2022 SSI Integrated Installation of the Year: Custom Alarm Brings Peace of Mind to Those With Mental Health Challenges

Custom Alarm contended with pandemic and procurement issues to deliver a fine-crafted fire and video security solution. When the dust settled, the company had the winning 2022 SSI Integrated Installation of the Year Award in its grasp.

2022 SSI Integrated Installation of the Year: Custom Alarm Brings Peace of Mind to Those With Mental Health Challenges

The pandemic only served to further emphasize the elemental importance security professionals serve in the grand societal scheme, as even under the most difficult circumstances people across the American strata found solace in solutions and service they could trust to provide protection against the threats of crime and fire.

Through it all — from manufacturing to distribution to installation and integration to facility managers and patrol officers — the security industry remained hard at work with its practitioners doing everything possible to help keep residences, businesses and spaces as safe as possible. Among the security dealers and integrators upholding this sacred alliance with its clientele is Custom Alarm.

Its recently completed fire, video and access system solution for a new apartment building not only was carried out during the pandemic but also supplied living spaces for the less fortunate. “We are a community-focused company and believe in giving back to the communities in the surrounding area,” says Custom Alarm’s Melissa Brinkman. “With 50+ years of experience, Custom Alarm is a full-service security solution company from sales to install and service. Custom Alarm maintains security systems installed in homes and businesses, government agencies, municipalities, as well as healthcare and education. We have created custom solutions for homes and businesses of all sizes.”

In this case, the integrator navigated a multitude of obstacles — some of which were unprecedented — to seamlessly blend the efforts of several involved parties and bring technologies together for an optimal result. From the perspectives of both Custom Alarm and its customer, the story is further detailed below in a project that was named the 2022 SSI Integrated Installation of the Year.

Relationship Reliance

Founded in 1968 by Leigh Johnson in the basement of his Rochester, Minn., home, through the years Custom Alarm has grown to 70 employees and 15,000 installed accounts. Presently run by Johnson’s eldest daughter, CEO Melissa Brinkman, the business has an 80%-20% commercial to residential business focus with an emphasis on customizing systems to fit particular customer needs. For the sixth year in a row, Custom Alarm was recently named among the Best Places to Work in Southeast Minnesota.

Among the company’s many loyal clients is Center City Housing, a developer of affordable housing based on community needs that also offers consultation for communities concerned about homelessness, partnering with people who support sustainable housing, and serving the homeless and those in transition.

City Center also provides stability for those suffering chronic alcoholism, case manager support and assistance with and access to community resources such as employment, Social Security, taxes, insurance, and transportation assistance.

“City Center Housing has had the privilege to work with Custom Alarm the past decade to help in providing adequate housing that is affordable to all of Minnesota,” says Lori Reilly, regional housing director for City Center. “Being innovative, fostering collaboration, upholding high property standards and cultivating neighborhood stability are just a few guiding beliefs both Center City Housing and Custom Alarm support and practice on a daily basis.”

One of those collaborations, the three-story Mayowood Apartments complex located in Olmsted County (Minn.), began in 2019 and was brought to fruition during 2021. The multiunit residence offers permanent supportive housing for 30 homeless adults who struggle with behavioral health issues. Center City Housing worked with the Minnesota legislature to obtain funds to construct the multimillion-dollar project.

“As government funds were used in support of this project, there was a bid that needed to be submitted. However, due to our past relationship with Custom Alarm we worked directly with them to design and specify the products needed on this job,” adds Reilly. “While the project cost over $54,000, Custom Alarm discounted a portion of normal costs as a ‘donation.’”

custom alarm employees

Founded in 1968 by Leigh Johnson in the basement of his Rochester, Minn., home, Custom Alarm has grown to 70 employees and 15,000 installed accounts. It is now run by Johnson’s eldest daughter, CEO Melissa Brinkman (left).

Coordinating Amid COVID

Not only had the integrator previously proven itself by meeting the needs of this client but also brought substantial experience with similar success projects to the fore. The multi-unit housing market represents about 10% of Custom Alarm’s revenues. However, although the principals had smoothly worked together in the past, a massive challenge no one had ever before encountered ran serious interference for the project.

“The installation started in August 2020 but was impacted by the pandemic right out of the gate. Different trades including ours were impacted by supply chain shortages, which extended this project out until August of 2021 when it was completed,” says Reilly. “Among the biggest hurdles came from the manufacturers as camera shortages as well as the NVR for the VMS system was delayed by several weeks. In addition, the monitored sprinkler system had issues with the flow valve, delaying occupancy of the final signoff.”

To further complicate logistics, staff shortages postponed the building’s scheduled October 2021 opening until March of this year. Fortunately, Custom Alarm demonstrated some foresight relative to the procurement process. “We were slightly aware of the supply chain issue and had placed a large stock order before securing this project, which helped us delivering a timely solution,” says Brinkman.

Coordination of the project was orchestrated in similar fashion to others involving Center City Housing, with the integrator working closely with Reilly as well as the general contractor and electrical subcontractor to design the system. The first part of the process was designing a fire alarm system that would meet today’s standards and fire codes. The local jurisdiction has instituted additional ordinances that have helped the community maintain one of the region’s lowest fire-related death rates.

