What To Do When an Intruder Is in Your Home

While the number of burglaries has been trending downward for some time,1 the possibility of a home intrusion is still scary and violating.

Read on for our tips about how to handle this frightening scenario.

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1. Quickly verify their presence

Time is of the essence, so be quick about checking. Take a deep breath and listen closely or check for security camera or video doorbell alerts on your phone.

See if you can distinguish between pet movements and normal plumbing sounds and those of footsteps, breaking glass, opening doors, or shuffling objects and furniture.

2. Stay calm

In scary situations, it's normal for your adrenaline to surge and for your heart rate to jump. Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and body so you can decide what to do next.

Avoid grabbing a weapon unless you have tactical training in high-intensity situations—weapons like firearms can often make things more dangerous instead of safer, especially if you lack professional training2.

3. Determine if you can escape

If you confirm someone is in your home or if you still suspect it after taking a pause, don't confront them. Find a way out immediately. Look for windows you can safely exit from or places to hide if you can’t make a getaway. If you have a fire escape ladder, now is the time to use it.

4. Stay put if you can't escape

If the intruder is between you and your exterior doors and you can't climb out of a window, shut yourself in a bathroom, bedroom, or even a closet. Lock the door, and if possible, barricade it. Stay as quiet as possible.

5. Call the police

Whether you're escaping or hiding, call 911 for help. Keep your voice quiet and speak slowly so dispatchers can hear you.

How can you reach out for help?

  • On any phone: call 9-1-1
  • On an iPhone 8 or later: hold down the power button and one of the volume buttons, then select Emergency SOS from the options on screen.
  • On an iPhone 7 or earlier: press the power button five times in a row, then slide the Emergency SOS option.
  • On a cell phone in an area with Text 911 services: open a new text message draft, type 9-1-1 into the To field, then write a message. Spell things out, and do not send emojis, gifs, or pictures.

The dispatcher will ask what your emergency is. Be prepared to answer a few questions about the following:

  • Nature of your emergency
  • The address of the emergency
  • Your phone number and name
  • Who else is in the home with you
  • Description of intruder including clothing, gender, hair color, height, weight, race, location or direction of travel, and whether or not they're armed
  • Where you and other members of the household are located

They may stay on the line with you until help arrives on scene. If you move locations, be sure to update the dispatcher on where you are.

6. Keep quiet and follow instructions

While most intrusions are not violent, it's not worth taking the risk of being found. Stay quiet if the dispatcher asks questions or gives you instructions while they're on the line with you. Answer quietly and succinctly.

7. Take notes immediately afterward

If you’re in a position where you can see the intruder, memorize everything. In the chance they get away before police arrive, you’ll want to be able to give a detailed account of weight, gender, height, attire, vehicles, and direction of travel.

It’ll make it easier for police to track the intruder down and prevent them from victimizing other homes. You will also want to note everything that was broken or stolen so you can make a detailed report for police and start recovering from the break-in.

A break-in can be an unnerving and traumatic experience, but a little preparation can help you prevent a home intrusion and stay calm if it does happen. Take some time to check and improve the security of your home and practice your break-in protocol at home like you would a fire or earthquake drill.

Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help everyone find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. In her free time, she volunteers at the local botanical garden and writers for the community newspaper.

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