Budget Retreat Security, by Pat Cascio

If you’ve been a reader of SurvivalBlog.com for any length of time, you’ve surely seen the term Operational Security and the acronym OPSEC. And just as often, you’ve seen the term retreat security. These two go hand-in-hand. Together, they can make your surroundings as safe and secure as possible. Sometimes, depending on your location, this might be simple. But other times, it takes a lot more work to make your surroundings as safe and secure as you possibly can. Every once in a while, I have to remind myself to maintain both OPSEC as well as retreat security.

More than half my life, I’ve been involved in either public or private law enforcement. One position I held for about a year was, private alarms. On the day shift, I installed both silent and not-too-silent arms, most were in businesses, but some were in private homes. On the night shift, I answered those alarms. Silent alarms were connected to a central station, at the business I worked at, and whenever an alarm was tripped, it notified the person at the central alarm station, and they would radio whomever was on duty, and we would respond to those alarms. Sad to say, at that time, I worked in the Chicago, Illinois area, and the Chicago Police Department were very slow to respond to silent alarms, if they responded at all. Many times, when the CPD arrived, they would “secure” the outside of the business, while I went in alone, to do a building search. Anyone in law enforcement will tell you that, it is nearly impossible to search a large building on your own – not good!

While working the day shift, installing alarms, it could get pretty boring. The biggest job was running the wires all over the building and at times, these installations could take a week or longer. Then we had to check each alarm, to make sure it was covering the area we needed it to check – trying not to leave any areas where there wasn’t coverage – this also took some time. On big jobs, there might be two of us doing the installation. Then, we had to check an adjust the sensitivity of each alarm – if they were too sensitive, they would “trip” the alarm for no reason, or even a mouse running through it. Other times, they weren’t sensitive enough.

We used a lot of infrared alarms and they sensed movement. The infrared alarms didn’t sound, they would turn-on a red or green light on the alarm itself. At times, I would attempt to see how stealthy those alarms were, and I’d try to walk through them…if you didn’t move fast, and held yourself against a wall, you could get through an alarm without setting it off. However, other alarms covering the area would more than likely pick-up your movement. Then we had alarms that picked-up body heat, There was no way getting through them without setting them off.

Do-it-Yourself Alarm Systems

There are quite a few ads on television these days, selling do-it-yourself alarm systems, and some aren’t very expensive, if you only have them so they will call the local police. Others are hooked-up to a central station, and they would call the local police. Many perpetrators who know there is an alarm system of some type, will be very clever and cut the phone lines. Nice try, Charlie – once the phone lines are cut, the alarm gets set off and the police will be notified anyway. And, don’t even think about cutting the power to the house off – same thing will happen – the police are notified, just that fast.

Some of these do-it-yourself home alarms cost quite a bit of money to have them monitored each month, some start around $30 per month and go up from there, and they want a yearly contract as well.  I’m always looking to save a buck – I have to – we’re not rich. Like most folks, we lived paycheck to paycheck, and many months, there are more days than money, and I know you all can relate to this. So, I’ve installed my own alarm system on the cheap.

My system doesn’t call the police or go to a central station, for them to call the police. Instead, I have installed driveway alarms around my digs. We’ve also installed motion sensitive LED flood lights near each motion alarm. Of course, we aren’t home all the time, should one or more of these motion activated lights or alarms go off, one of my German Shepherds will know something isn’t right and will start barking – that is usually enough to send a bad guy running off the property. Needless to say, at night, the LED motion activated lights will turn on, in conjunction with the driveway alarms.

We now have the driveway alarms set so they only “ding-dong” to let us know someone is on the property. However, we can switch them to alarm mode, and it is very loud. One good thing is that, more often than not, my German Shepherds are alerted before one of my alarms goes off.

Protecting Our Rural Property

We live on acreage out in the boonies, and none of our neighbors would hear any of our alarms, so that could be a problem. However, the sound of large barking dogs might be more than enough to scare off burglars. There are no foolproof systems to keeping bad guys away, sad to stay. We do have some “booby traps” outside of our perimeter – oh, they aren’t deadly booby traps, but enough to discourage someone from advancing any further on to our property.

