Surviving the Worst Case Scenario Part 1: What to do in a home invasion

Assailant uses crow bar to attempt to open a door
Robert Lewis

Welcome back to our series on “Surviving the Worst Case Scenario” where survival expert Robert Lewis, a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), shares the unique knowledge of how he keeps his family safe and prepared to survive in the worst case scenario. If you are new to this series, read the first article here.

One of the things that I feel new parents aren’t prepared for is the vast change in thinking that suddenly occurs when their children are born. No matter how “buttoned up” of a person you were pre-children, the fact that you are now responsible for other lives changes the way that you see everything. These little humans have virtually no survival skills on their own, and as you love them more than anything in the world, much of your thinking begins to focus on keeping them safe and happy.

Growing up in Texas, I moved several times within the same community during my childhood and also spent a fair amount of time at other friends’ homes. One aspect of the houses that I spent my childhood in but never even really noticed was that the master bedroom, whether in a one or two-story house, was always the one closest to the front door. 

Moving to California after the Army as an adult (who soon became a parent after moving there), one of the first things that I noticed was that California home construction is quite different. As my focus became one of keeping my new family safe, I began to understand the layouts of the homes that I had grown up in — the master bedroom, and the parents inside them, were situated as the first line of defense in the event of trouble. In California, however, this is not the case (at least in most of the homes that I’ve been in).

Whether that was the purpose of the layout or not, it does highlight an important aspect of nature: it is a parent’s duty to protect their children. 

Armed home invasions are one such occurrence in which said protection may be needed, but are events in which the average person has no real idea of how to react or what to do. If your home is broken into by professional criminals, they will likely use stealth and chaos to keep you disoriented, along with the same “violence of action” tactics that soldiers are trained in to drive momentum on any objective in their favor.

The average person has no real idea of how to react or what to do in an armed home invasion

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when most of the country never really had to worry about a home invasion, as they lived in safe communities with a significant police presence and neighbors who looked out for one another.

Now, however, between the Defund the Police movements across the country, activist District Attorneys (DAs) letting violent criminals right back out on the street, and good samaritans being prosecuted by the same people who allow criminals to roam free, the dynamics have changed. Reports from across the country are showing violent criminals encroaching deeper into territory that was once considered “safe,” often showing no fear of legal repercussions.

To that end, I will use this article to outline a few things. First, the best thing that you can do is dissuade any would-be intruders from making the attempt in the first place by turning your home into a “hard target.” Like parasites or carrion birds, criminals are often opportunists who prefer “soft targets” that they don’t think will put up much of a fight or pose any threat to them.

Dissuade Intruders by Turning your home into a “hard target”

I’d like to give you some simple tips to help make your home a hard target with minor adjustments that won’t alter your life much. If someone does choose to enter your home with violent intent, this article will also help to dispel some Hollywood inaccuracies about what to do in a life-or-death situation and provide some tips & tactics that can help you retain the upper hand, if needed.

Before we delve into that, there is one point that needs to be made upfront. Different states and localities will have different laws, law enforcement, and DAs that may view or interpret the law in very different ways. The right to self-defense is supposed to be inherent in this country, but activists with legal power have taken it upon themselves to prosecute people who do choose to defend themselves. 

The state of Missouri has Castle Doctrine enshrined in its Constitution [1], meaning that a homeowner has the right to protect themselves when threatened in their own home. That did not stop a St. Louis DA from trying to prosecute the McKloskeys, both of whom are lawyers, when they brandished weapons on their own front porch to keep an angry mob at bay.

Missouri couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey protect their private property holding a rifle and handgun when protesters gathered outside their home on June 28, 2020.
Missouri couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey protect their private property holding a rifle and handgun when protesters gathered outside their home on June 28, 2020.

We used to have a saying in the Army for these types of situations: “It’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” While it’s not pleasant to think about, there may come a time when the decision must be made whether worrying about potential legal consequences for doing the right thing or protecting your family must be made.

Taking the time to think through and create your home defense strategy could altogether prevent a violent home invasion from ever occurring. In the event that a criminal does enter your home, having a practiced plan in place will help you stay calm and  increase the liklihood that your entire family will survive a home invasion.

The home defense strategy tips below are not meant to suggest taking one action over the other, and I advise you to study the self-defense and property laws where you live. These are merely suggestions for how one could respond if one chose defense over submission.

5 Ways to Deter Criminals and Fortify Your Home

When you see the terms “hard target” or “fortification,” you may envision castle walls, moats, concertina wire, or something of the sort. Many of the high-level targets that we went after in Iraq would have homes surrounded by high walls and wrought iron gates, but that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

Even if you’re in an area where criminals don’t fear harsh prosecution, most (but not all) criminals still fear being caught, seen, or discovered. All but the worst sociopaths know when they are doing something wrong and don’t want the outside world to know that they are doing it, so things that can “shine a light” on their actions before they even enter your home can act as excellent deterrents.

