In Massachusetts, Alarm Installers Being Certified

State public safety officials have overhauled security alarm regulations in a move that independent security installers say will protect the public from unscrupulous subcontractors.

Since Jan. 1, all employees of companies that are licensed to install security systems have had to undergo a criminal background check performed by their employers, and employers have had their backgrounds checked by the state Department of Public Safety.

In addition, the public safety agency has tightened up license rules by requiring local wiring inspectors to obtain from anyone seeking a permit for security system work to present either their special security "S-license," or a certificate of background clearance at the time of permit application.

The changes were announced in a Nov. 22 letter to municipal wiring inspectors from Todd M. Grossman, deputy general counsel for the DPS.

They are meant to update and clarify rules that have been in effect since 1988 but have not been enforced, said Thomas G. Gatzunis, the state commissioner of public safety.

"It's something that's been on the books that we should have been doing all along, but because of misinterpretation has not been done correctly," Mr. Gatzunis said.

For example, while S-license holders have been subject to CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks, employees such as salesmen, installers, data entry clerks and others have not.

Now that they are, homeowners and business owners can be more confident that electricians and security company workers who are coming into their homes, handling sensitive computer data such as passwords and user names, or monitoring video surveillance systems have been safely vetted, those in the industry say.

"This is extremely good news for businesses and extremely good news for consumers," said James Colleary, acting wire inspector in Southboro and a security-licensed master electrician. "It makes reputable companies stay reputable, and it makes those that aren't come up to standard."

Two major industry groups, the Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association and the Massachusetts-Rhode Island Wiring Inspectors Association, have endorsed the new rules.

The contractors group, which has a membership of about 300 companies, has worked with the DPS to review the rules.

Robert K. Boucher, a past president of the group and a current member of its board, called Mr. Gatzunis last year after hearing about changes made to amusement regulations in the wake of the 2004 death of a 38-year-old man on a carnival ride in Shrewsbury.

He said he suggested that similar scrutiny be given to security systems in light of the growth of the industry, which has expanded dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and as costs for high-tech items such as video cameras have fallen steadily.

"It is a law that has been on the books, but in fact everyone was not complying with it, which was opening themselves to potentially losing the business if an employee went bad," Mr. Boucher, who owns Seaside Alarm in South Yarmouth, said.

He and others said most in the business have already been checking their employees' backgrounds. But now every company, from the one-person subcontracting shop to national security mega-chains such as ADT, must used fully licensed, background-checked workers in every phase of their operations.

Ronald Belling, sales manager for Arlington-based American Alarm & Communications Inc., a large regional company with a major office in Worcester, said the extra certification and scrutiny won't add up to higher costs for consumers because his company and others have already been doing the work.

"We're glad the spotlight has been placed upon this and they have further refined it," Mr. Belling, a West Brookfield resident, said. "The people we send into your homes are going to be of high moral character."


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