Selling Surge Protection

Jan. 17, 2018
Best practices to convince a customer of the technology’s value

System integrators looking for value-added products or services to incorporate into their portfolios may need to look no further than surge protection devices. These devices have untapped potential for enterprise video surveillance and security systems because they meet safety and security challenges that are rarely identified by the customer.

Additionally, because surge protection is so commonly left out of a design/build RFP and ultimately out of the installation, the integrator who puts the subject on the table tends to differentiate their capabilities and knowledge from the competition and ultimately adds value to their brand.

Drawing attention to surge protection is most easily done in an RFP or similar quotation when it is a separate line item. This immediately opens the door for the integrator to introduce surge protection solutions and their value. From this point, the integrator must be prepared to articulate the value of surge protection through tangible ROI numbers as well as benefits that can be mapped to safety issues.

Educated customers make better buying decisions to the benefit of both the customer and the system integrator. Here are some sales best practices to help you get started.

Introducing the Product

As improbable as it might seem, many security professionals do not realize that power strips and surge protectors are distinctly different products. A power strip is essentially an extension cord with multiple plug receptacles. When multiple devices with high voltage requirements are plugged into a single power strip, they pose a potential fire hazard and can stop working without warning. A surge protector prevents power surges from damaging equipment by diverting excess voltage to ground.

The two products can look similar, but they perform two very different functions. Confusing the two can result in thousands of dollars in damages, so it is worth starting the conversation with the customer by pointing out this distinction.

Similarly, the customer may think that because components in the system already have built-in surge protection or that they have installed surge suppression devices that there is no need for additional protection. At best, these products protect against only modest levels of a surge and are not recommended as a solution for a high-value video surveillance system that serves a critical security function.

Articulating its Value

In video surveillance applications, surge protection is vital because the video images are an invaluable tool for identifying criminals, exposing false injury claims, solving thefts and reviewing incidents; however, power outages, surges and voltage transients on network data lines can leave video surveillance systems inoperable right when they are needed most.

It is recommended that surge protection be installed at every external camera, including outdoor PoE or PoE+ IP cameras. This is recommended because a surge can travel through the cabling from a remote device, damage or destroy a network switch, and possibly cause further issues with other switch-connected devices such as servers running VMS software.

Aside from these potential liabilities, if there is no data backup solution in place, there is also the risk that a random power surge can permanently delete data.

Loss of equipment, data and cabling are not the only costs from power surge incidents. From a business perspective, the potential downtime could be far costlier. Facilities must be evacuated when the fire alarm systems stop functioning. When security systems are out of service, parking lots, doors, and secure areas need to be covered by temporary guards at an additional cost. There is also a loss of productivity if staff is delayed by congestion and manual processes at entrances, or if their work equipment and/or work data is damaged or lost.

Downtime can also cause a potential loss of customer confidence or business. If a customer uses social media to complain about a website being down for a few hours, the resulting negative impact can be detrimental to a business for an extended time.

By the Numbers

We have all heard the adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This phrase could not be more relevant to surge protection solutions.

Insurance may cover the cost of repairing material damage to the system, but the downtime is often not covered by insurance and can quickly surpass the cost of surge protection devices and the cost of the damaged equipment.

Case in point: A power surge forced an unprotected Orlando resort to maintain a “fire watch” – meaning a fire truck was stationed in their main parking area 24/7. The final price tag of the damage was $320,000 and 17 days of interrupted operations.

An $8,000 investment in surge protection on the resort’s fire alarm, power and network systems would have kept this from happening. Of course, the resort made the investment afterwards to ensure the problem would not be repeated, but the damage had already been done.

System integrators should also be aware that power surge problems for security devices can be attributed to a number of causes. An airport in the Midwest, for example, conducted an investigation into access control panel and card reader failures that revealed lightning activity was not the main cause. Instead, over time, static generated by dry winter air was forcing controlled doors to malfunction, causing damage to internal circuitry. Eventually, the access control system suffered a major surge event, causing card reader and mag lock failures.

It is important to note that surge protection can be added easily and cost effectively to almost any electronic system or wired network, keeping power surges from causing damage to important security and operational systems.

Product Specs

Without focusing too much on specifications, you should be aware of a few key specs. At the lowest price points, surge protection devices absorb the excess energy on the line to save the protected systems. Higher-quality devices can absorb multiple hits and remain operational.

Some surge protection devices have the capability to alert operations staff that they have performed their function and may need to be checked or replaced to maintain protection. This is the best approach, because staff may not be aware of recent power surges and thus that the protection may be compromised.

Simply having a surge protector does not guarantee the safety of equipment. The unit needs to deliver the right level of electrical absorption to handle regular spikes and surges.

Commercial-use surge protectors specify how much energy the unit can absorb. A higher number indicates greater protection. A listed maximum surge current rating will also confirm that the device is a surge protector and not simply a power strip.

Surge protectors are usually divided between power and data/telecom devices. Surge protection for electrical power follows the ANSI/IEEE C64.41.2-2002 industry standard, which divides a building into three categories A, B and C.

Category A is at individual equipment or wall outlets; Category B is at the distribution and sub-panel environment; and Category C is defined as the service entrance or main disconnect. Maximum protection requires a surge suppressor at each one of these locations (A,B,C) and minimum protection requires a surge suppressor at two (B,C) of the locations that feed the sensitive load.

Finally, if, after covering all the bases, the customer declines surge protection for the system, an integrator may want to ask for a signed refusal that essentially waives liability. It is a risk-aware step that can help protect brand and reputation and further add to the integrator’s status as an industry expert.

Mike Molinari is General Sales Manager for DITEK Surge Protection. Request more info about the company at