Query the Access Control Expert

Access Control Systems and Alarm Monitoring
Can access control systems be used to monitor alarms?

A: Many access control systems include the ability to monitor the status of connected sensors and devices. To determine if this system capability will meet your needs, you need to consider several factors.

Some systems are designed to provide true alarm monitoring. Others have monitoring capabilities added as an afterthought. The system may or may not be tested and approved to monitor burglar or fire alarms.

Some systems will record activity for retrieval and review at a later time or date. Other systems simply communicate the event with a display at a remote location. There will be a limit on how many events the system will store.

Make sure the system you’re using has appropriate backup of all power supplies required to allow the signals to make it from the site of the sensor to the monitoring location. If you use a dialup modem to communicate, make sure that the system will activate and dial after an event and will retry if it doesn’t make a connection the first time.

If you plan to use the system to monitor a critical alarm such as a fire, burglar or holdup alarm, make sure the system will call appropriate attention to the event, record it long enough for your needs and that the method of communication is reliable enough to ensure that the event is sent to where it is being monitored.

Other Monitoring Considerations
Besides the equipment, what are some considerations for monitoring alarms?

A: Consider the location where the alarm will be monitored. How will the personnel doing the monitoring be trained? Many systems display the alarm at a guard or reception desk. Is it staffed 24 hours a day? For example, if the guard will leave for rounds or the receptionist is only on duty certain hours, you may need to supplement the monitoring at another location.

Some systems allow you to add descriptive information that is displayed when an alarm occurs; others may just allow you to display an identifying number or short description. If the information displayed by the system is not sufficient to perform the correct response to the alarm, you’ll need to supplement it with instructions contained on index cards, in a notebook or in another program.

Using the Internet for Monitoring
Is the Internet a reliable communications path to monitor alarms?

A: Using Internet protocols can be very reliable as long as all the devices that the signal uses to communicate are reliable. If you have control over the full communications path, it can be very reliable. If you are communicating with a remote location over phone lines or a public Internet connection, the degree of reliability is unknown.

At this point, the Internet is largely unregulated. There are no requirements that it consistently work. Outages occur when the power fails and it is not uncommon for routers and servers that may be in your communications path to be taken offline or down for service.

Brad Shipp is a former Executive Director and Training Director for the NBFAA where he authored several NTS courses, including the Access Control Certification course. His involvement in the access control industry dates back to 1974 and, in 1986, he became an instructor for the NBFAA National Training School. Shipp has served on several law enforcement, regulatory and industry association boards and has been honored for his service by the False Alarm Reduction Association and the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators. Send in your access control questions to bradshipp@secdealer.com.