Start With Smart, Win With Wisdom

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of security systems installations gone wrong – sometimes with devastating and fatal consequences. Two in particular serve as departure points to review critical practices and grasp why wisdom trumps smarts.

There have been some disturbing stories crossing my desk of late having to do with our security trade and us as serious security professionals. The calamities detailed in these stories may have been preventable. If only we as alarm dealers had trained our staffs better, qualified and certified their skills, had better procedures and standards, better understanding of the products and services we install, and had kept abreast of mistakes made by others so as to learn and not repeat them. Had those things occurred, some unfortunate customers might still be alive today. Am I being too harsh and unrealistic with these informational and educational aspirations? Consider what follows.

Roy H. Williams, a bestselling author and consultant, once said, “A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.” Are you a wise man or a smart man (let’s hope you are at least the latter)? This month, I submit my humble contribution to helping you become a wise man (or woman) by reviewing technical aspects of some serious errors and omissions that have been made by manufacturers, security dealers, technicians and customers.

Understanding Life-Safety Products

My first example originates from the retail industry, but illustrates practices and procedures we as security professionals and providers could perform better with our customers. The situation has to do with an unforgettable night in the life of Amanda Debuty, a mother of four children. Amanda had thought she was doing everything correctly as she tested her store-bought smoke detectors regularly and changed the batteries faithfully. However, when a fire broke out in her home, the smoke detectors did not sense it as expected. Amanda could do nothing more than watch in horror as all of her children died in the blaze.

What could have been done to lessen the likelihood of this terrible incident? As you may have already guessed, Amanda had installed commonly available ionization smoke detectors. As you may also know, these devices have been shown to be considerably insensitive to smoldering type fires. In this case, a photoelectric smoke detector would have given earlier warning of the fire. Better yet, the installation of a dual technology smoke detector would have covered a more complete spectrum of smoke and fire detection.

I find it infuriating that many manufacturers’ consumer documentation does not explain the different smoke detection technologies and at least make an effort to upsell customers from inexpensive ionization detectors to photoelectric or dual technology. Do you, as a professional security dealer, make an effort to offer your prospects and customers better life-safety technologies?

How can we as an industry do a better job at educating the public and life-safety first responders on matters such as this? Through the years “Tech Talk” has provided many examples of how to properly understand, design, install and service security products and services. Those principles are at the core of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION and in the next section we will use a recent article as the launching point to address several critical system elements.

Case Shows Avoidable Mistakes

The impressive article “Alarm Company’s Carelessness Costs Customer Her Life” by Managing Editor Rodney Bosch (March 2013 issue) pushed my buttons big time. In it, a residential alarm system is installed for a woman concerned that a man would invade her home. Security expert Jeffrey Zwirn points out many mistakes we should all learn from and avoid. I would like to revisit this story to highlight some of the key failing technical areas.

Communications Failure — In the design of the alarm system it was anticipated the intruder would try cutting the alarm phone line. The phone line battery voltage was to be monitored by the alarm panel and send an alarm out over cellular communications while activating local keypad alarm annunciation. However, the phone system in the house was communicating via VoIP and not POTS. When the exterior cable was cut it had no relationship to internal house phone system battery voltage being maintained by the network phone modem.

The alarm panel never sensed the exterior network communication cable being cut and could not sound even a local alarm. It was apparent that the alarm company staff did not understand the different types of alarm communications connectivity. Additionally, the cellular backup unit was also not installed properly and, according to court documents, the installing technician testified he had never installed this configuration before.

From my training experience, I know it is instinctive for technicians not to admit they don’t know certain technical skills. However, it is imperative you instill in your staff to ask when they do not know how to do a particular task.

Glass-break Does Not Perform — An acoustical glass-break (AGB) detector was designed and located in the basement area.  However, during the installation the technician did not locate the AGB as specified in the design. The device was not in proper line-of-sight of the protected glass and neither the customer nor alarm company staff was informed of the change made by the technician. The AGB did not activate the alarm when the intruder broke the glass. This is another example of a lack of training and procedural protocol.

Motion Detectors Malfunction — Two motion detectors, one in the basement and another on first floor, had been installed improperly. The design was to have the basement unit activated when the woman was at home and had armed her alarm system in the night-stay mode. The motion sensors were not on separate zones and did not work effectively in the night-stay mode. The alarm did not happen and consequently the woman and her current boyfriend were killed in her second-story bedroom.

Learn and Be the Best You Can Be

It is apparent that not only was the system depicted in Bosch’s article installed by inexperienced and poorly trained personnel, but final formal system test procedures and customer training had not been enforced by the alarm company. I hope this reminds us all what we, as security professionals, do can have devastating consequences if not performed properly. Make sure your staff is adequately trained and certified before you put them out in the field alone.

As the consummate security professionals I know “Tech Talk” readers to be, I ask you share this month’s column with others in and out of the trade. Or at least make it a talking point with your staff in your weekly training meetings (you do have those, don’t you?). 


Telguard’s TG-1 Express offers security dealers a versatile, cost-effective option for their no-landline customers.Tech Talk Tool Tip

Alarm communications must be accurate, timely and reliable. Communication technologies are changing very rapidly. That is why this month I have selected the TG Series of cellular communicators from Atlanta’s TelGuard (, a division of Telular Corp. Installation of these devices is easy and they support virtually all alarm reporting formats using a dial capture feature.

For example, the TG-1 Express (pictured) sup-ports listen-in and two-way voice verification directly over GSM for residential alarm communicators. Without requiring landlines, the device provides a robust, UL-Listed system for passing voice and alarm data reliably to the central station. In conjunction with the panel manufacturer’s voice hardware, dealers can easily and cost-eff
ectively support voice verification without a landline.

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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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