Alarms – What Do We Do?
Unfortunately, we live in an age when we have to be more than aware of the places we are, what we do and how and why we visit other countries. Security has become a worldwide issue, politically and practically, but unconsciously we have always lived with the awareness of alarms and their effect on our daily lives.
Try this for an example: close your eyes, in your imagination place yourself in any city in the world. The hustle, the bustle of people going around doing their normal things, working, visiting the theatre, taking the kids to the park – anything. I guarantee while you do any of these things, there is a chance you will hear an alarm. Whether it be a police siren, an ambulance taking a patient to hospital or a fire engine racing to put out a fire.
I also guarantee that apart from hearing it as a natural part of your life, that is precisely what it becomes. It soon gets categorised to our subconscious as part of our normal way of life as sure as crossing the road, or as sure as throwing a ball to one of the kids.
However, alarms in this form only become relevant to us in extreme circumstances. Let’s say for example, we have an unfortunate neighbour whose house suddenly catches fire. Emergency services are called and we are then actually listening for the alarm for an indication of when the problem may be solved by the arrival of the fire tender.
Similarly, we may be out one day and see a person who may have been taken ill in the street. People tend to help others in those situations and try to comfort the distressed person until more professional help arrives, usually in the form of an ambulance to transport them to hospital. My obvious point here is that we are listening with great expectancy for the sound of the alarm from that ambulance.
These two instances highlight the opposite feelings we may have for alarms. There is no apparent blasé attitude that we would normally unconsciously feel. This is replaced by a caring attitude with the sound of the alarm reassuring us that positive action is being taken.
Alarms can have other effects as well. I often wonder when in a public building what should be done if an alarm sounded. Is it set off because of imminent danger, because of fire or has it sounded because of the more sinister and now prevalent bomb threat? In either case, it is evident that the general public could be at a loss as to what action to take. We find very little information on the subject in the more public areas and we simply have to rely on staff of the premises being able to monitor the situation quickly and lead us to the safety of some open air aspect outside of the building.
Alarms play an extremely important part in our lives. We rely heavily on being made aware of what is going on. The previously mentioned emergency vehicles can somewhat reassure us that they are available at all times for our assistance, and the comfort of their alarms makes us realise how difficult life would be without them.
Alarm System: Sirens
Alarm Sirens- There is both inside and outside sirens. Many towns have a noise ordinance, which should prevent your installer from putting yours outside, unless you are on a ranch where you need to know what’s going on while your out in the barn. You would not want a neighbor running over to your place during an alarm as they might be confronting a dangerous situation. It is better to let the police do that instead.
An inside siren is one that simulates a doorbell and placed high on a hallway wall, or a large siren is often placed in your return air vent. This will let a burglar know that they have violated an alarm so that they will hi- tail it out of there. It will also let you know that your system has been violated so that you can release the hounds, load your gun or hide under the covers, whatever you select as an appropriate response.
(HOT TIP!) Sirens are measured in decibels and wattage. A large siren would be 30 watts or more and at least 100 decibels. If you settle for a non- descriptive commitment such as “It will be loud” you may have authorized a smaller and less expensive siren to be installed. They are all loud, but the louder the better when it comes to scaring a burglar away.
Alarm System: Window Screens
Alarm System Window Screens- Window screens are the ultimate perimeter device. The windows in your home look as if they have normal screens on them, however the actual screen mesh is an alarm circuit. The frame also has a contact point in it, so the screen can’t be cut or removed without violating the system if it is armed. The window can be opened for ventilation and protected at the same time. Now that’s a great perimeter device!
(INSIDE SCOOP!) Have your screens put on a 24- hour zone. (always on even if the system is off) You will not be able to bypass your always on zones from your keypad. You will need to call in with your password when you remove them for cleaning.
Screens are very expensive, (often $125.00 to $200.00 each) for each opening, but you don’t have to do every window. You can do one on each side of the house or in the master bedroom only if you like the concept of ventilating the house with fresh air while your system is armed. More importantly think about putting one in your children’s rooms if you can afford it. The peace of mind you will get from having your most precious concern protected will be well worth the expense.
Some alarm companies will measure your windows and create a brand new screen. More often they will mark your existing screens as to which window they came from and bring them with them to be re-built. This assures a correct fit and saves a step so that you will save time and hopefully money. Screens come in different frame and mesh shades and colors so be sure to review this with your security consultant when you order them.
