Don't clear your home, but what about false alarms

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Feb 26, 2006
Northern AZ
In classes and on various forums, everyone says: "don't go clearing your home, that's for the police." I'm completely on board with this plan, my home layout is such that I believe we've got a good defensible spot while the others calls 911. I'm happy to let the bad guy do his thing and leave or let the police arrive and catch him as long as we're left alone.

Ok, so I'm startled awake at night. I grab a gun. I listen. I'm not sure if I heard a noise in the house or outside. Maybe it was the soap container falling off the shower door. How can I be sure? I guess it's better to be safe and call, but I'd really rather not have the cops show up to figure out a stray cat or possum got into my garage and is just rummaging around out there, scratching at the interior door. Or, is this what they're for?
Verbal commands. "Intruder, the police have been called and are on their way! Get out of here now! I am armed, if you come down the hallway/up stairs/whatever you will be shot! Leave the house now!"
What I'm really concerned about is sitting in silence trying to determine if there's someone in my house before calling the police. Maybe I'm over thinking it and it'll be obvious. More likely, it'll never happen at all.
I'd really rather not have the cops show up to figure out a stray cat or possum got into my garage and is just rummaging around out there, scratching at the interior door. Or, is this what they're for?
Yes that is part of what they are for.
I'm with you on not wanting to sit around and wait some obvious sign that says "everything is okay, no unwelcome guests here." However, if one is to go around the house searching for the thing that went bump, you should be giving verbal commands and have a retreat plan ready as a type of CYA/liability issue.
The reality is that you need to figure out if there is really a problem before you start calling for help. What that means will vary but at the least it means identifying why you think there is a problem and deciding whether it's really a concern before you dial that phone.

Why? When I was growing up people told a story called "the boy who cried wolf." Maybe some of you have heard it but it sometimes seems like people around here haven't so I'll give you the brief version: Some idiot kid constantly calls for help when he doesn't really need it until finally everyone around him is so sick of the BS that they let him be eaten by wolves just to be free of his constant wasting of their time. That's pretty close to what can happen if you go calling the cops every time you wake up thinking something is wrong. You don't want to be that kid... which means you've got to check and make sure there is at least a reasonable basis for believing there is an intruder (or other problem requiring LEO involvement) before you go calling for help. You may still be wrong but you won't be wrong as often so it'll take longer for the other villagers to decide they are better off letting the wolves eat you. That's the goal... die of old age before they can feed you to the wolves.

Or, if you are slightly more paranoid... police officers are not your friends when they are working. Inviting them to explore your house is usually a mistake no matter how blameless an existence you think you lead. If there is already someone in your house, well, the damage is done and chances are the cops will be distracted by the fact that there is a genuine crime scene for them to write reports about. If there isn't anything to distract them and you invite the police in with no reason you'll probably kick yourself even if they are nice enough not to take official notice of anything they find. That's the goal... keep any police officers you deal with distracted with other people's crimes so they don't notice yours.

Take your pick ... either reason is valid. ;)
yep, dogs.

i can't tell the difference between a bark for raccoons, a bark for attention, a bark for food, and a bark for a stranger.

the latter has me reaching for a gun.
I have had this discussion with a few of my LEO friends. They agree with me that they would not want to try to clear our home because "...there are just way too many ambush points". Meaning, there are areas in our home, where you are a sitting duck, no mater what you do. One simply cannot pass these areas unseen, and there is no cover available.

If you are serious about the topic there are ways to deal with it, if you have a playful dog or two...or three. Train them to play hide-and-seek (voice of experience here). To the dogs, it's just a game. But it takes our dogs not more than 60 seconds to locate the objective. They have come to "know" the house well. They know where to look because they have been trained to look in these hiding areas.

Yes, I may look dumb, I may sound dumb...I may even act dumb. But I know my own home better than anyone else, and if it needs clearing, I am better prepared to do it. The kicker to boot is I maintain my privacy. Now, if the dogs react...we have problems. At that point someone can submit to citizen arrest while the police arrive, or they can be seasoned, tasered or shot by the police upon arrival. I personally have no intention of going in and dragging the perp out by the nab of the neck. SWAT probably would enjoy the practice, and they have the toys for the task.

My point, confirm that you have a problem before you call 911.

In my eyes, looking around to see if something is wrong is not the same as clearing the house.

When things go bump in the night, I sometimes go check the two doors and look at the windows.(Armed with a .45 auto)

Here's my thoughts:

When I went to bed, everything was fine. The house was secure, the windows were all closed and locked, and there was nothing to worry about.

By merely tugging at two doors and looking at eight windows, I can know pretty quickly if that's changed.

I will know in less than a minute if there's been an entry.

This is NOT clearing the house.

