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When You Need The Good Guys, Can They Reach You?

In the past, I’ve posted some tips on how you can balance your security needs with assuring the good guys can reach you in a crisis.

Well, it recently just happened again. We had an LOL Squared*, crying out for help on the other side of the door. We finally had to kick her door in, which of course resulted in significant property damage and her home being unsecured until repairs could be made. Not to mention the fact that, if the LOL in question is lying just on the other side of the door, kicking it in isn’t much of an option, either.

Took us a while to find her, too, because the addresses on her street are non-sequential, and everybody insists on using tasteful address markers artfully disguised by shrubbery and utterly invisible at night, unless the ambulance creeps along at a walking pace, illuminating each and every house with a spotlight.

For some odd reason, people get a little pissy and call in complaints when you shine a million-candlepower spotlight through their bedroom window at oh-my-God-thirty in the morning. I can’t imagine why.

So, if you or a loved one insist on locking yourselves behind multiple layers of security at night (and you should), get yourself one of these:

Lockbox 1

That’s a Master Lock security key box, commonly known as a realtor’s lock box. Mount it in an unobtrusive location somewhere where it isn’t easily seen with a casual inspection (ie, some dirtbag casing your house for vulnerabilities), and make sure your local 911 providers have the lock box location and combination in their database. Call your local police non-emergency number, and request to have that information added to their 911 database for your address. If they can’t add it themselves, they should be able to put you in touch with someone who can.

Now, before some of you post indignant and snarky comments about the security vulnerabilities of such devices, remember that nothing is 100% secure. Yes, you can pick them if you have some locksmith skills, time and the proper tools. You can even break them open, but that ain’t likely to happen while it’s bolted to your wall, and certainly without a lot of noise.

These devices are designed to stop a casual thief, not a dedicated one. Passive security measures like locks, cameras, alarms systems and good exterior lighting are meant to a) make someone casing your home think twice and choose an easier target, and b) slow down a dedicated intruder to give you time for the active security measures – someone armed with a weapon – to work. Ideally, that active security measure should be you and your firearm, because the vast majority of the time the cops arrive in time to investigate, not intervene.

Still, even should you choose not to use a lock box, it can help immeasurably if the good guys can just find you easily.


  • Nice neighborhood with pleasant, tree-lined streets? Check.
  • Colonial home with fenced in back yard and swingset? Check.
  • June and Ward Cleaver grilling steaks next door? Check.
  • Little Timmy playing in the yard with immaculately groomed Golden Retriever? Check.
  • No curbside mailboxes, and addresses in non-reflective numbers?” Eff. Emm. Ell.

If you want the good guys to be able to find you quickly in your moment of need, you need to make both your home and your address marker visible at night.

First, get yourself one of these:

Light Switch

Left switch operates the light and ceiling fan. Right switch operates the front porch light. Middle switch activates the Claymore mines hidden in the shrubbery on either side of the steps.

It’s the right, illuminated switch I want to talk about. That’s a GE emergency light switch. You can buy ‘em all day long on Amazon for $12.99, and they install just like a regular light switch. Just flip the breaker off, attach black wire to black wire, white wire to white wire, flip the breaker back on, and you’re in business.

Up position turns the light on, bottom position turns it off, and middle position flashes the light on and off repeatedly. The circuit in flashing mode doesn’t allow the light to reach its full level of brightness, so you may want to choose a higher wattage bulb than you would use otherwise.

Second, make sure your address  is visible at night. I bought a reflective sign at Lowe’s for $20. You can mount it on a stake on your lawn near the curb, attach it to your mailbox post, or directly to your house. In the day, it looks like this:


Hey, the sign is level. It’s the pole that’s crooked. Don’t judge me.

At night, it looks like… well, watch the video and see for yourself.


So, for only $40, you can make it much easier to find your house in an emergency. Give it a try; it might just save your life.





* Little old lady, lying on linoleum.

Comments - Add Yours

  • Scott The Medic

    Another good one is to check your address pin location on google maps. Most medics & FF’s will punch an address into their phone to get a better GPS lock or driving directions that the built-in ones in our ambulances don’t provide.

  • CrumudgeonMICP

    These are good ideas another Idea I had and dispatch will implement – of course that depends on the dispatcher – is to have someone in the home activate the 4-way flasher on a car in the driveway. people around here rarely use their garage for the car and we can find them in the dark easier when they don’t have the emergency flasher on the house.

    We have a grid coordinate system (i.e. 650 N 376 W) and the house should have a reflective green and white set of numbers the same size as a street sign. But in a land of farmers and folks who hate the government there is no guarantee the sign is actually there. Even in this modern age not every dept. has a computer in their ambulance,
    but most Medics have cellphones, so yeah; I use the cellphone for some

  • Old_NFO

    Yep, but the reflective address is probably the biggest!!!

  • Farm.Dad

    Yea … NO ! I would rather pay for property damage on the off chance I needed help than give any government agency free access to my stuff .

