Designing Commercial Alarms With an Eye on the Future
Knowing how to design a commercial alarm system that is both affordable and future-proof will benefit dealers, while giving their customers something practical and scalable.
The world of commercial alarms is changing, or rather has changed. With moves almost exclusively to cellular and IP communications, security dealers are tasked with determining what type of security system makes the most sense for each project.
With each of these technologies come factors that must be considered, such as where will cellular technology be in five years? In 10? How will these changes play into the decision of how to design an intrusion alarm system? What technology is worth investing in, and how can a dealer design a security system now that can grow and advance with technology and the customer’s business?
One of the first things a security dealer should consider when designing a system is the type of technology to use. “It’s almost cliché now to talk about phone lines and how they’re going away,” says Tom Mechler, applications design manager, Bosch Security Services, Fairport, N.Y. “Our industry is aware of that trend and we’re looking for alternatives, either IP or cellular.”
Mechler says it is important to choose products that include IPv6 on the IP side. “The biggest challenge is swapping out the hardware,” he says. “So all Bosch IP communicators, the ones that are built into our panels, as well as the ad hoc communicators, support both IPv4 and IPv6.
“Anticipating those types of things going forward is important,” he adds. “Those sorts of things aren’t simple to add to an existing system; IPv6 really needs to be built into the core functionality of the communicator in order to be able to support it properly.”
On the cellular side, security dealers must stay aware of the trends and trajectory of the cellular networks and adapt to what is coming. Mechler describes the security industry as “a small customer of the cellular network providers.” Cellular companies have to meet the needs of their consumers, so Mechler says the only thing the security industry can do is to adapt to whatever changes may come.
One way manufacturers are preparing for changes is by creating systems that are built to be upgradable. “At Bosch we have plug-in communication modules,” he describes. “It’s a very simple technology that has the critical programming and setup inside the host panel, and the technology that’s going to change inside a pluggable module.”
When the cellular providers decide the current networks are going to become obsolete, customers can simply purchase a new module and plug it in. “And it’s a good thing we did, because as we move forward, Verizon and others are starting to talk about 4G and LTE becoming the standard in a few years. So we’re going to want to make sure it’s a simple transition from our current technology to those.”
Neil Evans, senior product manager, Tyco Security Products, part of Tyco, Westford, Mass., points out that using a hardwired IP connection can be more reliable because a company isn’t relying on a third party to maintain the network the way it would with a cellular connection. “Depending on what kind of area you’re in, [for example] a lot of more rural applications where you might have large businesses or home business, sometimes cellular connectivity can get a little bit inconsistent.”
Evans says there is sometimes a misconception that Ethernet is unreliable, but explains that once the signal gets outside the business, there is a 99.99999 percent uptime. He says it’s the point where the data comes into the business, going through the business’s own router, that proper backups must be in place.
“Once you get it outside your business to whoever your provider is, then there is so much redundancy globally that you’re never really going to have an issue in this day and age,” Evans says. “It’s getting to that outside point. That’s where, when you hear a lot of the pushback from customers about using Ethernet, it’s because they don’t necessarily understand what the backup requirements are inside the actual physical walls.”
Both cellular and IP have their own inherent advantages; the two are probably about equal in their ease of installation, albeit for different reasons. But for a system to be truly redundant and impervious to interruptions, dual technology — using both cellular and IP — is the way to go for commercial installations.
“On the commercial side you will typically see a larger presence of dual technology because of the life safety approach and the sustainability and scalability of that solution for the future,” says Alice DeBiasio, vice president and general manager, cloud services, Honeywell Security and Fire, Morris Plains, N.J.
DeBiasio says IP’s low cost and consistent service make it a good long-term solution, but adds, “Cellular is the easy install, but we need to be looking at the long-term solutions like LTE. The real kicker is when the technology shifts — and we know that it will happen — with 4G, even with LTE 10 to 15 years from now. When that technology shift occurs, you do not want to be exposed, and a dual-technology solution is the ultimate way to prevent that.”
