Alarm Installers: Don’t Allow Yourselves to Inherit Another Company’s Problem Through Negligence

Alarm expert Jeffrey D. Zwirn explains why it’s important for alarm installers to perform initial testing on the existing system to prevent liability if it doesn’t work properly.

In this age of mergers and acquisitions, many subscribers are deciding to cancel their existing monitoring service and bridge a new relationship with a local alarm company, instead of not knowing who it is that they are going to be dealing with since their account was sold.

At the same time, many sellers of alarm accounts make the serious mistake of not communicating the sale of their business to subscribers until it is done. In other words, the first time that the unsuspecting subscriber learns of the sale is when they receive an invoice and/or letter from the new company indicating that this change has taken place.

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This is very troubling to many subscribers who are now left not knowing who it is that is charged with the duty to electronically protect and monitor their home or business.

Furthermore, in the normal course of business, alarm contractors across the country routinely get new subscribers who have decided to change alarm providers for a sundry of other reasons. Based on the foregoing, it’s important to consider the complications associated with taking over an existing account.

How old is the system you are connecting to? Are parts still available if the customer needs service in the future? Has the system been maintained and tested on a regular basis? What, if any, changes have been made to the premises since the alarm system was installed? Has the customer experienced any problems with the system such as false alarms or other indicators which would require that you address these concerns? Is the system adequate in the context of its environment? Are there areas on the premises which the system does not protect?

Clearly, if a customer contacts your company and asks for you to take over the monitoring of their existing account, which was installed by another alarm provider in the community, these questions and others should be considered.

Does the system pass NFPA and other industry standards?

While this task is quite simple and the reprogramming is successfully performed, let’s say your company performs no testing on any part of the existing system and assumes that everything on both the burglar and fire alarm system is functioning properly. Subsequent to the changeover to your remote monitoring station, a fire occurs at the premises and the fire alarm system does not activate at all, or notify the fire department for response and intervention. Inspection of the system reveals that the fire protection initiating loop was not properly configured in accordance with the equipment manufacturer’s specifications, NFPA standards, UL standards and nationally recognized industry standards and practices.

By way of example, there is no power supervision relay on the four-wire loop, and all supervisory end-of-line resistors (EOLR) are found to be installed within the control panel set, not at the end of the line as is required. In addition, the fire loop was found to be t-tapped, as such; this loop cannot be supervised by the conventional control panel set which was installed at the protected premises. Clearly, the system could have never been properly tested when it was originally installed. Lastly, there were not enough smoke and heat detectors provided based on the overall size of the home. Importantly, many of the smoke and heat detectors were also found to be non-functional.  In other words, they were not connected to the respective loops at all.

RELATED: What Zwirn Says Alarm Contractors Need to Know When it Comes to Fire Alarm Resets

A lawsuit is filed against the original alarm company and the new company – yours – who only contracted with this subscriber for monitoring. The next step in analyzing this fact pattern is what services your company actually agreed to perform for this customer, and what was not to be provided. Were there any open and obvious dangers that your company knew or should have known regarding the existing alarm system? And what, if any, difference or impact would there have been had your company actually identified serious defects and irregularities in the existing system design or installation, before the loss occurred? It would be prudent to offer the new customer a full inspection and testing of their existing alarm system.

However, many customers are not interested in paying the additional charges associated with this task. Therefore, if you are connecting to an existing system, which your company did not design or install, it is important to note any services offered which were rejected by the customer as a cost consideration.

I would also like to emphasize that many companies will actually test certain devices on a new takeover account that was installed by others, but once again, the particular type of testing performed is extremely basic, limited and is not intended to be able to comprehensively identify alarm system impairments. Then upon completing “some” system testing, the alarm technician will note something like, ‘Tested all signals to central station.’ This did not occur at all. Therefore, the underlying problem stems in part from the installer’s bad habits and company policy.

These actions and inactions can dramatically increase your company’s loss potential, especially if the customer relied on your written representations to their detriment.

Bio: Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, MBAT, is president of Tenafly, N.J.-based IDS Research and Development, Inc., which provides expert forensic, consultation and training services across the country. He has over 40 years of specialized expertise in security and alarm systems, and is an active 18-year designated expert instructor to the New York City Police Department [NYPD].

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