1. Dogs

This may be the easiest tip in the entire article, as statistically most outdoor enthusiasts already enjoy the company of dogs. If you are a cat person, however, allow me to explain yet another reason that man’s best friend is the better option.

I’m personally a huge fan of the dogs that we used in Special Operations, the Belgian Malinois breed (you may know them as the “super dogs” highlighted in the John Wick 3 movie). While large or aggressive breeds may be great to assist you in physically restraining or even taking down a potential assailant or attacker, they aren’t the only types of dogs that can help turn your home into more of a hard target.

Criminals and security professionals alike have noted that the presence of a dog or dogs serves as a deterrent for most would-be home invasions [2], for a multitude of reasons. While most robberies happen while homes are empty, those willing to perform an armed home invasion know that they will lose any element of surprise with the presence of a natural alarm system (a barking dog).

The presence of a dog serves as a deterrent for most would-be home invasions

Even if you aren’t home but a dog is there, it makes a potential burglar question whether the home is empty or not, threatens their ability to enter the home undetected, and increases the chance that a neighbor may call the police after noticing the criminals entering or leaving on account of the barking.

I was taught what I once thought was an old wive’s tale with regard to choosing a male or female dog, but after having both I have found it to be true: male dogs will protect places and things, while female dogs will be more protective of people. I’ve personally witnessed my own male dogs being more likely to “patrol” the house or fenceline at night, while my female dog will go from bedroom to bedroom checking on both parents and kids throughout the night.

Whether as a deterrent, a first line of defense, or simply a natural alarm system, having a dog in the house can provide more than just happy memories and companionship for your family.

2. Adequate Lighting and Motion Sensor Flood Lights

One of the common Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) among both Quick Reaction Force (QRF) law enforcement (SWAT and HRT) and Special Operations teams is to preface entering a target by throwing “flashbangs,” small handheld devices that look like grenades but emit a high level of sound and light instead of a large explosion.

These can also be referred to as “stun grenades,” because that is their entire purpose: to stun the targets by briefly causing temporary blindness (the bright light) and confusion (the loud sounds) before a team enters to take down the targets. While you can’t acquire these as a civilian (and I don’t suggest trying to make or acquire them), motion sensor flood lights can provide a similar effect for anyone attempting to enter your home in the middle of the night.

Much like a dog suddenly barking, illumination from a high-powered motion-activated outdoor flood light will catch would-be home intruders off-guard and make them quickly rethink their plans. They want to enter your home unseen and unknown, but suddenly being illuminated in the front, back, or side of your home will cause them to think twice.

A Flood Light will catch would-be home intruders off-guard and make them rethink their plans

Additionally, if someone is attempting an armed home invasion at night, high-lumen security lighting suddenly turning on will serve much of the same purpose as a flashbang by destroying their ability to see in the dark and blinding them, at least temporarily. I think we’ve all been in that position where our eyes are adjusted to the dark and a sudden bright light comes on: it’s quite unnerving and you can’t do much for at least a second or two. 

Whether you choose a smart flood light with a timer system to ensure your property is well-illuminated when night falls, or outdoor security lights with motion sensor activation to catch anyone off guard if they get too close to your home, appropriate lighting can serve to dissuade anyone who may have the intention of entering your home uninvited.

3. Security Camera System

While I do think it wise to have security cameras on the exterior of your property, they are rapidly becoming ineffective for both deterring crime and tracking down criminals. Videos circulating online show that professional criminals check for Ring doorbell cameras and cover their faces or keep them out of view.

Police departments across the country are woefully underresourced today, even with video evidence that shows an intruder’s face, there is no guarantee the person will be identified, let alone brought to justice.

That being said, security cameras can serve as a warning indicator by providing an added layer of situational awareness if an unknown person is suddenly hanging around or watching your house. Many criminals will “case” or check out their proposed target for patterns of life, to see when the home is empty. If you do install security cameras, set the system to alert you when there is motion, and be diligent about checking it regularly.

Man installs residential Security Cameras
If you install security cameras, set the system to alert you when there is motion, and be diligent about checking it regularly.

4. No Place to Hide

One thing that many criminals look for when selecting targets is the ease of hiding, entry, and exit without being seen. High hedges, overgrown shrubs, or anything else that can provide cover and concealment to a potential criminal in the act of breaking into or exiting your home can increase the chances of being chosen as a target.

