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Mar 8, 2006 | 00:24 GMT

5 mins read

Residential Security: Assessing the Environment

Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series on residential security. A common bond among people throughout the world, regardless of nationality or place of residence, is the need to feel safe in one's home and to protect the family members who dwell in it from criminal invasion and other threats. In some neighborhoods in the United States and elsewhere, security might mean simply locking the front door at night and turning on the porch light. In many other places, residential security can be much more complicated. In all cases, having a plan for residential security is of key importance. Effective residential security planning starts from the outside and works in. This allows residents and security professionals to make informed choices, beginning with the selection of a residence location, and down to detailed decisions about guards, fences, locks and alarms. Both limitations on resources and aesthetic considerations call for a measured, informed approach to security countermeasures. The first step, then, is to assess the general security environment of the region in which one lives, taking into account both the national and city-specific history of crime, terrorism and civil unrest — and the current climate on all three. Residential security should be more robust in Beirut, Lebanon, for example, than in Oslo, Norway. The potential threat from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes also should be taken into account, as should the threat of martial law or government-imposed curfews that could leave residents isolated and, perhaps, without basic supplies and services. In such environments a good security plan will provide for self-sufficiency in case of infrastructure disruptions and imposed limitations on mobility. The next steps are assessments of the specific security environment of the neighborhood and of the strengths and vulnerabilities of the residence itself. It also is vital to understand whether the inhabitants themselves are prime targets for crime or terrorism simply because of their nationality, job position or level of wealth. Western housing compounds in some countries can be particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack, for example, because of their symbolic value and the likelihood that a strike would cause a high number of casualties. Similarly, the occupants of the home of a high-profile executive or government official might be more attractive to kidnappers or other criminals because of the wealth or status associated with the person's job. Entire neighborhoods, in fact, can be targeted by professional criminals because of their affluence. Of course, the number of valuables inside the home also increases the risk factor. A person with a multi-million-dollar art collection has a greater chance of being targeted by art thieves than someone without such a collection, for instance. The effectiveness of local law enforcement and emergency response personnel also should be evaluated. If something goes wrong, what are the chances of getting help from them? Law enforcement that tends to respond ineffectively to petty crime often is opening the door to criminals of all kinds, including violent ones. If possible, a statistical history of crime in the neighborhood, usually available from local law enforcement, should be studied. Questions to be answered include: Are violent or confrontational crimes prevalent, as opposed to petty theft? Are home invasions common? It should be borne in mind that in many areas (Mexico City, for example), serious crimes often go unreported, due to mistrust of the police and lack of public confidence in their competence. In such cases official government statistics are not to be trusted, and a deeper, perhaps more intuitive, study is required. Whether one lives in an urban or rural setting is another consideration when determining to what degree the home must be secured and the kind of contingency plan to put in place. Recovering from a disaster, violent crime or militant attack could be more difficult in a remote area or a town with poorly developed facilities. With this in mind, an assessment of the area's infrastructure should be made, with attention paid to the availability and reliability of communications and electricity, as well as the quality of local medical facilities. The specific questions when considering this issue would include: Should the residence have backup generators in case of power loss? Is a secondary supply of food and drinking water needed? How far away is the nearest hospital? What are its standards of treatment and equipment? Beyond the safeguards that might be needed for a particular dwelling, it also is important to know the risks associated with the geography of the immediate neighborhood. Some street layouts, for example, are attractive to criminals and potential attackers because they offer easy access to the neighborhood from outside or rapid escape routes after crimes have been committed. Some neighborhoods include features such as trees and bushes, vacant lots, or busy roads that help those engaged in hostile surveillance blend in. Local ordinances or covenants that restrict the erection of walls or the use of security measures such as window grates or certain lighting also can be a factor in determining the security of a neighborhood. In addition to examining the immediate vicinity, the surrounding areas also should be evaluated for their level of crime or other hostile activity, as these problems can easily spill over and become a direct security threat. Once the broader security analysis is complete, residents can begin to create an informed plan to protect their home and its occupants.

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