Both men were adamant that when it comes to burglar alarms, you get what you pay for. Sure, you can get a cheap motion sensor for your house, but then the miller moths will set it off. Sure, you can get a system for a few hundred bucks, but you'll probably get bad installation and inferior equipment.
Stoker also said you must know how your alarms will be handled. Typically, when an alarm is tripped, a signal goes to the company's monitoring center; they call the homeowner to ensure it is not a false alarm and police are summoned.
Stoker said call centers for national alarm companies have hundreds of operators. However, many local companies have a smaller operation. American Bell is a local, independent company, but Stoker abandoned his own central station to route calls through a national company.
"Sometimes a little central station will have too few people," Stoker said. "If they have too few people and a lot of calls come in at the same time, and somebody left to go to the bathroom . . . there's a problem."
After four decades in the business, Stoker is a passionate booster for his product.
"The only burglaries we've ever had is when their systems are off," he said. "I'm a firm believer in it. It's the only way I know to keep something bad from happening."
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
What to ask when you're buying a burglar alarm:
_Do you have a city license to sell security systems?
_How long have you been in business locally? How many alarm systems of this type have you installed?
_Can you give me customer referrals? _Do your employees receive background checks and drug tests?
_What procedures does your company use to avoid false alarms? (A homeowner must pay the city a fine of $25 after a third false alarm, and a system may be shut down after four false alarms.)
_Who answers my alarm call? How many operators are on duty at this station in the middle of the night?
_What are my up-front costs?
_How much will I pay in monthly monitoring costs and how long is my commitment? (Many companies install alarm systems cheaply but then require a commitment of three years or more of monthly monitoring costs.)
_Does your equipment come with a warranty and free service?
_Will you work with my insurance company to reduce my rates? You might save 10-20 percent on premiums.
_Are there complaints for this company on file with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado? (636-1155)
_If it's wired, does the system switch to battery power without activating when there's a power failure? _Is the noise loud enough for neighbors to hear?
_How much damage will installation do to my home?
_Will you educate me on how to use the system correctly?
_How many doors and windows will be covered by this system? How much does it cost to protect additional entry points?
_Can I upgrade my alarm system to include motion detectors, glassbreakage sensors or carbon-monoxide detectors?
SOURCE: Mike Blake of Alert Security; Cliff Stoker of American Bell Security Group; Dave Gilman and David Husted of the Colorado Springs Police Department; Consumers Union
(c) 2006, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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