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Will Home Security Systems Work When The Grid’s Down?

Will Home Security Systems Work When The Grid’s Down?

Defending your home can be a complex task, and one that we need to simplify as much as possible.

What makes it complex, more than anything else, is that we are trying to defend ourselves from a variety of different potential threats.

The majority of the population is only concerned about protecting themselves and their homes from robbers and home invaders. While these are two distinct groups, who act and react differently while committing their crimes, the differences aren’t as great as their commonalities. But the real thing that our friends and neighbors have going for them, in defending from these threats, is that there is an active police force working in their city.

Even if the police can’t get there on time to stop a crime from happening, the threat of the police bringing the law down on the criminal is a deterrent to crime. Criminals’ actions are largely built around avoiding that happening. Thus, your average criminal will try to avoid doing anything to attract attention.

As members of the preparedness community, we deal with these threats, as well, but we also look beyond the “normal” to times when there might be a breakdown of society. In such a societal collapse, the normal constraints against crime are reduced or eliminated altogether. So, there will be more criminals and they will act differently.

For this reason, the conventional wisdom that is used to prevent crime may not work in such a situation. We cannot assume that those operating outside the law will care about attracting attention to themselves when there is the possibility that there won’t be a police force to hunt them down and arrest them.

One of the many things that this means is that intruder alarms in a post-disaster situation, where there is a breakdown of society, will need to perform different functions than they do today, when things are normal.

Alarms in Normal Times

To start with, let’s look at intruder alarms and home security systems in our normal, day-to-day life. There is little chance that any of us is going to be faced with a gang attacking our homes, looking for food. The threats we are concerned with are robbers (trying to steal our valuables) and home invasions (which can be more violent). While it may be necessary to take up arms in the defense of home and family in these situations, you have the advantage of the police backing you up and coming to the rescue.

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Most home security systems are intended to deal with this sort of situation. A monitoring station receives notification that the alarm has been triggered and then informs the police so they can act.

In such a case, your defense is primarily dependent upon the police and how quickly they can react, not your own actions. But considering that the average criminal is in the home 90 seconds and according to 9-1-1 the average police response time is 3 to 12 minutes, they don’t manage to stop many crimes. In reality, the threat of that alarm is the greater deterrent, and you often can get the same results by putting a sign from the major alarm companies in your front yard.

Alarms in Post-Disaster Times

When we look at a post-disaster scenario, the burglar alarms that people depend on today won’t do the least bit of good. There are two main reasons for that. First, the entire system, especially the monitoring station, depends on the electric grid being intact, providing them with power. Yet, as we’ve seen in just about every major storm, the electrical grid is highly susceptible to damage.

The second reason why that burglar alarm is not going to be useful is that the police probably won’t be available to respond. Even if the police don’t abandon their posts to take care of their own families, they will be overwhelmed by work, making it more or less impossible for them to respond to every alarm. So, you’ll largely be on your own.

This means that any alarm system you use must be designed to function on a local level. In other words, it must be there to inform you that someone is coming onto your property, and not simply inform the police. Ideally, it will do this without you having to monitor it constantly.

Burglar Alarms

Although a burglar alarm that goes to a monitoring station probably won’t do you any good, that doesn’t mean that burglar alarms are useless. Rather than having an alarm company install a system, you could install your own, setting off an audible alarm to warn you when someone breaks into your home. Of course, this requires having an electrical power source to operate, but most alarms use very little electricity.

The drawback to this sort of system is that you can only put it on the perimeter of your home, not the perimeter of your property. Nevertheless, it has value.


Video monitors allow you to up your game, in that when they are properly situated, they can show you everything that’s going on around your home or survival retreat. Many modern monitors operate off Wi-Fi, so they are easy to install and have a low electrical consumption. Even if the Internet is out, your local Wi-Fi network would still be operable, as long as you are producing your own electrical power and have a modem that was not damaged by an EMP.

The drawback of using monitors is that someone must monitor the monitors. However, if you already have someone pulling guard or lookout duty, they could watch the monitors, as well, making it possible for them to keep watch in more than one direction at the same time.

Trip Wires

Perhaps the simplest way of providing yourself with an intruder alert is with some sort of tripwire. While the basic tripwire is nothing more than that — a wire — tripwires can become much more sophisticated, depending on what you have to work with and what you need to do. More than anything, you’ll want to use tripwires as part of your perimeter defenses, letting you know when someone comes on your property.

Typically, trip wires are attached to some sort of alarm. On the most basic level, this is a metal can with some gravel in it. When the wire is hit, the can moves and the gravel inside makes noise. You can easily improve upon this system by buying the simple sort of battery-operated burglar alarm, which is sold for travelers to use on their hotel rooms.

You may have seen an article at some time about using chemlights to make a perimeter alarm. This is nothing more than a visual form of tripwire, rather than an auditory one. But the basic idea is the same. If you live out in the woods, such an alarm would be extremely obvious, making it an excellent choice.

Another type of tripwire is the laser entry alarms that are commonly used in stores. Placed across a driveway or other entry to your property, they can cover great distances, especially at night. Although they need electricity to operate, they have the advantage of not informing the intruder that they’ve set off an alarm, unless you want them to.

While tripwires are an excellent option, they all have the same drawback — that of needing to be monitored. Granted, it is possible to set them up in such a way that they set off an alarm that doesn’t require constant vigilance, but it will always require constant awareness. When that alarm goes off, you want to be sure that you will hear it or see it, regardless of where you are or what you are doing.


Animals are the oldest intruder alarm in history. Anyone who owns dogs knows how effective they can be in letting you know when an intruder comes around. Your dogs will warn you of every delivery, Girl Scout selling cookies and meter reader that dare approach your home.

While animals are not a perfect alarm system, they have many advantages over any other, especially if you have a number of animals. One dog alone might be able to tell you if someone approaches the front of your house, but they can’t tell you that if they’re in the backyard when that intruder arrives. As with any other alarm system, to be effective, animals need to be scattered around the property.

Dogs aren’t the only animals that make good alarms. Donkeys are excellent intruder alarms, as are guinea hens. Nothing will be able to come near your home undetected if you have a dozen or so guinea hens living there. On top of that, they serve as a backup food source.


As you can see from what I’ve listed above, there really is no perfect intruder alarm that will work in all situations. To create a more perfect system, you really need to use a combination of different alarms, providing you with a layered defensive approach. What one alarm might miss, another will see, providing you with the necessary notification of any intruder arriving.

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