Integrating burglar alarm control panels with other security systems is becoming more important to end users, especially with verification being required more.

Here’s the concept: A burglar breaks into a monitored building. The video system immediately archives the moments before the glass-break detector notifies it to begin saving its recording. The central station operator immediately calls the police and alerts the burglar through a voice verification system.

At the same time, the access control system locks down the area in which the intrusion occurred. The elevators in the area stop operating. When police arrive, the location of the burglar already is indicated by the central station operator. In the future, the police may have wireless tablets notifying them of the location of the break-in and perhaps even providing live video of the burglar.

This is the type of integration of intrusion devices and other security systems that end users want now. What they need from security dealers and systems integrators is seamless operation of such systems.

Unfortunately, what dealers and integrators sometimes find at such a location is an access control system that has not been updated in five years, a burglar alarm panel that is even older, no video surveillance system at all and no elevator interface.

A typical end user may not have the budget to replace all of the security systems; therefore, the dealer or integrator needs to install a new video system and other equipment that will work in an integrated fashion with what already is installed. Now the need for system integration becomes apparent.

Aside from end users, an additional driver of this move to integration is legislation from authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) for verification of alarms. Voice or video are being used now to verify intrusions and fires, and of these, intrusion is the more difficult to verify.

“I think the end user has a different idea of integration,” remarks Scott Sturgess, director of product management for intrusion and fire products, ADI, Melville, N.Y. “A lot of it they see on TV or a James Bond movie, and they believe that is how the integration is going to work – that one button is going to control everything for you.

“Integration works well, but it does not work that way,” Sturgess concedes. “I think the manufacturer’s perception of integration may be different than the end user’s perception. Every manufacturer is trying to get a true integration platform that the end users really want as a solution – whether it is a bank, a retail store, whatever the case may be – that fully integrates all the different categories of products,” he observes. “I don’t really think it has been fully developed yet, although most manufacturers are working on it.”

Residential burglar alarm systems are being integrated with other home systems such as video.

Integration Alternatives

Security dealers and systems integrators have two basic methods for integrating intrusion devices with other systems. Either a hard-wired solution using the input/output (IO) relays in the burglar alarm panel or control by computer software, many of which use as the connection protocol RS232.

“RS232 is a peer-to-peer type of linking, a hardware link from one central processing unit to another,” explains Paul Martin, director of marketing for commercial products, Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. “RS232 is a serial interface, a cable that runs from one panel to the other and links to a similar hook-up.

“When you connect a printer to your laptop, you’re using a serial interface,” Martin continues. “The printer knows what the computer wants, and the computer knows what the printer is doing.

“Protocol is a common language, so if a system communicates RS232, and there are other systems that understand RS232, the systems have the capability of understanding what they are saying,” he explains.

“We have an open protocol – that means we publish a specification that anyone can use and look at and see how we communicate system status via serial interface,” Martin points out. “Most manufacturers have open protocols in their systems, and those that don’t are seeing the need for them.”

Proprietary formats are used to safeguard the company’s security-related transmission to prevent tampering. “If the system is simply communicating system info and status, the protocol will tell how we communicate that,” he notes.

Jim Paulson, general manager for commercial and residential, GE Security, Tualatin, Ore., agrees that open source software is becoming more popular.

“Open source definitely continues to be the trend, because everybody has come to the conclusion they’re not going to be an expert in all areas,” he maintains. “One of the things we see is there are people who really compete in only one space that are willing to share software development kits in order to allow somebody to more fully integrate with their platform.

“The trend is toward open source, with the caveat that those that are able to provide an end-to-end solution are trying to do something uniquely better to provide a compelling reason for channel partners or end users to specify or purchase their equipment,” Paulson declares.

“We all want the channel partner or end user to use all our systems instead of cherry-picking,” he concedes. “We’re all pursuing the holy grail of making that interoperability through a combination of all technologies just a little better, or maybe substantially better, than if you use disparate manufacturers.”

Frequently, user agreements among manufacturers ease the providing of protocols, maintains Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for commercial intrusion, Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y.

“Manufacturers share those protocols and are pretty friendly in that regard,” he insists. “In addition, there is usually a hardware serial module involved.”

Hard-wired interfaces, such as simple relay connections, have been used for years, but they do not give users the flexibility of a software interface, Mechler asserts. “Sharing a protocol provides integrators with additional flexibility and functionality.”

The placement of motion detectors is a crucial element of intrusion security systems.

