As the so-called information age transitions into something which might be better labeled as the information-addiction age, it isn’t only public figures who require secure perimeters and effective intruder alert systems anymore. Home- and business-owners are becoming increasingly interested in receiving information about the comings and goings within their properties, especially when there are large areas to monitor. The products available to secure an access point, and particularly a long driveway, are varied in technology and price-range, and installing an effective and reliable alarm system requires precise engineering and careful threat assessment.


According to John Lombardi, president of CIA Security in Fishkill, N.Y., who has been installing driveway alarm systems for more than 20 years, the greatest challenge he comes across is securing older properties that have never needed a detection system before. In the case of hardwired vehicle detectors under the driveway or alongside it, for example, sensor probes and/or wires must be buried deep enough underground — around two feet — so that animals, frost, acids in the soil, etc. won’t damage them.


“For it to work reliably you have to provide a trench and that can cost a lot,” Lombardi says. “Sometimes, instead of burying it at the proper height, [the wires end up] too close to the surface. And there can be a lot of maintenance needed if you don’t do it right.” One common occurrence is water freezing wire. Lombardi relates, “It drives the unit completely crazy. There are electrical code standards specifying distance below grade level that wiring should be installed.”


This type of vehicle detectors function through devices which detect disruptions in magnetic fields, such as the ones caused by large metal objects (i.e., cars, trucks), called magnetometers. The technology has been available for close to 35 years, according to Lombardi, and these devices are highly reliable. One of the benefits is they will not respond to common false alarm culprits such as animals, trees, or strong winds. They also will not detect humans. Lombardi adds that this is a popular option for new construction, when digging the appropriate trenches may not be as cost-prohibitive.


Where it is too expensive or physically impossible to “get the wires where we want them to go,” says Lombardi, cameras equipped with PIR (passive infrared) motion detectors are often a more cost-effective option. With cameras, the challenges lie in designing optimal placement, minimizing interference from the elements and providing necessary maintenance.


Michael Richards, custom residential sales manager at First Alarm, Aptos, Calif., explains that the biggest challenge in securing long driveways, is working with the terrain. “In the San Francisco Bay Area we rarely see long straight driveways. Most are winding up a hillside.” He adds that running cable through trees and on sloping ground is a considerably more difficult task than running it along a straight driveway. At the same time, placing large antennas on a property to pick up a wireless device signal instead of using underground conduit can be a point of contention with customers who are concerned about the aesthetics of the installation.


“With driveway protection, it is often challenging to please the homeowner on the aesthetic side,” Richards continues. “There is always a give and take because some security devices are more difficult to hide and must pass approval with the architect or even the landscaper. There may be a front gate pillar, and you’re told you can’t cut into the material or mount any items onto it. Disguising an installation to make a device less visible while retaining its full detection capabilities can require a lot of creativity: cameras have even been hidden in bird houses, or painted to blend in with trees and foliage.”


Aside from the utility of having digital eyes on areas of a property that may not be visible from the customer’s vantage point, cameras are a popular option for generation Y customers who want to receive not only alerts on a panel, but event video on their web-enabled mobile devices.


“In doing any outdoor protection, we try to hardwire all the required cables back to the main viewing location preventing video degradation,” Richards relates. “Every camera you install has limitations. You can only go so many feet without having to boost the signal. A lot of thought goes into the planning of any outdoor protection.”


Vehicle detection and video alert systems, Lombardi explains, are essentially enhanced automatic doorbells. Their value lies in giving end-users the ability to know who is on their property at all times — from unwelcome guests, to family members or the UPS delivery man.


“Customers want no surprises. These homeowners with long driveways have selected their locations for the purpose of privacy. They want to make sure nobody arrives on their front porch without being announced or viewed,” Richards says.


“What it really comes down to is risk assessment and threat analysis,” Lombardi points out. Where an extra level of security is needed, access control is the next step.


When it comes to customers of some notoriety or who want to protect various assets and need to secure long driveways, which can be more than a mile long in the area where CIA Security operates and three miles in First Alarm’s region, it may be necessary to enclose an entire perimeter and install gates, in which case electronics to control that gate remotely are needed such as intercoms, keypads, or complementary cameras in higher-risk properties, Lombardi says. This is a “physical level of security complemented by electronics to make operation of gate easier, which gives you a level of security,” Lombardi adds. In some cases, CIA Security provides answering services and monitoring for these properties when there is no one at home.


Richards describes one example of a client who owns a ranch with various structures and side roads and how it was important to be able to track the many different trades that come on and off property to perform work from the main property’s front gate. “Gate entry call systems have a limited amount of access codes and features,” Richards comments. “We install a self-contained access system, so you can have as many users as needed with entry restrictions and a tracking system.” Once inside the perimeter, cameras placed at key intersections can track the direction any individual or vehicle.


Lombardi says he installed his first wireless vehicle detector in 1987, when, he believes, the technology was not yet at a point where a wireless system could provide reliable detection, though many advances have been made since. One important consideration with wireless units is weatherproofing. One problem Lombardi ran into in the early days of wireless detectors was frozen batteries. Another issue with wireless devices is exposed equipment. While a good option for low-risk installations, an antenna transmitter can easily be cut off by a clever intruder.


“The secret to outdoor security is to make sure it’ll work reliably,” Lombardi says. And the key to reliability is assessment. One new practice CIA Security has found useful is evaluating distances and terrains in potential clients’ properties through Google Earth. “We get an aerial shot of house [before we visit the property]. It gives you an idea of what you’re dealing with.”


Consider sharing your experiences in designing and installing driveway sensors with SDM’s readers. Send your comments to associate editor, Sabrina Gasulla, at; or call 630-694-4385 to be interviewed.