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Kidnap Prevention: Home Security

By Richard Clutterbuck

Home As A Fortress

Next to being on the road, the potential victim is most vulnerable at home. As in travel by road, so at home there is a spectrum of security ranging from living in a fortress (or even within a defended compound) to living normally, but taking sensible precautions over avoiding regular movements, admitting visitors, and locking up. Where to pitch home security in this spectrum depends on the appreciation of the threat and the money available. If there is intelligence that a person is a particular target of a determined group, a drastic and expensive change in his lifestyle may be necessary. If, however, he is just one of a number of possible targets, sensible precautions alone may be enough to divert the terrorists to look for a softer target.

In extreme cases, it has sometimes been necessary for senior government officials, diplomats and chief executives to live within a compound with a guarded perimeter, and to move out of it only in convoy. This may, in some cases, be easier and more relaxed for all concerned (including families) than attempting to make an isolated fortress of each individual home. It does, however, depend on a major policy decision by the government, and will therefore be rare.

An individual fortress can be made very strong � though probably not strong enough to deter a military assault by a large, well armed guerilla unit. But to deter anything short of this, the same defence in depth is necessary as for a factory or office complex: that is, concentric rings to delay and give warning of attack, surrounding a stoutly built house with a 'keep' for protracted defence until help comes.

The outer concentric ring is again a procedural one: the target must avoid predictable routines, and keep knowledge of his movements to those who need to know. The second ring is both procedural and physical: he must not have to expose himself in getting into or out of his car, nor in opening a gate or garage door. As already pointed out, his departure and return are his most vulnerable moments.

The third ring � which becomes the outer ring once he is inside the house � will be an effective perimeter wall, without cover for people to hide close to it, well lit, hard to cross, and with a robust and reliable alarm system built into it.

The fourth ring should be a complete ring of open ground between the perimeter wall and the house. This can be provided by clearing the garden and yard of unnecessary shrubs and hedges. It should be well lit, without shady spots (e.g. behind buildings or trees) in which people can hide. Where special strength is required, the garden can be covered by movement detectors, as described above for 'vulnerable areas' in factories. Buried-line sensors (which can normally cover a perimeter of up to 200 yards and more) are particularly suitable. There is much to be said for floodlights (or extra floodlights) which are activated by the alarm system either on the perimeter wall or connected to movement detectors covering the garden. A sudden flood of light may catch the intruders by surprise, away from shade, and frighten them into confusion or a withdrawal. The same applies to a loud alarm or siren, with alternative manual and automatic systems of activation.

The doors of the house should, of course, be strong and kept locked, and equipped with means of identifying visitors (CCTV, wide-angled peepholes or mirrors) and remote-controlled opening. (This should also apply to the outer gate of the perimeter which, if it is not manned, should be controlled from the house.).

Entry points should be reduced to a minimum, but alternative exits must be available � e.g. in case of fire, or to enable the family and others to escape while entry is being contested at the main door.

Windows should be shuttered or curtained. If there is a risk of bombing, laminated glass or adhesive polyester film will reduce the risk of flying glass, and wire netting can deflect grenades.

Inside a threatened house there should be an intercom system, alternative telephones (one could be connected directly to the police) and perhaps a radio link. Fire sensors can be adapted also to relay a 'panic button' signal to the police, or to sound a noisy alarm. And � as in a factory or office � the 'keep' should have robust alternative communications, preferably including a battery radio transmitter which can be netted to the police frequency.

Once again, a corrupt or treacherous member of the household can nullify all other defensive measures. A terrorist group after a particular victim will without doubt try to infiltrate his household or personal staff, or to bribe or coerce them. Particular care should be taken in vetting servants to ensure that they are not vulnerable to blackmail or intimidation � possibly through threats to their families. The history of kidnapping and assassination is full of examples of staff who wished to be loyal but succumbed to threats against their families.

Security In An Ordinary Home

But not everyone can afford to live in a fortress. The above system, in full, requires the resources of a millionaire or a large corporation, and even a large corporation could provide it only for a few.

For the rest, the aim must be to avoid being chosen as an easy target. The demands need not be impossible. Predictable habits and an ostentatious profile must be avoided. A house should be chosen in a suitable area, without concealed access for intruders, and with neighbours who can be relied upon to help. Access to the garage from within the house and a remote-controlled garage door will do much to reduce the danger at the two worst moments. There must be strict attention to locking up and drawing curtains. There should be a chain on the door; and there should preferably be some means of recognizing the visitors before even unlocking the door, and certainly before releasing the chain. The opening of the door is a very vulnerable moment, and the person opening it should not allow himself to be a visible target until he has positively identified the visitors. If they claim to be friends of a member of the family, they should not be admitted without identification by that member of the family, unless they are precisely as expected. If they claim to be, say, policemen or electricians, a telephone call should be made to their headquarters before the door is released. If there are children or servants, they too must be briefed to be strict about this. The vetting of servants has already been mentioned. And a really faithful dog � of a suitably frightening breed � can be the best guardian and the best deterrent of all, because an intruder knows that he can argue with a man but not with a dog.

The Family

Difficult problems arise over families, because the kidnapping of a beloved wife or child may well lead a man who would readily hazard his own life to give way to a threat to theirs.

Wives may have jobs in which they cannot hope for 'concentric rings' of protection; or they may want to lead an active social life which they feel contributes to their husband's success. Some may like to drive around in conspicuous sports cars. They may not appreciate the hazard either to themselves or to their husbands, who will have to handle the crisis if they are kidnapped. Hard decisions may be necessary. If their life becomes too restricted in a high-risk area, it may be better for everyone's peace of mind for them to move away (as soldiers' wives have to leave an operational area) � but a top executive may himself refuse to work in the country if it means the splitting of his family.

Children of school age should never be needlessly exposed. They should be escorted to and from school, and the school should have strict instructions never to hand them over to any unauthorized person who claims to have come to collect them. As with their parents, their most dangerous moments are on the road or at the gates of their school or their home.

Older teenagers and children at university may present a particular problem. They may themselves be politically subverted without realizing that the real purpose is the kidnapping or assassination of their parents. Or they may unwittingly make friends with fellow students who intend to use their friendship for that purpose. Such a 'friend', once admitted, can breach defences more effectively than the most heavily armed intruder.