Essential Test Devices: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Testing equipment for system techs and integrators is going through an exciting yet challenging transition. The rapid growth of IP technologies has placed new and fast-changing demands on testing devices. For example, a tech might investigate an IP issue like how a 100 Base-T device of recent years now communicates with a 1,000 Base-T or gigabit switch, thereby forcing the switch to negotiate downward in performance. On the other hand, the system tech may still have to analyze why a power supply is not working for an access door strike.

Today’s technicians have to be able to pull out a test device to investigate these network performance issues. Since technicians are responsible for their own tools, these devices must also be reasonably priced and of high performance. A technician may be required to also perform similar tasks, such as single port tests, cable tests and tone tests on cabling. Oh yes, some of the tests may also need to be done “inline” as well.

Yet today’s technician also cannot forget about the old world of analog. It is still around and will be for some time to come. Basic alarm circuit testing theory remains based around DC circuit rules, such as Ohm’s Law. Even though the latest alarm panels can now communicate via IP over networks to central stations, the “real world” part of the alarm panel is the circuits that contain door contacts, PIR relays and end-of-line (EOL) resistors for current supervision. This type of testing calls for an old mainstay tester — the digital multi-meter (DMM).

I question, though, whether today’s network-savvy digital technicians truly understand analog technology, and vice versa. Do older, analog-based techs grasp the newer IP testing devices used for certifying today’s ultra-fast networks? There is ample room for technicians at both ends of the spectrum to be better educated and informed on the selection and efficiency of handheld testing devices of both old and new technologies.

Let’s look at some testing devices and practices that will make all of us better all-around technicians.

Before we get too deep, I want to emphasize the No. 1 rule of circuit testing: SAFETY.

Today, an alarm technician may also be required to install and troubleshoot systems for smart buildings or environmental controls. In cramped utility closets, the tech may be working in close proximity to deadly high-voltage circuits. Even low-voltage techs need to carry testers such as clamp-on meters for noncontact performance testing of medium- to high-current systems.

Fluke Corp., a favorite of mine and a long-time leading manufacturer of handheld test equipment, has some useful electrical safety educational material at its Web site. The following is inspired by Fluke’s “Ten Dumb Things Smart People Do When Testing Electricity.”

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About the Author


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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