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Traveling this summer? Protect your home.

The St. Pete Times had a very detailed write-up of how to protect your home when away on vacation. The article is included here.

More burglaries take place in July and August than any other time of year, the FBI reports. Could it be because that’s when people go on vacation, leaving their homes unattended and vulnerable?
If you’ll be away this summer, your vacation planning needs to include some time and effort to make sure your house and possessions will be secure in your absence.
“In the flurry of getting ready for vacation, your home may be the last thing you think about, ” said Meri-K Appy, president of the nonprofit national Home Safety Council. “Building in the time you need to take a few precautions is really important.” Your goal, she said, “is to make it look as if you’re not gone.”
And don’t think security is simply a matter of locks and keys, other experts said. There are other steps to take, inside and outside the house, that will provide peace of mind while you’re on the road and a happy homecoming at journey’s end.
Before you go
– Days or weeks before you depart, check every door in the house. Where are the keys? Do doors lock properly? If a door is warped or damaged, it may need replacing.
– If you have sliding glass doors, you’ll want to place a metal rod or broomstick in the track so the door can’t be moved. You’ll also want a U-lock so sliders can’t be jiggled vertically and lifted out of their tracks.
– Don’t forget about gates, garages and sheds. They should be securely locked. Anything that a burglar might find useful – like a ladder – should be chained or locked in place.
– Check every window to make sure locks are working. You may want to drill a hole into the frames through upper and lower sashes and insert a long nail so the window can’t be opened.
– Alert police or the sheriff’s department that you’ll be away. They may have a program to check houses frequently while the owners are gone. And call when you come back so you and law enforcement don’t surprise each other when you accidentally cross paths.
– If you live in a gated community with security guards, notify those authorities that you’ll be away. Provide a list of family members or workers lawn or pool service, for example who should be allowed in.
Prepare the outside
– Arrange for lawn care in your absence. An overgrown lawn is a tip-off that no one is at home. So are frowsy flowers with spent blossoms, or a lawn littered with fallen palm fronds or branches blown down in a heavy thunderstorm.
– Before you leave, have damaged tree limbs removed. You should do this anyway during hurricane season. Do it now so the limbs don’t threaten your house in your absence.
– Trim the shrubbery. Overgrown bushes near doors provide handy hiding places for potential burglars.
– Protect your home against severe weather. If you take in all your chairs, flags, garden accessories and other outdoor items, it’s a tip-off no one is home. So bring in most of these items, but ask a neighbor to take in the last few if a major storm threatens while you’re away.
– Do you have storm shutters? Arrange with a friend – or hire someone – to install them if a hurricane threatens while you’re gone.
– If you ordinarily close your curtains or blinds during the day, leave them that way, so the house looks normal. If you leave them open, don’t make it easy for potential burglars to go “window shopping, ” i.e., to peek inside and see your laptop, the silver candlesticks on the mantel or the camera you left on the dining room table. Valuable items should be locked up or removed from the premises while you’re gone.
– Keep the pool pump operating. You don’t want to come home to a pool that looks like the black lagoon.
Prepare the inside
– Turn your air conditioning up at least 4 degrees (to 83 or 84 degrees, Progress Energy recommends). That will control humidity so you don’t come back to an attack of mold and mildew, and saves air conditioning dollars. You can cool the house down in about 20 minutes when you return.
– Turn off the water heater (at the switch, or flip the breaker at the electrical box) if you plan to be gone more than three or four days. No point in spending money to keep an 80-gallon water tank hot. It takes less than an hour to heat a tankful of water when you return.
– Make sure refrigerator and freezer doors are tightly closed.
– Turn off ceiling fans. They don’t cool homes, they cool people.
– Turn off the water to the washing machine. The pressure can cause hoses to burst.
– Never leave the house with the dishwasher running.
– Arrange for a friend or relative to check the house regularly, especially after a power outage, to reset timers and make sure the refrigerator didn’t get zapped by lightning. That friend should know how to operate your home alarm system.
– Unplug other appliances to avoid lightning strikes. If you must keep them plugged in, use surge protectors.
Light it up
– Put lights on timers. A porch light that burns constantly is a dead giveaway that no one is at home. Lights should turn on and off in various parts of the house at different times. A radio on a timer is another way to give the illusion someone is at home.
– Motion-detector lights are another good idea. Someone outside won’t know whether they’ve been turned on automatically or by someone inside.
Make your list
– Have the post office hold your mail, or arrange for a friend to pick it up daily. That friend should also pick up flyers, other publications and trash from your lawn or doorstep.
– Don’t place mail orders or shop online just before you leave. You don’t want packages or delivery notification slips stacking up at your door.
– If you ordinarily park a car in the driveway, ask a neighbor to park there to make the house look as normal as possible. If you park your own car there while you’re away, remove the garage door opener and all valuables, such as coins and CDs. To keep the place looking normal, have someone move the car and repark it every few days.
– If you have a security system, call the company to let them know you’ll be away. Let the people on your contact list – those who will be called if the company can’t reach you – know as well. Don’t forget to activate the system before you leave. Provide the monitoring company with your cell phone number so you can be reached in case of emergency.
Gifts that keep giving
– No need to take all your keys, cards and identification when you go on vacation. You won’t need your voter registration, Social Security or library card or your work ID and keys in North Carolina, for example. They’re one more thing to carry around and they might get lost. But don’t leave them on the hall table for a burglar to scoop up and steal your identity. Put them in a secure location.
– A key rack with every key labeled is a burglar’s invitation to come back again. Keep your spares where a burglar is unlikely to come across them.
– Don’t use the “vacation reply” function on your computer to tell senders of e-mail that you’re on vacation. You’re letting every spammer in the world know you’re away.
– Similarly, don’t announce on your phone answering machine (at home or at work) that you’re on vacation. A message like, “We’ll be in North Carolina till after Labor Day” might as well say, “The house is empty, burglars; come on over.” Check your messages frequently. If callers learn your voice mailbox is full, that’s an invitation you don’t want to extend.
– Turn down the phone ringer so someone lurking outside can’t tell that it goes unanswered. If you’ve set your answering machine to pick up after 10 rings, reduce it to three or four.
– Important papers, your checkbook, banking information – don’t leave them lying around for a burglar to pocket.
The day you leave
– If it’s trash pickup day, arrange for someone to roll your garbage cans back into your yard.
– Disable your automatic garage door opener by unplugging it. This will lock the door. (Some garage doors also have a bolt you can throw from inside so they can’t be opened manually from outside.) Some garage door openers are very sensitive and might respond to a lightning surge by opening. Unplugging will prevent that as well.
– Assuming you lock the garage door, be sure you have a front door key so you can get in the house upon your return.
Lock the door from the garage into the house. Some experts suggest covering garage windows with a blind so a prowler can’t peek in and see that the car is gone.
– Make sure every door is closed and locked when you leave. If you don’t disable your garage door opener, don’t pull out of the driveway until you’ve seen the garage door close completely.
Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or [email protected]
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When burglaries happen
The percentage of burglaries in the United States, by month, for 2004, the most recent figures available.
January: 8.0
February: 6.8
March: 8.0
April: 7.9
May: 8.3
June: 8.5
July: 9.1
August: 9.0
September: 8.6
October: 8.7
November: 8.6
December: 8.5
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting
– – –
10 most wanted items
Here are the items burglars are most interested in stealing, according to the Burglary Prevention Council.
– Televisions
– Computers (especially laptops) and printers
– DVD players and DVDs
– Stereo equipment
– Weapons
– Jewelry and watches
– Tools
– Cameras
– Credit cards
– Sports equipment (such as golf clubs)

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