If your car or cell phone is not working, you will know it the moment you try to use it. If an alarm system is not working, you may not know for weeks or months or until the next time you NEED it. Alarm systems must communicate with the central monitoring station in order to be effective. And in many cases, they only communicate with the central monitoring station when there is an alarm.
For alarm systems installed and monitored by Urban Alarm, we automatically test the alarm monitoring on a daily or weekly basis. Alarm systems are programmed to check in with us daily (for internet monitoring or cellular monitoring) or weekly (for phone based monitoring). If the system fails to check in with us, we take action.
This feature is called an automatic communication test. But not all automatic communication tests are equal. Many systems which claim to have these auto tests are not actually testing communications from the alarm system to the central monitoring center. Many alarm panels from major manufacturers use external modules for Internet and/or cellular monitoring. In many cases, their automatic communication tests only detect failures between the external module to the central monitoring center. But they do not detect failures between the alarm control panel and the central monitoring center.
Urban Alarm installs systems that have cellular and internet communication on the alarm control board, not in an external module. When our system tests communication, it is being tested from the alarm control panel to the central monitoring station. This method of testing is more reliable and more effective.
Many alarm monitoring companies do not enable automatic communication testing: make sure you check with your alarm monitoring company. Ideally, your system will perform an automatic test daily, but minimally it should check for a communication test weekly.
- Your alarm system should perform an automatic communications test at least weekly and ideally daily.
- Alarm system communications tests should test the full communications path -- from panel to central station automation systems.
Smoke detectors are an important part of a monitored alarm system. Smoke detector system may be installed by your alarm company or by an electrician. Electricians install 120VAC smoke detectors. Alarm company typically install 12VDC monitored smoke detectors.
The 120VAC smoke detectors are lopped together an a single circuit so if one smoke detector is tripped all detectors will sound. It is not connected to a monitored system or external sirens. The power comes from your circuit breaker and the backup battery is inside each of the individual detectors.
12VDC monitored smoke detectors installed by Urban Alarm are connected to the alarm control panel. They are powered by the alarm panel and a single large 12VDC battery that provides backup power to the alarm panel and all the devices connected to the alarm panel.
Up until recently the 120VAC detectors were required to meet most code requirements (for more information on fire and electrical code
). 12VDC monitored smoke detectors were not an option for code and inspections. However effective with the International Residential Code (IRC) 2009 version, hard-wired 12VDC smoke detectors are now accepted to meet code and inspections. Unfortunately it can take time for states and country to catch up to the most recent code. Many, including DC and Maryland, and Virginia, are officially on older code standards which require the 120VAC detectors.
The good news is, in practice, DC, Maryland, and Virginia do allow 12VDC monitored smoke detectors to meet code and inspections. In some cases you may need a variance during the permit process but we have found jurisdictions willing to provide these so long as the installation meets the 2009 code requirement.
12VDC Monitored Smoke Detectors have many advantages over 120VAC detectors:
- Fire department is dispatched in response to monitored smoke alarms.
- Monitored sensors are also monitored for functional health and troubles. These signals are sent to the monitoring center and the home owner is notified.
- If a smoke has a false alarm (e.g., from cooking) the monitored smokes can be re-set from the keypad rather then having to reach up to the ceiling and silencing the alarm on the sensor itself.
- The monitored sensors share a single backup battery at the panel so batteries do not need to be changed in each individual smoke sensor device. This simplifies maintenance and reduces likelihood of system failure.
- Hardwired smoke detectors have many design options. For aesthetic reasons homeowners or architects may prefer a recessed sensor such as the fully recessed smoke detector pictured here.
It is possible to install and monitor a relay on the 120VAC smoke detector loop. In this configuration any of the smoke detectors tripping will result in a fire alarm transmission to the monitoring center (and a fire department dispatch). But we will only know if a sensor goes off -- we will not know which one or why. Nor will the health of the system and device be monitored.
What about Wireless Smoke Detectors?