The driveway alarms and LED motion activated alarms work off of batteries–some are AA, some C and some D batteries. About once a year, I have to change the driveway alarm batteries – not very expensive to do. The LED motion activated lights are good for about two years before I need to change them. On the lights and alarms that are exposed to a lot of rain – and we get a lot of rain where I live in Western Oregon. So I took black electrical tape, and wrapped any openings around the alarms so they don’t get wet and stop working. The receivers for our driveway alarms, are inside our house in windows, so they stay nice and dry. Our oldest daughter lives next door in our small guest cottage and she has all the same alarms and light we do – along with a big ol’ German Shepherd of her own.

There are still a few areas in our front yard, where we will add a couple more motion activated lights and alarms, so we have 100% coverage. If, and when the SHTF we will put all our driveway alarm receivers on “alarm” so it will really alert the bad guys, as well as us – even in the middle of the night. The one good thing about all of this is that, if WTSHTF, we are out in the boonies, so I don’t think a lot of perps would be willing to walk miles down a country road to get to our digs.

Very Low Cost

Now, for the good news: My set-up with motion activated lights and driveway alarms was very inexpensive to purchase. I have several different systems, and I can say one is better than the other. Do a search on Amazon.com or eBay for motion activated lights and alarms, and you’ll be shocked how inexpensive these things are. You can get a motion activated light for about $15 and a motion activated driveway alarm, that consists of one or two alarms and a receiver for about $20 – I’ve seen these units with as many as 5 alarms and one receiver for $35 – and with free shipping, too.

I have about $125 invested in my set-up, but plan to add to it – a few more lights and one or two more driveway alarms. My last LED light set-up costs me $14.97 and it was installed along the walk between my house and the guest house, and my oldest daughter wasn’t home when I did it. When she came walking between the houses that night, the light I installed and adjusted was directly in her face when she entered the activation zone – scared the daylights out of her, and briefly blinded her as well…I know, I know, I’m a bad dad… LOL. My driveway alarms, when activated, will reach the receiver in my house, from about 300 feet away. The zone that is protected is only about 35 feet, but that’s still good enough to cover a lot more area than you think it does. Plus, we have fencing around our large yard as well. And, let’s not forget several large German Shepherds, who would give their lives to protect us.

They Work In Town, Too

If you live in a big city, where houses are close together, you can still use a driveway alarm. You just have to position (aim) it so that it covers a smaller area. And, nothing like one of these motion activate lights, placed at your front and rear doors, so they are pointed in the direction someone is coming from, to blind them as they approach your house. It can be done, inexpensively. More often than not, when the driveway alarm sounds, and you have it set on “alarm” the bad guys will quickly remember that they have an appointment across town and head there, instead of your house.

You will have a heads-up, when the alarm goes off, giving you the advantage of calling 9-1-1 and/or arming yourself from the unwelcome visitors. When your alarm goes off, the bad guy doesn’t know if the police are coming or not. I suggest that you try my on-a-budget security approach. It won’t cost you much for a couple alarms and lights.


  1. I’ll have to investigate these more. Since I don’t have a German shepherd, what I want it to do is set off an alarm that sounds like one, as well as turning on perimeter lights, preferably solar powered.

  2. So, living in the woods, we get lots of wildlife wandering through. How would you handle the wildlife activating your alarms? Just wondering? We currently have lights as they’re not noisy but make us aware of something out there. Just wondering

    1. The system we have has a couple of settings…one for 15′ then 30′. One for highly sensitive and then one not so sensitive to preclude animals setting it off.

  3. We tried several inexpensive alarms, and were disappointed in every one of them. Some you couldn’t point west or the afternoon sun would set them off, others didn’t have the range needed for our property. The old saying “You get what you pay for” should be followed by “You don’t get what you don’t pay for.”