Clearing the house means looking in every possible hiding place because you have reason to believe that bad guys are there.

If I see something that tells me my basic security isn't in place any more, I'm not going to clear the house.

I will back into a corner with my wife and any other innocents that might be here behind me and call for help.

I will recommend loudly for all to hear that leaving as soon as possible is a very good idea.

I will shoot to defend if any attempt to harm us happens while we wait.

I believe that this is the best way for me to handle this sort of situation.

I don't want to shoot anybody, I don't want my family to watch me shooting people, and I don't want bloody shot up carcasses on my carpet.

But my desire to live through the night and to have my family safe far exceeds those desires.

No, I won't be clearing the house by going from room to room looking in all the hiding spots.

But if some mis informed bad guy decides to move towards myself or my family here in my house...

I'm going to do my level best to make absolutely sure that he cannot and will not do any harm to us.
Gosh it really depends. Did it go bump or did it go crash? Do you know there is someone there or not? Because if I know someone is there than my first priority is to secure the family. Once that is done than the police get called to clear the rest of the house. Wife and kids only. The dog can take care of himself. Once the police get called than call the dog back so he does not take out any of the police, accidentally (no really... I have really big dog).

If it just went bump do I feel like wasting resources and maybe calling wolf? No, but a quick circuit with the cell phone, dog and favorite instrument of protection is what is called for, not the calvary.

But the answer to your question is you don't ever really know, unless you see or hear someone. Listening and being patient is much better than pieing off rooms every time. If you are very quiet the bad guys won't know if you are there or not. You know your house better than them and better then the police as well. Give some thought to where you could stand outside a room and either hear or observe whatever is going on in the next room without being discovered. Don't assume (or allow your mind to fool you into thinking) that every noise is an intruder. It may be an open window, clock radio or computer running a midnight routine. Listen for people sounds.

Security cameras are not a bad idea either. These days they are really cheap for what they do, allowing you to check certain key areas in your home without accepting any risk.
Thanks for all the responses.

I've thought about this more and I think I'm more worried than I need to be. Our current place is small enough, that combined with the dog I'll know if someone was actually in the house. The dog runs to the source of whatever noise (cat pushes something off kitchen table at 3am, dog bolts to the table).

I just wanted to know where the line between "clearing" and "checking for what is likely nothing" was. I've got to make sure my wife is comfortable with the firearm I leave her while go calm the dog down.
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These are great thoughts, and I'm with the "quick check" concept versus "clearing." One question: when you do the quick check, how do you approach it? Do you turn on overhead lights? Use a flashlight or weapon light? Creep around and avoid any indication of your presence?

I think that house clearing is best reserved for police. But if you are calling them on all sorts of false alarms they won't be very happy with you.
A good dog is great for sorting out a strange noise worth investigating vs. a call to 911.

I'm not calling the police every time I hear a bump in the night. But, I have no intention of clearing my house if I hear the sound of splintering wood and breaking glass.
I agree with the other posters re: dogs. Sending them throughout the house should do the trick.

Also, you might be able to turn on various motion sensors within zones of your alarm system. I have a control panel in the bedroom that allows me to do this.

Hope this helps,

I'm a bit confused - you can or can't tell the difference between different kinds of barks?

If you can't I'm curious what kind of dogs you have.

If you can't, try a male hound dog next time around. My boy dog has an incredible repertoire of hound sounds. It's usually quite easy to tell the differences.

The hide and seek game is a good idea. I do it but just for fun, never had the intent of doing it for HD reasons. Hmmm.
If something goes bump in the middle of the night, I'm all for checking it out. Armed, of course.
Calling the police is for when the sliding glass gets busted in, I grab the kids and barricade myself in the bedroom while an unknown number of probable goblins are ransacking the house.
With our two dogs, I'm pretty sure to know whether something's amiss. They have a completely different behavior when there's a squirrel or a cat outside, and when a human approaches the house.
If there is a break in, I have to go and secure our baby, and I will be clearing my path, with the help of the dogs... backed up by Mrs V with her Ruger.

I'll only call the cops if I can confirm criminal entry, as I really don't like Authori-Tahs poking around my house as if the Bill o' Rights was suspended... just because I thought I heard something.
I've never really considered -not- clearing my own house, or at least going through and making sure the noise I heard was not just something settling in the attic, or an animal outside. I suppose just staying in your bedroom, phone and gun in hand works well enough, but it does bring up another issue.

