Defending yourself from threats at home

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- Many people don't answer their doors, especially at night, for people they don't know.

"I will tell you, I will never answer the door," said Vicki Kawelmacher, a personal safety instructor in Nevada. "I don't want to assume the worst. I don't want to assume that every time someone comes to my door, they're a bad person because that's not true. But I never, I mean never, open my door if I don't know who it is."

Kawelmacher has made a career of teaching women how to defend themselves in everyday situations. But burglars don't always knock, and despite all her training, she has also been the victim of multiple attempted burglaries - most recently last month when a man and woman broke into her side yard.

"The moment I knew somebody was coming down my side yard, I was terrified," she said.

Kawelmacher didn't know what to expect. She only knew her option was to defend herself until police arrived.

"I think the average homeowner relies way too much on 911," she said. "They, and only they, are their first line of defense. People let their guard down in their homes because your home is your castle. Your home is your safe place. Not being prepared could mean the difference between life and death."

Kawelmacher says being prepared starts with knowing where in your home you would be safe.

"I would encourage everyone, do a walk through of your house," she said. "As a homeowner, you know your home better than anyone. You know where your hiding spots are. Have a plan. And the question you need to ask yourself is, what do I do if? What do we do if?"

Look for places where people can't come up behind you. Bedrooms, bathrooms, or in Kawelmacher's case, a kitchen, can work.

"I knew in that moment where the safest place for me to be was," she said. "I had access to a garage, my front door, my side door."

She could also see where the two people were outside, while staying safely protected. But defense doesn't mean just hiding. It also means arming yourself until police arrive. In Kawelmacher's case, she had her gun loaded and ready to fire. But she knows not everyone is comfortable with such lethal force.

"What matters to me is that men and women need to own and embrace their safety," she said. "I think the average homeowner needs to take that into account and really think about, 'What am I comfortable with? What am I not comfortable with?'"

If people aren't comfortable with guns, there are other options.

"To say pepper spray is not a good option, or a Taser is not a good option, or a stun gun is not a good option, I don't think that's fair," Kawelmacher said. "I think you need to look at all of the options."

In a bind, everyday household items like a kitchen knife can work. Kawelmacher says even a rolled up magazine can be a weapon.

"It's good for blunt force," she said.

It might not be the safest option, but Kawelmacher says it's another tool that could buy you a few seconds to get away.

It's also important to talk about safety plans with everyone in the family. And plans may change if there are children in the house.

"When it comes to personal safety, you have to talk about this with the people you share your home with," Kawelmacher said. "That doesn't prevent you from having a plan, but it will change your plan."

She says kids need to be aware of the plan, but adults need to know how their kids will react in an emergency.

"If it's 2 a.m., that two-year-old is not going to know to go to mommy and daddy's room," Kawlmacher said. "Mommy and daddy need to go to the two-year-old's room.

Ultimately, she says plans and weapons will help keep you safe, but they won't help if you don't pay attention to your surroundings, even at home.

"Awareness and mindset will always be your first line of defense," Kawelmacher said. "I don't care who you are, you've got to tap into your awareness."

Tapping into that awareness is something Kawelmacher teaches girls as young as middle and high school. She runs a non-profit called "Help Me Help Her," which provides women the training they need to defend themselves in everyday situations. To learn more about the organization, click here.

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