Last Updated on December 13, 2013
My lazy beagle Toby was loudly barking as I’d never heard him before.
Usually I would have waited a minute or two to see if I heard any footsteps, strange noises, or a window breaking, but I didn’t have time to spare. My mother, who had cancer, was bedridden on the couch on the main floor of our house and I needed to get to her before a potential intruder did.
I cleared the house as quickly and safely as I could, and my mother was fine. I never found out what Toby was barking at that night, but I have no doubt he scared away a burglar.
Having my mother restricted to the main floor of the house made it necessary to leave my bedroom that night and make sure she was okay. However, if it’s 3:00 a.m. and you hear a window break or you know someone is trying to enter your house, the last thing you want to do is leave your bedroom to go and confront the person. In the ideal world you would get your family together into your designated safe room (such as your master bedroom) and wait there until the police arrive.
Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. Perhaps you’re like I was and you have a family member living on the first floor or even in the basement. If this is the case you have no choice but to leave your bedroom; therefore it’s necessary for you to know how to safely clear your house.
If you’ve ever seen the police clear a house, you know they always go in with a minimum of two people. But you and I likely won’t have the choice to grab someone else at 3:00 a.m. to come help us, so here’s how you properly clear a house by yourself, even though it’s a dangerous situation you want to try to avoid at all costs.
First off, if you hear a noise in the middle of the night and you need to clear your house, you had better be able to take one or two steps from your bed and have access to your gun, which should be “cocked and locked.” In other words, the gun should have a round in the chamber so all you have to do is pull the trigger to shoot. Right next to your gun should be your flashlight. I use a SureFire G2X Tactical light.
Many houses have enough ambient light for you to maneuver around without the need to have the flashlight on all of the time, so just use it for target identification purposes so you don’t accidentally shoot the wrong person. (Also, read Tom Givens’ excellent article Flashlight Techniques for Home Defense in the July 2011 issue of CCM.)
Once you’ve got your gun and light, it’s time to leave the bedroom. If you’ve got a traditional house, you’ll likely end up entering a hallway. Stay close to the wall on the one side of the hallway and avoid walking down the middle, so you minimize your outline and make yourself less of a target.
As you slowly move down the hallway you’ll probably come across a bedroom or bathroom door. What should you do? If you’ve got a family member living in the basement and time is important, and you’re pretty sure nobody made it upstairs, then just move on past the door. I know this isn’t tactically correct, but we’re talking about a real life scenario here. If you’ve got your daughter sleeping in the basement, then no parent is going to take the time to clear every upstairs bedroom when they hear an intruder on the first floor or proceeding down the basement stairs.
However, if you don’t have to rush downstairs, you’ll certainly want to check the room ahead. But before you attempt to open the door (or any door in your house for that matter) you need to pull the gun close to your body so the inside of your wrist is practically touching your rib cage. In other words, instead of having your arm fully extended, your elbow should be bent about 90 degrees. This position gives you more control over the firearm in case someone was to try and reach for it. Another reason you bring the gun in close is so that you don’t accidentally point the gun at your other hand while it’s opening the door.
Assuming the door you’ve approached is on your right, you’ll want to stand against the right side wall, with your gun close to your body, while reaching for the doorknob with your other hand. (Do not stand in the doorway. You should be reaching across while remaining against the wall.) If the door opens away from you then turn the doorknob and give the door a solid push and immediately take a step backward against the right side wall again. If the door opens towards you, pull the door swiftly towards you and again take a step backward.
Once you’ve opened the door it’s time to “slice the pie.” This is a method used to clear corners and doorway entrances where you clear each area in small slices. For instance, if you had just pushed your door open and stepped back you would be standing against the right side wall. Obviously, from this position you can’t see into the entire room and you certainly don’t want to take a step into the doorway and fully expose yourself.
So, you would begin to take small side-steps in a semi-circular motion. In other words, if you’re on the right side of the door, you’ll end up on the left side by going in a wide semi-circle around the doorway entrance. Each time you take a side-step, have your body slightly lean in the direction you’re headed so that if an intruder is in the room they will see the muzzle of your gun first and the rest of your body won’t be exposed.
Each time you take a step, give a brief pause so that you can scan as much of the room as possible and you can determine if that part of the room is clear. Once you end up on the left side of the door, you’ve done as much as you can to clear the room from the outside. Also, I realize slicing the pie may seem confusing, so please refer to the diagrams I created, which should make this process clearer.
Don’t forget to have patience while clearing a corner. This is not a time to rush unless a family member is on a lower level and you must immediately reach them.
Now that it’s time to enter the room, you’ll want to quickly step through the doorway and move to the opposite corner. For instance, if you’re entering the doorway from the left side, move to the right corner and give a quick look over your shoulder to make sure nobody’s hiding in the left corner. Don’t forget to check all places an intruder could be hiding such as under a bed, in a closet, under a desk or under any other large object.
Once you’re satisfied the room is clear it’s time to continue moving through your house. The next obstacle you’ll run into is the stairs. But before you just stand at the top of the stairs and make yourself an easy target, you’ll want to slice the pie just as you did with the doorway so you can make sure nobody is waiting at the bottom of the stairs to attack you. Again, start on one side of the wall and take small steps in a semicircle so you can see a little bit more of the stairs each time.
Once you do a full scan of the stairs, make your way down, while at the same time scanning everything you can see. The stairs are a nightmare because you’ve likely got a room entrance at the bottom of the stairs to your left and then you’ve got a large hallway to your right with a number of openings too.
Since there is no way to see into the room on the left while going down the stairs, try and scan as much of the hallway to your right as possible. Once you get to the bottom, slice the pie for the room on your left while constantly glancing over your shoulder to see if anyone is approaching on your right. As you can see, it would be very easy to get ambushed while going down the stairs (which is just one of the many reasons police officers always go in teams of at least two while clearing a house).
You’ll clear the rest of your main floor just as you cleared your top floor when first leaving your bedroom. Every time you come to a corner or a door, you’ll want to slice the pie so you’ll hopefully see the bad guy before he sees you. If you have a basement, you’ll systematically clear it the same way too. Also, remember to have patience throughout this entire process. Each time you take a semi-circular step around a corner or doorway entrance, pause and scan the area from the floor to the ceiling.
Perhaps most importantly, since clearing a house is such a dangerous activity, you need
to practice it as often as you can. For example, last month I got back from a ten day vacation in Utah. I knew my house was secure and no alarms had gone off, however, when I got back to my house from the airport I didn’t just rush in and plop myself down on the couch.
Instead, I opened my front door and took a step back and sliced the pie. Next, I cleared my entire house to make sure it was empty. Not only is this good practice, but I had been gone for ten days, so there’s always a possibility someone could have been hiding in my house.
Another good activity is to practice clearing the house with your spouse or kids. Tell them to go hide somewhere and play a fun game of hide and seek. When you’re searching for them you’ll want to pay attention to see if they see you first or you see them first. Also, if you’re slicing the pie, have them point out the moment they see you or what body part they see first. This will help determine if you’re doing it correctly—the muzzle of the gun is the first thing they should see, not your legs. Obviously, if you do play this game, don’t go around with a real gun. Use your finger or use a plastic training gun instead.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that clearing a house by yourself is the last thing you want to do. If you still don’t believe me, and you’re the macho type with a huge ego, then play the hide and seek game I mentioned above. After your spouse has surprised and “killed” you for the tenth time, you’ll fully realize that if possible, waiting in your safe room while the police clear the house is the much smarter option.