When considering homestead security, most think of livestock first. Pesky predators pervade the property, thus securing the stock is a priority. Meanwhile, the overall security of a home may be neglected or completely overlooked, particularly in remote areas with lower crime rates.
Many believe the country-living experience to be completely devoid of “big city crime” conditions. Yet, rural America is not crime-free nor exempt from emergencies. With rural response times for emergency services being significantly longer (at times) than their city counterparts, it becomes the responsibility of homesteaders to protect and provide for themselves.
Crime in the rural lifestyle
In recent times, home invasions, robberies, and burglaries have seen a marked increase in rural communities. According to several officers I consulted across the nation, inner-city crime is branching out for the rural homesteads.
Help may be on the way, but it will take some time until it gets there. Response times for rural law enforcement vary greatly. The location of the patrol car, type of emergency call, number of officers on duty, geographical proximity, weather conditions, and other factors contribute to the time it takes to receive that needed help.
It may take a lot of time, from the moment the 911 operator answers your call to the moment you hear the police knocking on your door.
What might be mere minutes in a major city may be more than 30 minutes in rural North or South Dakota, over an hour in parts of Texas and Montana, or even several hours in Alaska, where officers are few and distances are great.
And we also have to consider that each call is prioritized by type. Don’t expect a “hunter’s trespassing” call to get the same response as the “burglar in the house” call. Expect it to take longer in all cases for first responders to arrive at a rural homestead.
Suppose you want to figure out a variety of statistics specific to your location, including non-crime-related stats. In that case, if you’re interested in such details as population density and median income, you can check city-data.com.
This website will give you a few key insights on your area, but remember that the website may only be as accurate as of the reporting agencies and may not be completely up to date. Even so, it can still be used as a starting reference.
Just remember, though the statistics for any crime in your area may be low, it does not make your property exempt.
Preparing your homestead
Most successful prevention is little more than common sense. Unfortunately, however, it seems that common sense appears to be less common these days regardless of whether you live in the city or the country.
Rural homeowners tend to leave doors unlocked, keys in cars, and outside lighting unused unless someone is physically outside. As a result, unlocked homes, garages, and outbuildings are easy targets for quick in-and-out burglars.
Always locking your doors is simple enough and very effective. Deadbolt locks, keyed both inside and out, are the most secure.
Those vehicles with push-button starts (when the electronic key fob is in the vehicle) make stealing the car simple when the owner leaves the key in the cupholder.
Winter temperatures in the northern climates often lead owners without the remote-start option to warm up the vehicle using the more traditional keys-in-the-ignition approach, sometimes locking the doors and using a second set of keys for access.
One split second and a brick to a side window, and your vehicle belongs to someone else. Don’t leave your keys in the vehicle.
Dusk-to-dawn or motion-activated lighting is always beneficial as a deterrent, whether it’s your chicken coop or your family coop. Leave your outside lights on at night!
Environmental design and home protection
A while ago, I first heard about the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED concept. A method of protecting your homestead is by installing gates, and fencing, or other barriers on your property such as ditches, berms, thick stands of trees, or foliage strategically placed to restrict access.
The key here is “strategic.” Having a gate at the end of your drive is only effective if you use it and if it does not allow the opportunity to be circumnavigated. A gate that permits the perpetrator to drive around unobstructed is not a deterrent. Though the gate need not be an expensive, remote-access automatic model, it must be secure.
Being connected to a sturdy fence that’s bookended by a deep ditch, ravine, or stand of trees prevents people from driving around it. Being substantial in design and firmly anchored prevents people from driving through it.
Where there is no gate, driveway alarms notify occupants of “visitors” without sending false alarms that are more common with motion-sensing models.
Placing decorative foliage around windows and doors is aesthetically pleasing, but it creates blind spots and hiding places.
Think of using thick stands of foliage, specifically thorny varieties, as a natural deterrent, but plant them away from home-access points. Keep your access points clear and well-illuminated. And don’t forget the benefits of signage at these access points.
“This Area Under 24-hour Video Surveillance” or “Beware of Dog” are examples of effective deterrents even when no security system or dog exists.
Unauthorized ingress to most homes occurs using the following (in this general order): unlocked doors, locked sliding glass doors, unlocked service doors inside an attached garage, locked front or rear doors that are breached violently, and, finally, windows.
Rural homeowners often leave doors unlocked even when they’re away for short periods, reassured into a false sense of security by remoteness. Or the exterior doors are locked, and the garage door is closed, but the service door on the garage is unlocked, as is the access point to the house from the garage.
