Applying Basic Principles of Home Security

Violent attacks on people living on farms is unfortunately a common occurrence in South Africa.

The statistics are concerning.

We discuss the problem, applying the Basic Principles of Home Security, from an earlier article, to the more specific case of a rural farm.

This article is aimed at people who live, or work on farms.

Please note this article does not pretend to be authoritative, nor represent expert opinion. We hope to be able to contribute some potentially useful additional discussion points or ideas, without diminishing, or criticising all the existing efforts that are already being made to keep people safe on farms.

Obviously each farm is different. And each set of circumstances is different. Feel free to explore those points which you feel may warrant more investigation, while discarding what is not applicable, or impractical, in your case.

Without repeating the earlier article in its entirety, the basic principles of home security can be summarised as:

  • The role of a barrier (such as a fence, gate, wall, door etc) is to slow down the attacker and thus buy you time to respond. All barriers can be breached, the only difference is the time it takes to breach different types of barriers.
  • Some form of intruder detection is needed to monitor each barrier. Detection is necessary to alert you to the fact that an attacker is in the process of penetrating the barrier. The detection system should alert you before the barrier has been been breached, not afterwards, so that you gain the benefit of the time it took the intruder to breach the barrier. Thus the detection systems should ideally monitor the outside of the barrier.
  • Ultimately, it is some form of response that keeps you safe, not the barriers and detection systems. All those do is buy you time, to organise an effective response.
  • Barriers should be arranged in concentric layers, each with their own detection system monitoring that layer. The combined effect of all the barriers should be to slow down the attackers sufficiently to allow time for your response to become effective.

When you apply these principles to a farm, where the farmhouse is usually quite far from the boundaries of the farm, and where the farm is often quite far from the nearest police, or armed response services, then the following characteristics become evident:

  • Unfortunately, attackers have a lot more time at their disposal, because the distances are much larger, so the time taken for help to potentially arrive is longer. This means that you need to be able to fend off the attackers for much longer than you would normally have to, in cities or towns.
  • Conversely, there is the potential for early warning of an attack on the farmhouse, if the attackers can be detected when they first cross the farm boundary, particularly if the distance from the boundary of the farm, to the farmhouse, takes some time to traverse.
  • Response from the police, armed response services, or neighbours, will be quite substantially delayed due to the distances they need to travel, to reach the farm. For this reason, the initial response is probably going to have to come from the you and anyone else living on the farm. Either that, or the barriers are going to need to be substantial enough to hold the attackers at bay for an extended period.
  • The detection systems, especially those on the farm boundaries, as well as those monitoring the outer layer barriers, are probably going to need reliable wide area networking due to the distances involved. Remote power sources will probably also be required.

Early Warning from Perimeter Detection

As we noted earlier, the only point of a barrier is to slow down your attackers, giving you time to respond. No barrier will keep attackers out indefinitely.

In a normal home, the first barrier layer is usually some sort of wall or fence around your property.

However in the context of a farm, while there is most probably already some form of fence around the farm, that fence is not designed to keep determined attackers out, to any great extent. It’s very easy to cut a wire fence, and in many cases, climbing over a farm fence is hardly a challenge.

But given that the boundaries of the farm are usually quite some distance from the farmhouse, there is a built-in time delay already in that configuration, provided you can detect when attackers first enter the property. For this reason, perimeter detection systems (beams, motion sensors etc) are probably more important than perimeter barriers, for farm security systems. But where necessary, you may need to upgrade the perimeter barriers as well (for example install a more substantial main gate, to make it harder for unauthorised vehicles to enter).

So when thinking about farm perimeters, the priority might be to devise some set of detection systems which will alert you the moment unauthorised people first enter the property. The sooner this happens, the more time you have to get to safety, as well as organise some form of effective response.

Obviously exactly what can be done will be very dependent on the specific circumstances. But in general, here are some technologies to consider:

  • Motion sensitive cameras that will send images to your cell phone, as well as trigger an alarm.
  • Gate beam sensors (which are quite cheap), that can be used to alert you when someone, or a vehicle, passes through a gate (or simply moves past a specific point). For example, these can be linked to cameras, so that when the gate beam is broken, the camera is activated, which then sends you an image. Some of these gate beam sensors have quite a long ranges (eg. 40m), so they can be used to cover quite wide gaps, or long straight narrow paths.
  • Long distance motion detectors, again linked to cameras.
  • Long distance beams, linked to cameras.
  • Electric fences can send alarms when they are activated.