Protocol Writing

Sometimes protocols need to be written to link two types of equipment. “A lot of times what it requires is a black-box approach, where integrators develop their own interface that translates one type of protocol to another type of protocol so systems can talk to each other,” declares Honeywell’s Martin. “It can be a costly and time-consuming procedure.

“Some integrators design their own types of systems, some integrators use third-party black box devices and software, and some integrators rely on the manufacturer to provide a solution,” he explains. “It depends on the type of system, who the integrator is and who the manufacturer is. The ultimate goal for the integrator is to see something that works well and plays well together.”

Martin suggests that interoperability rather than single-board integration is the goal. "Many in the industry are apprehensive about putting all their eggs in one basket, so they like to have the systems separate but operate seamlessly to the end user,” he asserts.

Throughout the industry, dealers and manufacturers say the integration method varies with the requirements of each job, as does David Bitton, vice president and chief operating officer of Supreme Security Systems, Union, N.J.

“One of the benefits that we have is experience,” he points out. “We’ve been around a long time, and we’ve seen a lot of equipment – the good, the bad and the ugly – and as a result of that, we understand how different technologies can work together to bring ultimate value to end users.”

The more complicated the integration, the more easily it can be done through software, says Richard Goldsobel, vice president and general manager of the Continental Instruments division of NAPCO, Amityville, N.Y.

“It can truly be as creative an integration as writing software a million different ways to perform the function,” Goldsobel notes. “For the most part, this is done through software. It’s really hard to set up from a hardwired perspective – that’s more of an absolutely dedicated implementation.”

Bosch’s Mechler agrees that enterprise integration software – whereby the head-end system takes information from between the intrusion device and a DVR, for example – adds to the complexity of a system, but also improves its capability to access multiple systems and integrate them with different sites across the country. It allows for a higher level of complexity.

Upon "hearing" glass breaking, these detectors being installed can trigger video surveillance camera operation.

Hardwired Relays

Although computer control is more versatile, the limitations of existing systems or end users’ budgets may require reliance on hardwired relays. One of the limitations of such systems is on the number of relays. Depending on their age and size, the number of relays burglar alarm control panels can offer is limited.

For a small system, six relays may be sufficient to integrate other devices, but for larger requirements, it may not be enough. Then a larger control panel or a computer software system may be necessary.

“Existing alarm panel controllers may not have the output relay capacity to call up the number of cameras that may be required to verify an alarm at a facility,” points out David Sharp, southwest regional sales manager for DMP, Springfield, Mo.

“In the market, there’s a growing concern for alarm verification driving a lot of this,” Sharp notes. “Often verification is an add-on to an existing intrusion system, so the preference on the part of the dealer is to limit the amount of cost.

“They have a reluctance to remove or replace existing intrusion systems, so they’re looking for some sort of open interface so they can hold onto and integrate with the existing controller,” he declares. “Their solution is an I/O connectivity or relay output from the alarm controller that in turn drives the call-up on the DVR.”

But this is labor-intensive. Relays take up space, are an additional cost, and hardwiring interfaces from an input to the next controller is more labor-intensive than simply stringing RS232 cable.

“The dealer wants a soft integration to remove the requirement for a relay interface, so there’s an RS232 connection between the DVR and the alarm panel that’s monitoring the intrusion side of the application,” Sharp declares. “That’s something that’s going to take some work on the part of manufacturers to provide for that integration.”

He asserts that sometimes DVR and intrusion manufacturers are hesitant to release information about integrating their products and that choosing an equipment partner has become a strategic issue. Although both sides may be willing to share protocols with each other, it is difficult for them to justify that expense.

“Typically the manufacturer asks for a nondisclosure statement,” Sharp explains. “The sharing of the protocol is not necessarily a hurdle; the hurdle is whether the two manufacturing companies are going to partner to spend the money to provide the engineering effort to deliver this integration.”

This is the advantage he sees with I/O relay systems. “There’s no partnership required to share RS232 protocols, no signing of nondisclosure statements, and no engineering requirement by two manufacturers,” Sharp points out. “So at the end of the day, a relay interface is still the most flexible alternative because you can buy any two controllers regardless of manufacturer and they will work together.

“There’s a good number of dealers in the industry who are much more comfortable working with relays and soldering contacts and not comfortable with RS232,” he adds. “You need to have some technical expertise on the staff that understands RS232 technology and decoding and what may be required.”

Because computer control with RS232 protocol is the exception on existing burglar alarm installations, and most of the verification market involves existing rather than new installations, the capacity of existing systems to interface with the new DVRs will become an issue retroactively, Sharp thinks.

