Category: Security Systems
Recently, our central station received an alert that an alarm had been tripped. They followed their standard protocol of dispatching the police and contacting the business owners. Now security system alarms and subsequent police dispatches are fairly common, but what makes this story different is that this client was broken into one month earlier and took then extra precaution of adding a cellular back-up communicator, in case the phone lines were cut again. In fact, we went one step further, we put an additional battery in the communicator so that even if the security panel was destroyed, the radio could send an alarm signal by itself.
Home owners that are concerned about their security can learn from this as well. While traditional phone lines do a good job of economically sending us signals, they do have one vulnerability. They are usually unprotected and can be cut.
Today, the majority of our clients no longer have a traditional phone line any more, and we receive calls every week from clients that want to get rid of their land-line service. Those getting rid of land-line all together will need to opt for either internet or cellular monitoring. Others who convert to a bundled voice over IP (VoIP) service do have a choice.
VoIP from major providers in the Kansas City area, such as AT&T, TWC, Comcast, SureWest and others can often transmit the alarm signals fairly reliably, but most security system manufacturers don’t guarantee compatibility. The next issue is that of VoIP service in the event of a power loss. You will want to know how long the phones will continue to work without any power, if at all. Finally, these VoIP services are still vulnerable to wire cuts, as were the traditional phone lines.
We recommend, multiple communication paths to help mitigate the risk of intentional or natural loss of communication. Almost every security system manufactured in the last 15 years can be converted to cellular communication.
Kansas City homeowners are becoming evermore proactive about protecting their homes and families. One step in this evolution is the use of video surveillance. There are 4 main reasons that people choose video surveillance:
- Deterrent: Security cameras are an excellent deterrent. Most trespassers and would-be intruders want to avoid being seen at all cost. The presence of security cameras sends a strong signal that security is taken seriously at that home and that the cameras are probably just the first line of defense. The risk of being apprehended is certainly enough of a deterrent to discourage many intruders.
- Apprehension: Security cameras are also an important tool in apprehending wrong-doers. Some clients who have an ongoing problem with crime prefer to use covert cameras to catch the perpetrator in the act so that they can be prosecuted. This is often a case in stalking scenarios, or ongoing disputes. In the latter case, often vandalism is being done at night and the home owner wants to prove who is doing it.
- Peace of mind: Being able to check in on your home while you are away offers a great deal of comfort to some. Perhaps making sure their pets are OK or just to make sure that everything is normal. A camera outdoors even gives one the ability to watch the kids playing in the yard from a TV, computer or smartphone.
Part of the reason for the surge in popularity is the dramatic drop in prices as well as the introduction of smart-phone and internet access to these systems. A traditional system will be composed of a digital video recorder (DVR), a power supply, and cameras. The DVR will normally have 4, 8, or 16 inputs on it where the camera cables are to be connected. It then has a hard drive, just like a computer, on which the video is stored. There is usually an ethernet port so that the video can be viewed over the internet as well.
Selection and installation of the security cameras is what determines the value of the surveillance system. There are many different factors that influence the selection of security cameras. Some of the factors that effect camera selection include the lighting, resolution, distance, mounting conditions, temperature, and vandalism risk.
Security camera selection and installation are where the complexity lies and often relying on a video surveillance consultant and a professional installer can help produce the desired results.
A new security camera solution that is gaining popularity is called hosted video. With hosted video surveillance, there is no need for the DVR. Instead, the video clips are stored on the internet (Cloud) each time a selected event, such as motion is triggered. The recording can also be triggered by security system events such as opening a door or disarming the system. Such a feature would be valuable for making sure that latch key kids arrived home safely. You could have a video clip emailed to you each time the door was opened while you were away to know who was coming and going. This video/security integration is also available on the traditional DVR based systems described above, but require outputs from the security panel to be wired to the DVR to trigger.
The video clips are stored on the internet and can even be automatically emailed. For small systems, this is very economical because the home owner avoids the expense of the DVR. Many of these cameras also can be connected via ethernet or Wi-Fi, to make installation even easier.
