Physical Security Plan: Which Measures?

POW Camp Gate Eingang_StaLag_IVBWeapons Man

The Army identifies a number of potential physical security measures in AR 190-11.

Physical security measures are physical security equipment, procedures, or devices used to protect security interests from possible threats. They include, but are not limited to—  

  1. Security guards.
  2. Military working dogs.
  3. Physical barriers.
  4. Badging systems.
  5. Secure containers.
  6. Locking devices.
  7. Intrusion detection systems (IDS).
  8. Security lighting.
  9. Assessment or surveillance systems (such as closed-circuit television (CCTV)).
  10. Access control devices.
  11. Facility hardening.

Right now, we can eliminate some of these as not germane to the home or business security situation (excepting very large businesses, of course). There will be no security guards, and no badging system. (In our experience, badging systems, beloved of MPs and other unimaginative physical security pros, are easily manipulated and defeated in the real world; unless they tie in to other access controls, they’re security theater).

Some of the other categories are duplicative in the real world: physical barriers, secure containers, locking devices, access control devices, they all seem to bleed together. They’re all attempts to physically harden the target from access, opening, tampering or removal.

The take-away we can get from those nearly duplicate fields that the Army insists on, though, is that redundant layers of security are A Good Thing®. So we’ll try to suggest an equivalent for each.

Others simply need to be “demilitarized.” For example, not everybody wants, needs, or can handle a military working dog (a retired sergeant-major friend has a retired EOD dog with worse PTSD than any of our human friendsl They’re a man-and-beast match made in heaven). But a dog, period, is a great addition to your home security, as we’ll see. So we’ll start there, since you’re not going to have security guards. You are your own security guard. Deal with it.


A dog has two principal benefits from the standpoint of home security. The first is early warning: a dog has senses that you absolutely do not. He can see things in lower light than you can; he can scent things that humans absolutely do not have a potential of smelling. And dogs appear to have a sixth sense about hazard. (They’re also as good as, if not better than, humans, at reading human emotions).

Military Working DogsThe second benefit is the dog’s deterrent effect: while we’ve made fun of policemen who are afraid of dogs, that’s nothing to the degree to which criminalsare afraid of them. (One retired cop of our acquaintance used his note-perfect K9 imitation and a bullhorn to bring a barricaded suspect out, begging for mercy). Burglars gonna burgle, but when they hear your dog, they’re gonna go burgle someone else. Harsh on the neighbors, perhaps, but true. (The pooch in the pic is an actual Military Working Dog at Offut AFB. Down, boy, we promise to say something nice about the F-35 if you give us the fingers back).

A dog doesn’t need to be an attack-trained wolf crossbreed to be aggressive about defending his turf and pack (your home and family). A good intimidating bark and growl will do the job usually. (Of course, they also increase the odds some jumpy cop will whack your best friend. Everything in life’s a trade-off).

Physical barriers / Secure containers / Locking devices

Stalag 13_40acres_1970_rex_mcgee_24There are together because they’re all pretty much of a piece, obstacles. Remember the words of the wise old Defense Against Methods of Entry technician: “Locks keep honest people out.” Dishonest people can either take the time to manipulate the lock, or, if their dishonesty tends more towards the larcenous than the investigative, break the lock. If the lock is indestructible (which is only a relative term), they will break what it’s attached to: hasp, gate, chain, door, safe, none of them will stand up to a physical attack for a long period.

Physical barriers have their place in commercial buildings, but a fence or wall can be a non-starter in some residential communities, and even if it were not contraindicated by neighborhood standards, it too delivers, to a certain degree, false security. Every infantryman (and tanker, and combat engineer) learns that obstacles are only truly obstacles if they’re covered by observation and fire. Given time and a chance to work in the shadows, your opponent gets in. (Criminals prove this every day, burglarizing businesses with unsightly chain-link and razor-wire fences. But these kinds of obstacles can delay him and inconvenience him, and thereby encourage to execute Plan B on some less-hardened location).