Obviously, given that farms are quite likely to have animals moving around, detection systems need to be selected and deployed in such a way as to avoid being triggered by animals unnecessarily. For example you could place gate beam sensors, covered by cameras, across cattle grids, where animals are unlikely to trigger them. When anyone crosses the cattle grid, the gate beam will detect that.

It may be impractical, or too expensive, to cover the entire perimeter of the farm, but perhaps specific strategic points could be monitored, which represent the most likely ways of approaching the farmhouse. For example, all the main gates and natural choke points, through which people and vehicles normally enter, and move about the farm, could be covered.

The objectives here are simple:

  • Alert you when someone has entered and is moving about your property.
  • Allow you to confirm that those people should not be there.
  • Provide as much early warning of unauthorised intruders as possible, thereby enabling as much time as possible, to get to safety and organise an effective response.

Perimeter detection systems ideally need to be permanently armed, because an attack can happen at any time. You therefore need some way of allowing authorised people to gain access as they need, without triggering the alarm unnecessarily. This could be done in various ways, such as issuing people with key-ring remotes that allow them to pass through various points without triggering the alarm system.

Layered Barriers

The concept of a barrier was defined in a previous article. It’s basically some form of fence, wall, gate, or anything which is designed to physically obstruct the progress of the intruders.

You should arrange your barriers in concentric layers, like an onion, so that intruders have to penetrate successive barriers, in order to reach your family or your valuables.

Thus it probably makes sense to have some form of fence, electric fence or wall around the farmhouse, with access gates that are kept closed. Detection sensors and cameras should be arranged so that they monitor the outside of that wall or fence. The objective here is to sense when intruders reach the outside of that wall or fence and are attempting to get through, or climb over. Again, this gives you some warning, and some time to get to safety and organise a response. It may make sense, depending on the circumstances, to have that layer armed permanently, so that the alarm will sound whenever unauthorised people approach that wall from the outside? Authorised people could pass through that layer via some mechanism, such as temporarily deactivating the alarm system for a few minutes, when they open the gate using their key-ring remotes, for example.

The next obvious barrier layer is the walls, windows and doors of the farmhouse, with sensors and cameras monitoring the outside of the house. You would probably arm that layer at night, and during emergencies.

The last, but strongest barrier layer might be some sort of secure sleeping area, or safe room, inside the house.

But how exactly you choose to arrange your barriers will be up to you, and might depend on the practical limitations of your specific environment.

As you can see, the idea behind the concentric layers of barriers, is to slow down the attackers, as well as give you warning when they are attempting to penetrate each layer, with the sole objective of enabling your family more time to retreat to safety, as well as allowing you sufficient time to organise an effective response.

The required strength of the barriers in each layer will be defined by the time you need the barriers to resist penetration by the attackers, before your response becomes effective. So the outer layers may be relatively insubstantial, while the final inner layers might need to be quite strong, especially if you expect to have to wait a long time for help to arrive.

Response

Unfortunately, given that normal police and armed response services are probably quite far away, the initial defensive response will probably have to be performed by yourself, and/or the other people living on your farm, or nearby.

If you are expecting to perform your own response to any security situation, then no-doubt you will have already armed yourself appropriately, and hopefully received professional training for that. If not, you should definitely seriously consider getting professional advice and proper training, as well as frequent practice.

As we explained in our previous article on self defence, when you are subject to a life threatening attack, the “normal” parts of your brain tend to shut down and a far more primitive part of your brain takes over. This makes it very difficult for you to perform simple tasks, like use your cell phone, perform physical tasks that require dexterity, or fine motor skills. You will also have difficulty remembering everyday things, applying logical reasoning, and thinking clearly. You essentially become a clumsy stupid forgetful oaf under those circumstances!

Without proper training, and lots of repetitive practice, do not think that you will automatically “rise to the occasion” and magically transform into a combination of John Wick and Albert Einstein. In fact most professionals will tell you that your worst performance during practice, is the most likely level you will perform at, in the real event.

You may want to read our articles on the Basic Principles of Self Defence as well as Choosing a Weapon for Self Defence, because both articles cover additional points, which are very relevant here.

In addition, your family, and everyone else who might be involved, need to all know what they should do in those circumstances. They all need to be trained in, and practice those various things, as well, for the same reason.

The social problem is it may seem to be melodramatic, and perhaps macabre, to run practice drills on horrible scenarios that everyone hopes will never happen, and no-one wants to think about.

But the more you think this through in a calm, safe atmosphere, as well as get professional advice and training, the higher the probability of it all working out, in the ensuing terrifying chaos, if the actual event ever happens.