    We finally settled a more expensive, but not prohibitively, system with over a mile range, adjustable sensing distance, and the ability to have multiple sensors out that identify the area of intrusion. I have no connection to the company, but people wanting a serious alarm system might look into the Dakota Alert MURS products.

    Not a “budget” system? Yep. But then, we’re counting lives, not dollars.

    1. We we have 9 dakota alerts and have had them for years with two inside receivers. Yes, they have a considerable cost factor but in my opinion well worth it. The range is very good.

  4. Great article. We have had multiple German Shepherds forever. Some were from breeders. We now have 2 that we rescued. They are the best alarms. And like you said, would give there lives to protect us. I will be looking into the alarms. Thanks.

  5. I live in a suburban area in Jacksonville, Florida. I have a monitored alarm system that is activated if someone breaks into my home, supplemented by perimeter security that I installed myself. The perimeter system features Arlo cameras linked to floodlights through the Apple Home app. I also installed Phillips Hue motion sensors positioned so that they will detect an intruder, but will not be activated by animals, waving tree limbs, etc. The motion sensors, also integrated with Apple Home, will switch on lights in the master bath that wake me instantly. Two weaknesses that I see: 1) the system won’t work if grid down and 2) We’re not in Northern Idaho.

  6. Good stuff as usual Pat.
    We have cheap motion sensors from harbor freight. One on each corner. Very KISS.
    Finally got a camera system. Unfortunately, it relies on WiFi.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I put a motion sensor on my patio to cover 2 doors and a window. It worked great until I adopted an outside cat. Now it has become the “kitty is hungry” alarm!

  8. Great article Pat. Where can I get a simple perimeter alarm with a speaker which, when tripped, merely announces, “Go ahead Punk, make my day!” followed by the sound of a 12 gauge pumping a shell into the chamber?

    Pat, you mentioned “we get a lot of rain where I live in Western Oregon. So I took black electrical tape, and wrapped any openings around the alarms so they don’t get wet and stop working.” I was having the same problem and found another thing that helps is the old car battery trick: put a little vaseline on the battery terminals with a Q-tip. Alkaline batteries were lasting so long that corrosion was building up on the battery terminals due to moisture and my alarms would quit functioning. So now everything gets a little vaseline on the terminals, even smoke alarms in the house.

  9. Thank you, Pat! Great article, and we have also used the perimeter systems that alert us to anyone approaching our property or crossing our property lines.

    Cameras record all traffic (wheels and feet) to both a flash drive and the cloud. We power these with a REO Link solar charger system. The most distant camera uses a yagi antennae to connect with our network.

    We also have lots of motion-sensor lights, and have installed gates and signs. It’s true that wildlife will trigger those motion-sensors, and we count this a fact of life. Flying insects in the summer time can also trigger the lights. We are able to control for this significantly by spraying Ortho Home Defense on the lights (although we do try to avoid the camera lens so as not to impair the image).

    Another idea we use effectively is a communications network with our nearest neighbors. We check in on one another, and exchange information about anyone we see passing through the area. This is also helpful and an important part of our security system.

    …and of course just about everyone in our area is well armed.

    Remain steady. Be safe. Stay well everyone!

  10. I have used the Dakota alert system that is at the gate and other areas around the property. It is approximately 150 yards from the house and others around the perimeter of the house. They work great for exterior alerts BUT if you live in the country like I do, then expect them to go off at all hours of the night because of the cougar, elk, deer and other critters. 🙂 With that said, I appreciate that you mentioned thermal as an almost foolproof system of heat and movement. I’ve been looking at thermal monoculars for home security and haven’t seen an updated product list on them on this site. The Flir’s seem to be the “top of the line” and they have a product introduced in 2019 called the Scion that is used for outdoor enthusiasts and a similar model for law enforcement. Pricey little things but when the alarms go off, it would be nice to see if it is 2 legged or 4 legged setting them off. Any recommendations for thermal monoculars for home security would be appreciated!

