Intrusion Detection: Testing and Commissioning Alarm Systems

Although it can be wearisome at the end of an installation when the client is ready to get on with their business and the integrator is eager to embark on the next project, testing and commissioning is a crucial step in ensuring that all systems are functioning properly. After all, security systems are about protecting valuable assets and personnel, so thorough testing is critical.

As one of the largest systems integrator in New England, SIGNET Electronics Inc. oversees hundreds of alarm system installations each year. To protect the integrity of our reputation and the interests of our clients and the buildings in which they work, thorough testing is critical. Not only is it imperative to people’s safety, but the documentation produced in the testing phase provides a baseline for maintaining and troubleshooting a system in the long term—an invaluable tool for technicians and engineers. They are able to assess how a system’s functionality, at any given time, compares to its original functionality. If a client reports a system malfunctioning six months after the installation, for example, a technician is able to refer to the documentation produced in the initial testing phase, creating an advantage which can be instrumental in eliminating much of the guess work and pinpointing any issues and changes that may have been made. While it is a client’s prerogative to modify their system, the process can be technical and arduous, and often results in interruptions to the system’s proper functioning.

While there are often detailed specifications, which vary from one system’s manufacturer to the next, the goal of testing and commissioning any system—especially an alarm system—is to verify that it is functional and compliant in accordance with the terms of the client requirements. In other words, we test not only to make sure a system functions and performs as it should, but to make sure that it meets the client’s expectations.

As a general rule, we take a ‘parts-to-whole’ approach. The process consists, first, of testing functionality one device at a time, and second, of the verification of whole-system operation. We test to make sure that the system is performing the function it is intended to perform—if the alarm is tripped, for example, that it is recognized, and in turn, sends the required signal to the monitoring center.


Do complex systems solutions perform?

Another important step in the commissioning process is to verify that a complex solution works properly at the system level. We test everything about a system, from its ability to bypass certain functions or areas, to its ability to employ a schedule, to its ability to make changes in functionalities during different times of day.

Often, alarm systems are integrated with other systems to provide a unified solution for the facility. Building further on the parts-to-whole methodology, we test to verify that the alarm system is integrated with those other systems, such as the fire alarm, access control, intrusion detection, video surveillance and building management. We make sure that each autonomous system functions independently and then we validate the integration of the systems.

To complete the testing and commissioning process, the technician or engineer who performs the testing documents the results, then signs off and presents the documentation to the client (or to the Authority Having Jurisdiction). In the security world, the testing most likely involves the client’s security-monitoring company—there is commonly a third-party monitoring provider—to verify that the alarm system properly connects to their devices, communicating to their off-site monitoring center. Everyone, from the client to the monitoring entity, should be well-versed in the emergency protocol and that protocol should be tested.

Properly testing and commissioning alarm systems provides a vital foundation for the long-term operation of the system, protecting both client and integrator.



Greg Sparrow is the director of Project Management, SIGNET Electronic Systems Inc. Norwell, Mass.,