Screens take some time to have built. Alarm companies will often wait for them to be returned to them before scheduling your install. Be advised that the screens may slow your install start time down by a couple of weeks. If your alarm company is willing to install the rest of your system, and return at a later date with your screens I would do just that. Could you imagine how hard you would be on yourself if you were burglarized while you were waiting for your screens to be built and an alarm to be installed?
(INSIDE SCOOP!) Hold back a substantial portion of your screen money until the screens are installed. No matter how noble your alarm company’s practices are, nothing seems to put a spring in a for profit company’s step, like money.
When I think of protecting your window with a screen in the same room that is protected by a glass break detector, while a motion detector looks on at the whole thing, I think of an elderly gentleman who wears a belt along with his suspenders. It is not a bad idea to overlap your security layers, but you still want to be aware of where to draw the line. A cunning salesperson can run the register up in a New York minute if you’re not on the studious prowl for redundancies.
Alarm System: Contacts (Window & Door Switches)
Alarm Contacts- Contact switches are magnetic switches used to protect doors and windows for the most part. There are three main styles that are used by most alarm companies. They are recessed contacts, surface mount contacts and roller-ball contacts.
Recessed contacts are hidden in the window tracks and door jams so that they can’t be seen when the window or door is closed. The switch is on the fixed or non-movable side of the opening and a magnet is placed on the movable side. When the magnet meets the switch the circuit is complete and the control knows it is closed. Recessed contacts are more complicated to install unless they are placed during the construction phase of your home or business. A good installation technician can install recessed contacts in your home after construction as long as they have an unfinished basement, accessible attic or closet to run the wires in.
Surface mount contacts function the same as recessed ones however they are visible when the doors or windows are closed. They come in three main sizes being large, small and micro. They come in the colors white, gray and brown so they can blend in to the door trim or window- sill they are mounted on.
Roller-ball contacts are in the hinge side of your door jam and the spring- loaded ball is pushed in when the door is closed completing the circuit. These are more likely to need replacement in a few years as they are considered a moving part.
All types of recessed and surface mount contacts can be hardwired directly to your control panel or you can get them in a wireless version. Wireless contacts have a transmitter tied to them or built into them that sends a radio signal to a receiver in the control. The transmitter is surface mounted and comes in two colors, white and brown. If white and brown are not your desired colors, you can paint the switches and transmitters to match your decor.
Doors are the most common point of entry and should be protected by your system. I always recommend contacting every perimeter door in your home or business
Window contacts can add up in a hurry as most homes have many windows. I have always felt that window contacts give the homeowner a false sense of security because of the fact that a window has to be opened in order for them to work. If your window is locked (and it should be) when you are away or sleeping, a burglar has to break the glass or remove the glass to unlock it. If they break the glass and the alarm does not sound, why would they open the window? Instead they would most likely clear the broken glass and climb in. That is why your money is better spent on motion detectors and/or glass- break sound detectors.
If you have children, window contacts can be a valuable tool. They will keep your youngsters from opening the window for a stranger. And they will also make your teenager sorry you ever read this. (If they tell you all they want for the holidays is a magnet, the jigs up!) Window contacts are often better at keeping people in than they are at keeping burglars out. If you do choose to use window contacts you may like the fact that the surface mounted versions can be set up so that you can keep your window open a few inches for ventilation and still be armed.
Alarm System: Glass Break Detectors
Alarm System Glass-break detectors- Glass-break detectors are also known as “Audio Discriminators”. They are a perimeter device because they catch a burglar attempting to make entry into your home or business as opposed to walking around the interior and being picked up by a motion detector. They are available in both hardwired and wireless versions. The detector mounts in a wall or ceiling and listens to an area approximately 35 feet in all directions. They do not hear through walls or around corners or into a room because the door is open. The more windows you have in a device’s area of protection, the better the value. Some examples of good coverage are as follows.
* If you have an open concept kitchen, breakfast nook and family room you can cover all the windows with one device because they are within the 35- foot area.
* If you have a living room with many windows you can cover them all because they are in the same area. Often the dining room is within the coverage area and can be protected with the same device.