Anything that provides cover and concealment increases the chance of being chosen as a target

Military bases in hostile territory follow the process of creating “standoff distance” via a “kill zone,” turning any land around their bases into flat, open territory so that they can see enemy approaching and engage before they get too close. This doesn’t mean that your front lawn should be a barren wasteland, but take care to trim your hedges and prevent criminals from finding an easy hiding place to force entry into your home.

5. Prevent Entry

If a potential intruder isn’t deterred by the measures above, preventing their entry into your home becomes the next line of defense. Sturdy, durable locks on entry doors and garage doors, and alarm systems with posted signs or stickers announcing their presence can be enough to prevent them from ever getting inside if they are adequate.

If a potential intruder isn’t deterred, preventing entry into your home becomes the next line of defense

High-Security Door Locks

It’s obvious but must still be said. Install sturdy, durable locks on entry doors and garage doors, and be diligent about always closing and locking them both when you are home and when you are away. Teach family members to always keep the doors locked as well.

Home Security Signs

There are plenty of companies that sell home security signs and stickers online, although some of the companies that they name don’t actually exist. Low-level criminals may not know the difference, but pros may.

Security System Sign

Wired Home Security Systems

While signs and stickers could serve as a deterrent, installing a dependable, well-known home security system (like ADT or SimpliSafe) is certainly the best option.

More experienced criminals know that home security systems are expensive and many people don’t pay to wire the system for every single window and door. If you are going to spend the money on a security system, take care to get one that is actively monitored (some aren’t) and at least wire every single window of the ground level of your home. A home intruder only needs one point of entry, and a motivated criminal may take the time to find out if any exist for your home.

Door and Window Security Bars

I lived in a home that had horizontal sliding glass windows and doors, which have notoriously weak locks. On the first day that we moved in I measured every width, went to Home Depot, and picked up several lengths of thick wooden dowels. By sawing down the lengths to fit inside the slide frames I prevented the windows from opening even if the locks were busted, creating an extremely cheap and low-tech entry-prevention measure in just a couple of hours. If you prefer a ready-to-use option, affordable window security bars are available online.

Another effective and inexpensive method of preventing entry is to create a door barricade using a telescoping portable door security bar. These simple metal instruments extend to any length to fit any door  under the doorknob at the top, with a rubber foot at the bottom placed on the floor to prevent slipping. They cost less than $30, can be found at many big box retailers or online, and make it incredibly difficult for someone to bust down your door or enter your home even if they break or pick your locks.

To be perfectly candid, there is no way to emplace the door security bar when you are leaving the home. They are great, however, to have your kids emplace after you leave if they will be in the home alone, or  to emplace at night when everyone is going to sleep. These are purely to prevent any unwanted entry, through the doors at least, when your family is present. 

Door Security Bar in Place
Create a door barricade using a door security bar

How to Survive A Home Invasion

The above sections should be considered your first line of defense – you want to prevent anyone from getting inside your home in the first place. If that fails, we move into the self-defense phase.

Home invasion survival is much more than just having a weapon. The tactics below will help you develop a plan for what you will do in a home invasion and how you will prepare and train to make sure you can carry out your plan in a calm manner.

These strategies aren’t foolproof and some may not work for you due to physical or environmental factors unique to your situation. The best home defense plan is one where you decide the best plan of action based on your particular home, the tools available to you, and your physical capabilities. From there, train and practice so that if a home invasion does occur, you can remain calm and keep yourself and your family members safe until police arrive or the bad guys flee because you made it clear that you are not an easy target.

Self-Defense Tactics

Normal human beings don’t want confrontation, and we’re wired to not want to employ deadly force. For some great insights into just how much it takes to train humans to remove that aversion to mortally wounding each other, read On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

Colonel Grossman was a Vietnam-era Ranger who left the service and decided to attain a psychology degree when he realized the military didn’t have any former action guys that were schooled in mental health. He chose the research that made up this book because nobody had before, and he learned an important lesson: it’s very difficult for normal humans to kill each other.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

He cites numerous studies of trained soldiers in war that refused to shoot at the enemy, and the massive undertaking required for the military to “train” that natural aversion out of soldiers. As a guy who’s been through the training and the end result, I’ll be the first to say that it’s not pleasant. Not before, and certainly not after.

I only mention this to drive an important point home: don’t depend on your ability to take action when needed as the only line of defense for your family. I don’t care who you are or what threat you are facing, it is very difficult for normal, well-adjusted human beings to use deadly force, no matter the situation – especially if you haven’t been trained specifically for it.