In our many conversations with home owners, it is apparent that there are a lot of confusing and conflicting terms out there used to describe wireless technologies used in todays security systems. The purpose of this post is to help clarify the terminology to help people better research their security needs. There are four common wireless uses within todays security systems. I will describe each below:
- Wireless devices: When installing a home security system, we often find that it is too difficult to get a wire run between the security system and particular location within the home. In these cases, there is usually a version of the contact that is capable of wirelessly transmitting signals bach to the security system. These devices are then battery operated and can last up to 7 years between battery changes. When the battery starts to get low, many security systems will inform you.
- Cellular monitoring: Cellular monitoring is a wireless network that has been put in place to allow security systems communicate with central monitoring stations, even when a traditional phone line is not available. These are often used when no land-line service is available at a property or when the owner would like additional protection in the event that a phone line was cut during an intrusion. These systems require a cellular communicator that is attached to the security system.
- Z-wave wireless control: You may start to here of a security system being able to control light, thermostats, garage door, and door locks. One of the more new technologies used to accomplish this is call Z-Wave. Z-Wave is a wireless technology used for home automation and has been integrated into several brands of security systems. With this technology in place, you can program events such as turning on the lights and turning up the thermostat when you return home. Or to even have those lights on a timer. To implement this, you need a z-wave communicator in your security panel and you need some z-wave light switches or outlets installed within your home.
- Smart-phone apps (Cell phone control): Many people ask for cell phone control and by that they are referring to apps made for most popular smart phones that can communicate with their security systems. These apps basically give the user access to most of the functions of their home security system, even while they are far away. Most of these apps require that either cellular or internet monitoring be installed on the security panel.
As I talk to multitudes of people about security, I occasionally run into those who’ll say that a monitored security system won’t prevent an intrusion. Actually the last person to say that was a close friend. I think that statement is wonderful, in that it shows that he was trying to think like a criminal in order to protect himself.
First of all, I guess I would have to agree with my friend, since the yard sign and the window decals are really the only portion of the system that is designed to deter the intrusion. The siren is the next line of defense in that it may discourage entry in the case of a glass break detector, or at least prompt a rapid departure once the intruder determines that the police are being dispatched. There are a multitude of other critical benefits that security system monitoring provides though.
Probably the easiest way to describe the value of monitoring is with some of the questions that a monitored security system would answer. I will include some questions that would also be answered when email alerting is added to a modern security system. Adding video surveillance would answer even more questions, but will be saved for a later discussion.
- If a fire starts in your home while your are away, how long will it take before your neighbors see it and call the fire department?
- If a fire started in your home while you are away, who will rescue your pets?
- If your basement starts flooding while you are away, or even asleep, will someone contact you?
- When you come home, is there a chance that you will be walking in on a burglar that had kicked in your back door?
- Is everything OK at your vacation home when you are away for the winter?
- What time did your child come home from school and disarm the security system?
- Did you remember to close the garage door when you left?
- Did you remember to arm the security system when you left on your trip?
- Are your senior parents able to summon help when they need it?
- If a relative with Alzheimer’s was to wander off, do you have a way to locate them?
- If your mother wasn’t moving around her home as she normally would, could you tell?
- If carbon monoxide levels rose in a home where the inhabitants couldn’t hear the siren or couldn’t get out of the house alone, how would help be summoned?
The technology exists today to monitor all of these conditions and allow you to not worry about them. The benefit of monitoring is two fold, first it gets help summoned sooner, and second, you don’t have to wonder if everything is OK.
It is only natural to worry about our families, homes, and businesses when we can’t be there, but electronic monitoring can go along way to reduce the worry.
The Challenge: I believe that almost anthing can be electronically monitored. Try to stump me with your toughest monitoring challenge. I’ll post your question and my attempt to solve. We’ll let a jury of your peers determine whether I’ve solved the challenge, come close, or crashed and burned.
As we continue to conduct numerous security inspections, we’ve noticed a disturbing practice, that we initially thought was an isolated event. The practice is to take a good comprehensive multi-zone hardwired system and turn it into a quick cheap system. In this posting, I’ll discuss what to look out for and why.