* If you have an unfinished basement with windows, this is a very vulnerable area. You can cover all the windows with a single device in most cases.
The glass break detector listens for the frequency of breaking glass and splintering wood. In the not so distant past the only glass breaks available were “Single Technology” devices. These listened for the frequency of breaking glass and splintering wood only. The problem was that sounds such as lightning cracking, some peoples sneezes, clanking two glasses together in the sink or a pet bird squawking would replicate this frequency and cause false alarms that only the most cunning detectives would figure out.
Although the single technology devices are still being used today because they cost alarm companies less to purchase, a well-informed consumer would insist on the newer “Duel Technology” device. The new devices must hear a “Thump” and than a frequency hit, in that precise order in order to go into an alarm condition. Lets see if you understand what I’m telling you about the new technology.
A: (NO) because it did not happen in the correct order. You would have to bang your head on the wall first.
This small advancement in the use of artificial intelligence has created a very dependable device that you can count on to defend your perimeter.
One of the downfalls of the sound discriminator is that they are costly and you need one in each room that is vulnerable. These would be accessible windows on the main or lower level or upstairs windows with roof or deck access. I recommend placing these devices in the areas of most concern and backing them up with a main floor motion detector. This way you don’t spend your children’s inheritance turning your home into Fort Knox.
(WISE WORDS!) The best security systems are the ones where you don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Alarm System: Smoke and Heat Detectors
Smoke & Heat Detectors- Smoke detectors are available that will interface with your security system. The smoke detectors that are already in your home can’t be tied into your security system. The device that the builder put in your home is either electrical, battery operated, or in some instances both, if you have the better quality detectors. Lifesaving smoke detectors should be in every home. If you elect to add some to your system, your existing detectors should be left in place, as they are still able to help give early warning in case of a fire.
If you add a smoke detector to your system it should be placed in the highest point of your home as possible, as smoke will rise no matter where it originates. Some homeowners elect to place one in the basement and top floor, and some want one added to every floor.
The technology that makes most of these devices work is “photoelectric technology.” This means that the detector basically takes a snapshot of the density of smoke that enters its chamber, and wants to see a density increase as it samples every few milliseconds. This technology makes the detector much more discriminating then its inexpensive counterparts.
Many of these devices also detect temperature change with their built in heat detectors. This means that the device will go into an alarm condition, if the temperature in its area of coverage is rising rapidly, even if there is no smoke yet. Independent heat detectors are also available, if you would like an added degree of protection in areas such as kitchens, furnace rooms, attics and fireplaces. (Required to meet code, in some municipalities)
There are many advantages to adding fire devices to your security system. Some of them are:
* Your detector is on all the time, even if your alarm is disarmed.
* The devices work off the power from your alarm system and use its backup power supplies should power fail.
* The siren will emit a tone that is audibly different then a burglary siren, so that you can differentiate.
* Your dispatch is being made without you having to call for help yourself. This gives you more time to gather your loved ones and pets for immediate exit.
* A dispatch will take place even if you are not home. Typically flames will be coming through your roof, by the time your neighbors see them, and call for help. This early response may save your pets and a good portion of your home.
* Insurance companies often give an additional discount, off your homeowners insurance, for having a fire system. These devices could effectively pay for themselves, after a few years.
(INSIDE SCOOP!) Some municipalities will not dispatch their limited resources to an automatic fire alarm, unless it is designed completely to local code. This is a very expensive endeavor that, many homeowners in those areas can’t justify. Businesses will have to do this, in order to get an occupancy permit. Check with your local fire authority before investing in smoke or heat detectors that will not get a response.
Alarm System Keypads
The keypad is the device you and your loved ones will interface with daily. It is typically placed at one or more of the following locations:
* House to garage door hall.
* Front door
* Master bedroom
* Inside garage
You need at least one keypad to communicate with the control panel. If you elect to have only one keypad you should have it installed as close to the door you use most often as possible. Even if you or others sometimes use a different door, you can put it on its own delay zone and have a longer entry time to get to the keypad from that door.
There are different levels of keypads available for each model of control panel. The one that the dealer uses as their basic model varies by company. The choice of keypads is usually made for you as sales persons tend to stay away from technical discussions even if they do know the difference. If you know that you have a choice and find out what your options are you can make sure that you get the keypad that will work best for you. Following is a general list of the main differences:
* LED- (light emitting diode) This keypad has many lights to tell you what is happening such as a green light for ready to arm, a red light for armed, a yellow light next to a zone number to show you which zone is open if it is not ready.