Litsum Snipers
Photo courtesy Robert Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

1. Create Primary and Fallback Self-Defense Kits

Before we get into actual self-defense tactics, you need to be sure that the tools you need are at hand when an emergency occurs. Gather the items below into a primary self-defense “kit” that is kept at the ready at all times. Once your primary kit is ready, create fallback kit(s) that are strategically placed in your home in the event that you can’t reach the primary kit. 

Primary Self-Defense Weapon

A self-defense weapon (pistol, shotgun, rifle, knife) can serve as a deterrent and encourage an intruder to leave your home without the need for deadly force. In case you do have to defend yourself, be sure that you are comfortable operating the weapon and train with it often (at least weekly).


One of the Most Recognizable Sounds in the World

There is a great scene in the Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge where he describes the distinctive sound of the AK47 to his soldiers. While that sound is immediately recognizable to any soldier that’s served in a theatre where the AK47 is prevalent, there is another, even more ubiquitous sound that can be used to strike fear in the hearts of would-be assailants that won’t require firing off a round in your living room.

The sound of a slide-action shotgun being pumped.

Normal people don’t want to shoot others, but nobody wants to be shot (take it from someone who has been).

Normal people don’t want to shoot others, but nobody wants to be shot (take it from someone who has been).

I counsel all of my friends and family to keep a shotgun as a home defense weapon  (my preferred is the Benelli M4 semi-automatic) for several reasons. 

Benelli M4 Tactical Shotgun

First, if someone is breaking into your home and they hear you rack a shotgun but choose to keep coming in, you should not have any doubt that they mean to cause you harm. That should alleviate any worries that you may have about taking the ultimate defensive posture and doing whatever needs to be done.

Second, a shotgun blast will cause massive damage at short range, but not at a distance, which has several benefits in this situation. When inside of your home, you don’t have to worry as much about errant shots going through the walls to harm others, especially your own family. 

There are also many jurisdictions in which an armed criminal who forcibly enters your home uninvited may still sue you in civil court if you shoot them and they survive the encounter. Stand-your-ground laws may not apply in civil courts, and there are plenty of morally deficient lawyers who will represent them. Using a shotgun to defend yourself and your family, if needed, increases your chances of avoiding that type of situation.

One of my old teammates bought a “coach rifle” (double-barreled shotgun) for his wife to have on hand when he is away. He knows that if she is provoked to pull the trigger once, she may have a hard time doing it again, even if necessary. In his mind, the damage inflicted from this type of weapon wouldn’t require a second round of firing, and I agree. 

Extra magazines and ammo

What happens if the one magazine that you keep with your primary weapon goes dry (empty), police are still minutes away and all of your ammo is upstairs in the closet?

I always counsel my friends and family that any primary self-defense kit should contain a minimum of three filled magazines for a pistol or two for a rifle for this reason. There are plenty of companies that design holsters that can hold multiple magazines attached to them, and you can get a mag coupler for your AR15 or other types of rifles so that you aren’t caught empty-handed.

Fab Defense AR-15 Mag Coupler

Remember that the ammo in these magazines should be replaced periodically. One way to keep on top of this is when you go to the range to train, take the filled magazines from your self-defense kit, replacing them with magazines containing fresh ammo.


Tactical Flashlight and Extra Batteries

Police are often trained to use their flashlights much in the same way as a flashbang – to disorient people and prevent any who may have it in their mind to attack. Choose an extremely bright tactical flashlight with a secure grip. In terms of size and weight, you should be able to maneuver with it for a period of time without becoming fatigued.

Batteries for tactical flashlights can go bad faster than traditional flashlights so remember to charge or replace batteries regularly and keep additional batteries in your kit just in case. 

Every cool guy rifle and pistol mod today comes with rails that will allow you to affix a high-lumen tactical flashlight to the weapon, but those shouldn’t be used in a close-quarters self-defense situation. I’ll explain why in the next section.


Keeping a pair of zip ties with your primary kit may allow you to subdue a home intruder without deadly force, but if they are armed that can be an extremely dangerous proposition. Additionally, you should always be aware of the chance that they have an accomplice with them, ready to strike when you move in to restrain their buddy. 

2. Determine Where Your Primary and Fall Back Kits Will Be Located

The thing about emergencies and chaos is that, by their very nature, we don’t get to determine where and when they occur.

I spent about five years of my life constantly deployed, living on bases, in third world hotels, team houses in the middle of hostile territory, or alongside our fighters. Everywhere that we lived or would be staying for any period of time would have designated “fall back locations,” places where we would emplace anything that we may need to defend against a sustained attack should we need to abandon our primary defensive positions.

