Residential Security: Protecting Your Family, Home and Valuables - An Introduction

Residential Security:  Protecting Your Family, Home and Valuables - An Introduction

July 18, 2011 – Karl Lotter

This article and the rest of the residential security series is for anyone who wishes to increase their level of security at home. Although the series has an emphasis on residential security, this will naturally contribute to an increase in your level of personal security. It is substantially different to the security of corporate, commercial and industrial premises, which will be dealt with in different series of articles. Aviation and maritime security will not be dealt with in the current or forthcoming series.

There are many reasons why you can decide to improve on or increase your level of personal security and similarly the security of your family, home and valuables. Given the value of human life, followed by the product of all your hard work, the decision to increase your level of security should always be proactive rather than reactive.

Proactive reasons include increasing your level of security: for reductions in the cost of insurance, especially in respect of contents insurance; in line with threats such as an increase in local crime involving residential premises; or following recent investment in fixed or moveable assets. These examples are by no means exhaustive. Generally we proactively increase the level of our security as a precaution and simply for increased peace of mind.

Reactive reasons include increasing your level of security as result of: being a direct or indirect victim of a crime, including crimes perpetrated against a member of your household, family or friends; significant changes to personal status such as a substantial increase in your wealth or position; or injury to yourself or others; or as a consequence of ill-health. Again, the examples are by no means exhaustive. Generally we reactively increase the level of our security following 'incidents', as a preventative practice against future incidents (actual risk) and again for increased peace of mind in this respect.

The problem is that the latter reactive state requires that you have already suffered damage (including perhaps personal injury) or loss (including perhaps that of life). It is therefore more beneficial to act in a proactive manner rather than a reactive one.

There are many precautions you can and should take to ensure your safety and security. These precautions can be applied to any residential premises and include three core areas of activity, which are to:

- Assess

- Control

- Maintain

First you should assess the nature of risk as it applies to you, your family and your assets, looking at the many factors influencing risk. Secondly you appraise and decide on differing levels and types of controls that can be implemented to manage, reduce or eliminate risk. Thirdly you look at how you should manage and maintain controls and more importantly avoid complacency.


You should carry out an assessment referred to as a 'risk assessment' in order to identify hazards, quantify risks, evaluate and implement controls and manage your resulting security system by way of set procedures.

A hazard is an unavoidable risk, which even if foreseeable can cause unavoidable damage or loss. A hazard can also be the lack or absence of predictability (i.e. chance or uncertainty). A hazard is simply anything that has the potential to cause damage or loss.

A risk is the degree of probability that damage or loss could occur, including the type and extent of damage or loss. A risk is simply the chance that damage or loss could occur in certain circumstances.

A risk assessment is a process of estimating the severity and likelihood of anything that could directly or indirectly result in damage or loss. Severity is the 'extent of damage or loss' and likelihood is the 'chance that damage or loss could actually happen'. By damage we also mean injury to ourselves or others, including the environment; and by loss we also mean that of life. This assessment comprises either or both a quantitative and qualitative appraisal of hazards (i.e. unavoidable risks) and (avoidable) risks. Note that for the remainder of the article we refer to both 'hazards and risks' as 'risks' for reasons of brevity.

Quantitative risk assessment uses modelling to determine the probability of what can go wrong, how likely it is to happen and how severe the impact. Results are often represented by a numerical percentile, such as "there is a 24% chance of a particular outcome or occurrence."

Qualitative risk assessment is based on qualitative data or provides a qualitative result. Results are often represented by a statement, such as "there is a moderate to high risk of a particular outcome or occurrence."

When conducting your risk assessment there are a number of common risks that should routinely be taken into account. In addition to these there are several other risks typically associated with residential premises. Together these might not account for all the possible risks associated with your particular premises or indeed circumstances. These common risks include in no particular order:

- Fire

- Flood

- Theft

- Burglary

- Home Invasion

- Trespassing

- Unsafe Condition

- Accident

Remember that risk may increase or decrease in terms of both severity and likelihood and the scale of risk can also depend on who you are, where you live, how you live, when you are in and away and what you have in, on and around your premises.

In the next article we take a closer look at how to carry out a simple form of risk assessment, taking into consideration typical factors influencing risk and how this relates to residential premises. It is important to note that there are many reputable security consultants and contractors that can carry out formal risk assessments on your behalf. In our opinion (as risk assessments are often free of charge) it would be valuable to get at least two assessments completed in addition to your own.


