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Marine Corps Base Hawaii

"Supporting Readiness and Global Projection"

Put safety first this holiday season

By Lance Cpl. Janelle Y. Villa | Marine Corps Base Hawaii | December 13, 2013

Marine Corps Base Hawaii --

Most members of the military are stationed away from family and friends, making the holiday season a very heavily traveled time for service members. This means homes will be left unguarded, luggage may become lost and animals are left with neighbors.

Safety is usually a top priority to most but it can easily slip the mind during the rush of traveling and Christmas shopping. Put safety in the forefront of holiday planning using these helpful tips.

For those staying home this season.

With deep holiday discounts, many people splurge on expensive items like televisions and game consoles. Do not put empty boxes from these expensive items on the curb in front of your home. This will show people what is in the home and tempt thieves. Fold or tear apart boxes and place them in a garbage bin for the trash.

When shopping, especially for those expensive gifts, shop with a buddy. Never leave a cart of paid items unattended and keep purchased items hidden away in unattended vehicles. Never leave wallets and purses unattended.

For those leaving their homes for the holidays:

When leaving for an extended period of time it is important to have a friend or neighbor check up on the home. They can collect mail and packages and check for suspicious activity or damages to the home.

They should have access to a key to the home and any vehicles in case they need to be moved. They should also have emergency contacts like cell phone numbers, police station and the hotel’s phone number.

“We have a crime prevention check program,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Sorgie, physical security chief, Headquarters Battalion. “We go through and make sure the locks work on all the windows and doors. We can do this for Marines in the barracks too. Military police will come by and check everything and send any discrepancies up to the base commanding officer.”

If no one can come to pick up mail and newspapers, put a stop to all mail while away. If a thief sees a stack of newspapers, it is usually a giveaway that no one is home.

“Secure valuables,” Sorgie said. “The Provost Marshal’s Office has an engraver. We can engrave something only you know, like childhood street name, on something valuable like a television. We keep it on file so if it ever goes missing you can verify it’s yours.”

If there are pets in the home make plans to have a pet sitter or friend visit the home multiple times in the day to let the animals out, feed them, clean litter and exercise them. Leave the veterinary phone number in reach in case of an emergency.

Plants are sometimes the most forgotten. If there are plants at the home, outside or inside, make sure to have someone who can water them daily or as necessary so they don’t become a fire hazard.

Be aware of sharing vacation information on the Internet. Anyone can see it and target the house if they know when the home will be vacant. Also do not make voice mails and answering machines explaining that you are on vacation.

“Stay off of social media,” Sorgie said. “Don’t advertise that you’re leaving. You think only friends can see it but it’s social media, anyone can see it.”

Leave the curtains how they normally are, unplug all electronics and set timers to lights throughout the home to give it a lived in feel. Do not leave the lights on all the time because most people don’t keep lights on at 2 a.m. and it will flag the home for burglars. A timer could even be set on a radio.

“Make sure your garage is shut and locked,” Sorgie said. “Lock the inside garage door that leads into your house as well. Make sure the windows are secure. For extra protection you can put a bar on sliding windows. Don’t keep curtains wide open but also don’t keep the completely shut. You want to make your home feel occupied.”

It is very important remove all spare keys from outside the home. If people know the home is vacant, don’t make it easy by leaving a key under the mat.

“Make sure to secure all outdoor furniture and tools,” Sorgie said. “Don’t leave anything outside that someone can use to climb up on. Make sure to have the second story windows locked.”

If the home will be vacant for a week or more it is important to notify local law enforcement. They may have time to take a few extra patrols through the neighborhood while away.

“We have a program where we can patrol a person’s home while they are away,” Sorgie said. “They have to contact us and come get the paper work. It can’t be done over the phone or Internet. It has to be done in person. We’ll patrol around the home. Check if the doors are locked and look in the windows to make sure no one is inside. We can even provide this for Marines in the barracks.”

Make sure fire alarms and home alarm systems have new batteries and are in working order.

“It’s crime of opportunity,” Sorgie said. “If you reduce the opportunity you reduce the chance of becoming a victim.”

For those staying in hotels and traveling by train, bus or plane. 

Place identification tags on all luggage, inside and out, but only with a last name and first initial, according to http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov.

“Try not to stand out,” Sorgie said. “Keep your stuff in one bag and keep it on your person. There are new procedures for military now for airport safety checks. Service members don’t have to remove footwear or light jackets and can keep their laptops and Ziploc (bags) of 3 oz liquids in their carry on bag at the check points.”

Unpack all belongings to make sure nothing is missing. Lock up suitcases so they can’t be used to steal and carry out items. Always lock up jewelry, cameras and other expensive items.

“Try to avoid being in a room near a stairway or exit,” Sorgie said. “It makes it easier for criminals to escape.”

Always carry credit cards, money and car keys when leaving the room. Leave a light on and a radio or television on to make it seem like someone is there.

“You can validate people at the door,” Sorgie said. “If a random person shows up at your door and says they’re with the hotel you can call down to the front desk to verify that the person is who they say they are.”

Make sure to note unsafe places in town that should be avoided.

With these quick tips, anyone can breath a sigh of relief when leaving their home and spending the holiday in an unfamiliar hotel.

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