Green Berets celebrating Christmas in the Gan
Photo courtesy Robert Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

If the average person keeps a rifle or pistol in their home for self-defense, it will most often be kept in their bedroom due to the idea that they envision needing it in the middle of the night. However, according to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, 60% of home invasions happen during waking hours, often when criminals believe that the homeowner and family will be out of the house [3].

60% of Home invasions happen during waking hours

What happens if your only self-defense measure is upstairs, and as a responsible citizen it’s kept in a locked gun safe in your closet, nightstand, or under your bed, but you and your family are in the living room or kitchen when an assailant kicks down your door?

Dinner time, movie night, at home sick, working from home, or simply a criminal fleeing police and looking for potential hostages for bargaining at a time in which your family is not in their rooms sleeping? 

For another potential situation, what happens if an armed home invasion does happen when the family is sleeping, but the one magazine that you keep with your primary weapon goes dry (empty), police are still minutes away and all of your ammo is upstairs in the closet?

We already discussed keeping several additional filled magazines in your self-defense kits so that you aren’t caught empty-handed.

Even if you do follow this advice and stock your primary kit with multiple magazines, you should always have “fallback locations” around your house just in case of a magazine malfunction, a weapon jamming, or running dry on ammo at the worst time imaginable. 

I have children, so while I have fallback locations positioned tactically around my house, I keep all of the gear high enough so that my kids can’t reach it, and in places where the casual observer wouldn’t think to look for them. I never touch or mention them with my kids present, just to prevent any childhood curiosity from leading to bad outcomes [4]. 

For additional family security and preventative measures, there are companies that make hidden and/or locked fallback safes (also called “diversion safes”), designed to look like regular furniture or decorations. I’ve seen versions that can be built behind mirrors, underneath shelves with a figurine that has to be placed in a specific position to unlock it, behind paintings or pictures hanging on the wall, tissue boxes with pistol safes built-in, secret drawers for desks, and one of my best friends has one built into the wall behind his Army shadow box.

If you don’t want to spend the money or do construction to build safes into the walls around your house, there are plenty of hiding spots around every home where extra magazines, ammo, knives, or tactical flashlights can be hidden away. Just be sure that if you have kids, these spots are secure and somewhere they or their friends will not find and access.

As we’ve discussed above, this does require a little bit of extra diligence on your part to keep ammo fresh and replace flashlight batteries. The cost of being prepared for an emergency is that extra diligence and planning, however, for some of us, it’s considered well worth the extra time.

3. Make a Plan For Clearing Your House

Your primary goal is to prevent confrontation by encouraging the intruder to flee your property as fast as possible. Clearing your house is simply moving methodically through your home to locate the home intruder. The idea of traversing your home in the dark to find intruders can be daunting and it is dangerous. I only suggest this approach after you have developed a solid plan and trained enough that you know you can remain calm and carry out your plan with precision and control.

Unconventional Tactical Flashlight Usage

As mentioned above, police are often trained to use their flashlights much in the same way as a flashbang – to disorient people and prevent attack. Every cool guy rifle and pistol mod today comes with rails that allow you to affix a high-lumen tactical flashlight to the weapon, but those shouldn’t be used in a close-quarters self-defense situation. I’ll explain why with a story from my military training.

My first unit was a special one within a Special Forces unit, that was tasked as a QRF for certain missions anywhere in the Western hemisphere. Without divulging too much, I’ll just say that I worked alongside and with people that were jokingly referred to as “JV Delta Force,” who had more CQB experience in each person than most of the military combined. 

Some of these grizzled operators taught me an important lesson during my first shooting training course with the unit, which is common sense to me now yet I’ve never heard anyone else mention outside of Special Operations.

Photo courtesy Robert Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

If you are in a firefight in the dark, and the person shooting at you has a flashlight on their rifle, where do you aim your fire? Directly at their flashlight, if you can’t see the actual person.

What happens to you in this situation if the flashlight is affixed to the end of your rifle or pistol? You start taking effective, deadly, or at the very least damaging rounds. 

To get around this, I was taught a rather unconventional method of wielding a flashlight in low-light scenarios for which we weren’t using Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). As we already covered, every self-defense kit should always have a handheld flashlight with your primary and secondary kits. 

Carry your primary home defense weapon (pistol, shotgun, rifle, knife) in your dominant hand, and an extremely bright, tactical flashlight in your weak hand. Keep the flashlight off as you quietly stalk and clear the home, allowing your eyes to naturally adjust to the darkness.

If you come upon an intruder, first shine the flashlight in their eyes or general direction, giving the same result as a flashbang to disorient and temporarily blind them. To avoid any potential effective fire coming at you, hold the flashlight at arm’s length away from your body when you shine it. This way, if they fire at the flashlight they won’t be near your torso or critical organs.

