How to arrive home safely at night. This post is inspired by a recent change in our lives. Our youngest daughter has just started university. To make her commute easier, she stays in a house closer to the city during the week and sometimes has to arrive home to an empty property after dark. Security Shot 5 is for all the young women out there who must face the unknown of the dark after a long day.
Develop Plan B
Before we get into the detail on how to arrive home safely, let’s consider your Plan B. Your Plan B is what you are going to do when things might go wrong. Plan B needs to be considered NOW and not when you are arriving home. Take a few moments and find the answers to these questions:
- Identify a safety zone: Where could you drive or walk to, that is close to your home if you felt you were in trouble? This could be a neighbor, a retail shop, a filling station or a police station. It must be a place that is easy to reach when you are in a blind panic and can barely remember your name. You might even have to knock on the door of a family you have never spoken to. If this is your only option, try to pick a home with children rather than the weird single man who walks to the bottle store every day at 11 o’clock.
- Identify a go-to person: Who could you call on for help after dark? It could be a security company, a nearby friend or a neighborhood watch patroller. This person must be someone that is easily reachable and that can get to you relatively quickly. Have the cell phone number of this person saved in the favorites on your phone so that when your hands are shaking it’s easy to give them a call.
- Know your address: Do you and those close to you know where you live? It’s no good getting the police on the line if you don’t know where you live. Alternatively, you may be on the phone to a friend and have to ask them to call for help. Know your street address and make sure those close to you know your street address.
- Equip yourself for trouble: Are you geared for a fight? There may be times when you have no option but to defend yourself. Consider a good self-defense course (this article will help you pick a good self-defense school). If becoming a living weapon is not part of your life path, then consider pepper spray or a shocking device. With proper training, a knife can be an option. But like a firearm, a knife is a commitment to blood, brutality and potentially lethal force. The laws regarding the right to carry weapons differ from one country to the next; so improvised weapons like a solid pen or a fire extinguisher could also be used. Whistles or air horns are also an option. Program emergency numbers such as your local security company and the police into your phone. Carry a small flashlight in your car or handbag.
Arrival in the Dark
- Approaching your home in a car: Danger doesn’t necessarily lurk within the house. Many attacks are initiated as a person enters the driveway, or is busy opening the door to an apartment. Often your hands are full and your hair in a tussle from the day’s events. Keeping safe begins when you are approaching your home, two to three minutes before you arrive. In the car, turn down the radio, ignore the all-encompassing phone and check out who is behind you.
In order to arrive home safely, it’s better to turn into the driveway when the street is clear than when your mirror is filled with a set of anonymous oncoming headlights. If there is a car behind you, then drive a loop around the block. If the car follows you, do not go home. Activate Plan B! It’s also important to check the pavement for pedestrians. At a sprint, ten meters (10,9 yards) can be covered in a few seconds by someone on foot. Keep driving until you are confident that your approach is clear.
Lastly, if your house has a home security system that allows for a panic button, it’s worth having one in the car. Test it to make sure that it works from your driveway.
- Walking home after dark: Walking into the environment requires your direct situational awareness. You need time to determine whether you are under threat because escaping on foot is that more difficult than in a car. Start by removing your earphones. Sound is a very important tool for pedestrian safety. Notice who is in your immediate environment (our situational awareness and self-awareness posts will help you develop those Jason Bournette skills).
Try to pack your personal items in such a way that you are hands-free. If you carry a self-defense tool like pepper spray it must be easily accessible (pepper sprays are active creatures that occasionally like the fresh air, they do not thrive at the bottom of a handbag with the old chewing gum that escaped its packaging). And no; hairspray or deodorant are no substitutes for pepper spray. Complicated door opening maneuvers involving elbows and chins will distract you from noticing the sound of approaching footsteps, or the tell-tale swoosh of air as a predator moves into your personal space. If you feel uncomfortable walking, try to find an alternative way to get home, or activate Plan B.
- Do an environmental scan: As you enter the outer space of the property, scan the area for changes. It could be a displaced dustbin next to the window, a security camera that’s misaligned, a door that’s slightly ajar, or a light that should be on but is not. Perhaps the dog is barking at a particular set of bushes or the cat, which usually tries to do the feline slalom through your legs won’t come down from a wall.
