A late night knock on the front door. It is the classic beginning to so many Hollywood and real life horror stories it has turned into something of a cliché.
But cliché or not, this defensive scenario continues to be a turning point in so many people’s lives every year I thought it best to address it.
It sounds simple enough, but the complexities pile up quickly when you consider the context of an average person in their home. Is it a neighbor?
A friend in need? Some injured or down-on-their-luck traveler? Or is it an intruder, trying for the easy way in under false pretenses? Or perhaps just trying to see if anyone is home or awake..?
Your response to this simple, eerie event may well dictate whether you live or die. Trusting to luck is not a strategy. In this article, we’ll explore a few responses to this deceptively complex tactical problem.
Being Polite Might Get you Killed
Especially after dark. There is no nicer way to put it.
In an era when home invaders employ especially brazen and deceptive techniques to gain entry to an occupied structure and overwhelm any resistance you must be on your guard.
The daylight and after dark door knock is a time-tested and effective tactic for getting in easily. As soon as you crack the deadbolt on your door, a criminal’s chances of a successful entry go up significantly.
As soon as you actually unlatch the door, their entry is all but guaranteed, chain or no chain.
With the rigid reinforcement of a deadbolt removed, the criminal can throw their weight into the door, bowling you over and leaving you in a poor position to defend yourself.
Leverage is with them; you will not, in almost any circumstance, be able to muster the strength needed to hold the door, much less shut it, against one or more determined invaders.
Even if you are armed, the opening moves of the fight are going against you. It is much better to keep them outside and deal with what comes if it comes down to it.
Worse, the fight might be lost as soon as you go to see who is at the door; many an unwary occupant has received a bullet through the eye or caught a hail of gunfire through a door as soon as the caller saw the peephole darken.
You can meet a similar fate peeping out of sidelight or transom windows.
Even if you don’t get shot or shot at through the door, you will not necessarily be much better off if the Big Bad Wolf decides to huff and puff and blow the door down.
You’ll be in a confined space with very little room to maneuver when things go loud.
The cure to all this? Proper procedures that you stick to, along with perhaps a little technological help.
Are they Expected?
The simplest thing you can do to drastically reduce your chances of getting taken by a late night door knocker is to never, ever go to the door if you are not expecting someone; a friend, a neighbor, a delivery, something. Sound unreasonable?
Okay, name something so important that you’d have to answer the door to take care of it. I’ll wait. Exactly: barring an expected visitor, the chances that any after-dark door knock is benign start falling fast.
Neighbor needs something? Why didn’t they call or text? Same neighbor in trouble or needs help? They’d be calling out your name. Friend stopping by? Again, why didn’t they call first; educate your people! Door to door salesman or solicitor? Hippity, hoppity, get off my property.
There is flat out no reason in this day and age for anyone to come by unannounced. None. Treat any unexpected door knock as a threat, and double your caution for one after dark.
But What About…
Now we get to the “iffy” ones: a supposedly stranded traveler, one out of gas in your unfamiliar neck of the woods.
Another injured by a car wreck. It’s a young person, a woman, a visibly injured man alone. Aww.
Most people are good people. They want to help, and in doing so open the door. “Come on in sweetie- Surprise! You get rushed and taken by a knife they had concealed, and have three friends barging around the corner right behind them. Bummer.
It’s called the “broken bird” play. A fiend in the guise of a poor, bedraggled or injured person in need of assistance and obviously in distress. This plays upon the sentimentality and empathy of the “caregiver” folks among us.
But in doing so they doom themselves, walking right on to the big ‘X’ painted on the pavement…
This seems a proper dilemma, especially for the kind and Christian among us.
Do you ignore the pleas for help, and perhaps in doing so leave a legitimate traveler in the lurch without their Good Samaritan? Or do you risk assault and death or worse by opening the door to save the day?
It is not an easy thing to deal with, especially when you are the perhaps the only person who can help someone genuinely in need. But, there are ethical ways out of even this seeming pit of quicksand.
Your Go-To Play: Stand-off, Ascertain and Standby
There is a simple procedure you can rely on for handling most unknown knocks at your door. When you perceive the knock/doorbell/cry for help, do the following:
- Arm yourself – If this is a pretense for a home invasion, you must be ready.
- Take up position – A position that lets you catch anyone coming through the door while not being directly near or in front of the door is ideal.
- Challenge – Shout, “Who’s there?!” Listen for response. If contact unknown, respond accordingly. Default is “Go away” or “I cannot help you”
- Ascertain – View cameras, if installed, or peek through windows away from front door.
- Call for help – If person persists or claims to be injured/in trouble, call police. Remain on guard.
- Stay alert! – Entire instance might be setup for flanking attack by companions. Keep an eye and ear on back door, garage entrance, etc.
You fundamental response to any knock at the door should be to first arm yourself, then keep your distance, assume a nominal position of cover and find out who is there before approaching.
How? Shout, you idgit! “Who’s there?!” See what the response is. If it is someone you know and recognize all should be well. If it is a salesman or some other itinerant, send them packing.
If it is someone who claims to need help, you’ll have a decision to make. The smartest thing you can do is to call the police and let the “visitor” know that emergency services are on their way.
If they are in need, they’ll be in good hands soon. If they aren’t, and just trying to lure you into opening the door, they should skedaddle most ricky-tick.
It is during this time that a committed invader-in-sheep’s-clothing or band of such miscreants might drop the act and attempt to force entry. Be ready and alert for any such attempt.
Also, be extremely attuned to movement or an invasion attempt from the back of the house; a common tactic employed by home invaders is a distraction at the front of the home to draw the occupants’ attention there while the rest or part of the criminal crew goes around for the flank.
