Alarm Systems

  1. What is an Alarm System?

  2. What are Alarm Systems Comprised of?

  3. Benefits of Owning an Alarm System

  4. Alarm Systems are Multi-Purpose

  5. How to Reduce False Alarms

  6. The Value of Alarm Systems

  7. Burglars and Alarm Systems

  8. The Ever Changing Alarm System

  9. Conclusion






I.   What is an Alarm System?

At its core, an alarm system is really quite basic.  It’s essentially a set of extremely loud devices that, when enabled, make a lot noise when something unexpected happens.  This something could be one of many things, ranging from a door sensor realizing someone is attempting to force the door open to a motion detector sensing that someone is prowling your property.  It’s there to have your back when you can’t watch your home or business.

Alarm systems are comprised of a few key components (for a more detailed listing, see section 2, What are Alarm Systems Comprised Of?):

  • Motion detectors:  Motion detectors are used to sense a change in an environment that is caused by an unwanted human presence.  Many people are worried that pets will set of these motion detectors by accident and trigger a false alarm.  There are special motion detectors to deal with scenarios like these.  If those are not an option, the system can be configured such that the areas that your pet(s) are usually kept is setup in such a way that the sensors avoid detecting them.  Installing these inside or outside, they are essential to the usefulness of the alarm system.  If something occurs in your home/business while the system is activated, they will instantly alert the control panel and an alarm will be triggered.

  • Window and Door Sensors:  These are special devices that detect when a door, window, or other entry point has been opened. Their main purpose is to detect criminals and others trying to break into your home/business through these entry points.  Many criminals will look for homes or businesses that do not have adequate security in all entry points and target those specific points on those homes/businesses to commit crimes.  If something occurs in your home/business while the system is activated, they will instantly alert the control panel and an alarm will be triggered.

  • Control Panel - Qolsys

    The Alarm Itself:  The alarm itself has 3 main modes, audio, visual, and silent.  The audio mode is the one that most people think of when they think alarm, an extremely loud, noticeable noise that is certain to attract the attention of neighbors and people nearby and clearly indicates that something is wrong.  The visual alarm may send your phone a text or open up an app indicating to you that something is happening.  The silent alarm is one that, though the name seems to indicate it as useless, is actually one of the most potent tricks a sophisticated alarm system has up its sleeve.  The silent alarm alerts the security company associated with your alarm as well as the proper authorities that something is happening at your home/business so that they can respond appropriately.  All of these are powerful tools in their own right, and are even more potent when combined.  A typical alarm system will take advantage of the audio and visual alarms to alert everyone in the vicinity and attempt to scare of whatever is attempting to access where they shouldn’t be.  A few more sophisticated systems will, on top of the audio and visual alarms, take advantage of the silent alarm.

  • The Control panel:  The control panel is the center of the entire system.  Think of it as the system’s brain.  All the signals from the sensors and alarms are sent through here and the control panel instantly makes a decision as to what to do.  It may trigger one of the several alarms and alert the security company and authorities that something is happening as well as alerting you that there is a something going on at your home/business.

These systems are setup so that it is extremely easy for the owner to arm and disarm the system when he/she needs it or doesn’t need it.  When you close up shop for the night, at the press of a button your alarm system comes to life and your home/business is protected from whatever might want to harm it.




II.   What are Alarm Systems Comprised Of?

In part I we went over what an alarm system is, and generally what most alarm systems are made of.  In this section, we’ll be covering in more detail what various alarm systems make use of, and the potential options that are available when purchasing an alarm system.

 

Door and Window Sensors: these sensors are set up to, true to their name, monitor doors and windows and ensure that those places they are monitoring aren't open when they should be closed. They are one of the first lines of defense when it comes to a security system, and used correctly are one of the best.

Break Sensors: similar to door and window sensors, break sensors monitor entry points to your home/business, but they make sure a potential intruder doesn't try to bypass the door and window sensors by breaking the glass in a window/door. If an intruder does try that on a window/door with a break sensor, the proper authorities can be alerted immediately.

Motion Sensors: detects unwanted motion, such as an intruder on your property, or in a large warehouse setting. These are very useful for heading off potential criminals, as their main purpose is to stop them before they have reached your house/business.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors: invisible, odorless, and tasteless, carbon monoxide is a deadly gas, and buildup of such a gas can be deadly. Sensors that detect buildups of carbon monoxide can alert you and your family/coworkers that there is something wrong, and head off a potential disaster.

Smoke Detectors: The most well known part of a security system, smoke detectors are there to detect smoke from any source to insure that your house/business is safe from fire and burning.