    • Ambulance_Driver

      Not sure how the EMS agency in your county is set up, but our dispatch system is set up so only the EMS system has access to the info.

      It’s possible that you can specify to whose dispatch database it is added.

      • Farm.Dad

        You have been here … One dispatcher handles everything . If one agency has it they all do .

  • PJ_Geraghty

    I tried this about two years ago with my parents’ house. The local PSAP wouldn’t do it, said they only used residential Knox Boxes, which (of course) have to be installed by a locksmith for a total cost of around $400.

    “Take the door, Tim”

    • Ambulance_Driver

      You couldn’t even get it entered into the EMS agency’s CAD database?

      To clarify, lock box combinations and locations come to our data terminals, but the information doesn’t come from 911. It comes from our internal CAD database.

      • PJ_Geraghty

        Nope. The city has a combined police/fire/EMS CAD database. Police owns it, and said that fire required Knox Boxes. I called fire and talked a couple of different people and they confirmed it.

        It’s the People’s Republic of Evanston, IL, so I’m sure it was something of a jobs program for locksmiths.

  • Miguel Gonzalez

    One of the tips I was given was (If you park your car outside) to turn on the emergency blinkers or hit the panic button of your alarm. Several years ago, we had a local idiot celebrate 4th of July by popping marine flares. I called the cops to let them know of the situation, turn on the emergency blinkers and went back to make sure no flares landed on my roof.
    Cop showed up and I pointed out where the incoming fire was originated. As they were leaving, one of them told me: “Do you know your truck’s blinkers are on?”

    The ideas are great only as everybody is in the same page. But I am gonna buy the switch because it makes sense. At least responders in Miami-Dade will ask themselves, “WTH is with that Disco house? I hear no Salsa Music! Jose, this must be it!”

  • Jake

    One more thing to consider: If there is more than one house on the same driveway (not uncommon in the more rural parts of our run area), make sure that everyone has their house number ON THE HOUSE and visible from the driveway. It makes it tough for us to get to the right house when there’s a cluster of mailboxes at the road but nothing indicating which of the 3 or 4 houses on that driveway is the one we’re looking for. Also, if you have that one cluster of mailboxes serving multiple driveways, make sure there’s an indication of which driveway goes to which address.

    On a side note, as much as I dislike the “there oughta be a law” ideas, when my parent’s county (finally!) got a 911 system and changed to 911 addressing they wrote the ordinance to mandate signage and they specified minimum requirements (size, placement, and visibility), including requiring an additional sign at the road if the home was more than a certain distance from the road. Any style was acceptable as long as it met the minimums. While I’m not a fan of .gov enforced mandates, the end result is that every home in the county is clearly numbered and easy to match to the dispatch info.

  • TooOldAndToughToEat

    In the “There Oughta Be a Law” category I would like to nominate novel numbering systems. Take Mixed Income Development in our town. There are a lot of sick people, disabled people, and people on disability. There are people who mess up their lives and sometimes other people’s lives. High density. The novel numbering system for these townhouses runs like this: 3401 3420 3411 why is 3420 before 3411? 3412 3600 3601 3620 3610 where the eff is 3510 Mandate Drive? hey says the cop it’s on the back side of the building block.

    Then there’s the homonym street names – the next street over is Rimes. Or Rhymes. Rheims. Raimes. Wrymes. Something like that.

    In an upscale touch the developer went for brass numbers on beige siding, which were installed right under the entry light – that is, in the shadow cast by the light fixture. Mr. Signature Touch also gave each town house a foyer – four foot square, right angle turn to a stairway, and each tenant has decorated that foyer with a console table, or the kids’ backpacks, or a litter box.

  • Douglas2`

    With my town’s e911 numbering requirements, since my house on a corner is diagonally on the lot, it seemed the only way to be compliant was to have reflective numbers on all but the back side of the house. It has been done, including reflective street-name in the side-street side (mercifully short “Fir”, typographically equal in width to the number above it.) We also have a solar spot-light illuminating the large non-reflective number next to the front-door.

  • SJ

    Being slightly pedantic, I notice that when you said “the sign is level”, I think you actually meant “the sign is plumb”.

    At least, I think that’s what carpenters say when they measure whether something is true-to-vertical.

    I had never heard of that emergency-light-switch with a blinking position in the middle. (Maybe not a good idea in a house with children who are prone to mischief…but I don’t really know.) I might get one of those. And the switch for the Claymore mines…how hard is that to find?

    About the lock-box: I’ve got friends who mounted a special deadbolt-with-a-keypad-code on their main door. I suspect if someone was inside, and needed EMS help, they could tell the dispatcher the code. Or have the code entered in the database you mention.

    But in looking at my suburban residence, I realize that the big rock in the front yard (with the house number painted on it) isn’t reflective. I think I’ll look into re-doing that in reflective paint.