Unusual changes in your space can be indicators of trouble. If those changes feel wrong, it’s because they are wrong. They are like a big red no entry sign. When this sign pops up in your head, it’s time to call in your Plan B help to check the space out before you enter your home.
- What if there’s no one you can call on and you have to go in? Equip yourself with your defense tool. This is where the flashlight is going to come in handy. There are various choices available to you:
Get uber-aggressive: It’s time to activate your inner bad-hair day. You are going to make an all-out charge for the front door. You shout at the dog; kick the garden fence and move like a pit bull that just had a bad experience with a chili bottle. The door keys are in your pocket, so they are easy to reach. You rip the door open and slam it shut with a growl for effect.
Do a defensive check of the house: Once again get yourself ready for trouble; keys in pocket, defensive tool, and flashlight in hand. If you are going to investigate the environment, do not pick the obvious route. You know your property, so anticipate the trouble spots. Use the flashlight to highlight the hidey-holes that make your hair stand on end. Move quietly and occasionally stop to listen for changes in the environment. Before relinquishing your flashlight for the front door keys, carefully scan the area around the door. The entry is your next concern.
If you encounter a person in the dark it’s going to be up to your fight, flight or freeze response to help you. If you choose to fight or run, it needs to be so loud that it reaches the outer edge of your vocal limits. Every house or apartment within a one-mile radius must know that you are in trouble. Your voice is a powerful tool.
The Entry into the dark
- Open the door with your hands and not your eyes: This may sound obvious, but when you use your eyes to focus on the door lock you lose your peripheral vision. It’s like trying to look through a keyhole through a pair of straws. Practice opening the door without looking at the door lock. After a few tries, you will be able to lift your chin up and easily monitor your environment with no straws, just perfect surround-sound, and all-area vision.
- Use the door as a tool: You step into the house, but you don’t know if the threat is inside or outside the house. To deal with this, you close the door and apply your weight by placing your shoulder and knee to the door. In this way, you have created a barrier between yourself and the outside, alternatively, you can make a quick escape if there is a problem inside the house.
- Scan the environment for the unusual: So now you have made it into the dark house and closed the door behind you. A very quick scan will tell you about the house. This process just takes a few seconds. The human visual system is not developed for the dark, but you have three other senses that become much more sensitive in low light conditions:
Listen to the sounds in your home. Every home has its own sounds; the hum of the refrigerator, the tick of a kitchen clock or the patter of a dog’s feet on the floor. Take a moment to listen.
Smell the air in your home. Like the sounds, your home has its own smells. Lift your chin and draw in the air through your nose. Out of place, odors like the smell of cigarettes in a non-smoker’s home are a warning to get out and activate Plan B.
Use your sense of touch. Your skin will tell you of draughts of wind, or sources of heat that are out of place.
- Lock the door: Scan complete; you lock the door and give it a tug to ensure that it’s actually locked. Once again, use your hands to deal with this; your eyes don’t need to be involved in this maneuver.
- Check your home: No, you are not home safe just yet. You must check the house. The sequence in which you choose to search from room-to-room will be determined by the structure of your home. If possible, start with your safest room. In that way, if you have to retreat to this room in an emergency, you know it is clear. Once again you are looking for signs of a disturbed environment. Each home should have a panic room. This is a room that you can run to that is equipped for emergencies. Click here to learn more about setting up a panic room.
- Secure the fort: Move through your house, physically checking all the doors and windows. Closing the curtains provides visual security from a predator attempting to monitor you from the outside.
Kick off your shoes
Is everything just the way you left it? Doors locked and curtains drawn? Are the animals behaving normally and the only sound outside is that nice neighbor shouting at her kids to go to bed. Do you feel comfortable? There is just a little prep left to do. If you have a home security system, check that it’s activated and that you know where the panic buttons are. The same goes for your self-defense tools. These must be placed in exactly the same place every night. Get the phone on charge so that you have lots of talk power, pat the dog and kick off those shoes. You’ve made it through another day.
(Special thanks to Galit “The Student Rebel” Mordecai who acted as inspiration for this article and is still owed danger pay for filming the footage for this post).