Burglary is one of the most common property crimes and something that affects a large number of Americans every year. It is also a major motivation for many people who buy firearms for self-defense. However, before you prepare to repel borders, you should have a basic understanding of the problem as it exists in the real world.

It doesn’t happen as portrayed in the media. On television, burglaries happen at midnight when a black-clad felon sneaks into your home, ties everyone up and then steals the family silver. The burglar will make a series of comical or heinous wisecracks before disappearing like a wisp of smoke.

While nighttime burglaries of occupied homes do occur with some frequency, the stereotypical burglary goes more like this: a loser stands at your front door around mid-morning to ring the doorbell and knock for a few minutes. If someone answers, he will ask for directions to a nearby address and then leave.

If you aren’t home, the bad guy is joined by his partner who was waiting in the car and they go around the back of the house. After knocking one last time, they kick in the back door or occasionally pry open a window. Once inside, they take the pillowcases off the beds and ransack the house looking for drugs, guns, cash and jewelry. Sometimes they will also take tools and the television but these are often too bulky to carry. Sometimes they will back up to the garage to load their haul into a pickup truck or old work van. Other times, a girlfriend or accomplice is circling the neighborhood waiting for a phone call. After ten to fifteen minutes, the group flees to trade their loot for drugs, booze and cigarettes

As you can see, there is nothing too sophisticated about this operation. In fact, burglars are just about the bottom rung of the criminal element. Too lazy to work or even assault people for a living, they just sneak around and steal things while you are away at work.

The first part of your burglary response plan is to physically harden your residence. That is an entire subject to itself but the goal is to make things just a bit more challenging for the criminals, thereby reducing your odds of victimization. Don’t worry about turning your home or apartment into Fort Knox unless you are storing $50 trillion dollars worth of gold bullion inside the refrigerator as the run-of-the-mill burglar is looking for an easy score, not a sophisticated mental challenge.

Alarms are a good thing but not a cure-all. Dogs are likewise helpful but the best overall solution for burglary prevention is simply having good neighbor relations and making sure everyone looks out for everyone else. The value of such a low-tech solution cannot be overstated.

Despite precautions, if you find your residence has been burglarized, there are several important things you need to do for both safety and criminal investigation purposes.

Immediately charging inside with trusty Masterblaster .45 pistol in hand to confront the miscreants is exactly the wrong thing to do. Clearing any building is a team sport and there is absolutely no good reason to go inside unless you hear your spouse or kids screaming for help. The correct response is to back out and call the cops.

Position yourself to watch the house and notify local police while maintaining a discreet surveillance to help update responding officers. Even if the suspects have already left, the police will find an empty home with good evidence still intact. If you discover the theft after having been already inside for a while, resist the urge to “tidy up” before the police arrive. Though it seems absurd, people do this all the time.

One problem seldom considered is children. If you have youngsters who stay home by themselves, for instance after school, make sure you discuss what they should do if they discover a burglary. Without creating undue anxiety or fear, simply point out the possibility and then explain that they should not go inside but immediately leave and notify a neighbor or police.

Burglary during nighttime hours is more common in urban areas yet still relatively unlikely as most thieves don’t seek confrontation. However, this is the one emergency scenario most people visualize when talking about home defense.

When considering this possibility, the most important thing is to have a simple home invasion plan, much like the home fire drill or storm warning preparations. Take time to talk with spouses, children or other housemates about what to do in event of an intruder, including a simple code word to alert others of an immediate threat. An alarm system is great in this regard.

You will probably want to gather everyone up for defensive purposes so you must decide beforehand how this can safely be accomplished. Bedrooms in far-flung corners might require an escape plan or preparations for hiding in place but regardless, keep the plan realistic and extremely simple.

The best overall response to a home invasion is to assume a defensive posture, turning one area (most likely the main bedroom) into a well-defended firebase. Gather up the family, obtain a suitable weapon, barricade the door if practical and verbally challenge the intruder to leave as you call the police on your cell phone. In most cases the bad guy will flee upon hearing your voice, but if not, you’re ready for trouble.

This isn’t the time for brilliant tactics or heroics; shelter in place and wait for the police to arrive.

Burglary prevention isn’t rocket science because the people committing the act aren’t exactly the cream of the criminal crop. Just make sure your residence is reasonably secure, work with the neighbors to keep an eye out for each other and have a realistic plan to defend yourself. Do this and you will sleep better at night knowing you’ve done everything reasonably possible to safeguard your home and its most valuable contents: the people living inside.