Celebrating 20 Years of Tech Talk

SSI’s resident tech expert Bob Dolph recounts his professional career, the evolution of electronic security and the beginnings of Tech Talk.

Yes, it has been 20 years since my first writing of the SSI Tech Talk column. And yes, it seems just like yesterday. Because of the occasion, this month I am going to reflect on my writings and, as a whole, how I have seen the industry progress and change over the years.

You will get to know a little more about your author and what motivated him personally to continue this column for such a long time. I also look forward to continuing this endeavor and welcome you along for the ride. 

I started my technology career learning basic electronics in the Navy during the Vietnam War era. I then received my formal electronics training at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. From there I then received my first security training in the 1970s from, you guessed it, ADT. 

With that training, I struck out on my own and formed a small security dealership, Homestead Electronics. At that point there was no turning back, I was hooked on security electronics.

What initially fascinated me about security systems was that I could use technology to protect and save lives. As a dealer, I came into the industry in the beginning of 1980s. As I often say, it was the Wild West years of alarm security. The introduction of the alarm digital dialer (see Tool of the Month) allowed small dealers to generate recurring monthly revenue (RMR) with services from independent central station monitoring. Public police and fire provided alarm response services. What better business model could one ask for?

Back then, phone systems were considered sacred ground by the phone companies. Any device connected to their system was considered dangerous, and a threat to the system’s integrity, unless you leased an expensive interface device. This was proven to be a farce and many dealers covertly connected digital dialer devices directly to the phone system without any problems. 

Early systems back then had mostly perimeter sensors such as door/window contacts and, commercially, foil. Floormats, tripwires, window screens and lacing were common interior techniques. Microwave and ultrasonic motion were available, though often a luxury, and often prone to false alarms. Passive infrared (PIR) and glass-break was coming on the scene but also often unstable. Control panels were just starting to use delayed entrance and exit controls, and door shunt switches were common system controls. 

Smoke detectors were being introduced by professional companies like ADT. However, they were just starting to be discovered by the consumer market and often too expensive for everyday consumption. 

For the next 20 years the security products and service industry thrived as the public had a constant battle with crime. Access control became more common in commercial applications. PIR motion started to become the standard for interior motion detection, pushing out ultrasonic and microwave systems.

Microwave technology is still used with PIR in false alarm reduction dual technology motions. Wireless systems started becoming popular in the 1980s, though lacking in performance such as range and transmission quality. This improved as wireless systems started using military-grade features such as frequency hopping. 

After selling my alarm company, my security career emerged with companies such as National Guardian, Sonitrol, Lockheed Martin and Ingersoll Rand. Along the way I have had the opportunity to work for small entrepreneurial companies such as American Alarm Supply, Ness Security and Security Information Systems. The reason l point this out is that this highly diversified set of acquired skills and experiences is what I bring to the table each month with Tech Talk. Sharing this with my readers is what I find the most rewarding.

So, when did Tech Talk come on the scene? My first column was published January 2002. As it was stated in my introductory article, “It is the goal of this column, and my personal goal, to provide the systems professional with independent ideas and information that can immediately be used on the job.” For 20 years I have held firmly to this philosophy. 

What have I seen over the 45 years of my career? Security electronics has matured, but still lacks in many areas to make products and services user-friendly. This is noticeable by the fact that user errors account for most false alarms. The more and more DIY emerges, it should be noted to the public that good, reliable security is a profession.

Products and services should be taken seriously as we are often dealing with life-safety issues. One of the biggest outstanding issues I see is that of trade training. It is still the hot potato that no one wants to catch and take responsibility for. 

As always, in Tech Talk I try to leave something you can take home with you. If you find security historical information interesting, you need to visit the Wayne Alarm Security Industry Museum at waynealarm.com/antiques-corner.

Historical Tool of the Month  

Actually, the digital dialer was one of the early users of M2M (machine to machine) communications technology.

It was the new gateway for dealers to create RMR. The devices were fast and reliable in reporting alarm messages to the central stations.

Tagged with: Tech Talk Columns News

About the Author

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Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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