Be aware that a true psychopath may begin to “spray and pray” by shooting in all directions despite being blinded, so always know where your nearest cover is. 

Regardless, you are armed and can see them, while they are temporarily blinded. 

Unconventional flashlight use demonstrated
To avoid any potential effective fire coming at you, hold the flashlight at arm’s length away from your body when you shine it.

What you do next is your decision. As I mentioned earlier, keeping a pair of zip ties with your primary kit may allow you to subdue them without firing a shot, but if they are armed that can be an extremely dangerous proposition. Additionally, you should always be aware of the chance that they have an accomplice with them, ready to strike when you move in to restrain their buddy. 

Every moment and decision in these types of scenarios is crucial, which is why we think through or train for responding to them in advance so it isn’t our first time considering which is the right decision to make. Judge your own situation accordingly.

Pie the Corners

Another extremely useful tactic in these types of situations is to “pie your corners” while clearing your house or preparing to engage with the assailant. Many people assume that merely clearing a room using proper CQB tactics will be enough, but the stakes are far higher in these situations when you have no team behind you and your family is in the house. When you are their only defense, you need to take every precaution you can to remain on your feet and operational. 

The purpose of choosing to pie your corners rather than to rapidly clear every room is to provide minimal exposure to the threats and use every bit of cover that you can to keep yourself protected. You have the advantage because you know the layout of your home far better than someone who has just broken in, so you can use that knowledge to maintain the upper hand.

Provide minimal exposure to threats and use every bit of cover to keep yourself protected

To pie a corner is simple: it’s a tactic in which you divide the area within a room that you are clearing into “slices” (like a pie), clearing one section at a time while keeping as much of your body behind the cover of the wall as possible. You don’t want to stand directly against the wall but slightly offset by about six inches and behind the corner so that nobody in the room you are attempting to clear can see you.

With your muzzle extended and in the ready position, maintain your shooting stance and begin to slowly take small steps outward and diagonally, allowing you to see (and clear) a larger section of the room with each step. In a perfect scenario, this will allow you to see your target before they see you, with the cover of the wall close enough for you to get behind if they do see you before you can take action. 

If you are able to draw a bead on them before they can see you, this may also present the opportunity to know if they plan to use violence to accomplish their goal or not. As you have a covered position close, if you can acquire the potential target before you are seen, you may present them with a verbal warning to drop their weapon. 

Should they choose to raise their weapon, you are already in a position to take action or take cover. If they don’t intend to use violence and don’t want to end up with a few new holes in their body, you can instruct them to drop their weapon, kick it away, and assume the position so that you can restrain them until law enforcement arrives.

Every second of these types of incidents requires crucial decisions to be made, which is why planning for them in advance, even if only mentally, can help you to keep a clear head and make the right decisions. 

Every second requires crucial decisions to be made

Avoid the Fatal Funnel

The interior of an objective often has multiple places that are described in CQB tactics as “fatal funnels,” and these can be some of the most dangerous places to be for a potential firefight. A fatal funnel is characterized by a narrow passageway in which you are silhouetted and have nowhere to hide. The most obvious of these are doorways when entering a room to clear it, but a hallway or stairway can also be considered a fatal funnel. 

While CQB is meant to be performed deliberately rather than as fast as possible, a fatal funnel is an area that you want to traverse and get out of as quickly as possible. When a team or “stack” is entering a room, there are multiple operators in place to back each other up and neutralize a target quickly, if one is present. When you are on your own, however, it is a different situation.

Don’t risk exposing yourself any more than needed

If you need to clear a room that has a closed door, there are a few different tactics that need to be utilized. Firstly, don’t stand directly in the middle of the doorway when you open it – this would place you directly in the middle of the fatal funnel and as an easy target to any assailant inside. 

Open the door while you are offset and behind the wall, so that an assailant won’t have you silhouetted against the doorframe when it opens. If the door opens inward, you want to use as much force as possible to open it. This way, if there is someone who heard you coming and attempts to stand behind the door to ambush you, the door striking them will give their location away. 

I have a friend who smooshed an enemy combatant hiding behind a door as he was entering in his stack. After that experience, he’s always taken an extra second to throw his full body weight into any door that he’s clearing with a team just to be sure there’s nobody behind it.

A U.S. Army soldier prepares to clear a room during a search in Younis Al Sabawi, Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2008.
A U.S. Army soldier prepares to clear a room during a search for weapons and bomb paraphernalia in the town of Younis Al Sabawi, Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2008. The soldier is assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

If the door opens outward, pull it open quickly. Whichever direction the door opens in, use the same method to pie the room as discussed above. Using the wall next to the door to conceal as much of your body as possible, you can break the room into small visual sections and only expose yourself in increments. 

