Life on the Farm Goes Wireless

Oct. 19, 2009
In rural settings, it’s all the rage

Wireless may be all the rage in today’s urban settings–the proliferation of smart phones and Wi-Fi-enabled masses is proof--but rural areas are also getting in on the action.

In fact, it’s arguable that a greater need for wireless security exists on the farm. The typical farm or ranch, for example, can easily have up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment sitting in unguarded, detached sheds.  For years, though, rural customers, turned off by high prices and complicated logistics associated with wiring, elected to simply take their chances and face the consequences without a professionally installed security system.

The rapid evolution of wireless stands the strongest chance to help erase that mentality. A combination of cost-effectiveness, more-reliable sensor technology and ease of installation are allowing dealers in these areas to present a more-appealing sell.

As a result, rural areas are becoming places where dealers can strategically grow their businesses by reducing costly burglaries and liability issues.

Stealing farmer’s livelihood

In central Nebraska, Heartland Security LLC’s Homer Creutz, owner, has several customers who store tools, machinery, feed, automobiles and even livestock on unguarded and often uncovered ground. In most cases, these valuable assets are surrounded by a fence or covered by overhangs. In the past, that was usually the extent of their security, as these facilities are located in pastures or fields, detached from a home or a secure, central security system.

“A lot of people in these areas have detached garages or facilities. Their livelihood is their farms, livestock or machines. Their tools and farm equipment are sometimes worth more than their homes, and yet they’re sitting outside virtually unprotected,” said Homer Creutz.

It doesn’t take much effort, for instance, to gain access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm equipment by breaking locks or tearing sheds apart. “Typically, farmers go to great and expensive lengths to install a home security system, yet they lock sheds and barns with just a little latch. Thieves are able to find these and easily break the lock or tear open sides of metal buildings to gain access,” continued Creutz.

And it’s not just farm equipment that sits vulnerable in these open areas. Another common example is the neighborhood car maintenance shop or gated impound lot. “This type of customer has one location where all towed cars are housed, usually within a fenced in facility. Thieves are able to come in and take belongings or stereos out of impounded vehicles. Mechanics are getting sued and the burglars are able to easily take whatever they need by hoping a fence. There’s a huge amount of liability here for the person impounding a car,” explained Creutz.

Slam-dunk rural solutions

In any location, rural or urban, hardwiring is always one of the biggest installation headaches encountered by integrators. Until recently, wireless security was mainly considered an ideal solution for indoor application. Recent advancements in weatherproofing design and extreme temperature performance, among other developments, have made the technology better suited to handle outdoor environments.

These advancements have helped steadily increase the popularity of wireless security in rural communities because the technology is easily applicable for barns, fences and sheds. Motion detection, for example, is among the more popular solutions. When these wireless sensors are connected to an alarm panel, rural customers can be quickly notified by the central station. Additionally, customers can be notified of non-critical alarms by utilizing digital communications services that send messages to their mobile devices.

“With a wireless sensor, if someone enters that barn for example, the authorities are going to be notified within a matter of seconds. Similarly, ranchers can be notified in the instance of non-critical events, such as the wandering of livestock outside a designated fence or perimeter,” Creutz said.

For example, Creutz has taken to using weatherproof outdoor passive infrared (PIR) technology such as Honeywell’s 5800PIR-OD device to offer both protection and awareness needed for his rural customers.

“Our installers do not have to dig trenches or run wires. In remote locations in the past, I’ve had to run a trench across to hook up several door contacts in a barn because customers have been so worried about theft,” Creutz said.

And with the simpler installation comes the biggest selling tool of all: cost-effectiveness.

“Instead of being a two-day install and charging much more, wireless is a simple slam dunk. It is exactly the application we had been hoping to hear about,” Creutz said.

