Homeowners considering purchase of an alarm system can try out equipment at the demonstration center of JM Resources, King of Prussia, Pa.
A favorite pastime for people in the alarm industry is to exchange stories about the most bizarre crime they ever encountered. Just when you think you have heard it all, along comes a story like Beverly Mitchell’s.

Mitchell, a homeowner in Douglasville, Ga., left for a two-and-a-half week trip to Greece recently and returned to find that another woman, previously unknown to her, had taken up residence in her house, which was not protected by an alarm system. “She moved in all of her stuff, she got rid of a good bit of my stuff, and she started redecorating,” Mitchell gasps.

Mitchell recognized the situation before she entered the house and instead called 911. “I was pretty frightened and pretty angry,” she admits. The police entered the house and escorted the woman out.

It did not take long for Mitchell, who had an alarm system in a previous home, to begin shopping for one. She had not installed a system in her current home because it had been under renovation for four years.

Mitchell, like every one of eight residential alarm system users who were interviewed for this article, insists it will be critical for her new system to be monitored remotely. But she also wants local loudspeakers.

During the recent incident, she points out, “The neighbors didn’t recognize that anything was happening at my house. I want an alarm loud enough that my neighbors will hear.”

She also is considering value-added features, such as the ability to call home and turn the lights on or to have the system send her e-mail notification of alarms or other events. While she was in Greece, she reports, “I did check e-mail a couple of times, so that would have helped.”

Just as Mitchell’s experiences illustrate the downside of not having an alarm system, the experiences of Susan Westfall of Portland, Ore., provide an example of the unexpected benefits that an alarm system can provide.

Westfall, whose system was installed by Global Security & Communication, Vancouver, Wash., received a call from her central station recently that her smoke detector had gone off. She thought it probably was just her husband cooking, but central station personnel urged her to call him, because they had received multiple smoke alarm messages.

When Westfall reached her husband on his cell phone on his way to work, she called back the central station personnel, who alerted the fire department. Westfall drove straight home, and when she got there, she found that the fire department had entered the home and extinguished what had been a real fire. “For $29.95 a month, our home was saved,” Westfall reports.

Ironically, Westfall initially had wondered why Global Security technicians included smoke detectors when they installed her system because she already had stand-alone smoke detectors. She had not even considered that fire protection would be an added benefit of the system, which she and her husband bought strictly for burglary protection.

However, like several other residential alarm users interviewed for this article, she relied largely on what her alarm company recommended because she had faith in the company. “My job isn’t to know how a security system works,” Westfall explains.

Westfall and her husband have not always had such positive experiences with their alarm company. Several years ago, they bought a system for their previous home that they never used because the technician who was charged with training her on the system had such a strong accent that she could not understand him.

Unfortunately, the couple was stuck with an ongoing monthly payment for the unused system because they had signed a four-year contract. Even when they moved, they still had to pay. The company moved the system to the couple’s new home, where it was still unused.

Westfall, who is a business professional, met Global Security president A.J. Gomez at a Business Networking International meeting, where he gave a brief presentation that included a demonstration of how easy it is to arm a system using a wireless remote key fob-style keypad.

The simplicity of this option appealed to Westfall, so she and her husband had Global install a new system that would work with the remote keypad.

“You press it one time to stay and two times to include the motions,” she explains. “You don’t have to go to the keypad and run out the door.” This time, the couple only signed a one-year contract.

What they would change

Westfall’s attitudes provide an example of another common thread among residential users—that price is important in selecting an alarm company, but that other, more subtle factors often are ultimately what determine the choice.

Some consumers interviewed chose a company based on a friend’s recommendation. Others selected a local business because they found large national companies too impersonal.

On the other hand, Brinks customer Penny Meitz, a Houston-area homeowner, chose that national company after collecting information on it and a range of competitors at a home show and getting bids from several of them. Since then, she has been so pleased with the service that she continued to use Brinks after moving to a new home.

Most of the people we talked to are happy with their existing systems, although one had some harsh words for equipment manufacturers. “My system is dramatically non-user friendly,” asserts David Rittenberg, Wynnewood, Pa., who says he has to call his alarm company, JM Resources, King of Prussia, Pa., whenever he needs to change a password or bypass a zone.

Rittenberg also complains about the little door on his keypad that tends to break off. “The manufacturer didn’t think it through,” he maintains, adding that he would prefer a keypad with a sliding door that could be flush-mounted.

Although customers often feel that alarm systems are necessities they have to buy rather than equipment they want to buy, Wittenberg and others expressed an interest in adding some enhanced capabilities to their systems.

Wittenberg eventually would like to integrate his alarm system with the structured cabling system that was installed when the house was built.

Rod Troyer, a Global Security customer whose recently constructed house was pre-wired for security, reports he eventually may add video cameras at the front door, which was pre-wired for video.

Although some residential customers stress that alarm companies should stick to what they do best, others would consider buying some non-security-related products and services from their alarm company.

A customer of Arlington Security, Arlington Heights, Ill., who asked that her name not be used, is a homeowner in Highland Park, Ill., who already has a feature-rich system that includes water detectors. She says she would consider buying computer or communications-related services from her security company because she maintains, “They never let me down.”


What Customers Want - Simpler operation

- Notification of neighbors

- E-mail notification of alarms

- Clear explanation of system operation

- Code remembrance system

- Durable keypad covers

- Adjunct products and services