In the time it takes you to read this article, at least 27 dwellings across the United States will have suffered a home invasion.
Home break-ins are a violation of the one place where we should feel truly safe. A criminal ransacking a residence when there’s no-one at home is upsetting enough. But a stranger, perhaps armed with hostile intentions, forcing their way into our homes while we’re there is the stuff of nightmares.
Because your safety is our priority, learn how to protect against a home invasion and, heaven forbid it should happen to you, how to get through it. Let’s start, though, with what’s actually meant by the term...
WHAT IS A HOME INVASION?
Broadly speaking, a home invasion is when an intruder forcibly breaks into an occupied dwelling to commit a crime or with intent to commit such. That can be theft, but it can also be robbery, assault, murder, or other violent felony. It’s for this reason that home invasions are potentially far more dangerous than ordinary burglaries.
You may be surprised to find out though that according to federal law, the actual act of invading a home isn’t an offense in itself. In fact, the same goes for most states. Instead, it’s the wrongdoings that accompany the break-in that are punishable.
Only some states, like Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and Nevada, recognize home invasion as a crime in its own right (separate to any other offenses carried out after breaking and entering). Even so, the specifics of these states’ home invasion laws vary widely.
HOME INVASION FACTS & FIGURES
Seeing as home invasion isn’t a legally defined crime for the most part, the numbers publicized don’t paint the full picture.
Still, we can get some idea by pulling historical data from the FBI, DOJ, and other sources:
30% of home invaders were armed. 
Just 12% of home invasions were premeditated. 
About two-thirds of home invasion offenders were known to the victims. 
A home invasion normally lasted 8 to 10 minutes. 
The vast majority of home invasions happened during the day, between 10AM and 3PM. 
Home invasions were largely carried out by individuals who lived less than a couple miles away. 
Over a third of home invaders entered through the front door.
Home break-ins have shown a steady downward trend over the last decade.
Some 1.65 million home invasions occur annually, or an average of roughly 4500 every 24 hours. 
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A HOME INVASION
On the whole, home invaders chase soft, easy targets.
With the best way to safeguard you and yours against a home invasion being to prevent it from happening in the first place. Namely, taking steps to discourage would-be intruders by making your home less appealing as well as less accessible.
Forgetting booby traps of any kind, there are plenty things householders can do in that respect. Indeed, the more roadblocks you put in a home invader’s way, the greater the probability they’ll look elsewhere.
Hardening your home
Install a home security system
Investing in a home security system, preferably professionally monitored, is among the most effective deterrents against unwanted guests.
Traditionally, they’re controlled through a security panel in the home. More state-of-the-art are smart home security systems which are administered remotely over WiFi via a mobile app.
Of the various sorts of electronic components that feature in a home security network, the two most popular are:
In addition to giving you eyes-on outside and in the home, recording can identify perpetrators and help in their arrest by law enforcement.
The latest video surveillance tech offers AI-driven threat detection that analyzes out-of-the-ordinary behavior in real-time and streams the footage live.
Security cameras should be mounted in conspicuous locations. Checking sight lines are clear and there’s no blind spots.
Alarm sensors detect unauthorized opening of a door or window, or glass break.
The high-decibel sound can frighten away intruders and warn you of an attempted break-in. With authorities automatically notified by the alarm company.
Panic buttons placed throughout the home, else on a key fob, can be programmed to activate a silent alarm or contact the police.
Other home security hardware
A wide-angle lens peephole or, better, a doorbell cam can be fitted to spy whose on the other side of your front door before letting them in.
Create barriers to entry
BEEF UP SECURITY AT ENTRANCE POINTS
Reinforce all exterior doors and windows, particularly those on the first floor. Besides strengthening frames, equip doors with the likes of deadbolts, metal strike plates on locks, and security bars. Note: using door chains alone isn’t advised since they can easily be kicked in. For windows, rig with shatterproof glass or cover with security film.
Establish a clear perimeter surrounding the home, and secure with anti-scale fencing, for example.
Planting thorn bushes or hedges around the property can also serve as a preventative measure.
CONSIDER GETTING A DOG
Just a glimpse of a canine on the premises can be enough to deter a burglar. Their bark can tip off householders or neighbors to a would-be intruder. And of course, they can be taught to attack on command or on sight.
POST WARNING SIGNS
Put up placards such as ‘Beware of the dog’ or ‘24 hour CCTV in operation’.
