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Bad Installations Are No Laughing Matter

You can practically hear the “Three Blind Mice” theme playing. Surely this must have been the handiwork of the Three Stooges, you think to yourself, as you happen upon yet another jury-rigged alarm system put in by some bumbling installer. This scenario is a familiar one to anyone who has spent significant time in the field.

However, in such cases, the yuks come at far too great a price as these irresponsible installations jeopardize lives and property, not to mention the security company owner’s liability and the reputation of the industry at large. Although the overwhelming majority of security dealers are conscientious and skilled, there are still far too many instances where carelessness or a lack of training taints the industry’s professionalism.

Having examined hundreds of systems for more than 25 years, Jeffrey Zwirn (CPP, CFPS, CFE, DABFET, CHS-III)—president of IDS Research & Development Inc., a security and alarm expert witness and consultation service – has seen more than his fair share of questionable and flagrant installation practices.

“I have seen a pattern of serious defects and irregularities that alarm companies employ and appear to use as standard operating practice when they should know better,” he says. “Of particular concern are system flaws that are concealed and/or not evident to the end user even though they are relying on it for peace of mind and protection.”

It all boils down to the proper training and supervision of installers and technicians. Of course, a code of ethics is critically important as well. Although, for the most part, security is an unregulated industry, there are numerous education standards sources available. A good place to start is organizations such as the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL).

“Although mainstream media has not focused on our success, security systems have saved lives. The alarm industry’s message should always be that our systems can make a difference, be it a home, business or government facility,” adds Zwirn. “This is especially important now that our industry is facing critical issues such as verified police response.”

Following are dozens of photographs pulled from Zwirn’s personal case files that illustrate some of the errant techniques he has witnessed first-hand during his career. This exhibition is intended to serve as both entertainment and a learning device (see sidebar at end of article). But be forewarned, as some of these installations are so mind-boggling they may cause you to do the Curly Shuffle!

This open wood enclosure contains this building’s fire alarm system. The installation of such equipment in an outside location subject to moisture is a gross deviation of National Fire Alarm and Protection Association (NFPA) standards, manufacturers’ specifications, and nationally recognized industry standards and practices.

The interior of the wood enclosure seen in the previous photo shows that the fire alarm control panel (FACP) was improperly mounted on the inside of the door. Also note that telephone, initiating and audible notification appliance system wiring has been stapled between the door and the fixed portion of the unsealed outdoor enclosure.

Note this commercial burglar alarm system’s improper conduit termination. In addition, the system was incorrectly programmed, had no ground, had many active circuits bypassed and exceeded control panel output requirements.

Here we see two outside UL-Listed bells and a stainless-steel siren in protective housings, with an outside directional siren box to the left that has the bell output wiring running up the side of the building completely exposed.

A burglar alarm system was initially installed at this commercial site, with a fire alarm being added later. The original, telephone tape dialer burglar alarm reportedly was upgraded to a UL-Listed household panel. Note the homemade smoke detector power reset switch. In addition, all supervisory EOLRs were improperly terminated on both the normally open and normally closed circuits, and the singular RJ-31X jack did not employ line seizure.

Active fire alarm system wiring discovered left hanging unprotected in a high-rise apartment building.

This master control panel was found just laying on the floor of a commercial premises. Note surrounding alarm circuits and one-way radio in the upper part of the photograph. This system had no ground and all EOLRs were improperly terminated. A burglary at this location went undetected after the phone lines were cut and back-up radio was found to be nonfunctional and lacking DC power.

The alarm, cable-TV and audio systems wiring in the basement of this residence were astonishingly sloppy. The installer just haphazardly installed them, and none of the systems ever worked properly.

This commercial fire alarm system is marred by improper conduit connection to the FACP’s metal housing. Also note that the conduit is not secured to the wall.

The door of this control panel found above a drop ceiling could not be closed due to too many wires leading into it. In addition, all end-of-line resistors (EOLRs) were improperly terminated, there was no ground and many active control circuits were bypassed.

Here we see a UL-Listed contact installed on a safe in a commercial premise. However, it is not listed for this application. No supervisory EOLR was installed on this circuit and the switch was not biased, balanced or tampered.

This commercial fire alarm system only consisted of one non-UL-Listed power supply, pull stations and a fire bell. Note that the metal housing was painted red prior to installation. No control panel was found as part of this installation.

This commercial burglar alarm system is mounted beside telephone equipment on a common wall that could be accessed by forcible intrusion through the adjacent store. To “protect” this area, the alarm installer mounted a window bug on the phone equipment. While this device won’t false alarm, the concept behind the installation evidences a complete failure to understand proper alarm system design and testing.

This is another look at the ill-conceived system introduced in the previous photo. Here, we see a window bug mounted in the center of a perimeter metal door, apparently to detect forcible entry through its center! Also notice the homemade door cord.

Yet another photo of the errant installation detailed in the previous two photos. Observe that the installer mounted a window bug on a two-by-four to “protect
” the area again

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