Security Tips and Industry Musings

Life Safety

Lew Stouffer - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Smoke detectors, heat detectors, panic buttons and carbon monoxide detectors are some commonly used devices that contribute to the protection of the premises, while at the same time adding an essential layer to the safety of the people who live or work there.  We will take a look at the variety of life safety devices in this installment.

Smoke detectors detect the presence of smoke in the atmosphere. When they have detected smoke they will cause the security system to alert the premises with an intermittent siren tone, while sending a signal to the monitoring center. Using atmospheric sampling makes the smoke detector able to read false positives under certain conditions. Dust, water vapor and aerosols are some contaminates that can create false alarms. Care should be taken to avoid areas that may make it easy for these to enter the smoke detector. Avoid areas next to bathrooms and air vents as well as non-air-conditioned spaces. Smoke detectors are the most useful in the air-conditioned spaces of the premises. It is recommended to have at least one monitored smoke detectors per level of air-conditioned space. As most areas have an existing code requirements for number and location of smoke detectors which must be met before occupancy is granted, these smoke detectors are largely of a secondary system in nature. As a secondary smoke detection system, the smoke detectors are placed in addition to the currently existing units.

Heat detectors are similar to smoke detectors except that they only detect the heat produced by a fire. Because of this they are typically used for spot detection in areas that a smoke detector would not be appropriate. As heat detectors do not use atmospheric sampling they are not affected by the same conditions that may cause false alarms in smoke detectors. Areas that should be considered for heat detectors are garages, near furnaces/ water heaters, rooms with fireplaces and kitchens.

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors detect dangerous levels of CO gas in your home or works atmosphere. These devices have gained from rapid improvements over the years. When they were first introduced you could expect 1-2 years of service before they needed to be replaced. Today their life expectancy is rated at 5-7 years. It is recommended to have at least one CO detector on the premises.

Panic buttons allow the user to quickly alert the monitoring center to send the authorities when they are activated. Panic buttons can come in a wide variety of forms depending on the needs and uses of the client. Most commonly encountered are the three panic buttons included on the keypad. One for each of the emergency response agencies. Additionally, there are single alert type buttons. These buttons are set up at install to alert a pre-arranged agency. For older clients we may set up a key fob type button to call the medical services in case of a fall. While for a business we may setup a hard wired button under a counter to call the police in case of a robbery. The variety of panic buttons available allow us to tailor the system to the specific needs of the client and their expected risks. 

Security Systems communications

Lew Stouffer - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today, we have many methods for the security system to communicate with the monitoring center. The days of having to have a traditional land line from the telephone company are gone. It’s a field ripe with choices. I’ll touch on several of them and the pros and cons of each.

POTS- Plain Old Telephone Service, is a reliable form of communication. The POTS system allows voice transmissions through a direct wired point to point connection. The security system is connected to your existing home phones in a manner that will disable your phones temporarily in the event of an alarm condition that it needs to call out. After the communication is sent to the monitoring center, the phones will be restored for regular use. Some of the benefits of this system include no additional monitoring charges and reliable service. The drawbacks include the ease with which the service can disconnected (By a burglar or storm cutting the wires to the premises) and the need to insure that your security system is still functioning properly if ever there is service performed on your phone system.

VOIP- Voice Over Internet Protocol, is very similar to POTS system in the manner that they are connected to the security system.  The major difference between POTS and VOIP is how the voice signal is transmitted. The VOIP system utilizes a portion of the bandwidth available from your internet service to send its signal. They are not recommended for security system use. There seems to be a wide gap in ability to use these systems for security systems between the different providers. The basic rule of thumb that we have seen is the old adage of you get what you pay for. The less the VOIP system costs the less likely it is to be able to transmit alarm signals reliably. These systems have the same limitations as a POTS system with the added problem of needing a battery backup to work in power outage conditions. Additionally, if you have service performed on your phone or data network it is possible to affect the security systems connectivity.

Internet Monitoring- Utilizes the current internet bandwidth to transmit signals to the central station for security system monitoring. It has the drawbacks of being easily defeated by cut wires or power outages (as in the above examples). The costs involved are similar to a primary cell system (below) because of the need to purchase an internet module and server time.

Cellular Monitoring- Also popularly known as wireless. A cellular system requires the purchase of a cell communicator that is designed to work with the security system. It is essentially a cell phone that is mounted with the control panel equipment. Like all cell phones there are airtime fees involved to keep the system active. The advantages are that they are completely independent of the other systems on the premises. They are not subject to cut wires and are connected to the security systems back up power supply in the event of a power outage. They do suffer, to a lesser degree, from some of the same issues as cell phones. 

The Holidays

Bob Peters - Monday, December 23, 2013

It’s that time of year again. By this point you are running to the store to find that last minute present. Doing the grocery shopping for that special dinner. Cleaning the house and soon everyone will be there! It is easy to overlook things this time of year. Don’t let your security be one of them. Here are some helpful tips to remember as you prepare for the holidays.

  • Have a neighbor pick up the mail while you are out of town.
  • Do not put the boxes from expensive gifts on the curb for trash collection.
  • Put a central light on a timer so the house looks occupied. Maybe, the neighbor who is picking up the mail can turn the lights and TV on and off in different parts of the house?
  • Tell your neighbors your plans for the holidays so they can keep an eye on your property.
  • Secure items in your yard that may help someone break in.
  • Have a safe and happy holidays!

Burglar Alarm Buying 101

Bob Peters - Friday, November 08, 2013

While doing my morning read through of the news, I came across this article By Clark Howard in the AJC. Clark has some excellent points to consider before you make your security system purchase. While many of the ideas are fairly old fare for those of us that have followed Clark’s words of wisdom. It’s good to get a refresher and put it in front of people that may have missed it in the past. The last point is probably the most important. Do your security shopping before you need a system. Emotions run high after a break in. Many people overbuy when trying to secure their home after the fact.

Rereading this was good for me. It made me reexamine something that I already knew, and add my observations from my experiences from the other side of the sale. After years of selling security systems I have seen several points that most people overlook. Understanding your goals helps the representative you are going to meet best serve you.

Before you contact any companies for quotes, take a minute to understand what you want to do. Do you want to protect the Picasso’s in the living room or have additional piece of mind while on vacation. There can be a large cost difference between the levels of security.

Take stock of how your family lives in the home. Do the kids get up early while you sleep in on Saturday? If so, you may need several keypads or fewer motion detectors. Do you have pets that are given free roam of the house? Would you be alright with limiting their access while the alarm is on? Do you travel for work? Will this impact how you want to use the system? Maybe adding remote access and cameras is something you would like to do. These are some of the most common items we run across while working up an estimate for our clients.

Once you have done the first two steps, you are almost ready to start calling security companies. The last thing you should do is take stock of your home. Walk around the outside of the house. Are there points that look like good opportunities for burglars? How do you want to address them? Will adding physical barriers (more/better locks, stronger doors, less glass) solve the issue for you? If not, add that to the list to talk to the security company’s representative about. While you are walking around the outside, count the number of doors and windows you need to cover. This helps us be able to give you a ballpark estimate over the phone.

Now that your homework is complete, you are ready to start calling Companies. Friends’ referrals are a great source to start with. Call/email those companies and ask for a quote. One thing to keep in mind if you use email is to check your spam folder. (Many times I have responded to prospective clients, but have received an angry call the following week complaining that I haven’t responded yet; only for it to be found in the spam folder!) Most companies will insist on sending a representative out before quoting, some (like Atlanta Home Alarm) will be happy to give a quote based on what you tell them you need.