* LCD- (liquid crystal display) This keypad uses a display window to tell you what is happening such as “System armed”, “Zone 4 open”
* ALPHA(alpha-numeric readout) This Keypad can be programmed to give you descriptive readout of what is happening with your system such as “Tommy’s window is open”, “Alarm violation, Basement Motion”
* Large display area is important so that you don’t have to squint to read it.
* Some windows are not back –lighted so you have to turn a light on to see what’s happening. Make sure your window and number keys have lights built in.
* One touch arming lets you turn the alarm on the way you want without entering a code such as Away, Stay (bypass motion detectors), Instant (Make delay doors instant) etc.
* Exit buttons on some keypads allow you to open a door for 30 seconds if the alarm is on. This is handy for letting your pets out and back in without having to disarm the system. This is also a great feature if someone in the house has to exit in the middle of the night.
* Panic buttons for Police, Fire and Ambulance are on most keypads. Make sure you don’t have to contort your fingers into strange configurations to use them. The better-designed keypads are the easiest to use.
* Your keypad should have the ability for the alarm owner to program in a code for each user. Some people use one general code for the whole family and have a different one for the real estate agent, builder, maintenance companies, boy or girlfriends that they don’t expect to be around that long, baby sitters and so on. You can easily remove a code at will, and the more sophisticated systems have a timer on how many times a particular code can be used before it erases itself if desired. Having different codes for employees at your business is important for obvious reasons and many high-end systems can track what time a code user entered and exited. Some like this feature at home to track what time the cleaning service or their teenagers entered and exited. (you would need an alpha keypad to read such information) Some systems can hold up to 40 different code users.
* A “distress code” should be able to be programmed into your system. This is a code that will be easy to remember for the whole family. When the system is turned on or off with this code it simulates normal function while notifying your monitoring company that you are in a hostage situation. Almost all systems have the ability to have this programmed in and it amazes me how many people I have consulted that didn’t know they had a distress code. Make sure this is discussed when you are choosing an alarm, as it is one of your systems greatest features.
Write your distress code on the inside of your keypad cover door with a marker so that it is there as a reminder for you at possibly the worst time of your life. If a burglar breaks in and sees this code they will think to themselves “look how stupid these people are to write their code down” and they will turn your system off. A dispatch will promptly be made to your local authorities as a hostage situation or holdup in progress. This is the highest priority response you can get. Who’s stupid now?
Lets take a look at how easy it would be to use your keypad by reviewing some common every day scenarios. The flexibility and complexity of how your keypad can be programmed often scares people into thinking that an alarm would be hard for them to operate. It is important to remember that once your alarm system is set up to your specifications by your installer, it is quite easy to use. Most of the keypads on the market are designed for use by anyone who is older than 7 years old. The systems will even have your bypass requirements for motion detectors and interior traps pre-programmed so you can make several things happen with the push of a well- defined button.
When I think about how many pages of paper it would take me to create scenarios for every keypad on the market, I envision an empty forest somewhere with no wildlife in it. In an effort to show you how easy your alarm is to use I will give you a general set of situations that would pertain to my system of choice. The slight differences you might see if you used a different keypad are often subtle things like having to press two buttons instead of one. So in the interest of me doing my part for earth conservation today, I will limit myself to a general use mode.
Leaving the house- If all the devices on your system are ready to be turned on meaning doors are closed, windows are closed, nobody is walking around in front of a motion detector etc. Your system will display “Ready”. If any thing is not ready on your system your keypad will display its location so that you can know where to go to make it ready. The keypad would say “Zone 2 open” or “Back door open” if you have an Alpha keypad. If multiple areas are not ready it will scroll through all of them.
Press “AWAY”- This will tell the control that you are leaving the house and want all devices including the motion detectors armed. The keypad will begin to emit a beep at 1-second intervals. This is your systems way of saying to you “Have a great day, goodbye!” The exit counter is usually set for approximately 60 seconds but can be longer if your lifestyle requires a longer exit time. Once the exit time has expired your system is “ARMED” and is protecting your house or business.
