Profile: T&R Alarm Thrives on High-Tech Security

A framed, faded contract spells out how much Thomas Sansone Sr.'s world has changed over the last four decades.

It hangs a chair-swivel away on his office wall, a handwritten record of the $150 he charged to wire an alarm system in the now-defunct Banjo Bar in Hackensack.

Since that first job in 1971, T&R Alarm Systems Inc. has moved on to installing high-tech security systems in prisons, military bases and other sites in jobs that can fetch upward of $1 million.

Sansone, 55, said he has maintained his business's momentum by reading societal currents and offering new technologies as they emerge. About 90 percent of his work is now commercial.

"It's totally, 100 percent different from when we started," he said. "But if you don't change in this business, you'll get run over."

T&R has designed and set up security systems for a range of private and government-run facilities. Securing the Rikers Island jail through a series of contracts consumed many work days from 1988 to 2001; Sansone expects contracts at other correctional centers to bring more growth in the coming year.

Customers also have included Berkeley and Baruch colleges, with systems featuring cameras, card readers, smoke detectors and stairwell alarms that are triggered by screams. At La Guardia Airport, the company added panic alarms under office desks and even a lightning-warning system, Sansone said.

A big challenge is integrating new technologies such as iris scanners and palm readers into existing networks.

"After 9/11, everything changed," he said. "It used to be on the larger jobs you'd be dealing with the custodians, the maintenance guys; now, you're talking to the CEO and the IT department."

Sansone has 35 employees and hopes to add 15 more in the next year - if he can find qualified people.

It's a big if. Because cameras and other security devices must be linked together, today's installation jobs call for workers with a combination of electrical know-how and computer networking smarts. For the past month, Sansone has run ads on several online sites seeking applicants. Of the four who called, he said two were "almost qualified."

"There's a lot of reinventing the wheel in security," said Sansone, an avid reader of technical materials and fiction. "You learn how to program something and then a new model comes along."

Sansone got his start in business as a young boy accompanying his father as he went door-to-door selling bleach. After high school, he began installing telephones.

Rigging up a phone one day at the Banjo Bar, he asked if the owner would be interested in an alarm system. Sansone's buddy, Ray Sikora, had been selling them and the two had discussed teaming up. The owner said "Sure," and the two friends returned later.

"When we were done, the guy said, 'Who do I make the check out to?' " Sansone recalled.

"We just looked at each other and one of us said, 'T&R.' Tom and Ray. That was it."

Sansone worked out of his Wallington garage for 10 years. His and Sikora's early alarms consisted of lead-foil window stripping, wire relays, and a metal contact on the door. Back then, they'd park at the end of a block and knock on doors.

The early years provided some memorable moments, Sansone said one recent morning as his "watchdog," a pink-collared Shih Tzu named Ginger, napped beneath an office table.

There was the Hackensack bookie who kept his cash stacked on storeroom shelves and the time Sansone nearly walked in on thieves who had tripped the motion detectors at a Paterson business.

"The owner just didn't want to go down there in the middle of the night, so we went instead," he said.

Sansone bought out his partner in 1979 and set up shop in a building in Wallington a couple of years later.

In 1996, he moved to his 8,000-square-foot location in Clifton, where his son, Tom Jr., is vice president and his wife, Christine, manages accounts.

T&R outsources monitoring of its alarm systems to a Lyndhurst company, Atlantic Security, which keeps watch for several other firms as well.

Sansone lost several prison contracts after 9/11, when most of the earmarked federal dollars were shifted toward new security priorities. He now has a large number of private jobs, such as correctional centers in Colorado and Wyoming.

T&R also has become a pioneer in installing "mass notification" systems. In its latest job, the company is wirelessly linking the 50-building system at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia so military personnel can be alerted to an attack, fire or major accident.

Such systems are likely to be a large part of T&R's future.

"There are only a few companies in the country that manufacture these products," he said, "but I think you're definitely going to see it spread into the private sector."

T&R Alarm Systems Inc., Clifton

President/Owner: Thomas Sansone Sr.

Founded: 1971

Employees: 35

Annual revenue: $7.5 million (average for recent years)

Web site:

Advice: Put customer needs first. Sansone tells the story of one employee who left a family wedding to repair a store owner's alarm and two others who slept overnight in the Rikers Island jail to finish a job.