An important point to consider, is if more than one of you are armed, then you need to be practiced in specific techniques that avoid tragic situations, such as where family members shoot each other by mistake. You need to think about things like predefined standard verbal challenges and hand signals, to properly identify each other, even in the dark, under chaotic circumstances. You might also want to learn and practice close quarter shooting safety skills, to avoid common mistakes that cause tragic accidents, when people are shooting in teams, especially inside confined spaces. Again professional training is highly recommended.

Probably the best thing you could do, to learn some of these skills and keep them honed, is take up some form of relevant hobby or sport, such as the sport of 3-Gun combat shooting, or even just one of the martial arts. That way, practising may become fun, as well as maybe improving your fitness, skills and reflexes etc, instead of being nothing more than a horribly morbid chore.

Once your initial self response planning and training is sorted out, you will need to organise some outside response that will arrive after you call for help, or if your alarm system notifies them that help is needed.

The nearest people that could get to you quickly are probably your neighbours. You might want to discuss the matter with them, with the objective of reaching some sort of reciprocal agreement, to support each other, in the event of any attack? Although obviously, your neighbours may not be there at the time, or miss your call – so some sort of back-up plan will probably be necessary. In addition, not everyone will be eager to jump out of bed and rush towards the sound of gunfire in the night. So relying on your neighbours may, or may not, be possible.

Remember that a response needs to be effective (stop the attack from continuing), otherwise that might make the situation worse.

Who ever is going to respond to your call for help, you need to be realistic about how long they will probably take to reach you, and plan to be able to hold off the attackers, for at least that long.

Remember, ultimately it is effective response which keeps your family safe. All the other basic elements of security (barriers, detection, surveillance etc) are just there to give the responders sufficient time to become effective.

You should also be aware that when outside response arrives, they will not be able to easily differentiate friend from foe, especially in the dark, or if they arrive in the midst of a full-on shoot out. Make sure you, and everyone else in your party, fully understand what to do at that time (for example, do not assume the response teams will automatically know that you are not a criminal, especially if you are armed at the time), and be very clear in your communication with the response teams as they arrive, so that tragic accidents are avoided. This is another reason why professional training, and frequent practice is highly recommended.

Treating Medical Trauma

Farms are normally far from hospitals and paramedic services, whose response teams will take some time to reach you. Although this will obviously not be a surprise to most farmers, who no-doubt are used to dealing with that problem.

However, during a violent attack, you can do as much to save lives through basic trauma treatment, where necessary, as you could do by fighting off the attackers.

So it would probably be wise to invest in knowledge and training to be able to treat some foreseeable life threatening traumatic injuries and conditions. Especially those that cannot wait for the paramedics to arrive.

In particular, it is probably well worth learning how to control traumatic bleeding and perform CPR.

This includes getting the appropriate equipment and medical supplies, and making sure that is readily at hand, when needed. This is particularly important in the case of traumatic bleeding, where seconds sometimes count.

As usual, professional advice and training is well advised.

These medical skills and equipment are useful in every day life, even if you never have any sort of security problems, particularly on a farm.

Remote Sirens

Something to consider, which in our opinion, might make a big difference, is installing loud alarm sirens, at strategic points on the farm.

The idea is that you loudly announce to your attackers, as well as everyone else in ear range, that a potential attack has been detected, as soon as that happens.

Criminals are normally ambush hunters, they want to stealthily catch you off-guard, by surprise. They are often less inclined to press on with their attack, when they know they have been detected, hopefully long before they have even reached the farmhouse, and they are not sure what sort of response might be waiting for them there.

So for example, if your perimeter detectors sense intruders crossing the boundary, and then a nearby loud alarm siren suddenly starts wailing, there is a reasonable chance they will just turn around and go somewhere else, leaving you alone.

Of course, you cannot rely upon this as a sole means of keeping your family safe, but it certainly would help, in our opinion.

In addition, in situations where you and your family are out and about on the farm, loud sirens that go off the moment an intrusion is detected, will perhaps give sufficient warning for everyone to be able to get to safety, or at least not be caught completely by surprise.

Emergency Lighting

Following the same principle as loud alarms which activate when an intrusion is detected, you might want to think about adding exterior floodlights, that come on automatically, lighting up strategic areas, when the alarm goes off.

This might help in a few ways. Firstly you will able to see what is happening around you in the dark, when you need that most. You might be able to direct the beams of the searchlights in such a way as to blind attackers approaching the house, while making it difficult for them to see what is happening behind those lights. But also, you might gain the benefit of making it plain to the attackers that the odds are shifting against them and perhaps they will not be able to launch a quick and easy surprise attack. They may even decide to just abandon the attack all together, based on that development alone?