Add outdoor lighting, and position to illuminate entryways and the approaches to which after dark. To provide a heads-up to any trespassers (and save energy), look at motion-activated security lights which only power on in response to body heat.
Inside the home, lamps can be connected to plug-in timers or wall switches replaced to time when lighting goes on and off. Just be sure to set lights to come on in different places at different times.
Practice home security habits
On top of turning your abode into a hard target, here’s 10 zero-cost day-to-day tactics to further help keep home invaders at bay:
DO get in with your neighbors to have each other’s backs. And be on the look out for suspicious characters or activity in your local area.
DO get involved in community crime prevention initiatives, for instance, Neighborhood Watch, Operation Identification, and Citizen Observer.
DO maintain your grounds with shrubs/trees trimmed back and piles of stuff leveled so there’s no cover for prowlers. Tools lying about and ladders unsecured can be used by an opportunistic criminal to gain entry to your home. Wise also not to openly advertise pricey purchases by, say, dumping an empty big screen TV box in your yard.
DON’T leave keys to your home on top of the doorway, or under a mat, flower pot or rock.
DON’T open your front door to anyone you don’t know or who can’t supply official ID.
DO keep external doors and windows locked even if you’re home or only popping out for a minute.
DO close blinds/shades/shutters/drapes to hide your valuables from view. Better still, stash them in an in-home safe or lockbox.
DO turn on a radio, television, or similar when you’re out to give the impression someone’s at home.
DO shake up your routine to prevent bad guys who case homes from cluing into your daily patterns.
DON’T broadcast on social media you’re out of town. But do stop deliveries, and ask a trusted friend or family to watch over your home whilst you’re gone.
A regular daysack will do the trick. Better yet, a bulletproof backpack can double as a ballistic shield.
Into the carrier should go:
Cell phone or smartphone, fully charged with an extra battery
Flashlight and spare batteries
Change of clothes and footwear
FIRST AID KIT
Basic medical items, plus a trauma kit (IFAK) for treating serious or life-threatening wounds.
A proven life saver with the most popular picks amongst home defenders:
Bullet-resistant soft armor vest for defeating common handgun ammo
Dual-threat vest for added stab/slash/spike protection
Plate carrier loaded with hard armor inserts to stop rifle rounds and lesser threats
Anything rated NIJ Level IIIA or above should be up to the job.
Home defense weapon
More often than not, the self-defense weapon kept by householders is a pistol or a shotgun.
Whether a licensed firearm, a baseball bat, or a golf club, it’s imperative to know your legal rights as to what constitutes acceptable use of force against a home invader.
Many states grant homeowners/tenants immunity from prosecution if they need to defend themselves or others during a home invasion.
In general, the legislation falls into one of three categories:
Duty to Retreat – occupants are legally obliged to try to withdraw first before inflicting bodily harm.
Stand Your Ground – occupants are free to use proportional force without needing to attempt retreat.
Castle Doctrine – occupants aren’t required to retreat before resorting to lethal force.
Where self-defense laws have been passed, it’s important to be aware that certain limitations or restrictions on using force may be imposed. Not to mention, the decision to use force on an intruder shouldn’t be taken lightly. Doing so can trigger mental health issues, notably PTSD.
Having home defense equipment is only half the story. It’s absolutely critical, when your own or another’s life could be hanging in the balance, to be skilled in how to use it. In other words, training to handle and discharge a firearm under high stress conditions; how to wear body armor properly; and, for instance, how and when to apply a tourniquet correctly.
Although nothing can fully prepare you for the real thing, jumping on a home defense course can help to be more mentally ready.
Making a home invasion plan
It’s natural to not want to imagine a home invasion happening to you. Planning ahead, as emotionally challenging as it may be, isn’t only about putting your mind more at ease.
Formulating a plan will help you keep a cooler head, react faster, think less and focus clearer in the moment. Dramatically increasing your odds of a positive outcome.
Like any well hatched disaster/emergency preparedness plan, it could ultimately mean surviving the ordeal or not.
Bear in mind, though, that an exact plan for in the event of a home invasion isn’t doable. There are just too many what-ifs that could play out.
Therefore, stick to a plan that’s simple. But also flexible to account for different possibilities; say, family members getting split up or ways out of the home being compromised.