A friend of mine has been having problems with unusual and possibly not so nice people hanging around his neighborhood, and has had a break-in previously while no one was home. The issue is, that if someone were to break in while the home is occupied, his children's bedroom is the first door in the hallway, right off from the living room, with his and his wife's room much further down. Basically, his children are between him and whoever may be inside the house. I have run through a few scenarios with both he and his wife, with me playing the bad actor type breaking in. We practiced putting himself between his children's door, and the rest of the house while his wife dials 911. Kid's are practiced at getting under their beds at a verbal warning from the father. He has a shotgun and flashlight, she has a handgun. Is this wise, and is there a better way of handling the situation should it (hopefully never) arise?
We may have our next house built to plans, and protecting Zoe will be one of the higher priorities. At the moment, her room is on the other end of the house, and we're both about the same distance from the front or back door.
call atd and set your system correctly if a window is broken/opened and/or a door is opened you will have a heart attack and die as will the intruder when the alarm goes off! also you get smoke detectors and co detectors in the package it cost me $25/month it even covers my unattached garage/work shop.
and lay off the paranoia inducing drugs
I dont worry too much about what happens outside my home. I hear yelling and screaming, car alarms and stuff getting thrown around all the time and I just ignore it. I dont have anything exterior to the house so as far as I am concerned, it is someone else's problem. ;) I dont answer my door and I dont have a home phone either. :)

I have had three false alarms in a year.

The first, I received an email on my BlackBerry from my alarm system that said a zone had been tripped. I called 911 and had the cops do a drive-by and check for signs of entry. No issue. Few weeks later I got a letter stating that next time it would cost me $50.00. Whatever.

The second and third incident happened during the night after the wife and I had gone to bed. The first time the alarm went off while we were home I was all jacked-up. I was standing at the top of the stairs and had a 5 shot .38 pointed downward toward the living room (siren still running). I had my wife tell me what was on the alarm panel in the MBR closet. The panel read "Motion in Living". :eek: I told her to kill the alarm and them I waited and listened.

Lessons learned:
1. I was under-gunned. All my hardware was locked-up in the basement with the exception of a 5-shot .38 +P. Not a good feeling.
2. I should not have stood at the top of the stairs out in the open (no cover)
3. I should have re-armed the system immediately and waited/listened longer before clearing the house. Any motion would have set the alarm off again and eliminated the possibility of a false alarm.
4. I was not really prepared in having thought through the sequence of events regarding the alarm system and how the system functions. What I mean by this is that the panel I have will display every zone that gets tripped. The only tripped zone was a motion detector in the living room. Had I thought about this at the time, it would have dawned on me that this event was probably a false alarm since no exterior zones had been tripped. Had this been a real event, the panel would have displayed (for example):

A. Basement Glass (entered the home)
B. Motion in Basement (walked to the stairs)
C. Motion in Living (entered living room from basement)

The next false alarm happened a couple nights ago. Things were calmer and we assumed that there was a 98% chance that this was a false alarm.

Lessons learned this time around:
1. When getting back from vacation earlier that evening, I should have checked the house immediately just to know that there was nothing funky going on and all windows / doors were secure
2. The wife killed the system too soon and without reading the panel which prevented us from knowing which zones got tripped. I didnt know how to recall the event log so I was SOL. The manual for the alarm system was also in the basement. :cuss: - She also had trouble re-arming the system probably as a result of being nervous.

From the two "at home" events, I learned that I need to better document my alarm system, think more about tactics (who does what, when and where) and do some drills with the wife for training.
I clear my own home

I know the layout of my home better than anybody. On the rare occasion when I am away and the alarm goes off, I have beat the police there and have cleared it myself. No intruder; just my stupidity in leaving the gas logs on and the remote set to turn them on. I did not realize the motion detector was heat only sensitive.

Should the alarm go off at night when my wife and I are home, we have our "plan". She takes her gun to the master bathroom and gets in the tub with the door locked and the Surefire light in her hand. She is on the cellular telephone with 911 telling them I am active in the house and armed.

I clear the house. Alarm company has already called the police using our land line.

Others might not wish to do it this way but this is my way.

Charlotte, NC
These are great thoughts, and I'm with the "quick check" concept versus "clearing." One question: when you do the quick check, how do you approach it? Do you turn on overhead lights? Use a flashlight or weapon light? Creep around and avoid any indication of your presence?
We've had the proverbial "bump in the night" on occasion. If I think there's a reasonable chance that someone's in the house, I'll take a defensive position at the bedroom end of the main hallway (ours and the kids' bedroom doors adjoin) and wait for the police, who will already be on the way.

If it appears that it was just the cat or something after an appropriate amount of listening, yes, I'll check the house, though it doesn't happen often. Carefully, pieing the corners, and all that, and checking the entry points as we go. We don't have a big house, so it doesn't take but a couple minutes. My wife is fully capable of backing me up, and on occasion we've done it together.

IMHO, if you've heard a noise and it's worrisome enough to check out, it still worth being cautious even if it's not worrisome enough to call 911.
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