The sky's really the limit these days in terms of the levels of defense you can install to protect your home and family. If you're just the least bit tech-savvy, you can equip your home with a surveillance system that only a few years ago would have cost thousands for a professional to install and monitor. Throw up a few Webcams around the outside of your house, and you could catch burglars in the act just by turning on your cell phone -- even if you're thousands of miles from home. But by the same token, you could thwart a robbery with a low-tech $10 door alarm.
So, what do you need to keep your home and family safe? A state-of-the-art home alarm system? A wireless doorbell equipped with a hidden camera? A baby monitor with a night vision camera? Mandatory iris scans for all visitors? It obviously depends on your situation and budget (and, let's face it, level of paranoia), but here are 10 options to consider -- from the bare-bones to the insanely high-tech -- if you want to beef up the defense around the people you love the most.
GPS Tracking Devices
Nowadays, you can track just about any object you can slap a GPS transmitter on -- cars, bikes, motorcycles, kids, dogs, you name it. If you want to protect your car in case it's stolen, just install a tracking device in the trunk. Worried about your newly licensed teen driver? There are GPS devices out there -- some that can be linked to your cell phones -- that will monitor his or her speed and location (and even alert you when the car enters an unapproved location). You can also mount a camera on the dashboard that will allow you to monitor your teen's every move while he or she is in the car. And don't forget about Fido -- the dog can even get in on the act when you attach a tiny GPS monitor to his collar.
Most people who have home alarm systems live under the assumption that the setup will prevent them from ever being robbed. A fair assumption, right? Not necessarily. While it's true that a potential burglar might pass up a home that clearly has an alarm system, police response times in many areas are so slow that the culprit will probably have time to get away even if an alarm does go off. However, studies do show that robbers leave faster (and thus take less stuff) when there's an alarm system in place. And neighborhoods that have a high density of home alarms are generally safer. So that's a little bit of comfort -- and you'll also get a decent discount on your homeowner's insurance if you have an alarm system. So, when in doubt, just get one.
Home Surveillance Equipment
Private home security cameras used to be the domain of the very rich (or very paranoid), but they're pretty common these days, and you don't even need a professional to install them. Just mount a few (fairly inexpensive) wireless cameras in strategic locations, connect them to your home computer network, and voila -- you have your very own surveillance system.
You can watch the camera feed from anywhere with Internet access -- all you have to do is enter an IP address into any Web browser, even the one on your cell phone. It's pretty simple, but if all this sounds like too much trouble, you can always install a dummy camera (complete with blinking LED light) in a prominent spot -- who knows, it could be enough to keep intruders at bay.
Video Intercom Systems
Sometimes it's just not a good idea to open the door when a stranger is ringing the doorbell. (OK, it's never a good idea to open the door for a stranger.) Sometimes even peering through a window or opening a curtain to see who's standing on the other side of the door is not a good idea. And yes, we admit it -- sometimes it's just too much of a hassle to walk across the house to see who's there.
Video intercom systems let you get a good look (and even a listen) at visitors without having to get too close. They also provide crucial distance and time if the caller does not, in fact, have good intentions.
So if you'd like to put another level of security between you and the stranger at the door, a video intercom system is the way to go.
Child Abduction Alarms
If you're a parent, you're probably familiar with the feeling of panic that arises when you lose sight of your child in a public place. After a seemingly endless couple of minutes of frantic searching, you usually find your kid hiding in a rack of clothes or striking up a conversation with a fellow 3-year-old. A child abduction alarm could spare you some undue panic -- and possibly stop your child before he or she goes too far. Yes, that's a scary name, but in all likelihood it will just help you curb chronic wandering. Your kid wears the transmitter around his or her neck, and you hold on to the receiver, which you can set for between about 6 and 30 feet (1.8 to 9 meters). It won't keep your children glued to your side at every minute, but at least you'll have peace of mind if they stray.
