Keeping Home and Family Safe for the Holidays

With the December holiday season comes plenty of shopping, parties, exchanging gifts, and spending time with friends and family – or, if thinking like a burglar, homes are dark and empty more than usual, and full of brand-new expensive gadgets and perhaps extra cash for gift purchases and travel expenses. While it is important to practice good home security all through the year, the holidays require an extra level of vigilance. Here are some tips for keeping your home and family safe through the holiday season.

If you have a security system, use it!

According to the New York Police Department, plenty of people have a security system installed in their home, but they don’t turn it on. The holidays are a good time to evaluate your home security system, as well. Are you protecting the areas of the home that are most vulnerable? If you use security cameras, plan to aim one at your Christmas tree or wherever you are storing (or hiding) presents as well as on doors or windows. Well-placed cameras may not stop a burglary, but news stories show that more criminals are being identified and caught with home camera systems.

Lock up the house

Burglars are always looking for the easiest way inside and will look for unlocked doors and windows. Don’t forget to lock up fence gates, as well, so a prowler can’t slip around to the back, and possibly more secluded area, of the property to find a way inside (and people tend to leave back doors and windows unlocked while locking front doors and windows). And as EMC Security pointed out, “One holiday problem can occur when exterior Christmas light extension cords are run inside through a window and prevent it from being secured. Hire an electrician or handyman to install an inexpensive exterior outlet for your holiday lights.”

Speaking of lights, put them on timers

Security experts encourage homeowners to put interior lights on timers so the home looks lived in. But how often do you see dark houses with exterior Christmas lights shining or outdoor lights on in the middle of the afternoon?  Exterior lights draw attention to your home – that’s the point – and a burglar will notice tell-tale signs of an empty home with Christmas lights. Even if you are just going out to a party or shopping, make sure both exterior and interior lights make the house look lived in.

Share holiday photos after the holidays

Thanks to social media, it is easy to share your holidays with the world as they happen. The New York Police Department noted that there is no such thing as privacy in the Internet Age (not to mention, too many people are lax on privacy settings, so you never know who is seeing your updates). Don’t announce your holiday plans online, and if you want to share photos, do so when you are back in your own living room. However, going “dark” on the Internet for an unusual period of time can also alert a not-so-innocent friend that you aren’t home. An occasional update that doesn’t reveal too much about your whereabouts can make it seem like you are in your normal routine – just turn off the location tracker first.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working, fire extinguishers are handy, and you have an escape route planned.  According to FEMA, more than 400 Americans die in a fire over the holiday season. Candles are a popular decoration during the season, so either be sure to never leave the house or go to bed with a candle still burning, or consider flameless candle options. Don’t overload electrical outlets. Don’t put live trees or other decorations too close to the fireplace (take down those stockings while the fire is burning).

Camouflage your holiday trash

Nothing says “rob me!” like boxes from new television sets, computers, gaming systems, and other expensive items put out on trash day.  Cut down boxes and take them to a recycling center if possible. Otherwise, make sure they are in bags and out of sight.

Find a pet sitter

The best thing you can do to protect your home is to make it seem lived in. Rather than put your dog or cat in a kennel over the holidays, hire a trusted friend or relative to stop by and care for the pet. That way, there is regular activity at the house, plus someone is there to bring in the paper and the mail (if you forgot to stop delivery) and shovel the driveway if there is a snow storm. Plus, the barking dog will act as an extra level of protection if someone does try to break in while the house is empty.

Sue Poremba is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer who specializes in security and technology topics. She has written on home and business security issues for SecurityNewsDaily, Security Magazines, and others.
Posted on Monday, December 3rd, 2012