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You jolt awake at night to the sound of your back door being kicked in. Your burglar alarm sounds, but the intruder doesn’t leave. You hear them searching from room to room — for what, you’re unsure.
Your heart is pounding. Cold sweat is beading on your forehead. You try to make as little noise as possible, but you’re taking rasping, panicked breaths.
What do you do?
Hopefully this situation never happens to you, but the unfortunate truth is that home invasions happen with startling frequency. According to crime statistics, there are about 1.65 million home invasions every year in America1 — meaning that an intruder broke in with violent intent while the occupant was still in the house.
Home invasions are among the most terrifying crimes imaginable, and have the potential to end in tragedy. To minimize your risk and maximize your potential of getting out unscathed, there are a few protocols to follow.
While this nightmare scenario is a tough one to consider, there are a few key principles to keep in mind if your home is being invaded.
Nine times out of 10, a burglar broke in thinking you weren’t home. Stay as quiet as you can and, if possible, lock the door to the room you’re in. At first, you don’t want to do anything to attract attention to yourself.2 Listen to try and determine why the intruder is there. Does it sound like they are rifling through drawers for jewelry, or are they calling out your name? Regardless, you need help — and you need it fast.
If your alarm system has the capacity to automatically and quietly alert the authorities, activate that functionality. If you don’t have this capability, know if your police force’s dispatch offers text-to-911.3 This will get help on the way without alerting the intruder to your presence. If neither of these options are available, call 911, and speak clearly but quietly. Be sure to provide the operator with all of the information they’re looking for, including your address, details about your home, and information on its occupants. If they ask if the perpetrator has a weapon, just say “yes.”
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a quick-acting alarm system, check out our review of Frontpoint. Their response times are among the best in the business.
Now that the authorities are on their way, it’s time to think through your next move.
Once you’ve alerted the authorities, take inventory of your situation. Is the intruder robbing you or looking for something else? Do you think they’ll be able to easily find you, or can you hide? Are you behind a solid locked door, or would it be easy to kick down? Can you tell how many intruders there are? Are they saying anything to each other? While it might be hard to process in the moment, remaining clear-headed and not panicking will help you make the best decision of what to do next.
If you can tell you are in danger — the intruder is yelling for you specifically, they seem violent, or your location isn’t secure — consider your escape options. Can you make a break for the back door? Can you go out the bedroom window? As best you can, take a risk assessment. If where you are isn’t safe, or soon won’t be, you need to assess the best way out of your home without interacting with the intruder.
Pro Tip: When it comes to preventing burglaries and home invasions, deterrence is your best friend. Consider looking over our guide to the best home security cameras on the market today — these pieces of equipment are one of the best deterrents out there.
Every home is different, and every situation is unique, but these principles can be used as guidelines in the event the unthinkable happens. Just as important, though, are these tips on what not to do during a home invasion.
In a home invasion, your absolute best option is to alert the authorities and get out unnoticed. With that in mind, here is what to avoid:
Real life is nothing like the movies. Unless you are a trained martial artist, you will likely lose in a fight with a person who is out breaking into homes.4 Unless you have trained extensively with a firearm, you are more likely to be disarmed and killed with your own weapon than you are taking the intruder down.5 If you are trained, and deadly force is necessary, then you must do whatever it takes to save your life or the lives of your loved ones. But otherwise, you are not an action hero, and you are unlikely to save the day if your home is being invaded.
Pro Tip: You might also want to consider adding a panic button to your security system. Ring makes a great one, if you’re interested.
On that note, if the intruder is spooked and starts running — do not pursue them. Take as much detail down as you can, and provide that information to the authorities when they arrive.
Possessions can be replaced; your life can’t. Every second counts during a home invasion. Spend that time calling the police and determining your escape route, rather than trying to gather valuables. That’s what your homeowners insurance is for, anyway.
Some people think that yelling out “I’m calling the police” or “I have a gun” will startle an intruder enough to make them leave. That might be true for some home invaders, but it might not be true for all of them. Some people might not be looking to steal a TV, or they might be intoxicated to the point where they’re not reasoning well. Do you want to gamble on which kind of intruder is in your home?
When it comes to home invasions, you don’t want to be caught off guard. The best thing you can do for yourself is to come up with a plan — right now — of what you would do if someone broke into your home. Know where their entry points are and where you would likely be. Plan out your escape route, and know how and when you’d access it. Think through multiple different scenarios, and come up with a plan for each one.
This isn’t to scare you; rather, it’s to ensure you’re as prepared as possible should a home invasion occur. Hopefully, the day will never come when you need to put your plan into action, but if it does, you’ll be relieved you had a solid plan in place.
El, Sa. (2023, Feb 4). How Many Home Invasions Happen Per Year In The U.S.? 13+ Burglary Statistics. Simply Insurance.
Safe Touch. (2023). What to Do In Case of a Home Invasion.
Federal Communications Commission. (2023). Text to 911: What You Need To Know.
Pruitt, Sharon Lynn. (2018, Nov 6). Here's How You Can Stay Safe During A Home Invasion — And Prevent One In The First Place. Oxygen True Crime.
The Guardian. (2022, Apr 7). People in homes with handguns more likely to be shot dead, major study finds.