Control Panel: The central unit of the security system. Anything that any of the sensors detect is amiss is routed here, and it is here that the system decides to call the proper authorities. Motion sensor detected a miscreant in your backyard? Control panel can dial the cops and have them come check it out. Smoke detector detects fire in the kitchen? Control panel can dial the fire department and get them there as soon as possible. The control panel is also smart. It knows that if you have disarmed a door sensor, say because you need to move stuff in through a back door, any information coming from that door sensor likely doesn't need to be reported, so it is ignored. But as soon as that sensor goes back on, all information coming from it is important.

Alone, these parts of a security system would be useless. But take a few of each and you have a potent mix that can protect your home/business from just about everything the world can throw at it. Security systems nowadays are invaluable to have at any home/business, and drastically reduce the potential for your home/business to be victim to a crime or burglary.

For more information, please visit http://www.alarm.org/HomeSafety/HowSecuritySystemsWork.aspx or http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/residence/safety-1/security-alarm-systems-for-the-home/




III.   Benefits of Owning an Alarm System

Now that we know what an alarm system is and how it works, let’s look at some of the benefits that an alarm system brings to the table.

  • Making Intruders Aware. When a loud, piercing, shrieking alarm sounds, it’s an immediate warning to whoever is attempting to enter that you have a security system and are well protected.  This is not the place they want to be right now. But it doesn’t even have to be an alarm that sounds.  Many homes and businesses that have alarm systems have small signs or stickers in their windows detailing to all who approach that they are securely protected by a system.  This immediately lets any wrongdoers know that they should steer clear of these homes/businesses.

  • Make Others Aware.  When you get your alarm system installed, make sure to let your neighbors know that you now have one and that in the event that it sounds, they should call the authorities.  An alarm system going off is something that is hard to miss, and it has the power to make sure that the people around your home or business are aware something is happening.  Once the alarm sounds and they hear this, they can call the authorities and/or take a look themselves so that you and the authorities have more information about what is actually happening.

  • Instantly Alerting the Authorities.  If someone attempts to break in to your home or business,  you want to know for sure that the proper authorities will be alerted as fast as possible.  When the system is activated, as soon as one of the sensors is tripped the alarm system will notify your security company, who will assess the situation and alert the authorities.  This gives you peace of mind that when you aren’t around to keep an eye on things someone else is.

  • Save You Money.  The average home break in costs the owner on average around $2,000.  But having an alarm system can prevent these huge losses.  Just having a sticker in the window letting people know you are protected is often enough to deter most criminals from attempting anything, and the ones who aren’t smart enough to heed this warning won’t get very far.  Some insurance companies also offer discounts for businesses that have alarm/security systems.  From their point of view, you are better protected and won’t need to come to them because no one will even think of breaking into your business.

All in all, an alarm system is a great investment for any homeowner or business owner.  They help deter intruders, alert the people around you, notify the authorities in the case of a situation, and can save you a lot of money.




IV.   Alarm Systems are Multi-Purpose

An alarm system is a great tool for deterring and, if the burglar is unwise enough, preventing intrusions.  It can cover all the entryways to your home or business ranging from garage doors, windows, regular doors, and even outside on your property.  But an alarm system can and should be used for much more than simply the deterrence and prevention of theft or burglary.

Fire detection.  On top of being one of the best investments for stopping burglary and theft, your alarm system can also be set up to detect smoke and fire.  The earlier a fire, extreme heat, or smoke can be detected, the earlier something can be done about it.  Whether that something is your alarm system immediately sounding the fire alarm, or notifying the fire department, earlier is better.  This early detection also allows for you or a loved one, should you or they be in the vicinity of the fire, to evacuate the area quickly and safely.Multi-Purpose Alarm System

Carbon Monoxide detection.  In addition to detecting fire, heat, and smoke, your alarm system can also be configured to detect carbon monoxide.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that takes, on average, 430 lives a year. Having your alarm system set up to prevent this from happening to you or one of your loved ones is a powerful thing to have.  While the system may not be able to remove the gas from the area, it can alert you much earlier than you would be able to detect it yourself.  Your alarm system can sound the alarm, notifying you that you need to leave the area and get your home or business looked at, and can also notify the proper authorities that your home is at risk of carbon monoxide and needs help.

Flood/water detection.  A water sensor installed in a basement or other low lying area in a building can save lots of money on water damage repair.  A flooded basement is one of the worst things for a business, it ruins that area as a storage area until the water is cleaned up, it may damage products being stored there, and could potentially harm the foundation of the building.  A simple sensor that detects if water is present in the area and can alert yourself or someone in charge can save lots of money by getting someone to the scene who can take immediate action to prevent any further damage being done.

