Burglar Alarm Systems Booooring? Pleeease!

For more than 150 years, the primary objective of burglar alarm systems has remained the deterrence of criminal acts. However, in more recent years, burglar alarm system controls and sensors have truly moved to the next level, or third wave if you will. The rapid acceleration of technological advances has even caused many to refer to such systems today as the more high-tech sounding intrusion detection.

Now that high-speed broadband Internet communications are becoming ubiquitous, new transmission technologies such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) are sparking further developments in the way alarm controls and sensors operate. Meanwhile, these systems are being integrated with other technologies, such as the combining of PIR motion detection with video and the blending of automation with alarm functions.

It is challenging to keep up with all the new changes taking place in this vibrant market. Read on to find out the origins of modern alarm systems, how they evolved, where they are now, and the products, applications and issues security contractors need to know to stay on top of a business sector that remains the bedrock of the entire industry.

Evolution of Alarm Controls Began More Than 150 Years Ago
Edwin Holmes invented one of the first burglar alarms more than a century-and-a-half ago. It was 1852, and by today’s technology, the device was nothing more than a solenoid-activated gong. However, at that time it was likely considered the very latest in electrical security technology. This was the era when many other well-known inventors of electrical technology — such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell — were thrilling the public with the new miracles of electricity.

Throughout the next century, national security companies such as Holmes and American District Telegraph (ADT) did about everything you could imagine to elevate the use of supervised DC alarm circuits with the use of relays. Windows were protected with elaborate patterns of conductive lead foil, while doors were supervised with magnetic/mechanical switches and laced with thin breakable wire. At the time, the virtually invisible trip wire and wooden dowel alarm screen were considered the latest alarm sensor devices.

As alarm systems and telephone systems took off in the early 1900s, each alarm circuit had its own direct wire to the central office. The early Holmes central station was built on the top floor in order to accept the thousands of aerial alarm lines. The sky quickly darkened with the thousands of direct wires populating the metropolitan skyline.

In an attempt to stay ahead of the burglar, central stations used sensitive galvanometers and the patented McCulloh communications loops to monitor these alarm connections. This was the first wave of alarm control and sensor technology.

It then took more than another half-century until alarm controls and sensors took a turn into the electronic era. Even as late as the 1960s and ’70s, it was not uncommon to find perimeter-only alarms with a key-switch door shunt control and alarm controls with no delays. Many had an intentional bell ring when opening up the store for the morning. This tested the system and reported the opening to the central station. Local alarm circuits were often electrically supervised with end-of-line dry-cell batteries that needed constant maintenance.

Then came the second wave. The modern-day electronic security evolution picked up real momentum in the’70s with new ultrasonic and microwave motion sensors and alarm controls with entrance/exit delays. The exposed front door key-switch quickly became a thing of the past. Other advances during the ’70s included the introduction of digital dialers and passive infrared (PIR) motion detectors. All these technologies, except for the ultrasonic devices, are still in abundant use today.

‘Third Wave’ Finds Networks, Web Revolutionizing the Industry
This brings us to current times in the electronic security industry. It is an exciting time with new sensor, control and communication technology. It is truly the beginning of the security industry’s third wave.

The rapid and expanded use of networks and the Internet as a communication medium has created many exciting opportunities for alarm dealers and customers alike. In fact, the technology has moved so fast that new services such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) have created some very serious dangers to existing alarm owners (see sidebar).

According to the Alarm Industry Communication Committee (AICC), there are four key VoIP factors alarm dealers should be concerned about:

  1. The ability to pass undistorted alarm communicator signals upstream and downstream
  2. The assurance that line seizure is not compromised
  3. The ability to provide for our control panels to “see” a telephone line equivalent (i.e. voltage and dial tone)
  4. VoIP-involved hardware should have sufficient battery backup, which could be provided either by the VoIP provider or the alarm company

larm control manufactures like Bosch Security Systems of Fairport, N.Y., have taken the lead on VoIP communication problems with products such as the Conettix IP C900V2 dialer capture board. This device will take popular digital dialer formats, such as contact-ID, and reroute the signals using UDP/IP-based data networks such as the Internet. The C900V2 is designed to work with most alarm industry controls and communication formats.

Once the correct equipment is put in place, monitoring over the Internet is very fast, cost-effective and efficient. Circuit supervision is now done in seconds rather than 24 hours with a digital dialer. The design makes it possible to retrofit an alarm customer’s existing panel as they are upgrading to a new Internet VoIP service.

Control Panel Standards Lead to Less False Alarm-Prone Products
False alarm reduction design has received high priority with control panel manufacturers.

