Clearing Your Home of a Suspected Intruder

by Larry Pomykalski

In this edition of the Firing Line we’re going to focus on ‘clearing’ an interior space-like your house or apartment.

This topic is going to require quite a bit of discussion before we get to the actual nuts and bolts of the skill itself. In fact, this edition of Firing Line will be dedicated to understanding ‘when’ and ‘why’ to clear a space, before we even discuss ‘how.’

While people often use the phrase ‘clear a room’, not everyone has a full understanding of what is involved. If you’ve watched much TV, you’ve seen actors portraying police officers sweep their gun around a room from a doorway, pause and then yell, “Clear!” in an authoritative tone. This is about as accurate as a Rosie O’Donnell interview.

To correctly clear a room, you must inspect every space large enough to conceal an aggressor. Inside closets, under beds, even in large cabinets-a room that’s truly ‘cleared’ will absolutely, positively not have an aggressor in it. You’ll know this because you have checked it completely, and in a manner that’s prevented an aggressor from moving ahead of or around you as you did it. And you have to do this all while expecting an attack around every corner, under every curtain and behind every closed door. To give you some idea how difficult this is, let me share this: the most difficult house clearing I was ever involved with took two trained officers (myself included) one and a half hours to complete. And that’s with three officers outside, watching widows and doors. And yes, it was a normal, single family home.

The more thoughtful among you are beginning to look around your house and think that clearing it in this way would be pretty complicated. Yes, it certainly is. Pretty dangerous, too, if there’s an aggressor in there with you.

If you find yourself thinking along these lines, congratulations. You’ve just discovered an elemental truth about clearing a building, or any other space-it’s scary, dangerous work. Even the best special unit teams in the military and police forces approach house clearing with caution and concentration. Clearing a house is a tricky business, even under the best of circumstances.

If all this sounds like I’m trying to convince you not to clear a space, you’re doing well. Here’s the single most important thing I can convey to you about clearing your house - DON’T DO IT! In nearly every circumstance, allowing trained professionals, usually the police, clear your home is the best option. Even though I’m a self-reliant fellow who’s been trained to do this, I’d let the police clear my house if the choice presented itself.

Why? For one thing, there’ll almost certainly be two officers performing the search-and in clearing a house, two people are infinitely better than one, unless that one has four hands and eyes in the back of his head. For another thing, those officers will have radio communication to still more officers, who can come and assist them if they find the clearing job too risky, or too big, for two officers.

Another thing to consider is that those officers have powerful flashlights at the ready. Do you? Is your flashlight charged with fresh batteries? Is it in your hand, and have you trained in shooting with it? If not, this isn’t the time to learn-and you’ll need that light to clear your house.

Also consider that those police officers are almost certainly wearing body armor, armor that drastically improves their chances of surviving a firearm or edged weapon attack. Do you have body armor? Have you trained in moving and shooting with it on?

All these things conspire to make clearing a house a job that’s best left to professionals if at all possible, and I urge you to do just that. If you’re in your bedroom when you hear an intruder, gather your family in your room, lock your door, call the police (you DO have a phone in your bedroom, right? Preferably a charged cell phone, in case the intruder manages to cut your phone lines) and sit tight. Take a position of advantage relative to the door, keep your weapon ready and wait for the police to reach you. If you’re on the second floor, you may want to have a key to drop to the responding officers, perhaps attached to a laminated map of your home. Stay on the phone with the police dispatcher, and she’ll tell you when the officers have reached your room-don’t open the door before then. This is the best way to keep your family safe.

So, if all this is true, why learn to clear your house at all? Why not rely on the police to do this, since they are admittedly better equipped to do so? The answer is simple-you may have to clear your own home because time or circumstances won’t allow you to wait for the police. You might have a child that lives on a different floor than your room, or a family member somewhere out in the home when you hear the intruder. You might have no choice but to clear your own house, if waiting could mean harm falling to aloved one.

The next edition of the Firing Line will discuss some simplified house clearing strategies, but before we get to that, I’m leaving you with an assignment: I want you to identify every space in your home that could hide an assailant. Any space-not just the obvious or large ones. Make a list, and consider it for some time; if you’re like most people, you’ll find yourself adding to the list as you slowly think of more and more spaces that could hide someone. To motivate you, I’ll leave you with this striking fact-mass murderer Charles Manson was found hiding in a vanity in a room that the police had already searched multiple times. Why did they miss him? They didn’t think there was any way for a person to fit into the space he was hiding in…..

"Larry Pomykalski is a former military firearms instructor, former police officer and certified instructor in pistol, knife, OC and defensive tactics."

Back to Part Two