One touch emergency contact.  Many alarm systems nowadays have central control panels that are setup with the ability to call 911 and contact the emergency services at the push of a button, without triggering a loud alarm.  If you or a loved one has a medical emergency, paramedics and a first aid squad can be dispatched to your home almost instantaneously with the push of a button.

Alarm systems are great as a tool for preventing crime from happening at your home or business, but you should also consider the other benefits that they bring to the table.  Namely keeping those you love and your prized possessions safe from dangers that aren’t human.




V.   How to Reduce False Alarms

False alarms are one of the few flaws with security systems, and if your security system isn't used properly it can cost you. They strain police resources, cost you money, and create a unsatisfied feeling towards your security system. But by following several key points these false alarms can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

Make sure that everyone who will need to be in contact with the security system is trained to use it. Many false alarms are due to improper use of the system, be it not disarming a particular alarm when entering/leaving the area, to just not knowing what alarms are where and what they do. Many false alarms occur because someone leaves the house, properly setting the alarm, but needs to re-enter shortly after, and doesn't remember to turn the alarm system off. Make sure everyone who needs to be is informed, this includes relatives, children, babysitters, etc.

If you have pets, make sure that there is something in place that keeps them from tripping alarms. Whether this is informing the installer prior to the installation so that he/she can work around this, or preventing your pets access to areas that could possibly trigger a false alarm.

Objects around the sensors. A common cause of false alarms is an inanimate object triggering a sensor. Ranging from curtains at windows gently moving back and forth to flowers dropping petals on the sensor, these trigger false alarms. Make sure to keep the sensors clear of all obstructions, as it doesn't take much to set them off.

Dead or dying batteries. While there isn't much that can be done to actively prevent this, checking the batteries in your system on a regular basis will reduce the likelihood of your system triggering a false alarm, and increase your security. No one wants to come home to find their security system isn't working because of a dead battery. Checking the batteries once every week should keep your system up and running smoothly.

It is rare equipment will malfunction, but if something of this nature does happen, inform your security company immediately, as this could lead to a security risk. The largest cause of false alarms from security systems is due to human error.




VI.   The Value of Alarm Systems

Alarm systems are a great technology whose invention has saved many business and homeowners stress and money.  They deter criminals and burglars from targeting your home or business.  They can alert the authorities when the alarm sounds that attention is needed.  They can even save you money on homeowners insurance (studies show between 15% and 20% savings).  But what about the downsides? Are they really downsides?

False alarms are a big downside.  Having your alarm system sound when there is not a problem seems to defeat the purpose of the system itself.  But real false alarms aren’t actually that common.  Many alarm systems wait up to a minute after something is tripped to actually sound the alarm.  This is to check if the home or business owner accidentally tripped their own alarm.  For example, you’re leaving for work in the morning.  You set your alarm system, and walk out to your car.  On your way there, you realize you forgot to grab some important paperwork, so you hurry back to your house, and open the door, forgetting your alarm system is active.  The system waits for a very short while to give you time to turn it off so a false alarm isn’t sent.  On top of this, alarm companies are investing incredible amounts of money into making their systems better at detecting false alarms.  Everything from video to audio identification is on the table, and alarm systems keep getting better and better.

Another downside is that when the alarm does notify the authorities, the situation is entirely in their hands.  If they show up slowly, there isn’t much that can be done.  But the positive thing about alarm and security systems that greatly outweighs this negative is that they deter criminals from even thinking about committing a crime.  They stop the crime before it even happens.  The common thief looks for an easy target, one with an open window, or an unlocked back door. But on activation of your alarm/security system, you’re alerted of these things so that your home or business can be as secure as possible, and these petty thieves won’t even think to look your way.

Alarm systems also provide benefits for the area you live in.  A study released in 2009 by the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University showed that an increase in the number of security and alarm systems in the area you live in will decrease the amount of crime that occurs in that area.  The study, which focused on Newark from 2001 to 2005, found that residential break-ins decreased as the density of alarms in an area increased.

Overall, alarm systems are improving drastically, and provide many great benefits that clearly outweigh their initial and monthly costs.

For more information on the study done by Rutgers, http://news.rutgers.edu/news-releases/2009/02/rutgers-study-finds-20090205#.VKXIwSvF8ZM





VII.   Burglars and Alarm Systems

Unfortunately when it comes to home invasions, burglars are very good at singling out the best places to break in.  They observe your home or business, looking for weaknesses that they can easily exploit to gain access and commit crimes.  To prevent these criminals from doing wrong, we need to know how they do what they, why they do what they do, and what is optimal for stopping them.  Three of the most vulnerable parts of a home or business include garage doors, doors without deadbolts, and windows on the first floor.

