Stay Alert on Remote Alarm Annunciation

It is important for alarm dealers to review onsite communication applications with the customer before system installation is complete.

SOME MIGHT SAY the digital age began in the mid-1930s. That is when the Hudson Motor Car Co. was the first to use lights instead of gauges for oil pressure and voltage on its cars. I can only imagine the cause for this design was to help customers who did not keep a knowledgeable and attentive eye on their car’s gauges, or more likely did not understand the gauge’s readings.

However, as we all know, when the light would come on it was often too late to repair serious damage. Hence the name “idiot light” was born. Today’s idiot lights are a little more sophisticated with illuminated descriptions in the lighted background. We call these indicators “telltale lights.”

Consider the Use & User of Panels

Speaking of indicator lights, the challenge of communicating the status of alarm systems to the customer is still great. While many systems are designed to communicate numerous zone alarms and troubles, how good of a job are we doing with visual and audible annunciation of conditions locally? When a status indicator is glowing, how well does the customer or their custodial staff understand its intended meaning? It is important for the alarm dealer to review onsite communication applications with the customer, especially before a system installation is completed.

To keep it simple an alarm annunciator should alert, inform and guide. If you provide an alert at zone 12, for example, did you expressly present a way for the customer to know what the alarm is, where it is and what measures should be (or are expected to be) taken?

Additionally, who will be interpreting your annunciator panel – will it be a trained security guard, custodial staff or untrained occupant? It could be all of the above. What are the types of annunciator panels to select for your customer? Let’s take a look at some product choices and features available to you.

The most basic functioning annunciator panel has an array of indicator lights. Panels such as the CS-2000 system from Salco Industries have LED indicators for access door status. A flashing LED and audible tone indicates an alarm. An all-lights test mode is a good option as there is always the possibility of a failed light indicator. Systems should also have the capability to visually express a written description of the zone in alarm or trouble.

Mapping It Out for Customers

Maps have always been popular for showing the location of a particular alarm action. Graphical LED displays such as the 550 Series from Flair Electronics can provide LED status/alarm indicators displayed in a map graphic created from an ACAD drawing, PDF file or photo.

Another versatile version of these map displays are customizable video flat-screen annunciator displays such as the CAD Graphics displays from Gemcom. The software works with most PCs, laptops and touchscreen computers. These displays allow for zooming in/out on locations and showing custom “Take Action” messages in different languages. While graphic map annunciation is visually exciting, keep in mind to illustrate your location on the map for reference. Also remember that some individuals may have difficulty in interpreting emergency locations on a graphical display.

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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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