Remember, if you’re on your own, you don’t want to risk exposing yourself any more than needed.

Always Mind Your Six

If you are operating alone with no one to back you up, the need to always be aware of your surroundings is far more important than it would be with a team who each has an area they are responsible for. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when your adrenaline is pumping and stress levels are high, but it could mean life or death. 

When you are your family’s only defense, you need to keep yourself operational

And as mentioned above, when you are your family’s only defense, you need to keep yourself operational at all times.

Remember to only point your weapon where your eyes are looking, and to periodically sweep behind you to ensure that you aren’t being outflanked or have someone behind you. Even if you have to verbalize it to yourself every thirty seconds, take the time to watch your six and ensure that nobody is going to get the jump on you in your own home. 

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Close Quarters Battle (CQB) may seem like a race in the movies or television shows that you watch, but in reality, it should be enacted as a cool, calculated series of events performed at a speed in which you can accurately identify everything about your surroundings, at every moment. The reason it seems so fast when soldiers or SWAT teams do is that they’ve rehearsed it thousands of times as a team.

Your blood will be pumping, your palms will likely be sweating, and there’s a significant chance you will be angry that someone would have the gumption to break into your home while your family is sleeping. People who move too quickly are far more prone to make mistakes, and this is a situation in which none can be afforded. Stay calm.

Don’t dilly dally, but keep the presence of mind to move in a slow, calm, and calculated manner. Rushing through clearing a room is a surefire way to miss someone or something. Racing down the stairs is an easy way to get caught in the fatal funnel and forgo the ability to protect your family. 

“Measure twice, cut once,” is the type of care that needs to be taken in this type of scenario. You know the layout of your home better than any outsider will, so you have the home-field advantage. Don’t lose it by trying to go faster than you can do methodically. 

Keep the presence of mind to move in a slow, calm, calculated manner

3. Make a Plan In Case You Are Forced to Confront a Home Intruder

If you flush out the intruder and they don’t flee, you will need to be prepared to engage with them. Again, the goal here is to get them to leave before any deadly force is needed. Give them an out. 

Always Positively Identify a Target

Be sure that you never pull the trigger until you have positively identified a target. Tensions will be high, but the point of this entire exercise is to protect your family, not to get a bad guy. Pulling the trigger without positive ID could mean harming a family member, a curious neighbor, or a law enforcement officer/security guard that has made entry unannounced. 

The point is to protect your family, not to “get” a Bad Guy

If you are able to scare the criminals away without having to pull the trigger, let them go rather than giving chase and forcing confrontation. They aren’t likely to come back knowing that you are armed and vigilant, and letting them go will mean that you don’t have to worry about any potential legal fallout. Once the police arrive, let them do their job.

Even if you are 100% in the right for taking action, there is always the chance of encountering a politically-minded lawyer or DA who wants to use you to make a name for themselves. If the situation can be resolved without deadly force, that is the best outcome possible.

4. Make a Plan for What Family Members Should Do

A Note on Safe Rooms

There are some who swear by the idea of “safe rooms” within a house, and boutique companies that will build them for you if you have the means to pay a lot of money for one. They do sound like a good idea in principle and may be right for certain situations. As the saying goes, however, “no good plan survives the first shots fired.”

Here’s the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) on “safe rooms.” Most home invaders don’t want to stick around for an extended period of time and don’t want to get caught or shot. This means that if you had a safe room and if your family could get into it, the Hollywood depiction of a team of criminals spending all night figuring out how to get you out is highly unlikely unless there would be a huge incentive for them to do so. 

Safe room installed in a garage
Safe room installed in a garage

The problem with that lies in the details, however: those two are pretty big “ifs.” 

When people use the word “safe room,” they typically mean one room in the house that was hardened for the express purpose of being able to hide and survive inside, potentially with infrastructure to call the police. The biggest problem with that strategy, however, is getting everyone in your house to the same room safely while armed assailants are inside your perimeter.

Where to Go in an Emergency

Perhaps if you have the early warning systems outlined above (bright lights outside, a competent alarm system, dogs) those could serve as an early enough warning to wake and move your entire family to one location. This may be possible with one or two kids in a one-story house, but unlikely with a two-story or large house with a large family.

Plan a warning signal and designate where family Members should move

If those attempting to break into your home are professionals, they have likely “cased” your place through surveillance to identify in advance how they will enter and exit, with everything in-between planned. When they come, they will come fast. Amateurs may be another story entirely, and more dangerous as a result.

As an alternative to a centralized safe room that requires everyone in your household to move to the same place clandestinely or quickly, it may be wise to plan a warning signal or word and designated locations within the house for members of your family to move in such an event.

