Are Your Installation Methods Rooted in Junk Science?

Science is defined as knowledge, especially that which is gained through experience. Industry professionals, through their experience of recommending, designing, installing, programming, servicing and monitoring myriad security solutions, have developed an “alarm science.” Unfortunately, a kind of junk science has evolved as well.

Scores of alarm companies employ a one-size-fits-all approach to installations, rather than tailor each of the many layers that make up a customized solution based on a client’s individual needs. Still others may promise to deliver a “customized” solution, but often their pledge is nothing more than a veil of hyperbole laced with fancy sales lingo.

The propensity for liability and litigation is high in the alarm business, and owners expose themselves to considerable loss potential if they do not act prudently and in the best interest of their clientele.

How can an alarm company ensure it is practicing sound alarm science?

With all the imperative of a mason setting a cornerstone, the foundation for sound alarm science has a starting point: strict compliance of the equipment manufacturer’s specifications, NFPA codes, UL-Listed standards and nationally recognized industry standards and practices. The hands of the integrator, who must be thoroughly trained and supervised in the actual tasks and services to be performed, further gird the groundwork.

Proper Deployment of End-of-Line Resistors Helps Reduce Liability
Serious defects in alarm system design and installation commonly result from the incorrect termination of end-of-line resistors (EOLRs) within the control panel set on both normally open (N.O.) and normally closed circuits (N.C.).

Surprisingly, some in the alarm industry erroneously defend this configuration, stating the manufacturer gives them the option to employ EOLRs on the loop or not. In fact, manufacturer specifications, as well as UL and industry standards, call for EOLRs to be placed at the end of the protection loop.

It is also sometimes argued the installer does not have to heed the manufacturer’s instructions if the system is not UL certificated. Indeed, this is an example of junk science.

Imagine a fire engulfing the home of a subscriber and, tragically, several deaths occur. Suppose during the investigation it is determined the fire alarm system did not activate because the circuit wiring between the control panel set and the automatic fire alarm initiating devices was damaged.

Also suppose it is determined that the EOLR is found to be terminated within the control panel set, in parallel with the N.O. fire protective loop circuit. In other words: even though the damage to the fire alarm protective loop circuit was accidental, there was no way the subscriber and remote station could have been alerted to this critical loss of functionality.

It is important to understand the same issue holds true for burglar alarm protec-tive loop circuits. If a loop is accidentally or intentionally shorted out — and the affected nonfunctional zone protects an entry point or interior motion detector — a perpetrator could enter the premises undetected.

Essentially, this type of methodology has now directly increased the integrator’s liability. The system would have otherwise detected this event, and alerted the subscriber and remote station before the loss of function occurred.

The EOLRs are included with the equipment to serve as a safeguard for each active zone of the alarm system. The customer paid for them and there is not a single disadvantage in utilizing them consistently on each and every installation.

DACT Requires 2 Channels; Don’t Fall Prey to Apathy
As most installers well know, telephone line seizure provides pivotal protection to a digital alarm communicator transmitter (DACT) when an alarm is activated.

In accordance with NFPA 72 compliance, the DACT is required to be configured so that when it transmits a signal to the remote station, it will seize the telephone line at the protected premises and disconnect outgoing or incoming telephone calls. It should also prevent use of the telephone line for outgoing calls until signal transmission has been completed.

Unfortunately, the application of telephone line seizure with fire alarm systems seems to be misunderstood by many alarm companies. Commercial fire alarm installations that utilize a single line DACT are another prime example of junk science.

As mandated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards, a system that uses a DACT is required to use two transmission channels, often referred to as primary and secondary.

As the installer, maybe you have approached an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to voice your concern for just this type of scenario, only to learn the inspector is indifferent with respect to NFPA 72 compliance.

Can you rely on an apathetic inspector who would accept this faulty single line installation? Of course not! Never deviate from NFPA 72 compliance, regardless of what an AHJ might deem acceptable. The AHJ is commonly protected from liability if he or she makes a mistake; the installa-tion company is not afforded the same protection.

A duty-bound installer, regardless of liability concerns, should know better and ensure that proper fire code compliance is rigorously upheld.

Motion Detection Tamper Switches Offer Inherent Safeguards
There is no use spending good money on a motion detector equipped with a tamper switch if you don’t use it. Of course, many motion detectors manufactured today do not employ tamper switches. Yet the multitude of units installed each year that do offer this added feature need to be connected properly. And this does not mean tied in series with the N.C. contacts of the protective loop output of the detector.

