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Safe Security Practices for Homeowners: An Interview with Jeff Gater of Gater's Locksmith, Inc.

By Jeff Gater

Tell us about your company and its foundation.

I incorporated my business as Gater's Locksmith, Inc. in October of 1990. My business opened May 1, 1991. I don't really have a company with employees, I basically own my job. I worked for three locksmith shops between 1977 and 1989. I figured out as an employee my income was limited to what employers were willing to pay. My pay was based on knowledge and hours invested. To make a decent wage I had to run the nights and weekend service calls. I figured out, in the locksmith profession, self-employment would give me a much better return for my hours invested. Therefore I could work less hours and make more money. Of course I am oversimplifying self-employment, but the results have worked out well for me.

My mission is not to sell-sell-sell. My mission is to meet the customer's security needs. I like to offer the customer options. Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to security. Some of my customers want key-control, pick resistant locks that are built to take abuse, and I can provide that product. Other customers had a key stolen, or person evicted from their property and just want the existing lock re-keyed to a new key. Sometimes I am called in to repair a door and replace a lock after a break-in. Each job is unique because the customer's needs are unique. My job is to fit the product or service to the customers security needs.

What is the minimal type of security system you believe is necessary for homeowners to possess?

The minimal type of security system for homeowners is a deadbolt lock on every exterior door and an auxiliary lock on every sliding patio door. Each window should have a working lock and the lock should be used. Alarms are good, but the lock is your first line of defense. An alarm will notify you a break-in has happened or is in progress. The lock will deter or even stop an attempted break-in.

The deadbolt on each door should work correctly. Eight out of ten deadbolt locks I am called out to re-key for a new home or business owner do not operate correctly. Many of these doors could have been opened with a pen-knife before I arrived and corrected the problem. The problem is always the same, the 1 inch deadbolt locks into a 1/2 inch deep hole in the door frame. If the deadbolt does not extend the full 1 inch it does not lock into place. Any tool can be used to push the bolt back into the door.

This is especially vulnerable for doors that open out, which is many residential doors on homes built after 1992. The other weak link in the deadbolt assembly is the strike plate. The strike plate (on the door frame side) should have reinforced steel and long anchor screws. This is included in many off-the-shelf deadbolts, but never installed by the handyman, carpenter or locksmith. A reinforced strike plate will make it harder to kick out the door frame during a home invasion or robbery.

The sliding glass door is the weak link in every home security system. This is due to the fact that the entire door is glass and can be smashed in with a large rock or concrete block. It has been my experience most sliding patio doors are pried open with a crowbar or large screwdriver.

A second lock added to the door can prevent this type of break-in. I have been to homes where there is evidence (crowbar marks) of an attempted break-in, but was aborted because the second lock kept the door from opening. Many burglars are kids or "hacks" who will move on to a better opportunity than spend too much time in one location.

For windows in south Florida there are not many options for auxiliary or secondary locks. Most windows have thin metal frames which limit a homeowner's options. I install window clamps when extra window locks are requested. These locks will buy you some time, but if the window is broken out any lock can be undone or removed. It is important to make sure the lock that comes with the window works and the homeowner keeps it locked when the windows are closed.

What are at least 5 tips you have for homeowners to improve their home safety?

  1. Make sure you have deadbolts on every exterior door of your home or business, and make sure the deadbolt works correctly. With the door open, lock your deadbolt. You should feel or hear a click, this is the deadbolt locking into the extended position. The bolt cannot be pushed back in. Now close the door and feel for the same click or stop. If you do not feel the click, chances are your deadbolt is not locking correctly. The easy fix for this problem is to make the hole in the door frame deeper.
  2. Add an auxiliary or secondary lock to all your sliding patio doors.
  3. Make sure your window locks work and use them.
  4. Make your home look like someone is home. Have a timer on at least one table lamp so it will turn on, off, and on again at night. Have your answering machine say, "We're home, but cannot answer your call at the moment." Arrange to have your mail and newspapers picked up by a neighbor if you will be away for an extended time.
  5. Use your locks. I meet people all the time who do not lock their doors when at home or away from home. Many people bring their small-town experience to south Florida, the scam capital of the world. I believe more crime is committed by opportunity than by premeditation.

Before going to sleep at night, what should a homeowner do in regards to ensuring their safety?

Do what I do every night: Make sure the garage door is down. Make sure all the doors and windows are locked. Keep curtains closed as much as possible. Have a plan of "defense" in your head in case you are confronted during a robbery. Or have a way of escape for the same reason. Set your alarm if you have one.

What is the best way to contact you and your company?

I (Jeff Gater) can be reached at 561-793-4811 for appointments. If you have a question or need advice use my email: gaterslocksmith@gmail.com.

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About The Author

Jeff Gater is recognized as a Certified Master Locksmith (CML) by the Associated...

Phone: 561-793-4811

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