Security Principle: In general, the more zones in your security system, the better. Multiple zones give responders more specific information as to the location of the intrusion. More zones also gives you the ability to tailor the behavior of your security systems in different situations. It is expected that all of the doors would be on different zones. That way the central station could inform police as to which door of the house had gone into alarm. Cleary information on where motion or glass breakage occured would be just as vital.
Dangerous Shortcut: A number of companies, touting the benefits of an all wireless security systems, are actually doing it because of the time and money they save on installations. These companies, in some cases, have gone into a home with eight hardwired zones of security and disconnected all the wires. They then tie them together into two or three groups and attach each group to a wireless transmitter as a single zone. This turned a high quality hardwired system into a two or three zone system that leaves the police guessing as to the part of the house where a break-in occurred.
The Solution: Fortunately, in most cases, the situation can be reversed by putting a new panel where the original system was and reusing all of those valuable hardwired zones. A wireless receiver is then added to the system so that additional detection equipment can easily be added to the home or business. Such equipment includes wireless smoke detectors, wireless remotes, wireless carbon monoxide detectors, flood detectors, and more.
Final Note: If a security sales person seems anxious for you to make a decision, its usually because they don’t want to give you time to make an informed decision. You should always make a security investment on your terms and only when you are comfortable that you know the facts and are happy with your decision.
A topic you are going to see covered frequently here is that of “Aging in Place.” There are many organizations that define this phrase, but to me it is the application of a variety of solutions with a goal of helping seniors live longer, happier, and safer lives within their own homes. Home security systems can be extended to provide a great deal of support toward this goal.
Their are several considerations that infuence ones ability to stay at home. Things like wellness and mobility are obvious factors in determining one’s independence, but many adaptations are possible with thoughtful design.
One area that needs to be addressed is making sure that the individual can get the help they need when they need it. There are many different circumstance that can force one to need assistance and a monitoring system should be put in place that addresses as many of these as practical. Regular home visits by trained caregivers is one valuable measure. Modern technology can offer several powerful yet very affordable solutions as well.
Medical pagers that give the ability to summon help are another useful tool. The Life Sentry pager is unique in that a push of a button can connect the user to a certified EMT that can access their situation and dispatch the appropriate help. The advance here is that the conversation can take place right over the pendant which can be worn outdoors or in the shower. The previous versions of such devices required that the individual be able to get all the way back to a centrally located base station in order to communicate with the central station.
In home activity tracking is an exciting new area that allows family members or caregivers to monitor the activity within the home to assess whether a departure from the norm warrants action or at least a phone call. Email alerts can be sent as the individual moves from room to room, opens the medicine cabinet, or leaves the house. This allows their loved ones to have peace of mind that things are normal and to determine when things might not be. The monitoring doesn’t stop there though. It can also alert authorities and family members of fire, carbon monoxide, or intrusion threats.
Video surveillance is another technology that has gained an enormous amount of momentum in the residential market lately. Low prices and remote viewing over the internet and smart phones have made this a popular addition to a home’s electronic security. Again, the value is one of providing the peace of mind that comes with knowing everything is OK.
Another important adaptation that allows individuals to stay at home longer is the removal of barriers to everyday living that may exist within the home. These might be areas that are not wheel chair accessible. I had the pleasure of speaking with experts at Lifewise Renovations at their showroom, where they showed me how various remodelling techniques are helping individuals stay in their homes longer. One of the things that struck me, was that many of these adaptations, while very functional, are practically invisible, so people can implement these universal design concepts at any time.
You can learn more about these concepts or request a consultation at Shield Security Systems.
Today many people are drawn to simple solutions for a number of reasons. Some avoid unnecessary complexity, while others are perhaps more elegant. A more dangerous reason is to avoid the additional time and effort required to do things the right way.
What to avoid: Many of the mass-marketed $99 systems, tout the benefits of being all wireless and rapid installations. While neither of these characteristics are bad, many of the systems that are marketed in this way, are. The problem occurs when the key pad and control panel are integrated into a single unit that is placed near a main entrance of the home. Since the entire security system is then in the keypad, destroying the keypad also destroys the security system.