Up until the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) all low voltage smoke detectors are required to be hard-wired. The 2012 IRC code allows wireless smoke detectors. But jurisdictions are not quick to adopt this brand new standard. Over the next year they will be reviewing code updates and the matter of wireless smoke detectors will clearly be up for discussion. Contact our office for the latest on this mater and we will update the blog as soon as we have more information.
Keep in mind the NFPA recommends replacing your smoke detectors every 5 years. Most manufacturers documentation recommend replacing detectors at least every 7 years. Smoke detectors should be tested regularly and inspected / cleaned by an alarm company annually.
The tragic homicide in Bethesda Row this week was not easy to anticipate. We often look back with what-if’s and different actions that might have resulted in a different outcome.
Electronic security systems can have a material impact on an outcome if used consistently. While security systems are only effective if procedures are followed they can also force procedure compliance if properly setup.
The outcome of attacks, like the one at Lululemon Athletica in Bethesda Row this week, may be impacted with these systems and/or actions:
- Anytime staff enters a facility they should: enter, lock the door behind them, disarm the alarm system. It is fundamental that the door be locked BEFORE the alarm system is disarmed giving the staff member the opportunity to use an ambush code if necessary.
- Alarm systems may be “supervised” to verify if and when a system has been armed. A typical configuration is to notify the managers, guard patrol, and others if a system is not armed at 11PM. Furthermore, notification rules can be added so that if the system is disarmed after a certain hour managers are notified.
- An alarm system feature, primarily used by banks, called “verified open” or “early morning ambush” can be very effective in this type of scenario. In a verified open the entering staff member must disarm the system when they enter the establishment. They then must disarm the system again within a pre-determined number of minutes (e.g., 5). This gives them the opportunity to walk the store and verify there are no ambushes or threats. If they fail to re-disarm the system after the defined period a duress signal is sent. This functionality is only available on specialized commercial alarm systems and not available from most alarm companies.
- While cameras do not significantly deter or prevent a crime they can serve as important forensic information and can support other processes. Managers getting a call at 11:05 to indicate a system was not armed can remotely view the video. Having remote access to video can make it easier and more effective to respond to notifications from a proactively monitored system.
These are only some of the strategies for mitigating risks and outcomes. And some do add to the installation or monitoring costs of security systems. Urban Alarm is available for educational sessions for your business or community group.
The Washington Post recently reported on an increase in a certain type of burglaries in the Takoma neighborhood of NW DC. The burglaries are more brazen than most and involve burglars announcing the crime and kicking open the front doors of homes while people are still inside.
This type of attack, in broad daylight, involves the greatest amount of risk because your family is unprotected and your greatest asset--the burglar's fear of being caught--is not important to this type of intruder.
Many longtime residents of this neighborhood, who experienced a similar series of attacks three years ago, have invested in metal front doors. Though this has been an effective countermeasure, residents could also consider revamping their security strategies:
1) Consider eliminating your alarm delay time (normally used to give you time to get to the keypad and disarm the alarm system) by using a key chain remote to disarm the system before you enter the home. By taking this precaution, your alarm siren will sound immediately and your alarm signal will be sent 30-45 seconds earlier, which is a substantial amount of time during an intrusion.
2) Switch to IP and/or SNAP Radio Monitoring. By utilizing Urban Alarm's IP or SNAP mesh radio network you will regain control of your land line during an alarm and your alarm signal will be received by the monitoring center in 1-2 seconds, instead of after the customary 15-45 seconds.
3) Install panic buttons in your upstairs bedroom and/or bathrooms. Aside from being able to send an alarm signal quickly the monitoring center will treat these signals as a higher priority dispatching the police immediately and bypassing the alarm verification call to the house.
4) Consider installing a video intercom system. This will take a picture of anyone who rings your doorbell and let you see and communicate with visitors without opening your door. Had the first vandalized house been outfitted with a video intercom system and the owners given the captured image to the police, the next two intrusions may have been prevented.