Amy Strickland, technical support/marketing at Elk Products Inc., Hildebran, N.C., agrees: “Installers should seek out products that utilize both IP and cellular. By using a product that supports both pathways, installers can save time in learning different products and save installation steps as well. This can help installers keep installation costs down.”
Evans adds, “Generally speaking you have Ethernet primary because that’s faster and more reliable, but when and if it does go down you have that cellular connectivity as your backup. That’s probably the best approach that we’ve seen.”
DeBiasio stresses the importance of looking at products themselves to ensure security systems have future-proofing in them. “We have a number of different radios and technologies embedded in [the Honeywell Lyric family], but we’ve also created expansion slots for new technology. So yes, maybe a little more up-front cost on a device, but you know that device can adapt to any new standards or new technologies that will be rolling out because it has that built into its design. It is intended to have that capacity or future-proof design. It can adapt the next technology that is largely adopted by the industry when it does launch.”
Mechler adds, “Don’t be afraid to spend a couple more dollars now, knowing that if you want to keep that customer in four or five years, there’s going to be some sort of upgrade — and that’s the simplest path to that upgrade in the future.”
Customers might initially decline certain upgrades, but changing technology or incidents at their buildings may cause them to change their minds in the future; dealers should prepare from the onset to be able to meet those needs when they arise.
“The needs of the customers change,” says Craig Dever, vice president of sales, Inovonics, Louisville, Colo. “Understanding how to employ wireless within that commercial environment lets those integrators have some conversations with their customers, even if the customer says, ‘Well, I’m not ready to put something that monitors our back lot.’ Six months from now, when they get robbed, they are going to want to have that conversation. If you future-proof because you went wireless to begin with, and they call you up in a panic and say, ‘Hey a piece of our equipment got stolen last night’ — you’re out there that afternoon, the repeaters are already up, you put up a new piece of equipment, register it into the system, and you can move on. And not only have you sold them something, but you were there to fill that role of being there when they needed you to be there. That’s part of the deal with security integrators.”
Something integrators can do after the fact is enhance video systems by adding trip devices to cameras, establishing a photo-beam perimeter that begins recording when someone crosses the beam, Dever says. “We’ve seen a lot of people have great success, delighting their customers with nothing more than just a basic knowledge of our systems so that they could at least know enough to call up and say, ‘Hey, how would I do… fill in the blank.’ And usually you can do it.”
Ed Doherty, director of marketing for intrusion and residential solutions, Honeywell Security and Fire, adds that backwards compatibility is an important but very challenging aspect in designing a system. “You have to be very forward-looking in your hardware design to make sure that you support your install base,” he says. “The design life of a system might be 10 years, but you might have a system that’s in for 15 or 20 years.”
Dealers should also take into account the expansion capabilities of any particular system, wireless or hardwired. The system must be able to grow as the customer grows. “As new technology comes into play, as people want to start securing or start monitoring new items — you always want to make sure that the system that’s being installed can grow along with the customer,” Evans says.
While security systems typically have low data requirements, companies will benefit from having in place the ability to quickly add to their systems if they decide down the road to integrate more video. “Five years ago on a commercial alarm system, a door contact was tripped. So it was a very simple thing — is the door open or closed? — and an alarm went off with very little data involved,” Doherty describes. “So the business owner didn’t need to have a high-speed network to transmit that. But what if in the future video verification becomes part of that; they want to be able to see with a camera the door that set the alarm off. So now you’re sending video, which older networks wouldn’t be able to handle. The LTE solution allows that on cellular networks versus IP. But you’ll need to know in the future your IP network is going to be able to handle that.”
To ensure an IP network can handle high data needs in the future, Evans recommends having a portion of the network dedicated to the security system. “The last thing you’d want to do is have a top-of-the-line security system, and then because a customer was watching something or streaming video from one of the security cameras, it is not able to actually get the signal through to the central monitoring station in a timely manner,” he says. “So take a look at the overall network architecture; taking a look at dedicating a certain amount of bandwidth to security or making sure it has higher priority within the network.”
