Last month, we covered winter safety, including storm warnings, driving and other safety aspects involving winter weather. This month, we are going to focus on home safety, especially during the holidays.

The best part of the holiday season is spending quality time with family, which often means travel out of town or away from home. Before you leave, it’s important to take the proper precautions to keep your house or apartment safe while you’re gone. If you're traveling this holiday season, or anytime, ensure your home is secure with these ten tips from the National Safety Council.

1. Lock up. This may seem like an obvious rule of safety, but sometimes the most obvious rules are the ones we forget to follow. Make sure every door and window in your home is properly shut and locked. If you don't already have a deadbolt on your doors, you may want to consider investing in one, as it can make your door more secure and offer you peace of mind

2. Avoid posting your whereabouts on social media. Some people post everything on Facebook. It's only natural that you would want to post a status on Facebook or social media about your excitement about traveling for the holidays. However, you may want to think twice about this. You never know who may be looking at your social media pages, and you don't want strangers knowing that you are away.

3. Put lights on a timer. If you have holiday lights, put them on an automatic timer when you go out of town. You can set the timer up so that your lights go on at a certain hour each night, making it appear as if you're in your home at all times. Consider setting a few indoor lights on timers as well to help your residence look lived in even when you're not there. With that being said, you should closely examine any strings of holiday lights before putting them on a timer.

4. Don't leave a key. Having a spare house key is a must. However, it's crucial to be careful about where you store that key. Don’t leave it in a fake rock or place it under your doormat because these are locations criminals will look. Instead, leave a key with a trusted friend or neighbor so you'll have it if you need it, but know your key won't end up in the wrong hands.

5. Ask someone to pick up your mail or stop your mail. Here's another benefit about having friendly neighbors: They can pick up your mail and newspapers. Ask a neighbor to pick up the papers and mail until you return after the holidays. You can also easily temporarily stop mail delivery on the U.S. Postal Service website. Thieves look for package deliveries and stacks of mail during this time of the year.

6. Keep valuables out of sight. Go through each room to see if there are any valuable items that are out in the open. Even if these items can't be seen directly from a window, you should find a safe place for them. If someone does break in to your residence, you don’t want to make it easy for them. Store your valuables in unexpected locations

7. Leave your curtains in their normal position. It would make sense to close your curtains when you leave, but this may not necessarily be the best option. If you don't normally close your curtains, this could be a sign telling others that you're out of town. It's best to leave your curtains as you normally would, and make sure any valuables that can be seen through the windows are out of sight. You don't want to give someone a reason to want to come in.

8. Utilize a security or camera system. We recommend installing and maintaining a security system that is remotely monitored and reports to our office. Indoor and outdoor cameras are becoming very popular and are inexpensive, as well. They are also easy to install yourself to keep your home and property safe. Some cameras use your homes Wi-Fi signal and are able to be monitored via your cell phone or tablet. We are solving more and more crimes by using images and video from these cameras. In some cases, solving crimes and charging suspects that wouldn’t be possible without these images.

9. Just like a full mailbox, your absence will be obvious when snow begins to build up around your house. Hire or ask someone to plow the driveway, shovel the sidewalk, brush off your car, and walk up and down the steps if you’re going to be gone during the snowy months. This is an easy way to make your house look lived-in.

10. Be aware of your neighborhood and your neighbor’s house. If you see something that looks odd, report it. What may not seem like anything at the time, may help with future investigations. You know your neighborhood the best and if you see something suspicious or out of place, it probably is. We would rather investigate something and find it to be okay than have a crime occur because it was overlooked.

We would like to wish all our readers a safe and Happy Holiday season and best wishes in the New Year.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.