Intrusion detection, though, is only one part of the solution when dealing with rural area risks. Unlike urban settings where high-valued assets are usually inanimate objects, it’s not unusual for high-value rural assets to have four legs and minds of their own. In non-alarm situations, therefore, early notification can eliminate the threat of lost property such as livestock, in addition to preventing theft.

Many of Heartland’s rancher customers, for instance, invest in livestock that are free to roam within fenced or gated areas. “Cattle like to be everywhere, beyond the perimeter of a barn. Wireless sensors are able to potentially warn ranchers of livestock which have wandered out of designated areas, protecting a rancher’s valuable assets by way of notification,” Creutz said.

Reliability even in brutal winters

Temperature is another unique element wireless technology must contend with to survive a rural environment. Lithium battery enhancements give wireless sensors a longer life, proving the biting cold of winter and sweltering summers are no obstacles. Today’s PIR sensors can operate in intense sunlight, a range of humidity of up to 95 percent and in temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The real key is the ability to use this device in low temperature environments–high temperatures have never been an issue before. Customers have been wanting to use a device like this. We’re excited because we don’t have to tell them ‘no’ anymore, we now have options. This enhancement has opened opportunities for Heartland Security because it allows us to effectively design a system using the most optimum locations for protection.”

Creutz recently was faced with a customer situation that needed temperature-sensitive monitoring, both inside and out.

It began with the installation of a security system for a residential customer. Creutz realized he could also offer the customer outside motion detection, for use inside a saddle-storage barn housing thousands of dollars worth of saddles and other equipment, in addition to the security in the family home. But before he could do this, the customer needed a new wireless system. A separate, hardwired panel had been installed years prior. The panel’s reach was limited, making it difficult to add other motion detectors. Creutz installed the Honeywell 5800PIR-OD as the wireless solution, to operate in both cold and hot seasons and to withstand the harsh elements of the barn.

“Now with wireless, we can put in only one motion detector that can secure both the customer’s home and barn. The temperature advantage comes in handy for both locations. This was the opportunity to show this customer what Honeywell’s outdoor PIR weatherproof device could do,” he said.

Power of the network

Wireless is also extending conveniences to more people than just the end user.

Creutz, for example, has significantly cut down on the amount of time spent returning to customer locations to deal with installation issues.

“It’s hard for customers to comprehend that we have the ability to do this so cost-effectively. Many times people think of wires and difficulties associated with receivers and reliability in many scattered locations. In reality, I’m not making multiple trips to the lot or farm. I install it and walk away. It is that reliable of a product,” Creutz said.

In addition to the sensors, wireless solutions have been extended to the alarm communications network, standardizing on technology such as GSM alarm radios that use redundant communications paths to ensure reliable signal delivery without the need for a hardwired phone line. As a side benefit, these digital communications technologies can allow customers to take advantage of emerging capabilities such as mobile monitoring to increase overall awareness; the system can be programmed by the dealer to immediately notify customers via handheld device to non-critical incidents, for example. Even though customers are miles outside of towns, the redundant communication paths ensure wireless signals are getting through.

Creating a full security package

Due to location or difficulties associated with the job, small rural communities often assume that outdoor security protection is not part of the full package of dealer offerings. For example, indoor carbon monoxide (CO) and fire protection are viewed as critical residential necessities. But effective outdoor security has historically been viewed as a bonus because of the often difficult-to-wire outdoor environments.

“Wireless solutions help create a full package of security, fire and CO protection for customers. Some people think that it’s impossible to protect these rural facilities, but we aren’t limited by location anymore,” Creutz said.

Heartland Security is starting to see the desired effect of wireless security on the attitude of its customer base: rural customers are now viewing wireless technologies as an essential part of a ranch, business or home security system.

“Emerging wireless technology helps enhance the value of our capabilities to our customers. We want to be able to deliver all types of solutions, suited to solving both indoor and outdoor security problems– from building to barn, we’d like to take on them all.”

Tom Babich is a senior marketing product manager who has been with Honeywell/Ademco for some 17 years.