Evans says many of the newer switches and routers allow the option of setting the security system as a higher priority within the network.
In addition to providing dual technology, dealers ought to think about battery backup. For commercial operations, Evans recommends at least a 24-hour standby.
Battery backup may keep a system running through an interruption, but the system is of no use if the IP network routers, switches and servers are not backed up. “We expect the alarm system to last 24-48 hours — depending on the application, sometimes 80 hours — but if that’s communicating over the network, do you have that same type of backup for your routers and your switches and your servers?” Mechler asks. “And in a lot of cases, the answer is no. That’s where cellular becomes a great option because the alarm system is supporting the battery backup for the cellular communicator, then it goes out to the utility, rather than, ‘Did we put enough UPS in the system to support our network for long enough to support critical communications?’”
A system may be properly safeguarded against interruptions, but even more important is incorporating encryption into the system’s design.
“There’s so much hacking and so much risk of that going on that customers are starting to become much more aware of what type of encryption your technology uses and how your system will help reduce the chance of some hacker getting into their network,” Mechler says.
“Gone are the days of just looking at a product and hooking it up to a router and saying, ‘OK, that’s good enough,’” says DeBiasio. “I think you need to understand the design and the value of most of those products and ensure that the encryption layer is a big thought process that was built within the design.”
To this end, DeBiasio recommends security dealers understand the products they use. “The product and the peripheral types of devices that connect to it, the dealer must really understand what went into the design, what went into the architecture.”
Dealers can take steps to keep up with the latest trends, DeBiasio says. “Look at the industry trends. Be familiar with going online and understanding what, from just a security and cyber standpoint, other market-leading companies are doing as it relates to this so you can benchmark against it.”
One of the easiest and most important steps an installer can take is being very familiar and comfortable with the system being installed, Strickland explains. “Installers should take advantage of demo programs … to become acquainted with the system in a real-world environment, such as their office. Drawing on their knowledge of how the system works and their experience from similar installations, the installer can more easily predict and plan for system additions that the client may initially decline, but will likely request in the future.”
Including Rooftop Systems as a Best Practice
Jewelry stores are a cliché target when it comes to robbers and break-ins, but pharmacies invite a similar risk: they sell varied merchandise that is small, easily resold, and highly valued — especially when there is addiction involved. Tens of thousands of dollars of drugs, like gems, can be quickly stuffed into a small sack and carried off. Typically, losses are covered by specialized insurers that advocate for standard “certified” alarm systems to secure the premises.
But Pharmacists Mutual from Algona, Iowa — an insurer for independent pharmacies — has taken an alternative approach with monitored video-verified alarms.
A five-year study (http://bit.ly/2eoxYws) showed that police response time directly correlates to the scope of a loss, and that the cost of the claim jumps if police response takes longer than five minutes. Furthermore, when police arrived in less than five minutes, they made arrests 21 percent of the time, as opposed to an average arrest rate of 0.02 to 0.08 percent. In order to ensure faster police response, reduced claims and more arrests, Pharmacists Mutual turned to video-verified alarms to help their policy holders catch an act of intrusion before it was too late.
As pharmacies become increasingly impenetrable with special doors, windows and safes, criminals have begun to break in through the roof. With more time to break safes and collect high-value drugs, rooftop entry has led some of the most expensive losses for pharmacies.
The solution? Video. Battery-powered and wireless, MotionViewers are a simple and effective solution to securing rooftops. They also provide video information to law enforcement to identify a threat on the roof, even if there’s nothing suspicious around the building. Implementing new rooftop systems has proved a valuable best practice for Pharmacists Mutual, with plenty of potential for other commercial entities as well. — Contributed by Keith Jentoft, Integration Team, Videofied (a Honeywell Security and Fire company)
Choosing the Right Radio Platform for a Commercial Alarm Installation
When selecting a radio platform for a commercial intrusion system installation, it’s important to remember a few key technical specifications. Those specifications are: frequency, power, modulation scheme, network infrastructure and network design, and system supervision.
