Facebook Twitter

HIGH-TECH CAN DETER LOWLIFES

SHARE HIGH-TECH CAN DETER LOWLIFES

In this year's hit film "Mission: Impossible," star Tom Cruise and his team first sneak into the Pentagon. Then, dangling precariously from ceiling ropes, he is able to gain illegal access to secret government computer files.

Doesn't make your home's security seem all that insurmountable, does it?While a master burglar can break into any dwelling if he has a mind to do so, there are plenty of ways to slow crooks down. Good lighting, a quality alarm system, dependable dead bolt locks, pruned shrubbery and well-hidden valuables all make your home a less-enticing target.

The $10 billion home-security business is growing due to a realization that one out of every six U.S. homes will be burglarized this year. However, this modern industry encompasses not only equipment to keep thieves out but items that improve the general safety of those residents within. Such protection includes smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, first-aid kits and carbon monoxide detectors.

When you add up the cost of your home, you should similarly add up how much you're willing to spend to protect it. A basic professionally installed home security system with alarm tied to a monitoring station, magnetic contacts on doors and windows and motion detectors costs around $1,500. The average cost for monitoring is $20 to $25 a month.

"Security companies are offering more diverse services, such as automated lighting or closed-circuit television, and today's larger, improved alarm keypads used to punch in security codes mean homeowners make fewer false alarms," said David Saddler, an executive with the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association in Bethesda, Md.

Also cutting the number of false alarms is improved verification by many monitoring companies. When an alarm sounds, the home is called first and the owner's identification number requested, a process that can eliminate the need to call police. (Each false alarm to which police respond can typically cost a homeowner $25.)

Don't use just any alarm company, but obtain recommendations from friends, neighbors and business associates. Call several companies for estimates. Contact your local police department, state licensing agency, consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau to determine a firm's trustworthiness.

"Make sure the company you choose knows what the local ordinances are for alarm systems, since they vary from county to county," counseled Carl Spigel, president of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and also president of Alarm Security Protection Corp. in Waterford, Conn. "Look for an alarm company that's associated with professional groups."

Get a reasonable warranty with your system and always read the fine print, since some cover nothing except a truly catastrophic meltdown, Spigel added.

Know the vulnerability of your home. One survey found that 81 percent of residential intrusions occur through the first floor. Thirty-four percent of burglars entered through the front door; 23 percent through a first-floor window; 22 percent through the back door; 9 percent through the garage; and 2 percent through a storage area. Only 4 percent entered through a basement.

You can save some money on insurance by improving home safety.

"You can receive a 2 to 15 percent discount on your home insurance coverage for installation of safety devices, depending on your particular coverage and the device," said Jerry Parsons, an executive with State Farm Insurance Cos. in Bloomington, Ill. "For example, you might get a 3 percent discount for a local alarm

that simply sounds a warning and acts as a deterrent."

There are other safety considerations.

"Think of all of the people in your home, such as kids, who must be kept away from areas where you don't want them to be and older individuals whose risk of falling can be decreased through proper lighting and handholds," said Mary Ellen Fise, general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America. "Read all instructions that come with any safety product so that you use it properly and receive full protection."

Every home should have smoke detectors (about $8 apiece); fire extinguisher ($30 to $50); first-aid kit ($10 to $25) and carbon monoxide detector ($50) to avert poisoning from combustion-burning appliances and heating systems. Each home should also formulate a fire evacuation plan, Fise said.