COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It's anyone's worst nightmare - someone breaking into your home, then threatening or attacking you and your family.
A string of home invasions this year in the Chattahoochee Valley has prompted people to plan ahead for a crime that can happen in a flash.
What should you do? Can you legally use a gun? And what specific things can you do to keep thieves from targeting your home?
Lt. Brad Hicks has seen the aftermath of plenty of home invasions.
As a commander for special operations and bomb squad with the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office, Hicks says victims have a fear that won't leave for a while.
"I don't care how big of a man you are or how many guns you have, if I kick in your door at 2 in the morning and wake you up, you're going to have a fear in you," Hicks said.
That's the experience of these three recent home invasion victims in the Valley.
"I was in the bed asleep, I heard a loud boom," said Lee Jones, a victim of a home invasion in Columbus.
"It completely blew the door out, he stepped outside," added Ms. Barbara, another victim of a home invasion in Auburn.
"As I was coming up the hallway, there was a guy standing in the doorway, in the kitchen in the den and he pointed a gun towards me," recalls home invasion victim Tammie Banks.
Lt. Hicks said home invasions can happen anywhere.
But what do you and your family do when intruders invade where you live? Hicks teaches the Run, Hide, Fight method, to help you survive.
"If you can get out of the house, get out of the house," Lt. Hicks said. "Make sure you have your basic cell phone."
Run to a neighbor's or to a different room in your house and hide.
"Do you have a safe room in your emergency plan that you know you can lock the doors," Lt. Hicks said. "Have a dresser or something like that you can push in front of the doors, to barricade them."
The goal is avoiding a violent confrontation, but Lt. Hicks says the last resort may be to think fast and fight... with anything nearby you can grab.
Some people have a gun or may consider one to protect their family.
"If you do decide to go get a firearm, go get some training along with it," Lt. Hicks advised.
Georgia's Castle Law allows you to use deadly force if someone breaks into your home in a violent manner and if you reasonably believe that you or another person are in imminent danger.
"If you're in fear of your life, you can use any method to protect or defend yourself and protect your loved ones," Lt. Hicks said.
That also applies in Alabama. Someone kicked in Ms. Barbara's back door in Auburn at lunchtime.
"At first, you're absolutely terrified, then the terrified goes to, what can I do better to take care of myself," Ms. Barbara said.
We investigated which homes thieves are after - targets of opportunity with valuables and not too many people visible.
"They're scouting, looking at it, setting up a plan," Hicks said. "They know when you're not there."
Hicks also advised that social media is also used by would-be criminals to scope you out.
"Whatever you do, don't post (on social media) where you're going, that you're going to be out of town, don't post any of that on Facebook," Hicks said. "If there's a lot of mail hanging out, I know someone hasn't been here for a while."
Home invaders are hoping no one is there.
"They don't want to be seen, or get caught, they want to get in, get their stuff, get out," Lt. Hicks said.
But what can you do to keep thieves from wanting to break into your home?
And then there's the all-important door to your home.
"I could get into a $1,000 security door by defeating 20 cent screws," Hicks said. "The more you add to a door, the better off it is."
Easily fixed with longer screws in the door frame jam, along with of course deadbolts. For some homeowners, a firearm is their deterrent, but the law only covers you so far.
"The criminal kicks in your door and then turns around and runs out because he sees you there with a gun, you chase him five blocks, then shoot him in the back, you're probably not going to be protected," Lt. Hicks advised.
He says law enforcement, like the Muscogee County Sheriff's Department, offers firearms training for new gun owners. Besides that, there are other inexpensive ways to thief-proof your home.
Lt. Hicks also mentioned alarm company signs near your house, motion detector lighting, and break beams in your yard or window, to trip an alarm.
Join the discussion on social media by using the hashtag #ThinkFastHome.