. This means that I connect directly to them so that I can view what’s going on even when the Internet and power is out. (My access point is powered by a big UPS).
Is there anything else left? Hardening your house is an iterative process. You can always improve on what you have done so far while also expanding and adding:
- Proper supply of strategically placed fire extinguishers throughout the house and the garage.
- Flashlights strategically placed throughout the house and the garage.
- Personal defense implements placed strategically throughout the house and the garage.
- A good supply of ammo.
- Additional security floodlights that are both motion-activated and remotely-controlled. There will be times that you might want to turn them on and leave them on or turn them off and leave them off.
- A Public Address (PA) system that you can use to warn off intruders and alert neighbors.
- Good siren to notify folks of danger.
So, what is next? Well, next is building up your food stores. So if you end up digging in, you will be well stocked and well-fed, but the details on that are for another time.