Guarded approach

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 12:00am

ABOUT $400 MILLION worth of property is burgled from homes each year in Hong Kong. But many householders robbed of their priceless mementos or heirloom treasures say the cost is far greater.

On the flip side, there are about 300 licensed alarm companies in Hong Kong, all making it their business to protect your belongings. Bob White, Chief Inspector Operations at the Crime Prevention Bureau, says all homes should be treated as potential targets, regardless of where you live. However, before you rush off to buy alarms and safes, he points out many of 'the basics' are often neglected. 'Householders who want to improve their home safety should start with the front door,' White says. 'Usually this is a strong iron door, while the back door is a flimsy bit of rubbish. So the first thing is to make sure your back door offers the same degree of protection as the front.'

Next, whether you have a balcony or not, look for scaling opportunities offered by external utility pipes or a nearby stairwell. Burglars don't need patio doors - they can just as easily gain entry through a window.

If you're going to install bars, the police recommend using mild steel, which is stronger than aluminium. Of course, not everyone likes to live behind bars, and another option is to install easily operated window locks.

Next, check your balcony door. If it has been installed from the outside, as most have, jiggle the door to see how much 'play' there is. If you think it is possible to lift the door out, screw a small baton in place at the top or bottom to secure it.

White says if you own jewellery that is rarely worn, the best and cheapest place for it might be a safety deposit box at the bank. But if you do buy a home safe, make sure it can be bolted to the floor. 'There is no point in putting everything inside a safe if it can be picked up and taken away,' he says.

Similarly, before investing in an alarm system, assess your household to see if it would be suitable. In homes where there are family members, pets or helpers coming and going, White says many people spend money on alarms only to then turn them off. 'The whole idea of security is to buy time, to make your home an unattractive target. Subject to the design of your house, maybe you could consider creating a safe refuge by placing a strong door across a corridor leading to the bedrooms. This might sound extreme, but it buys you time to call the police and at least your family would be safe.'

Strategically placed 'panic buttons' linked to a security firm are an extra precaution, White says, but make sure you choose a licensed operator from the list available on the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority Web site:

Marine Ma, manager at Hong Kong Burglar Alarm Centre in Ocean Terminal, says the wide range of alarms available starts with a simple, do-it-yourself installation for a window or door that costs just $50. Middle of the range is a motion detector that can be activated in a strategic area, such as across a corridor. The top model is a system designed specifically for your house, and can be linked to call either the householder or the police, depending on your instructions. These one-off designs can cost up to $10,000.

Richard Ng, of Professional Locksmith in Admiralty Centre, says affluent people in Hong Kong are increasingly buying safes for their homes. 'These people don't want to take a risk with their valuables, and they don't want the inconvenience of going to the bank all the time,' Ng says.

Modern safes are the easy-to-use, digital type that should have six digits or more. This offers more security than the four-digit safes often found in hotels, Ng says. Average household safes can cost from $4,000 to $7,000 and they come in a wide range of sizes. 'People should first consider where they are going to put the safe, and what they are going to put in it. Then I can find them one to meet their needs,' Ng says.

Although Hong Kong is a relatively safe city, electronic security provider ADT Hong Kong says round-the-clock, state-of-the-art security is no longer considered a luxury by many. 'People feel they need that extra security to protect their family,' general manager Stanley Kong says. 'Their only concern is the amount they pay.'

The monthly subscription fee for such a service is $200, while the installation costs vary depending on the size of the house, starting at about $4,000. Kong recommends installing a motion detector near the master bedroom - an area that thieves routinely target - for just a couple of hundred dollars extra.