The alarm systems mentioned above (ADT or SimpliSafe) both include an app on your phone through which you can trigger the alarm. That loud siren can be your warning signal to your family so that you don’t have to traverse the entire house and hope to succeed before the bad guys get inside (or after they already are).

Security System App

The locations and groupings appropriate for your family depend on several factors, including the layout of your home, how many members are in your household, and their ages. The strategy for a one-story house with three bedrooms and two children would be greatly different than a two-story house with six bedrooms and four kids.

One may want to plan for their family to escape through the back door to a trusted neighbor’s home, but what if kidnapping is the goal of the would-be assailants and they have someone positioned at the back? There is plenty to be said about the current terror of the child trafficking industry in this country, but instead of opining on that, I’ll suggest you see The Sound of Freedom movie if you haven’t already. 

It’s a much larger problem than most realize because there is a lot of money in it for unscrupulous individuals. Knowing that it’s become one of the largest revenue streams for the drug cartels should let you know the type of person that is behind that industry.

As someone who knows my own physical limits, background, and level of training, I err on the side of keeping my family close, in the safest locations possible and having preparations in place to keep the upper hand. Rather than spend a large amount of money on a safe room, one could opt to purchase extremely durable doors to replace the current doors of the bathrooms closest to their family members and counsel them to move there if they hear the warning signal. 

There is no single “best” Strategy

If you have younger children, you may want to train older children to take their younger siblings to the predesignated location when they hear the warning. If this is your choice, take care that they know how to emplace any security measures that you have there, such as durable locks or telescopic door bars.

Unfortunately, there is no single “best” strategy. The size of your family, the ages of your children, the size and layout of your home, how much advanced warning you get, and whether you’re up against pros or amateurs all play into what a “proper” response would be. Take the time to understand the principles outlined above, consider your own household situation, and make the best plan that you can. 

As soon as they are in place and safe, assign other tasks, like calling 911,  that will help every family member survive this worst-case scenario.

5. Family Preparation

Anyone who’s been married knows that communication is one of the keys to a happy family, and neither spouses nor children are mind readers. If you physically and mentally spend countless hours preparing or training for what to do in the event of an emergency, it will largely be wasted time if those plans are never communicated to the other members of your household who will each play a part in the outcome.

Avoid Training Plans that May Make Children Fearful of the world

There is certainly a fine line that must be tread in doing so, especially if you have young children. You do not want an overzealous training plan to make them fearful of the world or to do anything that may tarnish their childhood innocence. Let them be kids and enjoy being kids, by finding a way to make family prep fun.

If you’re willing to take the time, this could easily be made into a sort of game in which the kids not only enjoy playing but get the benefit of muscle memory through repetition. This is the purpose of nursery rhymes ment to imbue certain teachings or life lessons into children at a young age, and the same idea could be utilized here.

Every family will have differing levels of temerity, disposition, and of course, sibling rivalry. One could certainly make a game out of seeing who could get to their pre-established positions the fastest after hearing the warning signal to win a prize (treat). If you live in tornado alley or parts of the country that face hurricanes or other natural disasters, you should already be doing some form of this type of training with your family for those types of emergencies.

Find a way to “gamify” your family’s preparedness plan

Part of our protective roles as parents is not only providing physical protection, but also doing whatever we can to provide a happy childhood to our kids. While the world seems to be getting crazier around us every day, it’s extremely important that we do what we can to provide a happy, safe, and normal childhood for them. 

Find a way to “gamify” your family’s preparedness plan, so that your children know how to respond quickly without worrying about nightmares that could come from the fears of what exactly the response is for.

Final Words on How to Survive a Home Invasion

The purpose of the articles in this series is not to alarm people, cause any sort of negative feelings, or teach people to be vigilantes hoping that someone makes the mistake of breaking into their homes. This is merely information that I pray to God no one reading this ever has to utilize, but understand that statistically, someone may have to.

A Little due diligence and prior planning can turn chaos into something manageable

The worst time to prepare for an emergency is in the middle of it, and just a little due diligence and prior planning can turn chaos into something manageable. I hope that you found the information above to be useful, but you ever have to actually use it. 

If you do, my hope is that you have a better understanding of how to respond, react, and protect yourself and your family from potential threats.



[2] Ben Stickle, Melody Hicks, Amy Stickle & Zachary Hutchinson (2019): Porch pirates: examining unattended package theft through crime script analysis, Criminal JusticeStudies, DOI: 10.1080/1478601X.2019.1709780

[3] National Incident-Based Reporting System, Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer, 2021 Incidents by Time of Day – Burglary/Breaking & Entering


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