Magnetic Door Alarms
If you're not quite ready to spring for a full home alarm system -- or if you want an extra layer of protection on top of the system you already have -- you might want to look into magnetic door alarms. You place the small, two-piece plastic devices on either side of a door opening, and when the door is opened as little as a centimeter and a half, it sets off an extremely loud (110-plus decibels) alarm. Of course, a $10 alarm isn't going to call the police -- and a seasoned thief will know this -- but it could be enough to scare away a more inexperienced burglar. Some also tout magnetic door alarms as a way to keep small children from wandering outside, but we're wondering what those 110 decibels would do to the poor kid's ears …
Baby Monitor with Wireless Night Vision Camera
Back in the day, people kept an "eye" on their sleeping babies by using their ears: Silence was a good thing. No crying or screaming equals a soundly sleeping child, right? Then audio baby monitors hit the market, and parents could be aware of every whimper from anywhere in the house. But silence was still a good thing. Then came video monitors, and parents could be aware of their child's every movement from anywhere in the house -- because what if silence isn't a good thing? Now we have monitors with wireless, multi-angle, night vision cameras and handheld LCD screens. Is this a good thing? We say anything that gives parents a little peace of mind in the middle of the night can't be entirely bad.
Guns are certainly an option for protecting yourself, your family and your home, but we think we'll leave that can of worms unopened on these pages. But if you're looking for an effective nonlethal weapon with which to deter intruders, a Taser might be for you. Yes, pepper spray and mace could very well incapacitate a trespasser, but you never know how strong the effect will be. Stun guns do the job, too, but the gun has to make physical contact with the victim, which could mean putting yourself in harm's way. With a Taser, you can be 15 feet (4.5 meters) away from the victim. Interestingly, a police study in New Zealand showed that in 80 percent of cases, perpetrators were scared away by the mere display of the Taser's laser sight [source: iTaser].
Wireless Doorbell with DVR
It sounds pretty ingenious -- a wireless doorbell with a hidden camera that records everyone who comes to your door. Most of these systems record high-resolution images (with audio) in a memory card that you can insert into your computer or phone, allowing you to see who's been at your home. The only catch is -- the system is activated only when the doorbell is pressed. So sure, it could come in handy if you realize you just missed the doorbell ringing and want to know who was there (or if you're just curious about who rings your doorbell while you're away), but it probably won't help you catch a thief -- unless that thief happened to ring the doorbell before he broke in to your home.
Robot Guards and Drone Helicopters
So far, pretty much everything we've listed in this article has been attainable for the masses -- regular folks who want to protect their homes and families in a reasonably affordable way. But what if you have money to burn (and an insane amount of goodies to protect)? Well, you could start off with a couple of robot security guards that can spot intruders with infrared beams and shoot them with paint guns. A daily fly-over or two by a camera-equipped drone helicopter never hurts, and it also might be a good idea to require all visitors to submit to an iris scan. If you're thinking about budget, most obscenely rich people spend about 25 percent of their property value on security. So get to it!
For more information about home security and how to protect your family, scan the links on the next page.
Is your house full of unwanted CDs? Learn seven ways to get rid of your unwanted CDs at HowStuffWorks.
More Great Links
- Biggs, John. "Installing Your Own Home Security System." New York Times, June 30, 2010. (Accessed Sept. 9, 2010). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/garden/01hometech.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=home%20security&st=cse
- Brick House Security. "Pan/Tilt Wireless Baby Monitor." (Accessed Sept. 11, 2010) http://www.brickhousesecurity.com/wireless-baby-monitor.html
- iTaser.com. "Facts: How TASER ECDs Help You Defend Yourself." (Accessed Sept. 12, 2010) http://www.itaser.com/facts.html
- Magid, Larry. "Can GPS Prevent Child Abductions?" CBSNews.com, Sept. 9, 2009. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/09/01/scitech/pcanswer/main5278820.shtml
- Newsweek. "Home, Secure Home." June 25, 2005. (Accessed Sept. 9, 2010) http://www.newsweek.com/2005/07/24/home-secure-home.html
- O'Donnell, Jayne. "How to Keep Tabs on Your Teen Driver." Edmunds.com. (Accessed Sept. 12, 2010) http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/121396/article.html
- Sullivan, Paul. "Weighing the Value of a Home Security System." New York Times, April 30, 2010. (Accessed Sept. 9, 2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/01/your-money/household-budgeting/01wealth.html?scp=3&sq=home%20security&st=cse
- Time.com. "Technology: Protecting the Home Front." July 3, 2005. (Accessed Sept. 9. 2010)http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1079513,00.html
- The "Today" Show. "Safe and Sound in Your Home." April 1, 2010. (Accessed Sept. 9, 2010)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/3079239
- Whitely, Jason. "IPhone 'App' Thwarts Burglary for Out-of-Town Couple." WFAA.com, Aug. 23, 2010. (Accessed Sept. 9, 2010)http://www.wfaa.com/news/iPhone-app-thwarts-burglary-for-out-of-town-couple-101350129.html