“We worked with the Rochester Fire Department to design a fire alarm system that was up to code. This included multiple days and meetings with both groups to get to the design the customer wanted. We adhered to Minnesota State Fire Code and NFPA-72 for compliance of an R2 occupancy,” says Brinkman. “Additionally, Rochester requires all points to be addressable and to include a wireless form of communication, which is why we are monitoring via a [Napco] StarLink. We also worked with the A&E firm to put together a design for the camera system.”

Custom Alarm procured all the equipment for the job and, per the end user’s directive, relied on the electrician to pull the cable and complete the installation based on the integrator’s approved residential fire complex design. Once all the devices were installed, the integrator completed their programming.

Fire, Video Details

The solution included a Notifier Fire Warden 100X fire alarm control panel as well as an area of rescue system from Cornell. The system monitors sprinkler points on each of the three levels, elevator smoke detectors for recall and tied-in outputs for door holders. Each of the sleeping units is equipped with low frequency sounders for notification in the event of a fire as well as horn/strobes in the corridors.

As mentioned, Custom Alarm connected a StarLink wireless communicator to enable the fire alarm system to be monitored 24/7 via the firm’s third-party central station partner, Affiliated. Historically, Custom Alarm’s relationship with Center City Housing has been focused on video surveillance systems. Through the years, the integrator has installed multiple systems for the developer’s locations throughout the greater part of Minnesota.

“Due to the nature of the building and the reasons why the individuals live there, security and being able to have video footage is key,” Brinkman says. Similar to previous buildings, Custom looked to install an exacqVision VMS platform that included Panasonic cameras. However, this practice encountered a roadblock in the project’s beginning stages due to involvement of an architect and engineer unfamiliar with those prior deployments.

Custom Alarm’s solution features a Notifier Fire Warden 100X fire alarm control panel and horn/strobes in the corridors.

“A problem arose when we realized the bid, which was put together by the A&E, included a video surveillance system that specified a product that the end user had no experience with,” Brinkman recalls. “In order to solve this, we had to provide a bid with the lower cost option and once the bid was secured, go back to the customer and present a change order for what they actually wanted to have installed.”

Reilly elaborates: “It was challenging to coordinate our requests to the architects and engineers. The A&E firm did not remove the technology/low-voltage portion of the bid from the original bid set. This caused some confusion with electricians who were bidding the project as they included this within their bids. Also, the types of cameras specified in the bid were not what we had used in the past. After a few meetings, we were able to work with the GC and electrician to deduct a portion of their bid and get the types of products we wanted.”

In the end, Custom Alarm installed 14 Panasonic 3-megapixel exterior IP cameras with fixed lenses, wall-mounted roughly 12-feet high to capture all activity around the facility and its grounds. Twenty-four Panasonic 3MP indoor fixed dome IP cameras were installed in all common areas within the building, either wall or ceiling mounted. An exacqVision VMS with a 24TB A Series NVR serves as the main headend. The video surveillance solution entailed coordinating with yet another trade.

“Mayowood Apartments has a third-party IT company that handles all their networking. We worked with them to separate the CCTV system onto its own V-Lan, which required us to reprogram all the cameras. This system also integrated with previous exacqVision systems the customer uses at other locations including its corporate headquarters in Duluth, Minn.,” details Brinkman.

The Mayowood Apartments also features a 24-hour reception desk where guests and residents check in and out. Inside the office, Custom Alarm installed four WBX 22-inch video monitors to display all the cameras in real-time views. According to Brinkman, it was important for the staff to have ‘eyes’ on and around the building and property and also show visitors and residents the protection they had there keeping everyone safe and minimizing or eliminating any potential for trouble.

Although Custom Alarm typically specifies a full access control system for buildings similar to Mayowood, in this instance the client requested limited door control. Since Center City Housing only wanted alarms on doors that had powered crash bars, the integrator installed Detex door alarms, programming a timer and door release button allowing residents the ability to exit the building to specific areas such as the patio.

Why Everyone’s Smiling

The fact that filling the apartment complex with residents was delayed several months made the security, life-safety and surveillance solution perhaps even more valuable.

“Due to labor shortages, Center City Housing was unable to staff the building and so it did not open until March of 2022. This made it extremely important to ensure the building was secured and video footage was operational as it stood empty. Fortunately, there has not been any instances of break-ins during the first year,” says Brinkman.

Today, the Mayowood Apartments stands as the sixth successful project Custom Alarm has delivered for its stakeholders. Listening to both integrator and end user speak of one another it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that there may just be at least another half-dozen such collaborations down the road.

“Providing safe and secure housing was at the forefront of this project. By providing both a fire alarm system for life safety and video surveillance with door alarms, the building’s occupants can now have the peace of mind knowing they are safe,” expresses Brinkman. “Custom Alarm has done a fantastic job working with us through the years. From the sales consultants at the beginning of a project all the way through the design, installation and training that is conducted by their technicians, they do a terrific job of going above our needs. Their professionalism and expertise in the security industry is very well received by our team,” concludes Reilly, adding she looks to explore advanced analytics, Cloud storage and video monitoring.

Check out additional images of the installation in the slideshow.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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