Industry survey: Causes for alarm

Alarm featureAlarm management is now a sophisticated market sector, with alarms-over-IP, systems integration and ‘green’ operational savings all available. SecurityNewsDesk summarises the potential gains on offer…

As ‘over-the-air’ battery charging becomes a feasible proposition for distributed powering of security equipment, and in an era when systems interoperability is already a welcome reality, it’s instructive to recall a time when alarm management was an altogether thornier issue.

Back in 1995, ACPO had tired of 92 per cent false alarms and duly warned the industry at IFSEC that year that it must get its house in order. Providing an effective ten-month notice period before the radical 1996 intruder alarm policy took effect, then committee chairman Richard Childs declared that, with up to a quarter of all emergency calls made to the police being erroneous, “the party has to end one way or another”.

Eighteen years on, ACPO’s Security Systems Group introduced the Association’s latest ‘Police response to security systems’ policy on 1st January 2013 and Ken Meanwell, the Group’s Staff Officer, points out that a new initiative this year is the allocation of URNs to existing systems with no previous police response. Details on the criteria for this can be found in a new standards matrix that’s been introduced to make it easier for installers to know what standards are required when applying for URNs for intruder and hold-up alarms – the matrix can be found in annexe ‘C’ of appendix ‘F’ within the policy (find links to this and other resources at the SecurityNewsDesk website:

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the country’s eight police forces merged to form the Police Service of Scotland (PSoS) on 1st April. Its new policy on police response to security systems is currently under review. Dave Profit, operations manager at certification body SSAIB, notes that the new PSoS policy has been produced with aims including a resolution of the confusion that previously faced installers in the border regions of both Scotland and England. This arose because ACPO forces would not issue URNs to accredited installers (complying with the ACPOS policy), even though ACPOS would accept ACPO-conformant companies.

“The ACPO policy was stronger than its ACPOS counterpart, but the new PSoS version means there is now virtual parity between the two,” Profit comments.

“Differences do still remain, however. For example, single path signalling is permissible in Scotland, because of the geographic communication problems with radio/mobile paths, whereas ACPO requires dual-path signalling. The latest ACPO policy also withdraws Level 1 (immediate/urgent/priority) response following two false calls in a rolling 12-month period, whereas the PSoS policy will still permit three false activations in a rolling 12 months for 12 months after implementation before a warning is issued, and a further two before police response is withdrawn. However, things will get tougher in Scotland in the second year after introduction of the new policy, when two false activations will incur a warning and then only one further one will incur response withdrawal.”


Meanwhile, the scope for achieving other alarm management benefits through equipment interfaces is tangible. Adrian Mealing, head of industry affairs at Texecom and Chairman of the BSIA’s Security Equipment Manufacturers’ Section, believes that integration between intruder systems, access control and CCTV equipment provides a range of operational benefits to end users/specifiers and consequent advantages to the security installers and system integrators serving them.

Texecom actively collaborates, for example, with access control specialist Paxton on systems such as Paxton’s Net2. Users can nominate those who have permission to set and unset the intruder alarm; when they present their token to the door the alarm will unset prior to the door unlocking. If the alarm is set, only these nominated people will be able to access the building and Paxton states that this feature is both easy to use and helps prevent false alarms.

Texecom equipment also partners with TDSi’s EXgarde access management PC software, integrating with it over TCP/IP networks. The result, says Mealing, is the ability for end users to monitor both access control and alarm activations around a site, or indeed multiple locations, as well as manage all system users – all from one place.  Alarm conditions are prioritised for optimal operator response time, while fire doors can also be automatically unlocked in the event of an alarm. In addition, CCTV surveillance can be interfaced with these systems, using IP camera connectivity to start recordings triggered by alarm activations, on a zone-by-zone basis. This helps in the intruder alarm verification/confirmation process and offers an opportunity to provide evidential-quality footage to assist potential prosecutions. Mealing adds that system operating advantages include greater convenience for end users, who can find footage quickly and easily. Lower total cost of ownership is a further benefit as a result of IP network usage.

Mary Campbell, alarm receiving centre manager with Securi-Guard Monitoring, which offers 24/7 monitoring of alarm systems, CCTV and access control, highlighted the cost-saving benefits that integrated systems can offer to companies as a key area that is often overlooked.

“Integrated Systems can be a positive influence on administration and operational running costs,” she said. “Having remote monitoring of fire, intruder, CCTV and audio systems all monitored by an alarm receiving centre (ARC) allows an ARC operator to detect any problematic conditions from the monitored system and means they are able to alert a responsible person in good time.