False Alarms

When you install alarm systems and use them, false alarms are inevitable. You should just accept that.

Obviously continuous false alarms becomes a real nuisance, and is highly irritating for everyone, so the system needs to be tuned and refined to avoid too many false alarms. When you first implement a new system, you should probably expect a higher incidence of false alarms, for that reason.

But it’s better to deal with the odd false alarm (which also provides you with the opportunity to practice your response drills and test their practicality), than to install some detection system which you then never switch on.

Wide Area Networks

Due to the distances between detection sensors, especially perimeter detection sensors, some sort of wide area network will probably be necessary, to enable the sensors placed far from the house, to be able to send and receive signals from the central system. The same problem applies to remote cameras placed out on the perimeter, or at other strategic points on the farm.

The are a number of different ways of achieving this. This article does not attempt to provide exhaustive options, or detailed designs, but the subject is discussed in general, to provide a starting point and perhaps define some of the issues that need to be considered.

Probably the first thing you might need to decide is what communication protocols to use for all your various security devices. For example, ethernet is a very widely used IT communications protocol, and thus many security devices and cameras use ethernet, so that may be a good choice.

If you do decide to use ethernet, then there are various ways in which devices can be linked to together:

  • Ethernet cable
  • Optical Fibre
  • WiFi

Optical fibre is probably the best overall option, from a performance point of view, because it allows very fast communications over long distances, is very reliable, and is unaffected by lightning and power surges. However it is also quite expensive, and needs specialised skills and tooling to install.

So perhaps the more practical answer is use Ethernet cable within the farmhouse, for important devices, long distance WiFi to link to remote sensors on the perimeter, and normal WiFi to connect everything else?

Nowadays there are some nice products available which enable you to build a high speed, wide area WiFi network, that covers quite long distances. In addition, one can even make your own WiFi antennae that boosts the ability of Wifi devices to connect to networks quite far away.

In addition, having high speed WiFi throughout the farm is useful in it’s own right, regardless of your security requirements.

You can also use specialised GSM modems, if you have strong reliable cell phone signal available, although that will require a separate SIM card for each modem, and you will have to pay for the data used by each card, every month.

In any event, there are many different options to explore.

The key objective is to decide on how you will get your central system to connect to the detection sensors and cameras out on the farm perimeter, and then get it all to work reliably.

Remote Power

Given that perimeter detection sensors and cameras might be quite far from the farmhouse or other electricity supply points, it is highly likely that you will need to set up some remote power sources.

In South Africa, we are blessed with excellent sunny weather, which makes solar power a good potential option in this regard.

A small solar system, for each remote location will consist of basically three components:

  • A solar panel.
  • A battery (the electronic devices are powered directly from the battery).
  • A charge controller, or if you want something more sophisticated, a Maximum Power-Point Tracker (MPPT). This device charges the battery using the solar power.

The amount of power you will need, to run a detection sensor, together with a camera and some networking hardware, is probably not very much. All you need to do is, add up all the power ratings of the various electronic devices in that location (in Watts) – you can get those power ratings from the documentation for each device. And then multiply that by 24, to get the number of Watt-hours needed per day (assuming the devices run 24/7). Once you have that estimate, you can use this calculator, to estimate the size of the various solar components, that you would need for a small solar system, which could provide power for those devices, throughout one day and night. If you want that solar system to be able to last through a few cloudy days, then multiply the sizes of all the solar components by the number of days.

You would probably set it all up on a pole, with the solar panel mounted on the top of the pole. If you are using long range WiFi, then the height of the pole would help gain a clear line of sight for the Wifi antennae to get good signal.

If you do opt to use solar power for your detection sensors and cameras, then you should choose electronic equipment that can run on direct current (DC), and where all electronic devices, on that pole, run on the same voltage (eg. 12V).

Other things you might want to look out for when selecting your equipment, is devices that automatically reboot and restart the Wifi connections periodically (so that if a device becomes “stuck” or unresponsive, you don’t have to climb up the pole, to reset them every few days). Or devices that can be restarted remotely.

Back-up Power

A security system that relies on electronic sensors and cameras needs to be operational all the time.

Your emergency lighting also requires power.

In addition, your communication systems, which you will be using to call for help, all might need power.

Given that Eskom has become so unreliable, and maybe your attackers might even cut the power—you should perhaps look at installing some form of back-up power system at the farmhouse, which is independent from outside electricity supply, which you can rely on during an attack.

