Archive for Alarm System

The anatomy of a burglary

The video below shows a few kids breaking into a house just before new years. Not a lot of technical expertise here. Give it a watch, and you’ll see a team of young burglars tackle a residential burlgary on a Saturday night at about 8:30pm.

This looks to be a fairly typical B&E, they ring the doorbell repeatedly and peer in the windows to make sure the occupants are not simply ignoring their efforts. The last thing these guys want is to run into a homeowner. An alarm system would likely not have prevented the burglary, but it would have certainly reduced the kids time on the ground inside the house.

My garage, my playground…

When we bought the house the garage was clearly used for storage only. The garage door opener was thrashed (it appeared previous occupants had, on occasion, pushed the door open by force – in the process stripping the plastic gears in the door opener) and required almost immediate replacement, and as there is NO man door into the garage, the garage door opener is kinda important.

I’ve since rerun the wiring out to the garage (electrical, cat5, RG6 and alarm runs) and the garage now has cable TV, a hardwired telephone and is integrated into the alarm system for our home (smoke detector and burglary protection) – not bad, eh?

my garage

I also installed an RFID reader / Keypad so we could gain entry without using the two remotes included with the new garage door opener (in practical terms this means I can ride the bike out of the garage and close the door behind me without having to dismount etc).

Yesterday I reprogrammed our alarm system the remote keyfobs (attached to our keys) and a key on the keypads inside the house will open/close the garage door. A truly neat little feature using the programmable outputs of our DSC alarm system.

Its not quite home automation, but it’s handy as hell.

Missed Opportunities..

A few weeks ago I answered an evening knock on the door. At this point I have come to expect it to be one of Jillys neighborhood friends, and was a little surprised to see it was a man with a clipboard.

He introduced himself by saying “I’m with blahblahblah alarms, and as we’re installing several alarm systems in your neighborhood we’re offering an amazing promotion – we’ll install a FREE alarm system in your house if you allow us to display our lawn sign on your property.”

This is the trunk slammers mantra, and as I was a bit under the weather I admit that I got irritated instead of winding the conversation out as far as I should have.

“No thanks, we already have an alarm system.” I instantly replied, moving quickly to stick to my resolution not to heap abuse on any more door-to-door salesmen.

“I’m sure our system is more up to date, and our monitoring costs are extremely competitive!” he shot back with skipping a beat.

“I doubt it, but if you can beat $10 a month fill yer boots” I grumbled.

He took the hint and left without further effort and it wasn’t until a few days later that I started feeling regret for not having him assess our current alarm system, tell us about how we can cancel our contract with his company at any time, and explain how a wireless system is far more reliable than the hardwired system we have now.

Of course I already know the pitch, and the kid is a salesman with no security clearance. I think I’ll pick up one of those mini spy-pens, as the only way I’d let one of these guys into the house is if I could record him and then address the misrepresentations one by one.

Maybe next time.

(And for the record, our system – which cost in the ballpark of $600 for hardware – includes 4 smoke detectors, 4 motion detectors, 2 glassbreak detectors, a dozen door/window contacts, freeze and flood protection and smartphone integration)

Alarm Systems

I know I know, our house is kitted out like Fort Knox, and it is my love of techno-gadgets more than a sense of impending criminal activity that has me running miles of cable through the walls. It does provide me with some peace of mind, but probably not the kind that most people would think.

I have heard more than a few “alarm systems are useless” arguments, and I’ll respond to the most common here now:

Burglary alarms are low on Police priority lists, and security companies take forever to respond. It’s not like they’re going to catch the burglars anyway!

True. A quick smash and grab is likely over before the alarm company has started making phone calls. A smash and grab however is entirely different from a long casual exploration of your residence followed by a determined effort to steal valuables from wherever they are hidden or secured.

Speaking as someone who has spent years responding to alarm calls, I can say with some authority that the criminals tend to hit a few key “high probability” areas then skedaddle out of there while the siren sounds.

Burglary victims without alarm systems will tell tales of criminals tossing the house, using the homeowners own tools to compromise safes or locked rooms etc.

As a firearms owner I trust that thanks to the alarm system the criminals would lack sufficient time to locate, then penetrate the firearms safe before responding authorities arrived.

It’s inconvenient to remember to turn on and off the alarm, it’s a nuisance.

No more than locking or unlocking the door. Newer systems have all sorts of fancy options included in them, remote keyfobs to arm/disarm, scheduled arming times, some even allow incorporation into Home Automation schemes that will disarm automatically when your cellphone is detected nearby, and arm when it leaves the area.

The solutions are out there, you just need to articulate the problem to a professional and they can help.

What are the odds you’ll be broken into anyway?

Fairly low all other things being equal. Ask any victim of a burglary how they feel about it however, an alarm system is an essential part of “target hardening”, and considering the low cost of the technology should not be discarded as an option.