This is where it helps to know the threat. Is someone targeting you or your possessions — Renoirs, gold bars, Lugers, Beanie Baby collection? Or are you just hardening your site against the common-and-garden-variety Wealth Redistribution Specialist™? The first case is the more serious threat, but rare; the second is ever-present. But remember: if you are well-to-do and have handymen, landscapers or remodelers work on your house, word of what is visible inside may reach circles you wouldn’t want it to, catapulting you into the first-case threat mode.

Hardening Buys Delay, Not Immunity

Hardening can’t mean “making impossible,” because that’s just not practical in the real world. It can mean “inconveniencing,” “discouraging,” or “slowing down.” For example, the General Services Administration rates security containers (safes like the ones we keep the secret documents in) in terms of the time it takes for an unauthorized user to make a surreptitious entry or an entry by force.

From the burglar’s point of view, the surreptitious entry may be best if he wants the victim to be unaware of the entry. Most burglars will go for the forcible entry, which is superior from their viewpoint because it reduces their time on the X. A burglar’s goal is generally to get on the X and off it in the minimum time possible (minimum exposure, minimum risk) and to get off the X with something of highest possible portability and value (your guns are the Holy Grail for a crusading burglar for that reason. Your gun might be a $350 beater Glock or a rusty Sears Roebuck .22 but he will pass up the $5000 china in your china cabinet to get at that Glock or .22.   Likewise, your 70″ curved Samsung 4G TV that’s bolted to the wall may flunk “portability,” but your $500 Best Buy laptop is gonzo.


Intrusion detection systems (IDS) is the current phys sec buzzphrase for the good old burglar alarm. There are several different classifications of alarms based on technology (how they work) as well as monitoring (who they notify).

For the home, the most common technologies secure the perimeter of the house with a wired low-voltage electrical circuit that trips the alarm if the circuit is open, and/or use motion detectors inside the house. A sophisticated burglar can defeat both types of alarm (the motion detector is more difficult than finding and jumping the wires of a perimeter security system), but an unsophisticated burglar makes a smash-and-grab raid and ignores the alarm.

The motion detector is a problem if you want to alarm a house with pets inside. (And we did just urge you to get a dog).

A less common technology monitors an outer perimeter on the property and alerts the residents of the house or workers in the business when a person has entered the premises. These are available in a variety of technical implementations, and have some limitations but can be a good adjunct to a sophisticated system.

The basic types of monitoring are:

  1. Alarms directly monitored by police, which are not available for most residences or businesses;
  2. Alarms monitored by the alarm company, where a desk officer then calls the local police, usually after a verification call to the alarm owner to guard against false alarms (a bane of cop life in well-to-do residential communities, for which more and more departments are charging homeowners a fee); and,
  3. Unmonitored alarms that simply sound a loud siren or horn. (If you live in a neighborhood with nosy old ladies, an audible alarm will produce a 911 response while a silent alarm was still being escalated by the drones in the alarm company call center.

There are some variations on these; for instance, a vendor in Shotgun News has offered for years a pepper spray system (that can be converted to a CS system, although not with the blessings of the manufacturer) that makes the protected area temporarily untenable for an unprotected human.

Passive Security

Passive security is a catch-all that includes several of the items on the list, such as security lighting and surveillance systems, as well as items they didn’t consider, like landscaping and elimination of concealed avenues of approach.

Burglars work by night, both because they tend to be drug-addled scumbags who hold no other job, and are free to (and have to) sleep in late, and because night conceals them as they go about their depredations. So to deny them the dark and the shadows is a good move.

Landscaping — your trees should have no branches lower than the height of a tall man. Your bushes should not extend high enough to conceal a crouching man working on your windows. The perimeter of the building and its faces should be lit if they are in a position to be observed by people in neighboring structures.

One thought on “Physical Security Plan: Which Measures?

  1. There are good points made and good advice given in the article, but please remember that your best security is mobility.

    You can fortify your home like a medieval castle, but eventually the siege engines will arrive with the ability to defeat your defenses.

    You need to be able to abandon your home, and continue to fight effectively with what you can carry.

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