After you have conducted your risk assessment it is time to consider what action to take and what measures to put in place to manage, reduce or eliminate risk. Controls can be divided into principal types as follows:

Environmental Controls: including elements such as location, landscape, architecture and build.

Physical Controls: including elements such as fencing and gating, locks, lighting, safety equipment, safes, strong-rooms and panic-rooms.

Electronic Controls: including elements such as fire and intrusion detection, surveillance (and remote monitoring). Note that electronic controls are often employed in managing physical controls.

Operational Controls: including elements such as set procedures for the management and maintenance of your security system.

Precautionary Controls: which include elements such as incidental or planned shutdown and storage procedures when away for longer periods, including controls: regarding the presence of 'sitters' such as a child, house or pet-sitter; ad hoc visits (patrols) from a security company, family or neighbour; and perhaps even security officers and or guard dogs.

The examples provided above are in no way exhaustive. Controls should however always be proportionate to the risk. Any integrated security system will mean that you will have to get used to carrying out a number of tasks or activities in relation to it. Overly complex (i.e. too many controls) will influence your personal life and living arrangements to the extent that they become prohibitive even to you.

There is always a cost involved with implementing controls. If you employ an overly complex system, costs (installation, monitoring and maintenance) will increase proportionately and this could have you investing disproportionately in your security system. A very simple example of this would be spending an asset (i.e. money) on protecting another asset of less value (such as spending thousands on a high quality safe to keep secure assets valued at only a few hundred).

In future articles we take a closer look at how to appraise and decide on what controls to implement, taking into consideration costs as well as factors influencing risk. It is important to note that there are many reputable security contractors that can implement (install) controls on your behalf. We recommend that controls of certain specifications are installed by industry approved contractors - as this could have an effect on many factors such as operability, capital outlay, level of security, degree of damage or loss suffered or prevented and it can even effect insurance contributions and claims.


Now that you have decided on the necessary controls and have implemented your security system, you have a responsibility to maintain the efficiency of that system. If the system is not maintained, it can fail to the extent that it reintroduces or increases risk, leaves you open to the original risks for which the controls were implemented and consequently becomes a liability.

The following terms (representing precautionary activities to be carried out) are synonymous with the maintenance of an effective security system:

Train: making sure you and your family knows how the security system works and how to properly operate it. This extends to those you employ, for example 'sitters'.

Inspect: carrying out regular inspections of the state of controls and whether or not the control indicates a previous attempt to breach your security system.

Test: carrying out regular tests of controls and determining whether these work as expected. This is especially relevant concerning electronic and powered controls.

Service: ensuring that controls are in a good state of repair and operate at optimum efficiency.

Repair: ensuring that any ineffective or damaged controls are fixed or replaced to operate at optimum efficiency.

Update: regularly examine controls to determine whether updating a particular control will assist in reducing risk further. This includes ensuring that you have the up-to-date version of a particular control, especially controls utilising communications or software support.

Replace: redundant controls with improved controls or add new controls based on emerging threats or increased risk.

Remove: redundant controls which are no longer required or those which through development of other controls now inhibit the security system.

In future articles we will take a closer look at constituent elements involved in these procedures. Again, we recommend that controls of certain specifications are maintained by industry approved contractors, especially in terms of servicing, repair, replacement or removal. You should in any case keep a log of any activity and who it was performed in addition to keeping your insurer informed of any significant changes to your security system.

It is important to note that one of the most significant risks to your security system is the human condition of complacency. As complacency can have serious repercussions it is regarded as a moderate to high risk in itself. It is important to ensure that you have precautionary controls in place to avoid complacency, which will be discussed later on in the series.

As we can see there are many elements to undertaking a project for the development of your home security system. The complexity of residential security tends to increase in line with the level of threat. Your requirements may only demand a minimum rather than a moderate or maximum level of security. Depending on your circumstances there is a sliding scale of control you will need to implement to deal with common, residential-specific and personal threats. During the series you will start to gather what is right for you in terms of your security requirements. You don't have to go it alone, remembering that there are many trade recognised and industry registered security professionals that will be willing to concede certain elements (such as risk assessments) on the premise of gaining future business from you. Always shop around for the best deal, which of course never means the cheapest.

Karl Lotter is a project manager working within the security, education and welfare to work sectors. He is currently consulting on behalf Enso Summit for Enso Consulting and Enso Professional Development & Training.

Look out for future articles in the Residential Security series. The series is for anyone who wishes to increase their level of security at home. Although the series has an emphasis on residential security, it will naturally contribute to personal security when at home.

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