In 2014, Inside Energy, a collaborative journalism initiative, reported that the number of reported power outages had increased markedly across the US since 2000. The reason? Aging infrastructure, a growing population, and extreme weather. From 2000 to 2004, the average number of reported grid outages per year was 44; compare that to the first six months of 2014, when 130 outages were reported.
And it seems the risks are increasing. Aside from the increasing incidence of weather-related calamities, the US has also started to recognize that cyber attacks could take down massive sections of the national grid. And when the power goes down, incidences of looting and theft tend to go up as both experienced burglars and opportunistic criminals grab their chance.
So you should realize that in case of a power outage, the problem of keeping your home secure becomes exponentially more difficult. But it’s not impossible, as long as you take the right steps. Below is a rough guide for you to follow in order to discourage burglars during a power outage.
Prepare off-the-grid security
First, you have to do a home security audit, particularly of non-electrical security measures. If everything goes dark, you’ve got to be sure that your home can be a reliable fortress. Doors going into your home have to be solid and able to withstand strong impacts. Repair any broken doorknobs so that you can lock them, and consider installing security chains and deadbolts for good measure. As for windows and glass doors, they should ideally have double glazing, tempered glass or security film; all three options have been said to deter burglars as they’re resistant to force, plus their heat resistance can help reduce energy costs.
Checking the layout of your home for possible vulnerabilities and weaknesses is also a good idea. For example, blind corners and large pieces of furniture like dividers could provide hiding places for intruders sneaking into your home. If you have a yard or garden, inspect it for large shrubs and tree trunks that could provide cover for trespassers, as well as gardening tools that they might use as weapons.
If you’re thinking of using non-lethal personal protection, such as stun guns or pepper spray, you must be aware of how your state and local law enforcement regulate their use. Such extreme measures may be completely legal in some jurisdictions, while others have hard limitations on who can use them, how they should be used, and so on.
Get a little handy
Next, you’ve got to know how your electrical system works. While the vast majority of power outages people will experience are due to a blackout affecting their whole community, there may be instances when only your house’s power supply fails. In that case, you’ve got to be prepared to do basic troubleshooting; if you can fix the problem quickly, being able to deter burglars during a power outage will not be a problem.
Arguably, the most important repair process you should know is how to replace a blown fuse after a power surge. Be familiar with the location of your circuit breaker, as well as what area of your house each switch inside corresponds to, so that you can resolve electrical issues faster. You’ll likely have to do the repair in the dark; make sure to put together a basic repair kit with all the tools you’ll need and at least one working portable light source, and put it some place accessible.
If the power outage extends beyond your own home, you’ll have to call your utility company or local authorities to ask what’s going on, so you should keep their phone numbers handy. Also, you may want to have a power outage emergency kit – containing flashlights, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, and other critical supplies – in case the emergency ends up being a long-drawn-out one.
Embrace redundancy in energy
If you want effective protection, home security system components are non-negotiable. That applies not just to locks and security devices, but also to power supplies. This is especially important if your home is protected with sensors, alarms, and CCTV cameras. Having redundant power systems — that is, ways to provide energy to the same group of devices — is useful to ensure these and other critical devices don’t fail you in a blackout.
Those with a background in information technology are likely to know about uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. They not only protect sensitive appliances and equipment from power surges, but they also provide hours’ worth of backup power in case of an outage, so connecting your smart security devices to a UPS would be a good idea. Many security device manufacturers also offer auxiliary power supply systems that, depending on their specifications and the number of devices you connect to them, could buy you anywhere from four to 24 extra hours of operating time.
Those residing in areas at high risk of calamities like hurricanes or tornadoes may want even longer-lasting backup power. If you regularly face that kind of situation, you may want to invest in a portable generator. Aside from having fuel on hand for your generator, think about having a transfer switch installed, which would let you conveniently electrify the most important appliances and home security accessories in your home during a power outage. Also, never run a generator in enclosed spaces or outside near open windows, as they release noxious and potentially lethal carbon monoxide.
Maintain your smart systems
Having backup power for your smart security system may provide you some comfort, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to be sure that your devices are working as intended during emergency situations. That means ditching any “set it and forget it” attitudes you may have, and regularly checking your electronic security systems’ functionality.
Regularly check the feed from your CCTV cameras to see if it’s clear; if you have cameras outside, you’ll also want to inspect them for wear, rust, and other signs of physical damage. You can also try intentionally tripping your alarm system while it’s armed. While you’re at it, you’ll want to check if the correct security zones are being activated or inactivated under your system’s different arming modes (systems can generally be set to “home,” “stay,” and “away”). When you’re doing these tests, make sure that you let your home security company or alarm monitoring service know so that you don’t end up sending out – and potentially getting fined for – false alarms.
During an actual power outage, you’ll also want to do a quick check to see if all your devices are still working; your main security panel should show you the activity and power status of the devices, particularly if it’s from a reliable alarm systems provider. Also, note that not all alarm monitoring services are active during power outages; if the system is connected directly to your landline, it should be fine. Cellular-based services will stay online as long as their backup power supply lasts, while VOIP or broadband-based systems may be cut off if the blackout also takes down your internet connection.
Check your lights
Security experts agree that burglars tend to be dissuaded from entering well-lit households. While a widespread power outage could limit your lighting options, there are still ways for you to avoid being totally in the dark.
Aside from using external backup power for your normal lighting fixtures, you can also get rechargeable bulbs with their own built-in backup power supply. Some of the more advanced examples can actually be programmed to go on at certain times, following the normal behavior of the occupants; this is especially useful if you happen to be out of the house when it loses power. You can also consider having dedicated emergency lights, which would store power and only get turned on in case of a blackout.
Criminals are very opportunistic; they’ll have no problem going after your life, property, and loved ones if it will benefit them. Keeping safe is every homeowner’s priority, no matter what the situation, and smart security systems can definitely give you an edge. Having effective alarm monitoring equipment can only take you so far. In the end, it’s what you do with it that counts during a crisis situation.