This can be as simple as an inverter/UPS, driven by a few batteries and charged by a suitable battery charger, which provides a few hours of power to crucial equipment. Or it could be a solar system that powers some portion of the house, or a generator that starts automatically.

We suggest that you investigate the alternatives for yourself. The choice is yours.

Safe Rooms

It is quite likely that in the event of an attack, you might have to hold the attackers off for quite some time, before outside help can be expected. For that reason, you might want to think about some sort of really secure fall-back position, which your household could all retreat to, as the need arises.

This might take the form of a designated “safe room in your house.

The linked video advises that if you do not have sufficient armed response training, as well as plenty of practice, retreating to that safe room sooner, rather than later, is probably the best defensive plan for your family.

With some creative thought, and professional advice, all sorts of defensive positions might be built around that room, which could give you the advantage you need to endure a sustained determined attack.

For example, you could pick a safe room at the end of a long passage, and then install a security gate at the opposite end of the passage to the safe room. So in that case, the attackers would have to spend time trying force the security gate open, while being trapped in a narrow passage, completely exposed to your defensive fire from the safe room. You could do the same on the outside of that safe room, by building a courtyard, surrounded by a wall or security fence. So attackers could not easily get close to the safe room, without exposing themselves to fire from within the room.

The basic idea is you do not want a situation where you are relying on a security gate or door, where the attackers are right on the other side of that door, because then it is only a matter of time before they force that door open. And they potentially have plenty of time. You ideally want to be able to stop them from even getting close to the entrances to your safe room.

This might sound melodramatic, but the objective here is to be able to endure a determined attack, for quite some time.

Some things to think about when setting up and equipping that room are:

  • Obviously strong defences around the room as briefly described above. This would include bullet proof doors, walls and shutters, with firing positions designed to cover the approaches. This might include reinforcing the ceiling.
  • All your communication systems and electronic security systems should terminate in that room, and be powered from within that room. You should be able to access all your security cameras from within the room, so that you can see what is happening outside, on the rest of the farm. Extended antennae for radios, and Wifi, should terminate in that room.
  • Spare cell phones and radios.
  • Home defence weapons and ammunition.
  • Hearing protection for everyone (firing weapons inside a room will cause permanent hearing loss) and other ballistic safety equipment.
  • Medical supplies and equipment.
  • Fire extinguishers and fire prevention systems.
  • Torches and floodlights
  • Water and energy bars.

Escape Routes

Something else to consider is, if it becomes clear that you will not be able to hold off the attackers long enough for help to arrive, then perhaps some method of escape might be necessary.

For example, this might take the form of some way of getting to a vehicle from your safe room?

Obviously, exactly what can be done in this regard will be highly dependent on your specific home layout and the surrounding buildings.

But it is worth thinking about, and perhaps incorporating into the design of your safe room and your defensive plan as a whole.

Communications

After your detection systems have alerted you to a potential attack, and hopefully given you time to get everyone to safety, you may be forced to defend that safe position for some time, until help arrives, especially in the event of a sustained, determined attack.

The ability to call for help, is thus a crucial part of any farm defence plan.

So emergency communication methods are very important.

Many of these communication systems and methods are probably already in place on most farms, given the terrible long term trend of deadly farm attacks in our country.

Many alarm systems allow you to include automatic calls and messages, to specific outside phone numbers which are triggered when the alarm goes off.

In addition, some companies now have security response apps which run on smart phones, which include panic buttons, that send automated messages to a central call centre. These messages include your GPS coordinates. The central call centre, then coordinates police, as well as armed and medical emergency response, for you.

There are thus plenty of ways to call for help.

You should probably plan to use as many communication methods as possible, for redundancy, so you are not just relying on one message, which may not get through, or may be ignored, or misunderstood.

Be aware that under severe stress, due to your “normal” brain shutting down, your messages calling for help might sometimes become garbled, or non-sensical. For example in our local neighbourhood watch, when people are under real attack, they frequently only send one word “help”, or a very garbled voice message, with no other information. This makes it very difficult for responders to work out what is going on, where it is happening, and what should be done. As far as possible, when sending emergency distress messages, be as clear and complete as possible. Tell your responders who you are, where you are, what is happening, and what you need.

In the event civilians may be responding to your call, you might also want to make sure, in advance, that you are all agreed on what they should do, when they receive the call. The objective is to avoid lengthy negotiations at the time, confusion, or unexpected, or ineffective responses.

Again, this may require some sort of practice and testing, or at least discussion beforehand, so that you iron out any issues and set expectations, before you need outside response for real.

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