Over the last decade, our nation’s military towns have reached surprisingly high levels of crime. According to a recent report, major crimes on base, ranging from burglary to assault and murder, have been on the rise throughout the United States since 2003. Knowing this, the possibility that our military towns are not nearly as safe as one would think, is quite likely. There can be an illusion of safety that propagates through communities, which, for those new to the military life, can be a real danger.
After looking at crime data from the 5 largest military bases in the United States, 4 out of 5 of them have higher crime rates than their neighboring cities, as well as the average across all cities in the country. For example, Fort Hood located in Texas, only ranks safer than 11% of all U.S. cities, while Fort Benning in Georgia ranks even lower at being safer than only 2% of cities. With each reporting thousands and thousands of crimes, they each rank much lower than their respective state totals.
Members of military families whose spouses are gone for extended periods of time can be at risk as well. Regardless of living directly on base, or slightly off of it, there are several safety measures military families should take together. At any given point in time, military families have a long list of things to worry about, but their own safety and security should not be one of them. Establishing order and protocol for various emergency situations will not only ensure the family’s safety, but provide peace of mind.
One of the many instances that military families can be at risk is during a deployment. However, there are a number of simple tasks a family can check off both before the deployment and after. Current military personnel and their families need to be vigilant when it comes to personal and at home safety.
Having an action or emergency preparedness plan for a family, for a variety of situations, is the first step and one of the most effective ways to ensure family safety. From various crimes, to even natural disasters, an emergency can come at a moment’s notice. Every family should have a plan and each member within the family should know it from memory. Including escape routes, rendezvous locations, emergency contact numbers, family member health information, and locations of first responders within the community is crucial. Making sure that children know how to identify an emergency and who to call for help is also important. Creating a plan, listing and updating important information, as well as practicing it, should be done annually.
In terms of the community, becoming familiar with the community as a whole is very important. Meeting neighbors, learning the street layout and where community centers like police stations and schools are located, are some of the best ways to feel more at home and safe. After getting to know the local law enforcement as well, it would be a good idea to ask for additional patrols around certain areas if needed. Local police tend to have great respect for military families and are usually more than happy to make an extra point to monitor homes.
When it comes to a home, there are several measures worth taking to enhance security for a family. First and foremost, all locks on the windows and doors should be in perfect working order, and used regularly. If needed, installing additional deadbolts and window locks provide an extra layer of security over a home.
Moving outside of the home, any landscaping that blocks the view to a home should be removed. Certain landscaping items close to the home can provide a hiding place for a criminal, whether in broad daylight or at night. Lastly, installing motion-activated lighting outside and even investing in a security system are two ways to incorporate alert-type deterrents that are extremely effective.
Continuing to learn the community and more importantly, get as involved as possible with other families, groups, and programs. Meeting with other military spouses or even joining a neighborhood watch program are also ways to foster feelings of safety for families throughout the area. Using the buddy system is a good way to stay safe when walking around at night or in unfamiliar areas. If this isn’t an option, being a hard target for attackers is key.
As far as family members and individual homes are concerned, keeping a certain level of privacy is strongly encouraged. Mentioning timelines and locations of deployment with several others or even sharing it online, is not only a national security issue, but can also be an issue for families. Another extremely important issue is social media safety. Settings for social media accounts should be set to private and tagging GPS locations while posting is strongly discouraged.
The safety and security of the home is a last line of defense for families. If a security system is the best option for a family, using it for 24/7 monitoring is essential. Some home security units are now wireless systems that promote connectivity. Many even come with free, standalone apps that allow family members to check in on their home and control the system from anywhere in the world.
Keeping routines the same while a family member is on deployment is one of the best ways to take away any unwanted attention on a home. Having family members or friends come and go, leaving cars in the driveway, and maintaining the landscaping like mowing the lawn or shoveling snow keeps the home from looking neglected. This in turn, decreases the viability of it being targeted for burglary. Another recommendation is relocating spare keys. Give them to friends and family, or move them inside as opposed to using a hide-a-key outside the home.
This can be difficult in larger military towns, such as Fort Bragg in California, which has a population of nearly a quarter of a million. However, becoming familiar with more individuals and families in the immediate community is also a great way to be able to recognize individuals who may be a danger to the community. Being extra careful of strangers who are around a home, or may even come to the front door, is especially important.
Families may not always be able to be together, especially those in the military. This is why having a plan and being prepared is incredibly important. Whether new to the military lifestyle, or having been involved in the military for years, these simple tips are sure to keep all families safe. For anyone new to the military life and living on base, these guides here also provide some great introductory info.