26 July 2010

Trapped in your fort?

Your house is a fortress. Bars, alarms, spikes, gates. No one can get in. But can you get out?


Your house is on fire and you need to get out quickly with your children and your pets. But how? Every door and window has burglar bars or security gates to keep intruders out. But now it’s keeping you in – and in your panic you can’t find the keys.

Nightmare scenario? Yes, but not an unlikely or unusual one, according to Nelmarie du Toit, assistant director of the Child Accident Prevention Foundation in Cape Town. “Many people are caught in their own homes by devices meant to keep criminals out.”

Your home is your castle – with all the attendant security devices such as burglar bars, electric gates, alarms, electric fences, guard dogs and intercom systems everywhere.

Are we just paranoid? The stats say no. Statistics show that over the last 10 years there was an increase in the following crimes: murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, burglary at non-residential premises, commercial crimes and theft of motor vehicles.

No wonder people are spending money on safety measures.

But do these hold any dangers for you and your family? Or is it a good trade-off, considering the dangers that intruders pose? We asked the experts – ADT security systems and The Child Accident Prevention Foundation.

Trapped by burglar bars
ADT denied being aware of incidents where security features caused damage or harm to clients, said Adrian Good, Managing Director of ADT Western Cape.

Du Toit disagrees. “Burglar bars are a big problem,” she says. “Every room should have two escape routes in case of fire. A decade or two ago people only put burglar bars on windows that could open. This meant that in a real crisis, they could smash a window that doesn’t open in order to escape. Now people put bars on all the windows, blocking their own exit.”

“We regularly see children injured in this manner.”

The problem is, however, that if you can get out through a window, a burglar can get in. What now?

She suggests two solutions: the first that you install bars that can unlock from the inside – and that you keep the key in a safe and accessible place. The second is the installation of smoke alarms. This would mean that if a fire broke out in your home, you would not be overcome by smoke inhalation, preventing you from escaping. You would have an early warning system. These alarms are compulsory in some European countries.

Crushed by electric gates
Electric gates and garage doors can be problematic, says Du Toit. They are supposed to open automatically when they encounter an obstruction, but they don’t always. These devices can malfunction – Du Toit says they see children with crush injuries from time to time as a result of getting caught in these doors or gates.

She stresses the importance of servicing these devices on a regular basis to prevent malfunction. She also added that it is important not to skimp on quality when installing these.

“Electric garage doors must be installed to manufacturer’s specifications. People using electric garage doors should keep the remote control away from young children and always check the area under the door before closing the door,” says Good.

He also stressed that gates should have a manual override in the event of mechanical or power failure.

Electric fences, spikes and razor wire
These are both physical deterrents that deliver a nasty shock or inflict a serious injury. They are mostly installed on top of tall walls.

“But children climb walls,” says Du Toit. “Spikes could inflict particularly grim wounds, as they are designed as a physical deterrent. It is very important that parents educate and supervise their children with regards to these security devices. And they should not be installed in areas which are easily accessible to pets and children.

She expressed concern about do-it-yourself electric fencing that can now be bought at hardware stores. “There is no guarantee that people will follow instructions correctly, and this could pose a danger to their families.”

“Electric fencing must be kept out of reach of children and pets,” says Good. But this might be easier said than done.

So what are the things you should do to make sure your home is safe – both against intruders and for your family?

  • Only install security devices from accredited security companies. Cheap imitations could cost you your life.
  • Install smoke alarms in your house as these will give you early warning of a fire.
  • Install some burglar bars that can be unlocked from the inside.
  • Keep security door keys in accessible places known to everyone in the house. But these must be out of reach of someone from the outside.
  • Have electric gates and garage doors serviced and tested regularly to make sure that they do not malfunction.
  • Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t try and install security devices by yourself – leave it to the professionals.
  • Remember that an alarm linked to an armed response is only effective if your telephone is in working order (unless you have a radio alarm). Pay your phone bill!
  • Make sure that your children know what to do in a crisis. Have a fire drill.
  • Kids should be made aware of the dangers of electric fences, wall spikes, electric gates and doors.
  • Consider installing a perimeter alarm on your property if you don’t want to change your home into a fortress. This will give you early warning of an intruder.
  • Invest in a reputable armed response company who will come to your rescue when there is a crisis.
  • Be vigilant.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2010)



ManYour life

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.