Garage doors are particularly susceptible to intrusion because they are often left unlocked, and even when closed can simply be opened up with a strong tug.  An intruder will usually make sure to check and see if the garage door is locked or alarmed, and if it is not locked or alarmed it is a sitting duck for a burglar.  A deadbolt, coupled with a motion detector (and alarm), is a great way to cover this particular vulnerability in your home or business.  The deadbolt will show that you are serious about protecting your valuables, and if the burglar doesn’t get the hint and somehow gets past the deadbolt, the motion detector and alarm will be sure to put an end to the wrongdoing.

Normal doors without deadbolts are a second highly susceptible entryway to your home or business.  As we’ve most likely all seen on TV, locks can be picked, some quicker than others.  Having each entrance to your home or business equipped with a sensor that can trigger an alarm is the perfect way to compensate for the otherwise lack of security.  When the alarm system is engaged, as soon as the criminal even cracks the door open a fraction of an inch, the alarm sounds and the authorities are alerted that something is happening.

First floor windows are a third extremely susceptible target for burglars.  Breaking a first floor window to rob a home or business is a very common tactic for criminals.  Luckily there are glass-break sensors that, when enabled, will sound the alarm if the glass in the window they are protecting is broken.  Combine that with a motion sensor to stop the intruder from forcing the window open and suddenly you have yourself a potent setup that is bound to stop any criminal in his tracks.

The conclusion here is that while you want to make your home attractive and inviting to everyone who isn’t a criminal, you also want to make your home as unattractive as possible to criminals.  An alarm system manages to do both.  The alarms and sensors are small and won’t attract much attention from friends and family, but are there and visible to deter a burglar and to take action should a burglar unwisely decide that your house is his or her target.  An alarm system has your back when you can’t keep an eye on everything.

For more information on burglars and alarm system statistics, see http://www.alarm.org/HomeSafety/FastFacts.aspx




VIII.   The Ever Changing Alarm System

As the economy bounces back and forth, people spend varying amounts of money on alarm systems.  This means that in the lulls of revenue when the economy is down, alarm companies have to find ways to make their products appealing, and better.

One of the main improvements that is being focused on is the reduction of false alarms.  False alarms are one of the biggest problems with alarm systems nowadays.  An alarm sounding for nothing is like the boy who cried wolf.  After a while, even if it isn’t a false alarm, it’s not seen as serious because of the numerous faults that have happened in the past.  But with improvements to these systems and combinations of other security technologies, false alarms are being reduced.  False alarms need a lot of information in order to be deemed “false”, and there is no better way to generate the needed information that integrated video verification.  Being able to see what is happening at the site of the false alarm enables the person in charge to make an instant decision.  Is there someone trying to break into your home or business? Or is it just something harmless that accidentally tripped your alarm system.

The main problem with these newer verification systems is that almost all security systems have legislation requiring them to meet certain standards.  For example, alarms must be verified before there is a dispatch.  In some states, if this doesn’t happen someone gets fined.  New technology to reduce these kinds of mishaps is necessary, and developing.

The alarm industry is all about what is the best fit for the customer.  Companies are creating systems that can assess the situation and decide what type of response is best.  “The Security Industry Coalition (SIAC) has spent years developing ordinances and processes to reduce false alarms and proven that if they are implemented they will reduce false alarms by 90 percent,” Jentoft,  president of  Videofied explains. “At that point it is simply continuing to ‘minimize a negative,’ meaning that as long as there is one person generating one false alarm, the job cannot be ‘perfect.’ Instead of the huge cost of diminishing returns I believe that the next step is a move away from minimizing a negative to a positive message of ‘making more arrests.’ In this scenario as long as we make one arrest, this is better than nothing. We maximize a positive message using video alarms and priority response to actually catch criminals in the act. This is a strong message of value to both consumers and law enforcement.”

Though we may never completely eradicate false alarms and other issues with alarm systems, the progress that has, and is continuing to be made, is incredible, and it continues to push the bounds and the success of the alarm industry as a whole.

For more information on alarms, alarm management, and improvements on alarm systems, see http://www.sdmmag.com/articles/85698-alarm-management-trends-that-are-changing-the-alarm-industry-forever





IX.   Conclusion

In conclusion, alarm systems are one of the best investments available for purchase to reduce, prevent, and stop home intrusions, burglaries, business intrusions, and property damage/vandalism.  With a large array of sensor and alarm options available at purchase, the various uses beyond just crime prevention, the ever improving technology backing these systems, their proven reliability in deterring and preventing crime, and the fact that they are always getting better lends them to be extremely useful to any homeowner or business owner looking improve his/her property security in a significant and meaningful way.