Walled house in Lome, Togo West Africa

Expatriates and long term visitors who will be using private accommodation rather than a hotel need to look at security considerations when selecting a residence.

The first consideration should be the location and neighborhood.   You clearly want to identify a safe or safer neighborhood for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately in many places crime statistics are not maintained by the police or are not accurate if they are kept so you will likely need to interview expatriates, local residents and diplomatic missions, etc. for anecdotal input.  You may also want to consider areas where other expatriates reside and make contacts for mutual assistance.  The downside of these expatriate-heavy areas is that they may be considered a target-rich environment for both criminals and extremist groups.  This concern has to be weighed against the positive aspects of having other expatriates nearby.

You will also want to look at proximity to police and fire stations, hospitals and supermarkets, grocery stores, etc.  Depending on the security environment you may also want to consider avoiding locations near high profile targets that may be selected for attack by terrorists or may be a focal point in the event of a coup attempt, etc.  Some examples are government buildings,  diplomatic missions, presidential palace, military barracks and so forth.

Physical location:  In addition to selecting a safe neighborhood you want to assess the physical layout and street conditions.  You want to identify residential areas with light pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  Congested areas with high levels of vehicles and pedestrians provide surveillants and potential attackers with cover to operate.  Ideally you want a neighborhood where strangers or loiterers stand out and are readily identified.

You also want to avoid cul de sacs, one-way streets, deadend streets and other features that limit or restrict your options for movement.  Given the fact that the entry point of a residence is a favorite attack site both for economically-motivated crime like carjacking and also targeted kidnappings and killings you want to ensure that you have several options for movement.

Apartment vs. Single Family Dwelling:  the next thing to consider is whether to choose an apartment or single family house.  Generally speaking in most cases an apartment offers better security, especially if it is in a building with a good level of security.  We discuss some considerations of each.

First let’s briefly discuss layered security or defense in depth: Whether you choose a house or an apartment you want to pick a location that offers multiple layers of security that an intruder needs to overcome.  This will (1) deter many criminals that are looking for an easy target (2) buy time for a response team to arrive (3) potentially buy you time to seek shelter, call for help, etc.

Apartment:  When choosing an apartment you should look for the following criteria:

  • A guard, doorman or concierge who physically inspects visitors an controls access.
  • A vehicle checkpoint if applicable.
  • As with hotel rooms you want to select an apartment between the 2nd and 7th floors so it is high enough to deter burglars but low enough to be reached by fire-fighting equipment.
  • Multiple entrances and exits that are guarded or where access is effectively controlled.
  • CCTV system and other physical security measures.

House: If choosing a house you will want to consider the following factors:

  • Walled property:  This is common in most single family dwellings in the developing world.  The wall should be high enough to deter an intruder from scaling it.
  • Wall security enhancements:  the wall should be reinforced by being topped with barbed wire/razor wire, broken glass, etc.  In many places in Africa electrified fences are used on top of residential walls as well.
  • Guards:  employing a guard or guards to be posted at the entrance both deters potential criminals, provides a human response at the first layer and if properly trained a set of eyes and ears on the perimeter.
  • CCTV: This can be useful as a deterrent, a means of remotely investigating a possible intrusion and an investigative tool.  Ideally where it is legal you should position some cameras to observe the street and public areas outside your residence.
  • Alarm System:  An alarm system can be a great asset in providing an early warning to you.  It should be linked to a central monitoring station.  Many systems also have a duress button that can be manually triggered and some also have portable duress button that can be carried on your person within the home.
  • Alarm Response Capability: In most developing world countries police response to crimes in progress is unreliable.  Therefore there is usually a plethora of private sector security responders who provide alarm response.  This is definitely worth considering and is a great asset for your personal security.  You do need to invest the effort and energy in vetting and selecting a good provider.
  • Safe Room:  In locations where home invasion robberies and other violent intrusions are a concern or if you are at at-risk or targeted person then you should look at building a safe room within your home and stocking it with essential items to sustain yourself.
  • You’ll also want to consider quality locks, reinforced doors, window guards, shatterproof window film and other physical measures.

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