The Problem is that the security system doesn’t know if the person who came in is authorized or not. Currently its only way of determining that is to wait for the timer to expire without a valid code being input. During that waiting period is when the integrated systems are most vulnerable.
The right way: Whether wireless or not, the main control panel should be placed in a location where it will be difficult for an intruder to find. This could be in the basement, in a closet, or someplace else that is concealed and unexpected. Keypads are then placed at the main entrance(s). If a keypad is destroyed, the control panel will continue to operate and can still alert authorities and sound the siren.
Keypads are wired to the control panel, but some are wireless to provide more flexibility in mounting location. Keypads have come a long way, both in ease of use and in design.
LED keypads were the earliest keypads and communicated everything with a few status lights and 6 or 8 zone lights. You obviously got very little information from the keypad and had to use a guide to determine what the different light combinations meant. I don’t even want to get into the nightmare of programming a whole security system through one of those things. You can still find some companies installing these today.
LCD keypads have the ability to communicate much more information. There are two types: fixed and custom. A fixed keypad can show status with complete words such as armed, trouble, open, chime, on, off, etc. This was a big improvement over the LEDs, but you still needed a sheet to tell you what zone 1 actually was.
Custom Alpha-numeric keypads solved that problem by adding a custom description to each zone such as “Living Room Motion” or “Garage Entry Door”. These premium keypads also provide several different style options to match the aesthetics of the mounting location. They even went one step further to introduce voice as an additional option to simplify the interface even further by speaking the zone status.
Graphic Touch Screen Displays are vivid displays that provide a very intuitive interface for controlling the security system, but that is just the beginning. These displays also can control lights, thermostats, unlock doors and show local weather forecasts. While not in use they can display a slide show of family photos.
Smart Phone and Tablet interfaces are the latest step in the evolution. These can communicate over Wi-Fi when in the home or can be used over the 3G/4G mobile network to control and check on your home from across town or across the country. Free apps can be downloaded for many of the most popular platforms.
Future Hope for Integrated Systems: The manufacturers have been aware of this vulnerability since the beginning but are now starting to introduce features to reduce the risk. These techniques will drastically reduce the vulnerabilities and may allow me to endorse the systems for the many nice features that they will continue to have.
In the meantime, if you want one of the integrated systems, you should put the integrated keypad in a more remote area and add another wireless keypad near the main entry door.
It is the time of year when van loads of sales people start roaming the neighborhoods, hoping to pressure you into expensive, long term monitoring contracts by offering, what appear to be low up front costs. It doesn’t stop there though some of there practices are even illegal. So when it is time to invest in security, you should chose a company that you trust and check them out with friends, neighbors, and local agencies.
Even among the many legitimate security system companies, there are major differences. My best advise is to chose a company that takes the time to educate you and doesn’t pressure you for a decision. Security is about gaining peace of mind, and that sometimes takes reflection and weighing alternatives. SHIELD Security Systems is one such company, and there are others.
Want to Buy a Home Security System?
Beware of home alarm sales scams.
Everyone wants to feel safe in their home, so when home security salespeople come knocking, their pitch can be convincing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, and your state Attorney General urge you to use caution when you consider what security system sales agents have to offer.
During the spring and summer months, home security or alarm companies hire traveling sales agents to go door-to-door, making unsolicited “cold calls” on homeowners. In some cases, the salespeople use high-pressure or deceptive sales tactics to get potential customers to buy expensive, and sometimes substandard, systems or equipment they don’t need.
Before you let anyone inside your home, ask for identification. Some state laws require door-to-door salespeople to tell you their name, the name of the business they represent, and the goods or services they wish to sell before asking you any questions or making any statements. Other states require salespeople to show you their “pocket card” license and a photo ID. Take a few minutes to look over their documentation.
Signs of a Security System Scam
Unscrupulous door-to-door sales agents use a variety of approaches and pitches to get you to buy an alarm system and monitoring services. Here’s what to look out for:
- They may make a time-limited offer, and claim that you need to act now. For example, they may try to get you to sign a contract by telling you that the equipment is “free.” More than likely, strings are attached. For example, to get your “free” alarm, you may have to sign a long-term and expensive system monitoring contract.