A further benefit is the “asset protection” element of a residential burglary system. Our system is monitored for fire (all smoke detectors in the residence are powered by the alarm – no battery changes needed – and are monitored off site), low-temp (should the furnace fail in the winter when we are away the alarm system will notify the monitoring station before the interior temperature hits 0 degrees) and flood (a water sensor in the basement drain warns when water is just below the floor level).

It’s far from the immediate armed response images that the alarm company commercials push on us, but it’s a more pragmatic peace of mind.

No alarm system will ever stop someone from entering your home if they truly want to. Thicker doors, stronger locks, better lighting, alarm systems and cameras are all designed to slow entry down and draw attention to the act.

Ethical Business Practices, or not…

I spend some time trolling the inter-webs looking at alarm stuff, and I’m always pleasantly surprised to find people helping others, like at the DIY Alarm Forum. Of course the other end of the spectrum isn’t hard to find either.

For example, take a look at Canada Home Alarm Reviews, browse for thirty seconds and it’s clear that in the words of Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others”.

Lets review:

  • ADT Dealer – MHB Security – 16 reviews, most of them 5 star
  • Voxcom Security – 4 reviews, all three stars or lower
  • Sears Home Alarm – 1 review, negative
  • The Monitoring Centre – 1 review, negative
  • Reliance Protectron Security – 5 reviews, all negative

See a pattern here? Yeah, it doesn’t take an expert to see that site is hardly an impartial review site as it presents itself, rather it looks like a shill site meant to direct traffic to MHB Security.

The reviews appear to be taken from Alarm System Reviews, but strangely any positive reviews from each of the non-MHB providers are absent. It seems clear that the reviews have been “cherry-picked” to cast the non-MHB providers in the worst possible light.

An alarm company advertising it’s own services is not unethical, but creating a site that appears to host “impartial” reviews is questionable at best, and downright sneaky at worst. I’m sure their ethical shortcomings are limited to their advertising practices however, and not their business dealings.

Right?

Home Alarm Systems – Fire Detection

Setting aside the burglary detection features of our alarm system for a moment, let’s look at the fire detection/notification features of the alarm system in our home.

Our smoke detectors are hardwired, which means no battery changes (and no 3AM chirping noises to track down and identify) and the alarm system siren sounds if a smoke detector activates, which should draw a lot more attention to the alarm.

There are also false alarm reduction features in place. This system has been configured to automatically reset the detectors when they report an alarm condition. If the condition still exists when they come back on 20 seconds after the initial report then the system goes into alarm.

Finally the smoke detectors are monitored off-site as part of the alarm system, which means if we are not home and a fire breaks out then the alarm company will be able to dispatch the fire department and minimize the damage. If we are home then I can concentrate on getting my family out of the house, ignoring the telephone and the fire department will be automatically dispatched. If it is a false alarm I can answer the phone and cancel the response.

Altogether this entire arrangement falls under “peace of mind” and convenience. The expense was nominal (and as we are already monitored for burglary costs nothing extra in this regard).

Edited to add: I would prefer to have the CO detector hardwired as well, but haven’t really found an appropriate detector. Wireless (as usual) is not really the direction we’re going here.

Total cost:
$40 – Hardwired Smoke Detector X2
$45 – Hardwired Smoke / Rate of Rise Heat Detector X1
$0 – 4 hours my labour fishing wire.
$125 – Total Cost – Cheap at the price.

Alarm stuff…

It’s likely a reflection on our new neighborhood, but the alarm system ended up being a low priority amongst the items on my to-do list, and when I got around to it the fire protection portion was the first part to go active.

I planned out the new alarm system before we sold the old house. Hardwired smoke detectors, low temperature detection (furnace failure?), and an assortment of contact switches, tamper switches, glassbreak and motion detectors – your usual home alarm smorgasborg.

Most of this is basic life safety and asset protection stuff. The hardwired smoke detectors sound the alarm systems siren when activated and don’t require any battery changes as they are powered by the alarm system (they are also monitored off site so the fire department can be notified if we are not home).

The low temperature detector sounds an alarm (and notifies the alarm company) if the temperature drops towards freezing, allowing us to arrange a response if we are not home (have a neighbor meet the furnace repair guy).

The burglary system provides some peace of mind when we are home, and of course keeps an eye on things when we are away.

Not bad coverage for about $500 in hardware and another $200 a year in monitoring.

Alarming

Sure, I’ve always done things bass-ackwards. We’ve had a perimeter surveillance system for the past three years, but only recently did I actually get around to installing the more common and conventional alarm system.

DSC alarm system

Now generally speaking getting a security system installed these days is a snap. Make the call and some guy will show up in a marked van, will attach a large number of wireless devices to your walls, window and door frames with double sided tape and be gone fairly quickly. The cost of the alarm hardware (plus a nice markup for the security company) is included in the $30/month monitoring fee.

Just two problems here. I’m not big on wireless, and I’m not keen on paying thousands of dollars amortized over three years. Other than that it sounds great, no?

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