Editor’s Introductory Note: This detailed article series is by J.M., who you may remember as a SurvivalBlog Writing Contest First Prize winner in March, 2018, for his five-part article: Perspectives on Patrolling.
(This is the first installment in a five-part article series.)
When you talk to people about preparing, one of the most common themes you’ll encounter is that they want to ensure the safety and security of themselves, their families and their friends in the event something disrupts the ‘rule of law’. The reality is that even with active law enforcement in normal times there are thousands of break-ins, assaults, attacks, thefts and other crimes committed against people and property every day. Since most of us can’t afford to keep an eye on our entire property 24×7, we need some type of force multiplier that can let us know when an intruder is approaching or entering our property.
The goal of this article is to provide some ideas and suggestions regarding the design and implementation of a security system that can help you detect when an intruder is approaching your location and gather observational data so you can make a decision on what you should do about it, both in ‘normal’ times as well as after an event has rendered rule of law null and void. Note that I’ll only be focusing on detective-type controls to help you detect the presence of an intruder, as opposed to preventive controls to keep them out.
As with any project, the first thing you need to do is to define your goals. I’ve been building and expanding my home security/monitoring system for several years (or as my wife refers to it, the ‘never-ending project’), and I’ve used that experience, combined with what I’ve learned about preparedness over the years, to define some goals for what I’ll be discussing. These are:
- Leverage technology where it makes sense, but keep it simple
- Include non-electronic options where possible
- Support a wide range of detection and observational options
- Support security for fixed locations, with possible applications for mobile security
- Keep it inexpensive
- Make it flexible
- For powered components, capable of being powered by 12V, 5V USB, or AA batteries
One critical point to keep in mind is safety – I’ll discuss various solutions that use things like primers and flares for alerting, so before you decide to employ anything that could potentially harm you or someone else you need to understand your responsibilities and liabilities. Even if your intent was just to alert you that someone was approaching, a shotgun primer or flare could still seriously injure a curious child that stumbles across your alarm system and you could end up going to jail as well as living with the responsibility for the rest of your life. Understand your local laws and regulations, and don’t do anything that could put innocent people in jeopardy. Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only, and the author accepts no responsibility for any actions taken as a result of this information.
Powering a Security System
A lot of the sensors and alarms I’ll be discussing operate on electricity, so I’ve tried to standardize on a couple of power sources – 12C DC, 5V DC (USB) and AA batteries. The system I’ll be discussing is based on a centralized console with a dozen or so different sensors feeding into it that can be run off of a single 12V car battery for several months, which you could keep charged with an inexpensive solar panel. How much power you’ll need will obviously depend on what you want to include – a simple collection of tripwires, door switches and motion sensors won’t require much power, but if you choose to add in video cameras your power load will increase significantly. If you want to use wireless remote sensors you’ll need rechargeable batteries and some way to charge them, or you could rig up a way to power them directly with solar. You should also keep in mind that car batteries almost never put out exactly 12V, and some electronic devices can be picky about the input voltage they’ll work with. If you don’t have a solar system that provides a consistent 12V, I recommend using a regulator to make sure you’re getting a stable 12V. If you want to include 5V USB for rechargeable batteries or devices you’ll also need a 12V USB charger.
Since I’ve designed most of my system around 12V and I want to use it now and take advantage of the currently-available electrical grid, I have a 12V switching power supply I use to power everything so I can save my 12V batteries for emergencies. Since all of my wires run to a central location, in the event of a grid-down scenario I can easily replace the 12V power supply with a solar system or a car battery.
Note that if you’re using powered devices of any type, some of may be affected by an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) event. Simpler items such as lights and buzzers are less likely to be affected, but in a worst-case scenario, anything containing metal might be impacted. If you’re concerned about such events, you should consider protecting some of the more complex electronic components by storing them in an insulated metal container such as an ammo can or metal trash can until you need them, or as replacement parts for an already-deployed system.
Arguably the best security system in the world for detecting intruders is a guard dog. Not only will they let you know when someone is approaching, but they can also help defend you. I won’t be covering the use of canines or other animals for security purposes in this article, but they can definitely be used in conjunction with many of the ideas I’ll be discussing. Note that house cats are lousy for security, unless an intruder is dumb enough to actually step on one while they’re asleep.
If you’ve read any of the other articles I’ve had posted on SurvivalBlog.com, you’ll know that I’m pretty big on planning before starting any project or activity; I’m a huge fan of the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. To start with, you need to understand what human resources you’ll have available to support your security requirements. If you have a full platoon of trained personnel available that can provide a 24×7 watch across your entire property in any weather conditions, you probably don’t need to worry too much about augmenting your security system. However, if you’ve only got a limited group of family or friends, or the property you’re trying to protect is large or has complex terrain, then you probably won’t be able to maintain a full-time watch everywhere and will want to employ some force multipliers to help out. If you don’t have enough people to always have someone awake to watch or listen for alarms, you’ll want a system that provides alarms that are loud enough to wake you up. Your available personnel resources (both quantity and quality) will drive a lot of your requirements for a security system.
The next factor you need to consider the physical layout of what you’re trying to protect. This includes the terrain around your house or compound as well as the layout of your house and other buildings. A house and barn sitting on a rise in the Midwest USA with miles of visibility in all directions will require a much different approach to detecting intruders than a small cabin next to a lake in the middle of the New England woods. I recommend investing some time to walk around your property and adjoining areas to gain an understanding of possible approaches, obstacles, views and visibility, cover and concealment, etc. Work with another person who can stay near or inside your house to tell you where you can and can’t be seen (radios will help with this). Use a detailed map of the area you’re trying to protect and mark the most likely approaches, obstacles, locations of possible concealment, etc.
Your assessment should also consider how different seasons and weather conditions might affect an intruder’s actions as well as your security system requirements. One useful tool to help with this is a detailed satellite image of your property; you can capture a screenshot using Google or Bing maps satellite view and have it printed and laminated at your local office supply store. If you choose to do this, use the highest resolution monitor you have available to get the crispest possible snapshot picture – if you have access to a 4K television/monitor and your computer supports an HDMI 1.4 or higher output connection, use that to get a super high resolution snapshot. Your local town office might also be able to provide you with detailed topographic maps of your location and surroundings.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)