Get the latest from TODAY
In June, an intruder broke into Sandra Bullock's Los Angeles home and got within steps of the star's bedroom. On Aug. 14, NBA star Ray Allen's family was hit, waking up to find seven intruders in their Coral Gables, Florida, home. Not even the Kennedys are immune: On July 15, an intruder got into their sprawling compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
According to the FBI, nearly 50,000 robberies within residences (the bureau's classification for home invasions, not all of which involve violent entry) occurred in 2011, or about 135 per day. In July 2013, Susan Dawson came face to face with an intruder in her Fountain Hills, Arizona, home.
"It was absolutely one of the most frightening things I've ever gone through," she said. "I went, 'Oh my gosh, who are you?' He took a couple of steps and punched me in the nose, and down I went."
The attacker tied Dawson up and ransacked her home. "I laid there and he'd keep going through the bedroom looking for stuff," Dawson said. "What I was thinking of most is, 'How is he going to kill me?'"
So how can you get your family out of such a situation alive? Wallace Zeins, who was a New York police detective and hostage negotiator for 22 years, says you may have an excellent alarm system at your fingertips that you haven't even thought about: Electronic car keys with a built-in alarm.
"Most people don't realize this, but they leave their car keys downstairs," Zeins said. "Bring your car keys up. Alarm systems are very expensive, and this is a loud one. All you have to do is hit the keys. They don't realize it, but it's the best alarm system, and doesn't cost them a penny."
Zeins also suggests keeping another item in your bedroom: "Buy a can of wasp hornet spray in the hardware store or the supermarket, keep it by your bedside or the floor," he said. "It's more powerful than police Mace.
"The great part is, when you spray, it will go 20 to 25 feet," Zeins added. An intruder hit with the spray will be temporarily blinded. Please check your state and local laws on the legality of using these sprays for self-defense.
Zeins has another tip: Sleep with all your bedroom doors open. You want your kids to hear what's going on; then you can get the family all in one place and leave together.
In a worst-case scenario — if you are captured by an intruder, like Susan Dawson — you should cooperate and tell them where the valuables are, Zeins advises.
"You tell them exactly where it is. You want to get them out of there as quickly as you can," he said. "Remember, treat them like royalty. On top of that, you don't want to lie to them."
Dawson cooperated with her captor (who has never been found) and got out of the situation alive. Since that incident, she installed an alarm system. But if you can't afford one, a small alarm called WindowAlert can be bought at any big box store for as little as a dollar apiece. Just stick one on your window; it sets off a loud alarm. And experts say noise is the best deterrent when it comes to home invaders. Updated Sept. 9.