Now, the tricky part. If you are someone who is genuinely self-concerned with helping people, either by disposition, creed or for some other reason, it might seriously go against your grain to simply leave the door closed on an innocent, ailing person in need.
I am not judging! I am only making the case that by not opening the door on any unknown contact you will be in a much better position to avoid harm.
If you cannot bring yourself to abstain from opening the door for anyone who comes by, or you just want better intel on someone’s intentions before doing so, you’ll need an intel gathering apparatus. We’ll cover that in the next section.
Getting Eyes On
Seeing someone at your door will help you make an informed decision about who they are and what they are doing there.
A person’s attire, demeanor, physical status and anything they are holding as well as what kind if any vehicle they are driving will all offer clues as to their intent.
But, as I mentioned above, peeping through a peephole or sidelights is not ideal, as this obvious indicator of your position can be used against you immediately to lethal effect.
This is where a technological edge comes in handy. Security cameras of all kinds have in recent years become more user-friendly, affordable and accessible than ever, and are perfect for remotely assessing any who might be knocking or ringing your doorbell.
A simple frontal camera at the door will allow you to see who is there, what they are wearing and likely carrying in front of them, but it will have blind spots to either side, even with a wide angle lens.
This means a savvy prepper will want a multi-camera setup, ideally one covering the spot directly in front of the door, to either side and also a camera above as well as one with a rear view of whoever might be in front of the door.
The latter might be difficult to set up depending on the configuration of your porch, if any.
The reason why you want such an all around view is simple: information is critical. The more info you can gather the better your decisions.
There have been quite a few home invaders who gained access under false pretenses; dressed up as delivery men, census takers, or even uniformed cops.
In each case, with the benefit of hindsight, it was discovered that there is most often something that will betray the impostor.
In one instance a fake deliveryman had a weapon in-hand beneath a box he was holding. When the unwitting homeowner opened the door he barged in, having the homeowner at his mercy.
Another crime saw a couple of uniformed “cops” with vests, belts and all other associated accoutrement attempt to intimidate a homeowner into opening the door under the pretense of a fake warrant.
The clever homeowner peeked outside, seeing their unmarked and atypical model vehicles for his local department and, on further inspection, noticed that the duo were each wearing… sneakers?
That was the tipoff: he called the real police. The pair fled without attempting a forced entry, thankfully.
Another, low-tech option to gather more visual info on who is standing at your door is to install an overhead ¾” mirror, or one of those large, “bubble” mirrors you see at come intersections in buildings and stores.
In conjunction with an overhead transom window, or viewed through a nearby front window, you’ll be able to see more of the person(s) near your front door.
No electricity, no cameras, no problem. While not as comprehensive or as effective as a multi-camera setup, it certainly beats looking thorough a peephole or through sidelights for all the reasons discussed.
One Word about Cameras
With the proliferation of wireless, “smart” DIY camera systems that seamlessly integrate into your other home and personal devices there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of criminals and malcontents turning these systems to their own benefit or countering them.
Another concern is the privacy-invading nature of the cameras themselves, and the duplicitous corporations who market them…
At any rate, any wireless device can have its security breached and its functionality hacked. This might result in a camera being off or aimed elsewhere when an attack is imminent.
It might allow a criminal to seize control of an interior camera for up to the moment visual surveillance of your home’s interior.
One recent and sobering mystery case had a stranger talking to the toddler-aged child of one couple through the wireless baby camera speaker installed in the child’s room!
The sheer variety in the brands and models of cameras on the market today along with the variations in software and compatible devices means a comprehensive analysis of their pros and cons from a security standpoint is beyond the scope of this article and the author.
If you are considering security cameras for your home, ensure that system hardness and security is a top priority, and do everything you can to ensure that neither corporate interests or bad actors will be able to access the feeds or controls.
If you cannot ensure that, consider traditional hardwired cameras with a remote monitor.
Additional Defensive Considerations
A door-kick home invasion, with or without the deceptive element of a door-knock, is one of the most dangerous and increasingly common crimes an average homeowner will face that can warrant a lethal force response.
Accordingly, it is best to incorporate a few additional action steps along with having the right “unknown contact” plan.
- Install Anti-kick devices on all exterior doors. It is shockingly easy to kick in any standard door, even a solid one, since the screws holding hinges and locksets together are weak and absorb majority of force, failing easily. An anti-kick device transfers this force to the frame of the building, greatly increasing failure strength of door.
- Install a “periscope” peephole and peephole cover. An offset peephole keeps your eye out of line with the tube of the peephole. A peephole cover prevents use of a reverse viewer, a device that lets someone outside your home look in through the peephole.
- Consider reinforced doors and nearby glass, front and rear. Homeowners have been shot through their doors often enough that I would not risk the same fate. A discreetly armored door and heavy ballistic mylar on sidelight and transom windows can give you an edge over evildoers in this situation.
- Don’t give in to emotion! It is altogether too easy for someone to hit our emotion buttons with pleading or cries for help. You must keep your head on straight; ascertain all facts you can before you decide to “crack the seals” on your home.
- Always expect the second threat. Criminals increasingly don’t operate alone. Expect a flanking or rear attack or invasion attempt anytime you are managing an unknown contact.
A late night knock at the door is a nerve-wracking and common occurrence, one you must be ready to deal with intelligently if you don’t want to put yourself at risk of harm or death
You’ll need a good plan and a few hardware solutions if you don’t want to roll the dice and take your chances.
Make peace with appearing “cold” or “rude” and stop opening the door for every person that comes by; they have no right to interaction with you and may in fact be planning to harm you.
Only open the door readily to those whom you are expecting and have confirmed their identity.