Many alarm controls in recent years were considered intelligent when they displayed a short, often cryptic alphanumeric message that indicated the status of the alarm system. It was left up to the customer to understand these abbreviated messages, and this could often create confusion. Newer controls such as those from Bosch Security Systems of Fairview, N.Y., Honeywell Security of Louisville, Ky., and Elk Products of Hildebran, N.C., now offer enhanced communications, like voice commands, some in more than 20 languages.

Ease of use of alarm controls has taken on a whole new dimension of importance with the increased jurisdictional requirements to substantially reduce the false alarm rate. The security industry has responded with false alarm standards such as the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) control panel (CP-01) standard (see sidebar).

For several years, only a few panels met these requirements, and the choice of panels with these false alarm improvements was merely an option for the alarm customer. Today, it is becoming more common to find various jurisdictions around the country making the CP-01 standard part of their false alarm ordinances. It is finally time for the alarm dealer to become familiar with these panel features.

The new Freedom system from NAPCO is a good example of an innovative alarm control designed to substantially reduce false alarms and provide customers with an exciting nontraditional alarm control. This code-free system has a wireless module that interfaces with the existing mechanical door-locking device. This sensor device is designed as keeper/deadbolt receptacle. This is easily inserted in the existing doorjamb, which will allow the alarm system to monitor and react to the door’s deadbolt activity.

Bosch’s Easy Series alarm controls offer many ease-of-use features. They use audio feedback in 20 languages to announce the status of the alarm system. The audio status can
also be sent as an announcement via cell phone. Arming can be controlled by a simple proximity key fob.

Rapid, two-way voice communications with the central station are vital when an alarm system has been activated, whether intentionally or accidentally. One of the handiest features in alarm systems, such as the Bosch Easy Series and the Honeywell Lynx Series, is hands-free, full two-way audio communication with the central station. Having this immediate, dedicated voice channel with the central station significantly reduces false dispatches.

Alarm Controls Are Morphing Into Automation Centers

Another exciting area is the increased blending of home/building automation with alarm controls. The all-in-one alarm panel is slowly getting the attention of customers who want more from a security system. One such system leading the way is Elk’s M1 Gold system. “Energy management can save the customer a substantial amount,” says Trudy Phillips, sales and customer service manager for Elk Inc. of Hildebrand, N.C. (For more on this, see sidebar.)

As the industry moves forward, it will not be long until all alarm system controls have network connections. This is evident in new systems such as the ONYXWorksTM from Notifier, part of the Honeywell Life Safety Group.

Now, life safety, fire, security, access control and CCTV can be easily integrated and displayed on remote displays via networks. ONYXWorks’ user-friendly interface facilitates setup and minimizes configuration time by allowing operators to import existing floor plans and rapidly add devices onto the network with the Autocreation of Devices function.

Technology Advances Take Sensors Into New Realms

Along with the advancement of alarm controls has been the equally impressive emergence of new and exciting alarm sensor technology. This new wave of technology has taken us from the ‘60s when all the industry had was floor mats, photo beams, window foil and door contacts, to today’s fiber sensing, below-ground motion sensing and video motion sensing.

It was not long ago that video motion sensing technology was only available in expensive, high-end video systems. Now, companies such as Security Labs of Noblesville, Ind., are providing economically priced combination video-PIR motion detectors. These sensors take the best capabilities from those of infrared and video detection technology. Video grids allow for highly versatile grid programming. A video verification image is the final result.

One of the biggest challenges of exterior sensor technology is reducing false alarms while providing a uniform sensing pattern.

A new and exciting system comes from a company based in North Salem, New Hampshire called UltraVision Security Systems. Its new sensor, the UltraSensorTM (CMD1), is a concealed motion detector. The 14-inch square low-profile device is designed to be placed beneath roadbeds or behind concrete walls. According to the manufacturer, due to its operation frequency, the product will even sense through reinforced concrete.

Another inventive application for sensors is helping facility managers tackle the challenge of securing and inspecting fire extinguishers to make sure they are ready in the event of a fire emergency. Rockland, Mass.-based MIJA Industries Inc. has a product called the en-Guage fire extinguisher sensor system, which not only monitors the pressure of the fire extinguisher, but also senses if the extinguisher has been removed and if something is blocking a view of the fire extinguisher. The product comes in both a wired and wireless version.

These are just some of the many creative alarm control and sensor innovations and applications being deployed in the field today. Imagine what Edwin Holmes would think if he could see where his invention would lead more than one and- a-half centuries later. Imagine what we would think if we could see where this will all lead in another 150 years.

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