*Securing Your Apartment - #1 ALARMS*
By: BelindaJo
04 November 2006

Many people in apartments feel that they have no control about many of their security issues because of the temporary nature of apartment dwelling. However, with a little planning and ingenuity, this series of articles aims to give the control back to the residents. Each article will deal with issues specific to apartment living with special attention paid to the challenges that apartment dwellers face: space management and storage issues, and not being able to make any permanent changes to the unit. After all, most management companies won't even let you paint!

My apartment came equipped with an alarm system, but not everyone is so fortunate. An easy and inexpensive solution is the small alarms that attach to doors and windows. These run anywhere from $8-$16 for eight, enough to do all the doors and windows in most apartments. The upside is that it is economical, emits an alarm that should deter most burglars, it is battery powered so loss of electricity doesn't leave you without a system, and lets you know if someone has opened a door or window into the home. The downside is that you don't know which window or door has been comprised except by checking physically by following the sound of the alarm, batteries will need replacing, it doesn't detect broken glass, so if the pane is smashed and they don't open the window, there is no alarm, and it is not monitored by a service, so if you are not home and they ignore the alarm, no one like the police or fire department will be notified.

If you want something with a little more substance, a wireless alarm system might be a better way to go for an apartment. There are several different wireless install it yourself kinds, starting at around $50 at home improvement stores, without monitoring. Monitoring starts at around $10 a month. The great thing about this kind of system is that it can be completely portable. Take it with you when you move! With adhesive attachment to windows and doors, there are no screws necessary depending on the type you purchase. You also do NOT need a land line for some of these systems, so even if you have no land phone, the system is still being monitored via cellular communications technology if you choose it to be monitored. Of course if the cell towers go down, you will lose monitoring. The good thing is that you have a choice whether to monitor or not and the compromised zone should show on the control panel, so no guessing which door or window has the intruder. Plus there is no wire for a thief to cut or pull that will stop it from monitoring. It does have a heftier start up cost than the less expensive contact alarms discussed earlier.

85% of break-ins occur on the first floor. However, when there is an outside staircase up to the second floor as most multi-leveled apartment complexes have, no apartment entry is safe. I personally know of a woman who was sitting in her apartment on the second floor when a ladder was suddenly placed against the window ledge she had ajar in the living room. When she looked down, in her words, a crack head was starting to climb up the ladder to get into her apartment. She asked the guy just what he was doing, and he mumbled something and just kept right going! She pushed that ladder off the window, told the guy to leave, and dialed 911. Just because you are on the second floor does not mean your windows or balconies are safe!

Further, just because your apartment DID come with an alarm does not mean you should be complacent. Do you know how to disconnect the alarm in case of a short? Do you know if you can plug your alarm into an inverter during a power outage to make use of the panel to self monitor your doors and windows? You should have a back up plan or system in place in case your system goes down.

Other alarms that you should consider installing (even if that just means using double sided sticky tape and attaching it to a door) are carbon monoxide monitors, and fire alarms that are battery operated. Many new apartments have these alarms hardwired, which makes the monitors useless in a long term power outage situation. Although they may have battery back-up, whom can say for certain when the batteries were installed and if they are functioning properly.

Article 2 will deal with how to fortify your windows/doors in case long term isolation is needed, including barricades, braces, and weatherproofing.

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