Stealth on the home-security front

My family recently took a short vacation, and, upon returning home, I was about to run an errand when I realized a set of car keys was missing. After a moment of panic, the truth dawned on me: I had deliberately hidden the keys before leaving, so burglars wouldn't be able to use our vehicle for their getaway.

Home protection is now a major industry, offering a wide range of sophisticated options for thwarting potential intruders. No security system is foolproof, though. Locks can be forced, alarms sometimes malfunction, and watchful neighbors get careless. But if my walls are breached, stealth is the last line of defense.

The missing keys were nestled in the pocket of an old jacket. I prefer the plain-sight method of concealment for small objects. A memorable example is the scene in "Casablanca" where Humphrey Bogart casually slips the coveted letters of transit into Dooley Wilson's piano for safekeeping. Unfortunately, countless showings of the movie have pretty much destroyed the effectiveness of pianos as hiding places.

In fact, it's hard to keep any tactical secrets during this ongoing social conflict. If numerous friends recommend placing valuables in the freezer compartment to prevent theft, you can be sure the advice is common knowledge on both sides of the law. I'm amused by novelty storage devices such as plastic garden rocks and fake mayonnaise jars. Their oddly unreal appearance practically screams out, "Look, there's a wad of cash inside me!"

My strategy is to keep trespassers unfocused and misdirected. Clutter, often a liability in household management, is an asset against crime. Prowlers like to work fast. I hope to slow them down by presenting an obstacle course of dirty clothes, stray shoes, and old Christmas boxes, any of which might contain rare, precious heirlooms. A guessing game can be very distracting.

Disinformation is also useful. A cryptic note on a kitchen counter helps create sudden anxiety for uninvited visitors with this warning: "Hey Dad - if you stop by, don't stay long. Termite guy sprayed poison everywhere!"

But in any battle of wits, total victory is rare. I'm willing to concede a few points to the other side. My belief is that once the crooks find something nice, it may hasten their departure. So whenever we go on a trip, I do a sloppy job of hiding a collection of commemorative space medallions. They were marketed by a private mint in the 1970s and have been steadily decreasing in value ever since.

Most important, I'm always looking for ways to improve the system. A few days ago, I found some aging bell peppers in the refrigerator. Hollowed out, they'd be perfect for stashing jewels and gold rings. Or a spare set of car keys.

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