First, frequency designations such as 300MHz, 400MHz, 900MHz or 2.4GHz are measures of how a radio wave oscillates and at what wavelength. Higher frequencies denote shorter wavelengths, and in general, shorter wavelengths move around and through obstacles better than longer wavelengths. Physically, a 300MHz wave is about 39 inches long, and a 900MHz wave is about 13 inches. Thus a 900MHz wave can fit through smaller spaces in commercial building materials. One might conclude if 900MHz is good, 2.4GHz must be better until one factors in the incremental power that is required to transmit (push) a shorter wavelength signal and its impact on battery life — much shorter.
Second, modulation schemes help overcome other kinds of electromagnetic interference in the environment. For example, 300MHz and 400MHz systems and 2.4GHz systems use single channels to transmit data, whereas 900MHz systems use a technique called “frequency hopping” in which they send multiple messages on multiple channels across a large spectrum. The net result is that frequency-hopping systems are better able to overcome the kinds of interference typically seen in commercial facilities.
Network infrastructure usually refers to signal repeaters designed to extend the native range of transmitters and allow coverage over the longer distances found in larger facilities. Network design refers to a system’s specifications versus its intended use. It’s often tempting for end users to employ Wi-Fi infrastructure for any “wireless” application in their facility. However, Wi-Fi is a shared resource that requires constant maintenance, which can be problematic for “always on” systems such as intrusion systems. A dedicated network, such as what you find with 300MHz, 400MHz, or 900MHz systems is the best choice for these applications.
With regard to system supervision, a wireless receiver monitors the devices that are registered to it — it can hear transmissions such as tamper, low battery, missing device, and check-in. Compare that with a wired installation, where it would be difficult to determine if a device is off-line and for what reason without physically interacting with the device and possibly tracing the wire back to the head-end to determine if it’s an end-point or wiring problem — maybe a rat chewed through the cable or it’s pinched behind the drywall. Supervised wireless systems eliminate that guesswork and ensure network functionality on an ongoing basis. — Contributed by Craig Dever, vice president of sales, Inovonics
Increase RMR With Control Panel Technology
The latest intrusion panels offer features for greater convenience, enhanced security, remote access, and more. They enable dealers to offer incremental services to customers for generating RMR. Examples of these services include:
• Monitoring Doors While Disarmed — Some systems allow dealers to offer a service to monitor disarmed points and alert the user to abnormal conditions, ensuring emergency doors aren’t propped open, and safes or cash room doors aren’t left open. The system can annunciate locally or send the user a text with alerts.
• Combination Systems — Systems that integrate intrusion, fire and access can provide significant value and convenience. The system can automatically disarm when an access door is opened, or lock the doors when the system is armed. If a fire alarm occurs, the doors can be unlocked to allow quick first responder access.
• Personal Notification — For instant notification of panel events, emails or texts can be sent to the user with information on the point, area and user-specific details. Users can monitor events remotely in addition to the central station.
• Video Verification — With IP camera integration, dealers can offer video verification, sending video snapshots of events such as alarms, access granted, and arm and disarm. Cameras can become part of the alarm system, can be used as motion detectors, and can even be monitored to prevent tampering and ensure proper operation.
• Remote Control — Smartphone apps provide flexibility and convenience for the user through remote arming and disarming of the system and control of connected outputs.
These features deliver enhanced security and greater convenience, and expand beyond security to help users better manage their businesses. This creates greater value — a key driver in generating new RMR. — Contributed by Tom Mechler, applications design manager for intrusion systems, Bosch Security Systems
For more on commercial alarms visit SDM’s website, where you’ll find the following articles:
“2016 State of the Market: Alarm Systems”
“Cellular Alarm Communications Goes Mainstream”
“Modern Intrusion Protection Offerings”
“A Dozen Tips for Tighter Perimeter Security”
“The ‘Brave New World’ of Cybersecurity
(And the Security Integrator’s Role in It.)”