Properly connected tamper switches should be tied into an armed 24/7 zone while the general burglar alarm system is off. This is done to detect inside covert attempts to disable the motion detectors’ capabilities before the system is armed at night.

Of course, this may require a company to run an extra pair of wires to each detector or employ a separate addressable module.

If the tamper switches are simply tied into the burglar alarm circuit, it is highly unlikely they will ever be utilized. In most cases, an intruder would not be able to reach the detector and remove its cover to attempt circumvention, without first being detected by the sensor itself.

The contentions by many installers who say tamper switches do not work or cause false alarms are ludicrous. Indeed, if the tamper switches are problematic, the alarm company should choose another manufacturer’s detector — period. Maybe then the makers of these unreliable devices would stop producing inferior equipment.

The alarm industry also has a serious problem with obstructed motion detectors, especially in warehouses where constant inventory is being moved around after the system is installed.

Oftentimes, warehouse personnel are not aware a motion detector is in use and unwittingly create coverage dead zones because of inventory stacking. Even if the system is UL certificated, the alarm com-pany only has to inspect the system once per year, which, quite frankly, is not enough, based on the constantly changing inventory patterns that occur in ware-houses.

Therefore, utilizing internal safeguards that are able to detect obstruction, a failed detection or no activity, can bridge the gap and take the guesswork out of alarm system performance. With customer satisfaction in mind, the subscriber is made aware that corrective action will occur, thereby lowering the alarm com-pany’s liability.

It is also worth noting that many perimeter security system installations for movable windows recklessly employ only glass-break detection devices. The preferred and more robust
security application calls for a combination of glass-break and contact detection implements.

An installation that relies solely on glass-break detection evidences gross incompetence on the integrator’s part, not to mention a conscious disregard for the safety and protection of the client.

After all, the unreliable alternative implies a perpetrator cannot forcibly open the window without being detected by an acoustical sensor.

Alarm Companies Must Rigorously Attend to Device Worthiness

A vital question for any alarm company to be asking internally is: How many of our clients are using 20-year-old smoke detectors that have never been tested or serviced?

Such an aged smoke detector should be considered beyond its functional and reliable life expectancy and should long have been replaced. Think of the unsuspecting subscriber who may erroneously believe the device is still providing “early warning” detection. Sometimes, the client may believe the system, upon device malfunction, will automatically alert them to this fact. Still others simply have no level of awareness or concern of device failure.

Acting in the best interest of the client – and itself – the alarm company must assume the responsibility of retiring outdated detectors.

What happens if the subscriber is unwilling to replace obsolete detectors? Does the alarm company have a duty to replace them for free? The simple answer is no. Of course, this presupposes the subscriber was made aware of the need for device replacement (preferably acknowledged upfront in writing) and that the subscriber’s maintenance contract does not mandate the company provide replacements.

It must be emphasized: If a maintenance contract requires a company to test the smoke detectors, and in the process of that testing the company is unable to quantify the device’s overall functionality, the subscriber must be immediately warned of the risk.

In the event an alarm company formally advises a client of a need for detector replacement, and the client acknowledges in writing that they choose not to take device replacement action, the subscriber does so at their own peril.

In good conscience, for obvious life-safety intents, the company should provide written and verbal notification to the local AHJ to increase the likelihood the subscriber will indeed take corrective action.

Functional vs. Sensitivity Testing: Make Sure the Client Is in the Know

A company that has never performed sensitivity testing on a client’s smoke detectors is breaching the responsibility of operating in the client’s best interest.

Airborne pollutants, such as dust and corrosive fumes, even insects and humidity, can adversely affect a smoke detector’s sensitivity. That’s why NFPA and others recommend their periodic testing.

To provide reliable service and lower loss potential, an alarm company needs to inform its subscribers of the necessity of testing and when it is appropriate to be administered. Here is a good example why: It is not uncommon for a company to be sued for liability in the event of fire damage, despite the fact its alarm system performed efficiently.

In such cases, the plaintiff may contend that proper equipment testing and maintenance would have resulted in faster fire detection, thereby increasing the likelihood damages would have been better contained because of a more timely response by the fire department.

Hence, educating the subscriber is in the best interests of all parties.

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About the Author


Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at (201) 287-0900.

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