Breaking in is hard to do if your home is prepared

securityHeading to Gstaad for some skiing? Bordeaux for wine tasting? Walmart for shopping? Wherever the destination, or even if you're tucked in for the night, remember that Santa's not the only one trying to squeeze down your chimney. Thieves love this season too, when boxed electronics sit atop the dining room table and jewels for tonight's party are laid out on the dresser.

To deter the bad guys, you don't need heavy artillery (although the high-end stuff defies belief). Following are some tools that can keep the family safe, from homespun to high-voltage -- literally. How far you go with security measures depends on your level of paranoia and the size of your bank account.

A veteran Los Angeles real estate agent said that one of his high-end clients installed a bank vault in his house to store valuables and a $36-million underground tunnel leading to a secret guest house on the property.

If you're on a home-security budget, you can pick up motion detectors, good locks for windows and doors, and outdoor cameras for $150, total, says Al Corbi, president of Los Angeles-based SAFE, or Strategically Armed and Fortified Environments, a company that designs sophisticated systems for clients worldwide.

"You can get cameras for $20 at Home Depot or Radio Shack," Corbi said. "Most knuckleheads don't know if you're home or not. If they see a camera or lights blast when they walk up, they'll break in to the house next door, not yours."

With apologies to Jodie Foster, panic rooms don't work, Corbi says. It takes too long to get the whole family inside. He suggests a "safe core," which can be installed for $1,500. Or millions of dollars, if you want the Full Monty. A safe core is an area such as upstairs bedrooms that -- when one or more special doors lock -- seals the family off from the intruder.

If you've got the big bucks, though, you can install 24 (or 1,000) tape recordings for different events, such as an intruder entering your property. "You are being photographed!" a loud voice booms. That usually scares them off. Indoors, intruders get a different not-so-subtle message: "This system is armed and ready to harm you!" If your children are too close to the pool, a voice can warn them to back up. "We have tapes for every imaginable scenario."

Those seeking protection for million-dollar safes or yachts -- and who isn't? -- can install a SAFE system that "makes the criminal not want to commit the crime," Corbi said. "He has to make a life-or-death decision quickly." 'Nuf said.

Finally, for the discerning, über-paranoid (and ultra-rich) homeowner: a subterranean shelter that can withstand nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. Corbi installed one for a client who wanted a putting green included. The cost? "Use your imagination."

If this all seems too much, remember you can always light up the inside of your house so it appears that someone is home, lock your doors and remember to turn on the home alarm. "Most people don't," said L.A. Police Det. Bill Longacre.
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