5 ways to keep your home and family safe

Identify and address common threats to your residential security.

  • By Gary Rossi, VP and Jon Dougherty, Program Manager, Fidelity Security Services,
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Key takeaways

  • Conduct an "all hazards" residential safety and security risk assessment.
  • Practice family emergency plans for various scenarios.
  • Conduct background checks on anyone with access to your home.
  • Set family guidelines for what information can be shared via social media.

Wealth planning includes a thorough assessment of risks that could threaten your long-term goals. You've likely heard about investment risk, but have you stopped to think about more personal security issues, such as the safety of your home and loved ones?

Here are 5 strategic measures you can implement to address the most common threats to your residential security:

1. Perform an all-hazards residential risk assessment

An all-hazards residential risk assessment can identify vulnerabilities that fall beyond even the best alarm system. Consider questions like: Who has access to your home? Are you prepared in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency? Is there information online or in public records that could compromise your family's safety or residential security?

2. Install a customized home security system and use it

A robust home security system—including a backup power source—is your first line of defense against threats to your property and your family. Most homeowners have a security system in place for their primary residence, but don't overlook seasonal residences.

Whether you have a home security system or need a new one, it's important to consider your specific needs. If your system came with your house, it might not be the right one for your family. Work with a security expert to evaluate your risk points and design a system that's effective and easy-to-use. Even if you have a comprehensive alarm system in place, make sure it's user-friendly. The goal is to keep your property and loved ones safe, and that will only happen if the system is accessible and easy for everyone to operate.

It's a good idea to ask your security provider to follow up with annual system audits. Let them know whether circumstances have changed in ways that might require additional protection. Review your alert contacts every year to be sure they're still appropriate, and update contact information as necessary.

3. Develop and practice an emergency response plan

When we think "emergency plan," it's usually in the context of natural disasters. But there are other emergency situations as well. Home invasions, storm evacuations, or other crises all require a rapid, practiced response.

Be prepared for a variety of emergency situations. A good plan could include having secure locks and emergency supplies. You should also have rapid response procedures in the event your home security system is compromised. In the event that you must leave your home, prepare a "grab-and-go" bag that includes communication and rendezvous protocols.

Solid emergency plans are only as good as their execution. Be sure all family members understand emergency response plans and their role in keeping the family safe. Rehearse the most likely scenarios at least once a year, to keep your family on their toes.

4. Know who has access to your homes and properties

One of the biggest security risks to your home is the "knowledgeable insider"—someone who has access to your residence and knows your schedule. Individuals like house cleaners and child care providers are familiar with the most intimate details of your daily life. Before you bring anyone into your family's circle of trust, follow these best practices for hiring home employees.

Prescreen domestic employees
It pays to do a professional background check on all prospective employees. If you are using a placement agency, be sure their vetting process includes a criminal records search, as well as credit checks and drug testing, which could uncover triggers for future security risks.

If you're doing the hiring yourself, don't rely on a quick Google search. Ask trusted friends to recommend a third-party service that can pull credit reports, online criminal records, and other critical information using the candidate's name and date of birth.

Best practices for screening and employing trustworthy help include a pre-employment application that authorizes criminal and credit checks. Always check references and conduct in-person interviews with potential candidates.

Be prepared to provide severance pay as a terminated employee transitions out of your home. While you're not obligated to do so, thoughtful treatment at termination can go a long way toward preventing a disgruntled former employee from becoming a security risk.

Restrict access to bank accounts
Nannies, and other domestic employees, often need money for household or school supplies and other home-related expenses. Never give an employee your personal ATM card or password. Instead, use a separate account for household expenses and designate the employee as an authorized cardholder. You might even consider a prepaid debit card that puts a limit on the amount that can be spent. Both types restrict employee access to your personal financial assets and have the added benefit of helping you reconcile discrete expenses and receipts.

Don't forget contractors
Anyone who has access to your property, including building contractors, landscapers, and electricians, can present a security risk. Always talk to the principal of the company before engaging their services, and ask:

  • Are they licensed and insured?
  • Do they do background credit and criminal checks on employees? What about periodic drug testing?
  • Can they provide you with a roster of people who will be at your house on a regular basis?

5. Manage your public presence

No matter how vigilant you are about privacy, there's still a lot of publicly available information out there about you. While any one piece of online information may seem harmless, together they can paint a detailed picture of your income, residences, and lifestyle that may attract criminals. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to manage and control your public profile to protect you and your loved ones from unwanted attention.

Responsible online behavior
You should assess and manage security risks and your public "footprint." Be sure the whole family is on board, especially children who are active on social media. Educate all family members about responsible online behavior, privacy and image-sharing settings, and how they can still post, pin, text, and chat with their friends while keeping the home and family safe.

Public institutions, private information
You might be surprised by how much of your private information finds its way online through reputable third parties such as charitable institutions, schools, and civic groups. Though well-intentioned, many public entities don't have state-of-the-art cyber security systems or protocols in place to shield your private information from public view.

For example, many nonprofit tax returns are publicly reported. If you've made a charitable donation and provided your Social Security number for your own tax reporting, your name, the amount of your contribution, and your SSN may be visible on the nonprofit's website.

The inadvertent footprint
Commercial websites can be another source of detailed information about your home. For example, your realtor's website may continue to show interior and exterior photos of your home long after you've moved in, identifying doors, windows, and other points of entry. Be sure your realtor removes photos and footprint diagrams from their site after you've closed on your home.

Public sites also list revealing information about homes, including pricing history and photos. Most will remove your residential information from their site upon request. Your real estate agent may be able to help you cut through the red tape to remove your residential "footprint" from the public eye.

A secure home, an enduring legacy

No one wants to spend their time thinking about all the bad things that can happen, but it's important to understand potential threats to your assets and loved ones—and take measures to eliminate them. In our experience, focusing on the most likely risk points and making a few lifestyle changes will significantly improve your residential security profile and go a long way toward protecting your home and family. After all, a safe, secure home may well be the most enduring part of your legacy.

Next steps to consider

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