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DIY Risk Assessment & Tips for Maximum Safety

What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment identifies areas in your home and on your property that are vulnerable to invasion or attack and should therefore be protected.  The objective is to determine the type of security system that best suits your needs. A thorough risk assessment should be performed before purchasing a home security system; the good news is that you can do it yourself using the steps below.   It’s also quite easy to get a second (or third) opinion for free.  Many home security providers offer free risk assessments.  They might ask you to fax in a blueprint of your home, but if you aren't  comfortable doing this, you can ask a service agent to visit you or just speak with someone over the phone.

During a risk assessment, mapping your home into distinct zones is one of the first steps you take.   At the same time, you can make a checklist of essential sensors and other equipment you will need to successfully protect your property. After you determine the location and number of zones and the number and types of sensors in each zone, you can choose a security system that works best with your strategy. Consider these safety tips below while surveying your property, beginning with the outer perimeter and working your way in.

Practical Tips for Maximum Security:

1. Light is a deterrence. Lights that operate as motion detectors are always a wise choice.  It’s also possible to link inside lights to your control panel to automatically turn on and off at certain times, which is especially prudent when going on vacation or leaving your home for an extended period of time.

2. Each door lock should take a different key.  The same rule applies to windows that are operated by a lock.

3. Personal habits, such as entering and leaving your house at the same time every day can be varied to throw potential intruders off guard.

4. Neighborhood crime statistics and criminal profiling can be a good indicator of potential threats that you should guard against.

5. Familiarize yourself with local law enforcement protocols.  Some municipalities require alarm systems to be registered; your city or county might even give preference to certain systems. When contacting your local law enforcement agency to register your security system, which is required in some municipalities, you could also ask them about crime statistics.

6. Over 85% of burglars access doors during break-ins (as opposed to windows) and almost all (98%) happen on the first floor.

7. The vast majority of insurance claims due to property damage or loss were caused by environmental concerns, such as water damage, making environmental sensors a very sound investment, and an important add-on to any thorough security system.

Once you have scoped out your property and identified points of vulnerability, you can begin to make a list of features and components you want to include in your home security system.  Below is a list of essential components.

Checklist of Security Components:

1. Sensors.  The most common kind of outdoor motion sensor reacts by turning lights on.  They should be placed near areas that are invisible both to your neighbors and from inside the house.  Motion sensors can be stand alone (the light  is the end goal) or can be connected to your home security system via the control panel, which would then alert you to any triggers.

Shock sensors, otherwise known as “glass-break sensors” or “audio discriminators” detect the sound of breaking glass or splintering wood.   One sensor typically covers a 35 ft. area (regardless of the number of windows in said area), but they cannot “hear” around corners.

Magnetic sensors are the most common and are included with most home security systems. They trigger an alarm when one half is moved far enough apart from the other half, as would happen when a door or window has opened.  Magnetic sensors are relatively cheap so it’s practical to purchase one for each window or door.

Climate control (temperature, precipitation and humidity), carbon monoxide, and of course smoke detectors are also worth of consideration.  Always determine what the range of detection is so you will know how many you need to purchase.

2. Cameras. If your security equipment is to work as a unified system, the cameras would be placed in locations that are undetectable by your sensors (unless you want redundant  protection).  The most common area is at the front door, which also allows you to censor your visitors.  Surveillance cameras, known as CCTV (closed-caption TV), can also screen areas inside the house (individuals or pets who need special attention). Monitoring can occur internally (via your TV or computer), or externally (remotely via the Internet or by using a home security monitoring service).

3. Alarms.  The alarm itself is most useful as an aversion tactic; it’s job is to alert intruders that your home is protected.  Strobe lights are another effective tactic that can complement the alarm’s siren and help law enforcement to locate the house. The alarm signal, however, is what connects the sensors to the control panel and what communicates with your central monitoring station.

Once you've surveyed your property and determined the equipment that you will need to effectively protect your home and your perimeter, you'll be much better prepared to find the best home security system for your budget and lifestyle.

Disaster Recovery Plan

Depending on where you live, some natural disasters are more likely to occur than others.  Then again, in the 21st Century, the global climate is more unpredictable than ever before, so you might as well be prepared for any calamity (even though it’s still unlikely that a tsunami will reach the Midwest, it could very easily affect someplace that would affect something that would, in fact, affect you).   It’s always good to have a plan of attack, so to speak, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to gather your family members (or roommates or self) and establish a concise strategy for action in case of emergencies. 

Insurance and Household Inventories

Home insurance coverage has a predetermined limit, which is based upon your specific plan and the value of your assets. Make sure you keep this list up to date, including make, model, serial number, pictures and monetary value. A detailed risk analysis is demonstrative of a serious commitment to protection and can significantly lower your insurance costs.