    1. @Sheepdog
      I too am researching thermo monoculars. FLIRs seem to be great, but I’m intrigued with the Leupold LTO Tracker 2 Thermal Viewer with Beacon Mode. $640 currently at the big Amazon (I think you can find it cheaper elsewhere, maybe). Unless something changes, I love what I’ve seen in my research and plan on getting it.

      And here’s a gun cover that fits it well:

      Anyone with experience with the FLIR and/or the Leupold — feel free to chime in.

      1. You are the 2nd person to recommend the Leopold tracker. My only hesitation is that they left the monocular business side and went to gun sites only. Now, they have a great reputation on the gun sight side. To be fair, Flir left the gun sight production (liberal Board members) for the average consumer. They still produce thermal monoculars for both law enforcement AND consumers. Still pricey.

  11. I am also a big fan of the MURS Dakota Alert sensors. Trying one of the other less expensive Dakota alert sensors that operates on UHF, but it failed after a short while. It could have been that the snow on top of interfered with the built in antenna, and the transmitter (finals) burned out. The big advantage of the original design is that a better external antenna can be attached and would less effected by snow and other obstacles. The sensor can also be placed on or near the ground and heavily camouflaged, and the antenna placed high up, or away from the sensor. I believe they are worth the money, however, we all have our limits, so I will also use a number of low cost and homemade alarms such as a 12 ga shotshell alarms to cans on a string, high intensity chem lights on trip wire and more. Here is an very in expensive and multipurpose alarm build using mouse traps.

    1. I’ve had MURS Dakota Alert for 10 years and even though I’ve had some repair issues the company is wonderful at customer service. If I am out in the garden or field working, I take my baofang radio with me and set it to the MuRS channel and it lets me know if someone is coming up the driveway. Pretty convenient and versatile system. Living in North Idaho, I never had a problem with snow issues but I do house them in a faux bird house. 🙂

  12. If you are trying to do some home automation and do not want to be forced to rely on the internet to make it all work, a very nice solution for that is the Hubitat home automation hub. It takes a little bit of time to learn how to best use it, but it is very powerful and I have really enjoyed setting up my own motion and light alarms using this clever little device, and the best part about it is that it does not require the internet for its core functionality, but you can use internet services like IFTTT and others to perform automation if you want. I have used one for about a year now and I really love it so far!

  13. To expand a bit on our Dakota Alert system, we too were aggravated with false alarms from deer waking by in the middle of the night. We got so used to “zone one” going off as to ignore it. The answer was to put another sensor a hundred yards down our drive that announced “zone two”, which was assuredly a vehicle coming. Zone one without zone two? Roll over. Zone one and zone two? Rack a round in the chamber.

    By the way, as far as budget systems, I’m reminded of an old saying in the motorcycle community…..”If you’ve got a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.

    1. Ozark’s Tom – thanks for the chuckle because that’s exactly what we have set up. Our border collie has learned that when Alert 1 goes off during the day then he is on “watch” but if it goes on at night – well, he just rolls over too. LOL

  14. I posted a comment about the Harbor Freight alarm perhaps a month ago, but given the discussion here, I will mention it again.

    With FRS radios there are outrageous claims made by manufacturers with regard to their range. Perhaps someone, somewhere was able to communicate over the distance claimed but, for the average user, it just doesn’t happen.

    For this reason, I was skeptical about the 400′ range claimed by HF for this alarm, especially given the fact that I have seen it on sale for as little as $9.99 in the last couple of years. The regular price for it is $14.99, but 20% off coupons are plentiful.

    A friend suggested that I open it up and stretch the antenna coil in order to get the best range out of it. I did this and then took it to a soccer field to test it. I estimate that every time I take a deliberate step I step about 2 1/2 feet, so a left-right pace is about five feet. I was able to make the alarm function at the point I was around 77 to 78 paces away from the receiver, so I believe that I was just short of 400 feet.

    I regret that I didn’t test the unit before I stretched the antenna. Maybe next time.

    Of course, a soccer field isn’t representative of very common terrain in the real world. A friend is using an HF unit around his poultry yard. There is substantial underbrush and small trees between the poultry yard and the trailer where he lives. He has told me that the receiver unit will sound the alarm if left outside his door, but if he brings it inside the trailer, it will not work.

    Because of the thick brush between his trailer and the poultry yard, I haven’t tried to measure the distance from the sending unit to the receiving unit outside his trailer, but my best estimate is that it is over 100 yards. Unfortunately, there is a steep hillside to contend with beyond his trailer, so walking that receiving unit further away from the sending unit in order to test its maximum range isn’t possible.

  15. We use these styles as well. Scares outsiders and neighbors alike. We place them strategically ,,,and the alarms alert the dogs. Kinda like a doorbell the outsider didn’t know he was pressing. We make them water-proof with clear plastic toppers. Highly recommended in these times. Every layer of OPSEC helps.

  16. I use the HF model as well. Very happy with it, spray painted it grey to blend in with the tree it’s on. It lasts a long time on a 9V battery, indoor unit is plugged in.

    We also have numerous (7 at the moment with more to install) of the Mr. Beams motion lights. Highly recommended. I like that they’re battery operated so they can go anywhere. Again the batteries last a long time. Also, they can be synced so that more than one can go off if one gets tripped.

    Finally we have hardwired cameras (Amcrest, no Wi-Fi needed to operate but pushed to phone if Wi-Fi is on) that I’m happy with as well. If someone comes to the door I don’t even get up, just check my phone to see who it is.

    We did it all in pieces, driveway alarm, then a couple spotlights, then the cams, then a couple more spotlights. Considering an alarm system now.

  17. Just an observation, the ADT ads always have a burglar who is non-African. And, once inside, somehow the burglar runs off before the cops come. A Castle Doctrine solution would make better sense.

  18. We use Optex motion alarms in rural-ish SE USSA – at the QTH (home) & offices’ (past). Too many false & “no-alarms” to highly recommend these even “better motions,” unfortunately, due daytime heat convection, wind, every other hour just arriving…who knows..all caused incessant false daytime alarms. Nighttime is more reliable with these Motions, so they get turned ON then, mostly. Learned quick to confirm all motion alarms with immediate CCTV viewing, al-ways; prevents undesired encounters, heard but (at 1st) unseen, this way. Have used the cheapo Amazon versions, as per this article, but these were for us just garbage (in-garbage-out), truly. Maybe used within 25 ft & just windows might work, but we do have to negotiate our inside monitor/receiver units always going through a all-metal building (QTH), roof & walls, which is a huge issue unto itself, no doubt. Might try the Dakota system next plus external antennas; need some distance covered, as well, on a couple of transmitters, and possibly the lower frequency MURS transmit might help, too…dunno, though the UHF transmissions should’ve penetrated metal barriers better.

    Always looking for better ways to “watch our six” & so here are my bonus Pearl’s to throw in on this Blog, 1st time to comment here, which may or may not be new on this site, dunno.

    1) We use IR Flood “lights” (only on at night) to provide a flood of IR for the night CCTV system (which has too cheap IR built in each camera), one flood per whole viewed area. Works great! (See Link – but be advised, I have not tried this specific one.)

    2) We (from experience) ALWAYS carry the ultimate protection when we step outside our doors. ALWAYS now. Sad fact of the Times & Location we now live in. Did I say AL-WAYS? [Training recommended & required really.]

    3) Add in Bear Pepper Spray Cannister(s) – planted around property – for quick access to “Less Lethal,” if needed quickly.

    4) Always Think “Safety* First!” –> cuz it only takes once to lose it all!
    *(Security = same)

    5) ALWAYS carry a small bright LIGHT (to use esp. with any weapon).

  19. I’ve been using the Chamberlain IR motion sensors and base unit for two years and I just now replaced the batteries. Not sure how many sensors one base unit can support but I have six. The number of beeps indicates which sensor goes off. Love having an early warning when someone enters my property. Lot’s of rain here and no issues with that. The sensors have a little roof on top. They can be cleverly hidden, maybe spray painted bark color. Or put inside of a birdhouse. They kind of look like a little bird house anyways.

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