- They may pressure their way into your home and then refuse to leave. It is not impolite or rude to tell a salesperson you’re not interested. It’s much easier — and safer — to say “no” on the doorstep than to try to get the salesperson to leave once they’re inside. If a salesperson continues to pressure you after you’ve asked them to leave, call the police.
- They may use scare tactics. For example, they may talk about a rash of supposed burglaries in your neighborhood.
Some door-to-door sales agents target homeowners who have signs on their properties for security systems with other companies. In these cases:
- The sales agents may state or imply that they are from your existing security company and that they’re there to “upgrade” or “replace” your current security system. Once inside your home, however, they may install a new security system and have you sign papers that include a costly contract for the monitoring service.
- They may claim your security company has gone out of business, that they’ve taken over the accounts, and that you have to buy new equipment and sign new contracts. If this happens, call your current monitoring company to confirm. Normally, you would be notified of a change like this by mail or telephone, not by an unannounced visit by a representative from another company.
Before you do business with anyone selling a home security or alarm system, whether they come to your door or you seek them out, the FTC and your state Attorney General urge you to ask potential contractors for the following information. Use it to check out the alarm company with the appropriate authorities: your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov), Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and state licensing officials (www.nascla.org). If the salesperson is reluctant to give you this information, consider it a red flag and find another company to consider.
- Contractor’s name
- Street address (no P.O. Box)
- Telephone number
- Contractor’s license number
- State that issued the license
- Name under which the license is filed
Buying a Home Security System
Home security systems are designed to protect you, your home, and your valuables. They vary in price and sophistication. Some systems not only can warn you of intruders, but also can notify authorities of a medical emergency, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and water levels or pressures, and include video surveillance. Some systems also are linked into your home’s wiring, heating or lighting systems, and use your mobile phone or computer to control them.
Most home security alarm installers can provide all-inclusive services that include equipment plus the installation and monitoring service.
If you’re thinking about buying a home security system, the FTC and your state Attorney General suggest that you:
Get references from your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and from the company’s current clients, and find out whether the equipment was installed within the given time frame. Were any equipment problems dealt with promptly? Was the system explained to everyone living in the home? If there was an intrusion, were the police contacted immediately?
Check out the companies by entering their names in a search engine online. Read about other people’s experiences with the companies. Try to communicate offline if possible to clarify any details. In addition, contact your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov), and the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if any complaints are on file.
Verify that the contractor’s licenses are current and in good standing. Check with the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (www.nascla.org) for the appropriate agency in your state.
Get written estimates from several companies, and ask plenty of questions. A reputable company will not try to sell you anything before completing a professional assessment of your needs and the layout of your home. Find out:
- Who will perform the installation and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to a third party.
- What is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More? Are there penalties for early termination? What happens if you move before the contract term is up?
- How much does the monitoring cost? How often will you be billed?
- Does the company call you before notifying the police?
- How soon after the alarm sounds will you be notified?
- What happens if the alarm company can’t reach you when the alarm is sounding? Is the alarm reset? Are the police called? Are alternate numbers called?
- What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
- What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
- Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
- Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications and special apps for smart phones?
Read the fine print. Once you’ve chosen a company, make sure the written contract includes all oral promises made by the salesperson. Your contract package should include:
- Installation price
- Monthly or quarterly monitoring fee
- Contract period
- Applicable discounts
- A written warranty
- The owner’s manual
- An explanation of your right to cancel the deal
- Cancellation forms
The contract also must be dated, and show the name and address of the seller.
Contact your police and fire departments. Ask whether you need to register your system, and if there are fines for responding to false alarms.
Understand that you can cancel the deal. The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel the deal if you sign the contract in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. You do not have to give a reason for canceling your purchase. You have a right to change your mind, even if the equipment has already been installed.
The salesperson must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back) and a copy of your contract. The contract must be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. You may have additional consumer protections under state law. Check with your state Attorney General (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov), or the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org)
For More Information
- National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association — www.alarm.org
- Security Industry Alarm Coalition — www.siacinc.org
The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.