Having recently moved from a home on a one-acre lot at the edge of the country to an apartment complex on the outskirts of a small town, I have had to change my disaster contingency plans to suit my new environment. Living in an apartment in the suburbs has the advantage of allowing people to have a comfortable environment close to city conveniences and entertainment. However, apartment living has its significant disadvantages when in dire circumstances.
Communications may be cut off if landlines are damaged or cell phone towers are without power. Natural and man-made disasters play havoc with local or regional infrastructure, causing days-long emergencies with storms, floods, utilities outages, and the like, which may be difficult enough to weather even for well-prepared homeowners. Unless you and your family bug-out during a disaster you will be limited to your apartment and its immediate environs and also surrounded by the other tenants whom you may or may not be able to trust.
The basic needs of shelter, water, food, fuel, and security are constant regardless of one’s mode of housing. However, apartment living presents special challenges involving storage space, proximity to others, modifying the rented property, general security, entrance and egress to the property, and resource procurement. While some of these problems are endemic to apartment life, they can be exacerbated by emergencies, especially in true disasters and SHTF situations. Since so many Americans live in apartments in bedroom communities outside larger cities, they are obliged to use city services and conveniences. High-rise apartment dwellers in major metropolitan areas, especially those in government housing projects, face even greater challenges because they may be even more restricted in resources, activities, and space than their suburban counterparts.
Assess Your Threats
Securing an apartment involves many variables that are out of the renter’s control, such as the construction and layout of the apartment complex, the buildings, the surrounding land, and the like. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that we are dealing with a two- or three-story apartment complex of several buildings, with one main entrance coming from a main thoroughfare, one exit at the rear of the complex that leads into a neighborhood or a side street, and a perimeter fence that is more decorative than protective. Look at your particular apartment complex and the surrounding land. Do a general threat assessment, the same as you would if selecting a safe campsite or choosing a seat in a restaurant or theater.
Do some basic research on the level and type of crime in your part of town and the locations of registered sex offenders; the locations of the closest fire stations, police or sheriff’s substations, hospitals and emergency clinics; locations of schools, churches, women’s or homeless shelters (yes, even in suburbia); proximity to bars, clubs, theaters, or other entertainment venues; and possible environmental and transportation threats such as gas wells, refineries, factories, railroads, and truck hazmat routes. What types of properties are around your apartment complex (residences, warehouses, hayfields, wooded lots, etc.)?
Determine your escape routes for both car and foot traffic. If you had to evacuate your apartment complex, where would you go and how? What obstacles would you have to go around, over, or through? All of these questions deal with bugging out, but since exits are also entrances, consider the paths that incoming threats may take.
Door and Window Vulnerabilities
When doing a security assessment of your apartment, start with the doors and windows, keeping in mind your daily, average security needs when life is normal. Check with the management to see if the locks on the entrance and patio doors were changed since the last tenant, and if not, have them changed or re-keyed. In addition, many apartments have single deadbolt locks, so inquire about replacing them with double-cylinder deadbolts. Ask the maintenance staff to add a strike plate around the doorknob and to replace the standard short latch plate and hinge screws with three-inch screws that will reach far enough to anchor into the jamb studs, not just into the facing boards of the door frame. If you are fortunate enough to have a metal door frame, so much the better. In addition, be sure that the hole in the door frame that receives the deadbolt is drilled deeply enough to allow the entire length of the bolt to seat properly when the deadbolt is locked. I had to have this done in my apartment because the bolt would not extend its full length into the door frame.
At my old house, the back door had a weak frame and opened outward, so I made an oversized latch plate of one-eighth-inch-thick metal and attached it with long screws into the studs. Do not rely on the lock or deadbolt alone. Even if an intruder cannot apply enough force to the door to break the lock bolt, the wooden door frame may break away, allowing unauthorized entry. If possible, add a door blocking device of some sort to prevent intruders from forcing the door open. One of the simplest devices on the market is the Master Lock Door Bar, a telescoping adjustable steel pipe that has a rubber foot that grips the entryway floor and a forked head that hooks under the doorknob. When pressure is applied to the inward-opening door, the force is transferred to the non-skid foot, following the same idea as wedging a chair under the doorknob to block the door closed.
Sliding glass doors and windows are not as easily secured simply because of the ease of breaking the glass to gain entrance. A strong stick (such as a section of wooden broomhandle) cut to length and placed horizontally in the bottom groove of the sliding door or vertically in the side groove of the window won’t prevent intruders from breaking the glass, but it can prevent the door from being opened or the window sash being raised easily.
Can You Fortify an Apartment?
Under normal conditions, securing your individual apartment starts by denying access to unauthorized persons. In a worst-case SHTF situation in which you were forced to bug-in, how would you fortify your apartment? (Admittedly, we are talking about a worst-case survival scenario, so do not plan on a refund of your damage deposit.) While hardening the doors and windows is the starting place for any home security plan, the lengths to which you must go are often determined by the construction of your particular apartment building and the degree of the emergency. The following ideas do not form an exhaustive list by any means, but they focus on keeping intruders out of your apartment and away from your loved ones.
Remember that in a SHTF or WROL situation, protecting yourself and your family means adding whatever extra bolts, brackets, bars, or barricades to your doors and windows that you deem necessary to secure your living space, even if it be a rental. Use blackout curtains combined with practicing light discipline to avoid advertising that you are home or what you have. Similarly, eat foods that do not require cooking to eliminate smells that could draw undue attention. Develop a system for minimizing, sealing, and storing trash for the time being. Keep your doors and windows locked. Consider using long, stout screws to attach a boat cleat to a door frame with a loop of rope or small, welded-link chain tied around the door handle or knob to keep a door from being pushed inward or jerked open from the outside. (I have used this technique successfully to secure classroom doors.)
You’ll Need Some Hardware
Board up doors and windows if needed to keep out intruders, using large nails, screws, or even hex-head lag bolts that are long enough to anchor into the door or window frame studs. If you have extra time to prepare and can acquire plywood, then nail or screw ¾-inch plywood over the windows, as you would for hurricane preparation. For outward-opening doors, creating a loop of chain or rope attached to the doorknob that is then attached to a bar or board wedged tightly across the door frame can keep the door from being yanked open. (I used this technique on my house’s back door while in the process of installing new locks.)
Board up outward-opening doors so that even if an intruder kicks in the door, he must then get through your interior defensive wall.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)