Locks are only useful when employed. With the typical sliding glass door, the locking mechanism or door design is inadequate, or it takes merely a brick and a split second to gain access.
Inadequate outdoor lighting presents an inviting target. Most homes include a porch light at each access point, and barns, sheds, and other outbuildings usually have some form of exterior lighting.
If they don’t, install some. You can use a wide selection of dusk-to-dawn lighting. Some fixtures require hardwiring, and others depend upon solar power. For those locations already wired with fixtures, dusk-to-dawn LED light bulbs are inexpensive. Replacing existing outdated fixtures with new automatic motion-sensor or dusk-to-dawn LEDs drastically improves the illumination of access points without breaking the bank.
Additionally, in the era of advanced home technology, indoor lighting connected to Wi-Fi or programmable timers can simulate active occupancy. The home believed to be empty is more inviting as a target.
Remember, second to strong locks, and light is your best friend!
Communication is key to home protection
For extended periods of absence, many homeowners stop mail and newspaper deliveries. Fewer notify local law enforcement or trusted, conscientious neighbors. This is a mistake.
Think of your trusted neighbors as your own personal Community Watch. Having extra “eyes” on your home and property by those who know your vehicles and habits is beneficial.
The “see something, say something” rule works to your advantage even if it’s a false alarm. By advising local law enforcement of your absence, you increase awareness while also creating an emergency contact list.
Providing a list of “keyholders” to your residence, along with their phone numbers, allows law enforcement to access your property in case of emergency.
Power outages, fires, suspicious activity calls, and house alarm-system activation, whether real or false, may be resolved more easily when first responders have accurate homeowner information and contact phone numbers.
Even with today’s technology, it’s amazing how often homeowner information is outdated. Take every advantage of communication by providing an up-to-date list of your phone numbers and those of your trusted keyholders to members of law enforcement.
One of the biggest complaints of first responders in rural areas is the lack of easily identifiable address signage. GPS is a wonderful piece of technology, but it isn’t always accurate.
Large, reflective signage with the house number located near the road is preferred. Large house numbers on the physical residence are also helpful, provided that they can be easily seen from the end of the driveway. And don’t forget those signs we talked about before.
Home-security systems have become more prevalent and affordable, some requiring little or no assistance to install and featuring reasonable monitoring costs. However, they’re only reliable when used consistently and properly, just like door and window locks.
Failure to arm the system is a complete failure; having a system installed without an obnoxious audible alarm is a partial failure. The obnoxious alarm may induce the invader to vacate and will certainly notify the homesteaders, assuming they’re at home.
Owning the newest technology of remote-access, Wi-Fi-accessible doorbells, or CCTV digital recording systems is a verifiable, documentable deterrent and should be part of your layered defense. But this tech is only effective if the homeowner consistently applies the other deterrents.
Having remote notifications of someone on your property is worthless if you’ve failed to lock your doors. And, while the images captured may prove valuable in apprehension after the fact, prevention is preferred.
The multi-layer approach
I have intentionally avoided topics such as situational awareness, fire prevention and suppression, and emergency medical intervention, as these will make the article long and boring. But each should be an additional component in your layered defense and overall homestead-security preparedness.
Applying common sense, noticing changes, oddities, or discrepancies in your environment, and focusing on your surroundings is always preferred to focusing on smartphones while checking social media.
Education and training in fire prevention/suppression and emergency medical techniques add additional tools to your toolbox. The effective use of firearms was excluded for similar reasons. As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I will state that all firearms in the home should be secured using appropriate methods.
Hiding firearms under the bed, in the nightstand, behind the door, in the sock drawer, within any glass-fronted display case (locked or unlocked), or in the vehicle’s console/glovebox is not considered an appropriate method.
The simplest means of securing your firearm(s) and other valuables from theft or misuse is simple: a lockbox or safe. Note that safes are harder to carry out, which provides yet another deterrent.
For those incorporating firearms as part of their homestead-security regimen, know your state and local laws pertaining to possession, concealed carry, and lawful use of force. And you must practice with each firearm you deploy for security.
Owning a firearm is not an effective deterrent unless you can use it effectively under pressure. The coyote digging into the chicken coop may not be impressed by “brandishing” and won’t be eliminated as a threat by the sound of passing lead.
The best approach to protecting your homestead is a commonsense one and keeping your family safe on your rural property is just a matter of following a few simple rules. Using a few home protection tools, such as locks, lighting, alarms, and signage, toppled with a layered defense system where the environment becomes a deterrent for any would-be burglars is the way to go. There aren’t many criminal masterminds out there, and the most common and simple protection measure can deter most criminal minds.
Suggested prepping learning: