Sound the Alarm

With the issue of false alarms continuing to grab headlines, the security industry still has a ways to go in changing the public's perception that alarm control is under control. However, the good news is that help is on the way with improvements in alarm technology. In speaking with experts on the subject, alarm control panels are making great strides in accurate reporting capabilities and ease of use.

Becoming More User Friendly

What good is a burglar alarm if it is so complicated the user stops bothering to arm it? This, of course, is not all that uncommon and it is a matter that alarm control panel manufacturers are taking into consideration.

Tom Mechler, product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems, says that the SIA CP-01 standards (see sidebar) are starting to help regulate the way end users interface with their alarm systems. Also, manufacturers are making improvements that go above and beyond the CP-01 standard.

“We have a new control panel that doesn't require pin numbers. It has a token as your primary user interface and it also uses voice instead of confusing displays. It tells you what is going on,” states Mechler, referring to the Bosch Easy Series. “So we're making the panels easier to use and that makes them friendlier to the end user so they are more likely to use their system. It also reduces false alarms because there is less confusion. ”

“With our product we are doing a lot of work in the area of making it easy for the end user to use and understand,” says Mark Hillenburg, product architect, DMP, referring to the XR100 and XR500 Series.

“One of those key areas is the multiple-language support,” he points out. “The panel can communicate in English, French or Spanish, not only based on just how you want to set it up, but based on the user.” A user could be Spanish-speaking only and that person's user profile could be set so that this person only sees Spanish, Hillenburg explains.

“Another area that we have just recently made what we think is a really significant improvement on our control panel is allowing the ability for the end user at the premise to verify the alarm through the alarm panel,” he continues. “You know verification is a huge deal and trying to curb false alarms is a big issue within the industry.”

Hillenburg adds, “We have actually implemented a change in the process to how an end user responds once an alarm is initiated. We give them the opportunity to either cancel or verify that the alarm is real; and we have invented new, unique messages that go from the panel to the central station based on those two separate decisions that the end user will make on whether or not they know that it is a false alarm.”

Hillenburg explains further, “By sending a different signal to the central station, the central station no longer has to waste valuable time calling (or calling twice) to verify an alarm. They will have a user's pin code, so they know who the user is. They will have an overt action taken by that user to specifically say that this alarm has been verified. Then that message will immediately go into the central station. At that point the central station can call and dispatch without having to waste all the time to verify it.”

The Communications

Path Challenge

By now the problems that alarm control panels have experienced due to end users switching from traditional phone service to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are well documented. Many times users make the transition to VoIP with an eye on phone bill savings, not realizing that their existing alarm system will either become inconsistent or stop working altogether. (Since VoIP digitizes the phone's analog signal, it can change the timing of the signal that your alarm would send to the central station via the phone line, thus messing up your alarm signal that would have worked had VoIP not been involved.)

“With the challenges of Voice over IP affecting the way that our panels traditionally communicate, we've all needed to look at alternative communication paths,” says Mechler. “We're seeing a huge growth in the use of IP for alarm transport. We were one of the pioneers in introducing that to the market. It really has been slow to take hold until just the last couple of years where we have really seen an explosion in the amount of panels that are using IP as their main communication method.”

Going forward, Mechler sees the communication path as being the biggest change in alarm control panel technology. “What is the preferred communication path going to be when we can no longer count on the phone line? And is that going to be wireless of GPRS or GSM? Is it going to be over wired networks, he asks. According to him, it's kind of flushing out right now and he cannot predict what the final solution is going to be.

New Skills for Techs

Anytime technology advances, new skills will have to be learned in order to keep up. With the new alarm control panels, one of the key things that techs have to know is IP addressing.

“It's going to be very important for dealers and technicians to understand IP addressing and TCP/IP addressing,” says Hillenburg. “Several years ago when we were getting up to speed on IP and network communication with our tech support guys we used TCP/IP for Dummies . It's really a brilliant book. It takes anyone from any level up to speed with really everything that they would need to know and more.”