The hesitance of some manufacturers to absorb the cost of writing interfaces was experienced by one security dealer attempting an integration project between a point-of-sale system and a video system at a 10-store chain of supermarkets.

“It’s open architecture so it was feasible, but we were faced with having to write a lot of code for a solution that my client was already using in their store,” the dealer explains.

This dealer was left “high and dry,” he claims, when one manufacturer decided to stop offering the integration because of a lack of profitability. Although the dealer found another vendor, neither the vendor nor the customer would pay to write the software for the interface. They expected the dealer to absorb the cost in return for the business obtained from it.

“The attitude is that we’ll get a number of other stores and eventually it will pay for itself, but I can’t take that risk,” the dealer complains about the six-figure interface cost. “If I get all 10 stores, wonderful, but how many years will it take to get it? So it really comes down to a business decision that the manufacturer has to make.”

Door contacts can set off security lighting when such intrusion devices are integrated with other systems.


Some believe that wireless technology will ease some of these integration challenges in the future. “Wireless is doing very good,” reports ADI’s Sturgess. “Wireless sales are up. As more and more wireless products become commonly accepted, I think you’re going to see everything eventually head towards wireless.”

Al Lizza, director of marketing, residential, for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y., agrees that integrating intrusion systems wirelessly is a trend of the last five to seven years, and he also points out that it has additional benefits.

“An example might be the ideal place to put a smoke detector in a cathedral ceiling,” Lizza suggests. Wired detectors may have been limited in placement because in certain areas it was difficult to reach them with wires. If the installer is using wireless, he can place it in the most optimal location to provide the best coverage,” Lizza notes.

Wireless is the way installers can ease an installation, believes Bryan Watts, channel manager for Tyco Safety Products, intrusion security division, Toronto. “The installer is working hard at trying to understand that this is a new world,” Watts says of wireless software integration systems. Wireless systems are much less labor-intensive to install, he notes.

“A large portion of the cost of an application is in the installation,” he points out. “Not having to run wires can really reduce the amount of labor.”

DMP’s Sharp thinks wired computer control also is the future. “I think the trend is towards RS232 types and away from the I/O relay,” he predicts.

He also thinks local area networks (LANs) will be used more often so end users will not have to be in the same room with a security system to access it.

Seamless integration of video with intrusion systems may enable intelligent video systems that respond to changes in their views to supplement or even replace motion detectors, Sharp suggests.

“The market is going to force manufacturers on the intrusion and CCTV side to deliver this integration, because more and more manufacturers are beginning to do so, and they’re enjoying a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” Sharp points out.

“This all represents great opportunity for the industry – oddly enough, the verification issue may be a huge windfall for our industry for those companies and manufacturers that can satisfy the requirements,” he remarks.

Adds Honeywell’s Martin, “We’ve seen the need for integration to expand into smaller types of commercial installations, like retail and convenience stores and pharmacies. We’ve seen that that level of integration is no longer only a high-end application.

“Previously, our residential systems really didn’t have the need to talk to other systems, but what we’ve found is definitely a need for residential security systems to talk to HVAC, home automation and other systems,” he notes. “This need for integration has gone beyond high-end commercial to low-end commercial and even residences.”

Bosch’s Mechler thinks Ethernet communication and enterprise-wide integration is the biggest trend happening because it provides more functionality with less complexity and greater speed.

Marvels Supreme Security’s Bitton, “All of a sudden the industry woke up, and one of the things we’ve seen is the growth of technology and integration. The technology talking to each other over open architecture is really something. It seems to me the industry is starting to play catch-up at an exponential rate. The manufacturers are moving very fast and catching up with the available technology.

“They’re recognizing and appreciating the value and how difficult it is to implement these new technologies,” Bitton continues. “Another fairly big part of the trend we see is that the buyer of our products and services is now an IT director – rarely do we see the security director making the primary buying decisions.”

In residential work, which is approximately 60 percent of Supreme Security’s business, home networks and electronics have taken off, he maintains.

“That was an extremely small niche market – it really took a long time to become viable,” he remembers. “The technology didn’t support it. Now you’re selling systems in the home above and beyond residential alarm and intrusion devices. From a value standpoint, if you want to continue to do residential, you need to be selling all these other things.”

Side bar1: Will Verification Costs Reduce Monitoring?