Though you cannot control an intruder's behavior, you can control how you react to it. For more information, give us a call.
These days, many people have chosen to forego telephone land lines in their homes in favor of the simpler, cheaper cellular option. With this trend comes a shift in how we monitor security systems on those properties from the traditional land line to cell phones and radio networks. Although Urban Alarm can monitor your alarm system using cell phone technology, it often requires that you replace your alarm panel.
Another option unique to Urban Alarm is SNAP(TM) radio monitoring. Urban Alarm offers the only FCC licensed radio monitoring network covering the NW DC area that will work with your existing alarm system to provide you with even better security than telephone-monitored systems.
With telephone-monitored systems, it can often take 30-50 seconds to send an alarm signal, but with Urban Alarm's SNAP radio monitoring system the signal is sent instantaneously. Also, with traditional telephone-monitored systems, when your alarm goes off the alarm panel seizes the line, which can interrupt your ability to make an outgoing call (e.g., 911). With SNAP radio monitoring you have complete use of your phone line at all times.
So how does it work? You do not need to replace your existing alarm system to take advantage of Urban Alarm's SNAP technology. Our technicians will simply install a SNAP transmitter at your home or business and you will be instantly connected to our mesh radio network. With SNAP radio monitoring, your alarm system will always be 'online' and ready to send a signal to our Central Monitoring Station. Whereas phone lines can be cut, seized or interrupted, your SNAP transmitter sends a repeater signal through its mesh network so that each alarm signal takes multiple pathways to the Central Monitoring Station, ensuring that your signal is transmitted effectively and as quickly as possible.
Your alarm system is a critical line of defense in keeping intruders out of your home. However, how your alarm system is setup and how you use it will have a big impact on its effectiveness. Here are the top five factors to make the most of your alarm system:
1. Keep the "delay" as low as possible. Your system is most likely setup to beep for 30 to 90 seconds when you enter the house in order to give you a chance to disarm it. Keep this as low as possible. The longer the delay the more damage an intruder can do. Keep in mind it may be a minute or two after the alarm goes off before the police are dispatched. A few minutes may be all the time an intruder needs to get what they want.
Most systems can be setup with no delay. So how do you get into the house to disarm your system? You can use a keychain remote to disarm the system before you even get into the house.
2. Make sure your system is setup to use a "panic" code. With the increase in home invasions this becomes more important. If an intruder tries to force you to disarm your system you can enter your panic code. The system will appear to be shut off but it will actually send a silent panic alarm to the monitoring center who will dispatch the police immediately. The police may take their time to check out an alarm signal but panic alarms generally result in a more rapid response.
3. You should also have a panic code setup with your central station. When they call to verify the alarm you can provide the panic code. They will hand up the phone and dispatch the police immediately.
4. When you arm the system when you are in the house select the "no delay" option. With "no delay" set the alarm will go off immediately when an intrusion is detected. Like the above delay point you don't want to give an intruder more time to do damage then necessary. Especially when you are in the house.
5. Use your system! Even if you are in the house or out for a few minutes the system is worthless if not used. While having an alarm sign in the yard may be a deterant it is not going to secure your property.
Walking through a local retail corridor last week I noticed how pervasive badly installed alarm systems are. installers needlessly disregard the thought that went into the design and asthetic of the space. I am not talking about spending more money. An effective but less intrusive alarm system typically does not cost more than a rushed installation that haphazardly slaps sensors onto a door.
There are a number of options for monitoring a door or window will maintaining the asthetic integrity of a space. The least invasive sensor is a resessed senor which is actually recessing into a door or window. This approach leaves virtually no visueal trace of the sensor however it may not be practical depending on the type of door.
The next best approach is a color matched "micro" or "slimline" sensor. These sensors or a fraction the size of a stanard sensor and generally perform just as well. However, the battery life is not as long so batteries may need to be replaced in a year or two rather than a few years.
Don't take it for granted than an alarm system is going to change the look of your doors and demand that it be as least invasive as possible.