“Wireless and Internet Protocol technologies are definitely starting to be taken up by consumers as they have become more affordable,” says Rob Guttentag, vice president and general manager, Tyco Fire & Safety – Intrusion Security Products. “However, installation, programming and troubleshooting can be more complex due to the different technologies and their interaction.”

Additional knowledge in these areas will become more critical, says Guttentag. “Home integration and building management concepts bring great opportunity to dealers, but will also push for broader skill requirements in the areas of integration of security, audio, video, cameras, lighting and building management systems,” he asserts. “In order to reduce the impact of these new challenges, we are simplifying other areas of the alarm system to make it easier to install and service.”

Mechler says that understanding Internet Protocol and how to get security equipment working with the information technology system that might be in a building are the biggest challenges. He adds, “Most of these other things, the security installers have been adept at—CCTV, access control and intrusion—for several years but now it's really starting to become important that they become network technicians as well.”

Hillenburg concludes, “If [security technicians] understand an IP network and they understand how 12 volts work, they're going to be able to install control panels for the foreseeable future.”

SIA CP-01: Setting a Higher Standard


Last October the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) passed a resolution recommending that all municipalities and counties require alarm control panels that comply with the SIA CP-01 standard. While the resolution isn't enforced by law, some parts of the U.S. (such as Texas ) are starting to pass laws requiring that alarms be CP-01 compliant. As such, there could be greater demand from end users looking specifically for SIA CP-01 compliant alarm control panels.

With participation by five associations (AIREF, CSAA, NBFAA, SIA, and CANASA), most panel manufacturers, and in compliance with UL testing, the SIA CP-01 standard was established to reduce false alarms by making panels easier to use and by following known best practices in design.

“We were the first manufacturer to bring a CP-01 control panel to the market (PC5020),” says Rob Guttentag, vice president and general manager, Tyco Fire & Safety – Intrusion Security Products. “Now, all DSC Power Series products are fully CP-01 compliant. Control panels that are compliant with this standard are standardized in regard to the parameters that affect alarms and alarm reporting. All indications to date are that the standard is helping, acceptance is gaining and demand for CP-01 compliant products will continue to grow. Coupled with enhanced training and user awareness, false alarms should continue to decline.”

For a list of CP-01 compliant alarm control panels, visit www.siacinc.org/standards.asp .

SECURITY INTEGRATION SOFTWARE

In order for control panels to tie together more types of security systems—intrusion, access control, video, etc.—increasingly powerful software is needed. However, just because the software can perform complex operations and integrate multiple systems doesn't mean it should be hard for security personnel to use. The challenge is to create powerful software that allows for multiple systems to be monitored from one user interface in an easy-to-use manner.

Knowing that the security market is demanding this type of software, Honeywell is planning to release WIN-PAK SE software with VISTA integration in the first quarter of this year. “What this product does is basically really answer the demand to provide a software interface that ties in the three entities—video, access and intrusion—as one simple-to-use software interface,” explains Joseph J. Crowley, product marketing manager, Honeywell Security & Custom Electronics.

With this so ftware, Honeywell will give users the ability to integrate Honeywell security systems with which they are already familiar. Learning how to use WIN-PAK SE with VISTA integration should be relatively simple because the systems it will integrate together are all tried and true with large bases of experienced users. “What we've done is taken what everyone already knows on the access control component, the intrusion component, the video component, and tied it all together through one single, head-end software,” says John Smith, marketing manager, Honeywell Access Systems.

Another possible benefit of WIN-PAK SE with VISTA integration for the security dealer is the opportunity to go back and offer an integrated technology that the customer wants but until this point in time couldn't get.

An analogy Honeywell uses to describe WIN-PAK SE with VISTA Intrusion and Digital Video Integration is a universal remote control. It allows business owners to do things like restrict access to certain areas, monitor where employees have been in the building, manage time and attendance, and control HVAC, security and other devices by preset events.

According to Honeywell, customers who already have an intrusion system deployed, for example, can later add access control and video if they want to expand their security systems. WIN-PAK SE can integrate these systems into one graphical user interface, which can enable customers to view and control security systems in multiple locations from one user interface located anywhere in the world.

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