One possibility with the increasing cost of verification systems mandated by local governments is that some residential and small commercial customers may drop monitoring if it is not required, envisions David Sharp, southwest regional sales manager for DMP, Springfield, Mo.

“If they don’t grandfather in existing systems and impose verification retroactively, the danger is the existing customer may no longer pay for monitoring,” Sharp fears. “As they pay more for the hardware, they may elect not to be monitored.

“Obviously, a good portion of the industry monitoring is driven by the insurance industry,” he concedes. “If the customer doesn’t want to spend the money, the dealer will be called upon to justify the cost of monitoring and verification.”

Side bar 2: An Integration Example

Integrating an existing burglar alarm panel with additional systems can become complicated quickly, declares security technology innovator Ted Nesse, vice president, technology, Sequel Technologies LLC,

Golden Valley, Minn.

“The installer really is a victim of what people may have done before, depending if existing equipment had some provision for expandability,” Nesse asserts.

If the existing panel does have a communication port built in, a rich data stream of information can be obtained from that panel. An open protocol or being supported by third-party drivers also would be helpful, Nesse points out.

However, a $40 difference in the price of adding expandability to a panel originally intended just for burglary devices might have been enough to select the non-expandable version, Nesse postulates.

In that case, “they’ve got a problem,” he concedes. “One way that people latch onto those panels is to use a dialer capture module that grabs onto the telephone interface of the panel.”

If the panel has event reports going out, the dialer capture module is able to intercept and reroute them so some other device can use them.

“There are a number of disadvantages with using that approach, least of which is [that] the information that is sent at the dialer port is quite limited at best,” Nesse admits. “It’s limited to major system state changes like an alarm, so if you’re looking for a system-state change, such as a zone having been opened, that information typically would not be available with a dialer port.

“The other thing is by integrating the dialer capture module, you interfere with the communication path to the central station, so that becomes a central challenge for that approach,” he concedes. “The next thing typically is to look and see if the installed panel has some relay outputs.”

If only one or two relays are available, there are limitations with that solution. Adding a relay module can increase the outputs to eight. Even better is if the installed panel has an optional serial communication port or Ethernet communication module available. This can be quite a good connection into the system, Nesse thinks. However, adding relay or communications modules to a system requires full access to reprogram the panel and being able to purchase modules compatible with the installed system.

Replacing the panel in a hardwired system with a new panel that has communication capability also can be an option. With hardwired panels, the integrator has the most flexibility to select a panel, but replacing the panel in a system that uses wireless sensors requires selection of a panel compatible with the installed sensors, Nesse explains. However, even if the new panel is from the same manufacturer as the sensors, it will likely be necessary to re-enroll the sensors in the new panel.

“So I guess those are really some of the options that come to mind for somebody coming in cold,” Nesse concludes. “Integrators don’t have trouble justifying their earnings. The initial premise that integration of existing systems is a substantial challenge is a valid one.”

Sidebar 3: When Will Integration Standards Become Available?

One dealer expresses concern over the lack of standards in the security industry that would make the task of integrating systems easier. “The biggest problem we see is there is still no good credentials organization that can work to get standards together,” asserts David Bitton, vice president and chief operating officer of Supreme Security Systems, Union, N.J.

“They need to be able to sit down and say ‘these are the standards,’” he stresses, as other major standards boards in the world do. “We don’t have that in the alarm industry.”

Because of what Bitton calls “fractured sections” within the equipment manufacturers, no true standard exists among alarm panels so that they will interact.

Bitton praises those manufacturers who have successfully integrated their systems with others, but “with every interface, there’s also always a caveat that this interface doesn’t work with this panel,” he notes.

He cites human resources as an industry that created a data standard to interface three different systems. “Why can’t we do that?” Bitton asks. “Industries are banding together coming up with data formats and building extensively on top of the format, but that doesn’t happen in our industry.

“From a dealer perspective, everybody does everything differently,” he declares. “It makes it difficult for dealers. You need to lock these people in a room, come up with some standards and move on!”

A lack of a standard is no easier for manufacturers who are designing products, maintains Ted Nesse, vice president, technology, Sequel Technologies LLC, Golden Valley, Minn.

“What is happening is because there aren’t two or three accepted standards, manufacturers like [us] and the rest are motivated to perpetuate their own proprietary standards,” Nesse maintains. “It’s a little surprising that a consensus standard has not evolved, and I hope that the next few years will help pave the way to one.

“If you saw a residential-targeted standard by a reasonable industry consortium, I think you would find the manufacturers would be quite quick to adopt it,” he theorizes.