The minimum must-dos when planning for a home invasion are:
Have an exit strategy
Based on your home’s layout, map out all possible escape routes.
Along with designating a muster point, such as a neighbor’s place or a public park, to regroup after getting away. Somewhere reachable in under a minute and unseen from your home.
Set up a safe room
Adapt or purpose build an interior space where everybody in the home at the time of an invasion can take refuge.
In terms of safe room requirements:
Quick and easy to reach from anywhere in the home
Sized to shelter sufficient people
Cellular (and WiFi) signal
Single entry point only: a lockable solid-core wood or steel door (a window or skylight inside aren’t recommended)
A heavy piece of furniture that can be shifted to block the door
One or more electrical outlets
Store your home invasion gear and supplies here.
As a backup, figure out where the best hiding spots are elsewhere in the home.
Devise a code
Come up with code words/phrases to alert other members of the household and any visitors to a home invasion. In particular, the most appropriate response for them to take.
Something short, simple, and straight to the point like ‘ESCAPE’ or ‘SAFE ROOM’.
As soon as your home invasion plan’s complete, communicate it to all those living under the same roof. Then rehearse the plan by running a series of no-notice home invasion drills.
For added peace of mind, obtain insurance for any personal injury or losses/damages to your property and contents that result from a home invasion. Whether as a supplement to standard homeowners or renters insurance or a separate policy.
Do check the small print of the document to ensure you’re suitably covered should you need to file a claim.
WHAT TO DO DURING A HOME INVASION
Understandably, most folks’ reaction to a break-in whilst they’re at home is fear coupled with a surge of adrenaline.
Calm your nerves by taking a deep breath or two, having faith in your preparation, and remembering any training. Marshal your courage, stay quiet, and act quickly.
The instant you suspect or know for sure a home invasion is happening:
Assess the situation
To determine the best course of action, listen closely to what’s going on. Try to pin down how many intruders there are, their location, and where they might be heading.
Warn everyone in the home
Text whichever of your code words/phrases corresponds to the course of action you decide. Send the message to everybody inside the home; those who live there as well as anyone just visiting. Plus, as you don’t want them coming back mid-invasion, any householders who are out at the time.
Get all to safety
’Flight’, as opposed to ‘fight’, is the better option in most home invasion scenarios.
Escape if the coast is clear. Using an exit that doesn’t cross the invader’s path. Then making a run for the agreed meeting point.
Hunker down in the safe room. Remembering to lock then barricade the door once inside.
In either case, make sure no-one is left behind.
If hiding out indoors, speak to the police call dispatcher in a hushed voice to avoid giving away your presence to the intruder.
Be ready to answer the operator’s questions and follow their instructions. Don’t hang up until told to do so.
If you can’t talk, for whatever reason, many jurisdictions throughout America allow text to 911. Currently, almost 3300 Public Safety Answering Points [PSAPs], made up of Police Departments and other agencies, provide such a service.
Whatever happens, don’t leave the safe room or return home until either of the call dispatcher or responding officers have all cleared the scene.
Resist the urge to be a hero
If you have to hole up during an invasion, avoid engaging with the intruder. That means not yelling out in an effort to scare them off. And, even if armored, weaponed, and confident you’ll prevail, attempting to overpower or do battle with them.
Especially if the home intruder is armed and under the influence of substances, confronting them is just asking for trouble.
Should a one-on-one encounter with the perpetrators occur, don’t threaten them physically or verbally. Even prolonged eye contact is a no-no in case they feel you’re trying to intimidate or to identify them.
Rather, to prevent the situation escalating further, co-operate peaceably and comply with any demands as much as is possible.
That includes letting them take whatever belongings, no matter their financial or sentimental value, they want. Chances are, that’s all they’re after and no material possession on earth is worth your life.
Home invasions may be on the decline, but the statistics make for sobering reading. At their worst, they can be a harrowing experience and the fallout devastating.
No need to lose sleep though. To slash the risk of a break-in, make your home uninviting to intruders at the same time tougher to breach. Add layers of defense by fitting home security devices, fortifying entry points, and taking everyday security precautions.
Lastly, as part of your own emergency planning, by developing a home invasion strategy for if the unthinkable ever happens.
Have you ever fallen victim to a home invasion? Care to share your experience in the comments field below. Perhaps any advice on preventing or surviving a home invasion that you’d like to add.