Returning home- When you come home you will enter through a door that has been pre-assigned as a delay door. As you open the door the keypad emits a steady welcome home tone. This entry delay time is usually set for approximately 30-seconds but once again can be tailored to your lifestyle. The system needs you to enter your complete code (3 to 8 digits) to turn off your system so it will not go into an alarm condition.
If you entered through a delay door first the system will let you walk in front of a motion detector if needed to get to the keypad, for the complete entry delay period.
Turning your system on for the evening- When you are staying at home you will want to turn on your perimeter system but not your interior devices such as motion detectors on the main floors.
Press “STAY”- This will let the system know that there will be activity inside the home so it will turn off the assigned motion detectors and any other interior traps you may have. It will arm the perimeter doors, windows, glass break detectors and any other perimeter devices you may have.
In the STAY mode the system knows nobody is leaving so it does not emit a goodbye countdown from the keypad. If nobody leaves through the doors within 60 seconds or so, the system will remove the entry delay time from your usual delay doors. This means that if someone opens even a delay door while you are armed in the stay mode the alarm will sound instantly. If someone does leave within 60 seconds or so, the system will activate the entry delay so they will get a welcome home tone and time to disarm upon their return.
Disarm in the morning- When you are ready to turn your alarm off simply enter your code. The red armed light turns off.
Returning home to a violated system- If your system was violated while you were away the siren will sound for a pre-programmed period of time. After this alarm time expires the systems will re-arm preparing for a second attempt. When you return home the keypad will be emitting a high pitch and rapidly beeping tone. The keypad will also tell you where the security breach occurred in the order of violation. If you hear such a tone on your return you should LEAVE IMMEDIATELY! as the burglars may still be in the house. Go to a neighbor’s house and make sure the authorities clear your home as safe to enter before re-entering. When it is safe to return just enter your code to reset the violation alert.
This is yet another way that your system protects people as well as property. This feature coupled with the distress code is for me the best reasons to have a system. When you are thinking about what is irreplaceable in your home I hope you are placing your loved ones and yourself at the top of that list.
On the lighter side there is the opportunity to eliminate another future worry from your life. There is nothing better than returning home and knowing as you unlock your door that nobody has been or still is in your house. If you open the door and hear a normal welcome home tone, all is well. If your keypad was removed forcefully by an uninvited quest, you will not hear your tone and you will still suspect that something is wrong.
The scenarios I have just gone over with you will pretty much cover your daily use of your security system. As you can see the system is not complicated for you to use. The Percentage, by which you decrease your likelihood of being a victim, far exceeds the inconvenience of having to learn something new.
Alarm System: Wireless Remotes
These remotes are also known as “key fobs” or “4 button key chains”. They are wonderful to have in addition to your keypad as you can turn your alarm on or off without going to the keypad. You still need a keypad to perform most of the other operations of your system such as seeing what zone is opened or has been violated after an alarm. The typical programming for a 4 button key chain would be as follows.
1 System Armed. (On)
2 System Disarmed (Off)
3 System Armed –Stay (Motion detectors bypassed)
4 Police Panic (Siren sounds)
Your buttons on your key fob can be programmed to do other functions. For example grandma can have one that calls for medical help if she presses her button.
These key chains and pendants are wonderful for many reasons. You are most importantly attached to you alarm if you are within the specified range from your system, (anywhere from 250 to 1000 feet) based on the quality of the transmitter and receiver. If you get out of your car in your driveway and are approached, you can call for help and sound your sirens with the press of a button. An employee leaving work can call for help from the parking lot.
You can also use your Key fob at night to turn your alarm on and keep your keys on your night- stand, so that you have a panic button at the ready if needed. Your key chain also allows you to arm your main floor motion detector at night. If you need to go into the protected area for a late night glass of milk or something, just press a button to disarm and rearm upon your return. (Make sure there are no other occupants that will roam the house before using this feature)
If you have groceries and or children to carry, you can turn your alarm off without going to the keypad. If your garage has a motion detector in it you can turn your alarm off before opening the overhead door.
If you have a hardwired system you need a wireless receiver to add any wireless device such as a remote key fob to your system. Once you have a receiver it will take and process signals from multiple devices, this gives you the flexibility to add equipment later without the expense of additional receivers.
Tags: Alarm System