Residential Security: The Most Common Challenges Facing Families

Eric Sutman

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Jul 19, 2022

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time with clients seeking guidance on improving the security of their residences. I thought I would share my perspectives on this here, to help others.

Beware of Information Overload and an Abundance of Choices

One of the biggest problems facing families and households looking to improve their home security is that they are besieged with information. For example, let’s say a head of household just increased their security profile and is now receiving notifications on their smartphone. They are going to get a lot of nuisance alarms and alerts. As a result, they may end up ignoring an actual alert because they’re drowning in data. Another common problem is having too many options. There is a huge home security market these days and so many potential systems and tools make it difficult to know what to choose.

Understand Your Threat Environment

What should you be most worried about? That depends on your personal circumstances. The industry sometimes refers to the initial threat assessment phase as “threat modeling.” This is the process by which someone identifies foreseeable threats, understands them and how to mitigate them, and makes rational decisions about protective measures based on the model they’ve created from those identified threats.

Think of it in terms of homebuilding. You wouldn’t just start building a house from the ground up without knowing your needs. You would figure out what you needed and wanted from the house (e.g., how many bedrooms and bathrooms, the best layout of the kitchen, and so on) and then design the house according to those needs before building. It’s the same with security. You don’t know your security needs until you know what the threats are.

Align Your Security with Your Circumstances

Not everyone is going to have the same situation. A family with very young children in a suburban house with a yard will have different security needs than an unmarried brain surgeon with expensive collectibles in his 20th-floor condo.

Think Like a Thief

It’s too easy to miss a soft target spot in your own home. You see it every day but don’t think about it. Take roof access, for example. Who alarms their skylights? People don’t even think about them because humans aren’t generally accustomed to looking up for threats. That’s the first big mistake a lot of people make. They don’t threat model properly or have someone knowledgeable do it for them.

Safeguard Your Privacy

Don’t give your data away. I’m talking about using technologies like Amazon Alexa and Echo, which can record all conversations within range of the device. What happens to all this data? I advise avoiding using it in places where anything private or embarrassing could occur.

What about installing something like Ring? Use it if you realize that the information it collects about you could be compromised. If that data is just activity on your front porch, you may not be concerned about your privacy. If data is being collected from inside your home, think twice.

Select Security Systems that Make Sense for You

A single person of middle income living in a rented apartment with no major valuables and no personal threats will probably be fine with exterior window and door sensors that sound an alarm when the window or door is opened. The alarm alerts the resident of an intruder and, of course, scares the intruder off. That’s the most basic level.

However, consider a family living in a large, detached house surrounded by woods. They have valuable personal property and family members who all have different needs. Cameras on the home's exterior can scan the property and ensure no one approaches the home unseen. Smart-locking devices, such as fingerprint scanners, can keep exterior doors locked to everyone but the home residents. And of course, there are good old-fashioned, motion-activated, exterior floodlights, which alert the residents that someone is on the property and discourage an intruder from reaching the house.

Think Flexibility and Scalability

Threats change in type, frequency and intensity. For example, if crime levels surge or criminals are taking advantage of civil unrest to break into residences, that’s going to change the baseline. We take a layered approach to security, which means having overlapping layers for full coverage.

We also believe in planned redundancy. This might include having a traditional landline phone in addition to cellular or VOIP, which is the phone service your cable company provides. VOIP doesn’t work if there’s a power outage, and cell service can be overwhelmed in emergency situations. A traditional landline allows you to call out for help if you cannot use your mobile or VOIP during an emergency. In that case, the planned redundancy saved you.

Finally: Be Prepared and Keep It Simple

Ultimately, the security of your home and family is mostly about prevention and preparedness. In your case, rely on the experts. We think about these challenges all day long so you don’t have to. And in the case of your kids, make sure the younger ones know how to call 911 and can recall your phone numbers and home address by memory. A security system is as good as its weakest link, and the weakest link is always human error.