“This may significantly decrease any operational down time and enable a maintenance engineer to carry out a timely fix. Not only would the above enhance the security of the premises, but also provide invaluable peace of mind.”

Campbell added that an incorporation of CCTV into the systems can make a vital difference when it comes to verifying intruders and gathering footage to results in successful prosecutions.

“Linking of CCTV cameras and intruder alarms can be of enormous help in verifying an intrusion type event, providing the intruder device detector is co-ordinated with the relevant CCTV camera so as to eliminate precious time by an ARC operator viewing wrong cameras before getting to the relevant camera, which has footage of an event,” Campbell stated.

She added: “I feel one of the main developments transforming alarm management today is the visual verification of alarm events and importantly sending the images via an IP Network is becoming more and more cost effective.”

Wearing his BSIA hat, Adrian Mealing points out that Section committees are actively liaising with each other to help overcome the relative dearth of EN/British Standards’ coverage in terms of interoperability and inspection aspects. Those involved in this process have existing BSI/Cenelec involvement and the practical importance of these integration topics is clear: for instance, a door contact may serve two purposes – for access control use, and as an intruder alarm element (eg for entry/exit procedures, a fire door, or a guard tour device). Importantly, removing this door contact could therefore affect the building’s intruder system grading.

Meanwhile, Mealing believes the introduction of technical developments including low energy switch mode powered intruder equipment and wireless alarms offer significant gains for end user customers: “Energy savings of up to 60 per cent, compared with traditional linear energy systems using transformers, all add up, especially at larger and multiple sites. Wireless alarm systems do involve a higher capital cost but are quicker to install. A centrally powered site might take three to four days to wire up, compared with one day for a wireless alternative using ‘localised’ battery power for equipment. Battery technology advances mean a running life of three to five years and there are some exciting opportunities from over-the-air wireless charging coming through, too.”


Direct-polled, Alarm-over-IP (AoIP) technology gives users significant cost and control advantages over the old style fixed-line solutions which they are steadily replacing. “Most of the world is using the direct polled method, the UK being the main exception with four players offering managed systems, including RedCare,” says Ian Tradinnick, CEO of Chiron Security Communications. His company claims to be the AoIP market leader, with over 130,000 of its IRIS systems already installed and operating in 36 countries and over 250 monitoring centres using it.

The benefits for users are significant, Ian Treddinick argues. Firstly, there’s the question of cost. Chiron’s IRIS system has only one charge – for the equipment – and it is independent of mobile operators and SIM cards:  “Our cost structure is totally transparent. There are no on-going monthly charges, except those from the monitoring centre. Once all the benefits and features are taken into account, and all cost savings gained as a result, IRIS has the lowest life-cycle cost.”

But it’s not always easy to make accurate price comparisons because charges are often hidden or spread over many months, he warns. “Price is the main advantage claimed by managed systems vendors. They usually try and claim that the hardware is cheaper, but this is not always the fact. As the fees are expressed as a small amount per month, the cost sometimes looks attractive. However, beware the hidden requirement of a long contract.”

Even bigger cost savings are said to be delivered by the way direct polled AoIP cuts down on work and wasted hours when it comes to system maintenance, Tredinnick adds. “With IRIS, full performance diagnostics allows the installer or system manager to identify what is happening on site prior to sending out an engineer.  The system will tell you if there is a line fault for the local Telco to sort out before the alarm engineer drives 200 miles and wastes his time.”

Another example of this remote efficiency is reflashing, a simple, but very important facility.  “If there is something wrong with the dialler or a new feature is launched, re-flashing can be used to update the system so, again, there is no need to send an engineer. These are powerful features that save money in the long run.”

Equally importantly, IRIS reportedly enables useful enhanced services, including alert-forwarding (to police, fire, engineers etc), audio verification, visual verification and telemetry (such as metering, freezer control, door-opening etc).

“All of the above factors should be considered as these will save money or offer revenue opportunities,” Ian Tredinnick concludes. “Either way, it’s clear that a feature-rich system is a more attractive choice for alarm management.”


Dycon, which manufactures a range of security and fire related products including EN-compliant and energy efficient switched-mode power supplies for major installers and integrators, claims running costs can be significantly cut when installing or replacing older, conventional linear power supplies so helping customers to reduce their costs. “Switched mode power supplies offer smaller, neater, cooler solutions which are less expensive to run and maintain compared with alternatives on the market,” notes managing director Tony Allen.

“Efficiency ratings of 80 per cent-plus represent less than half the power consumption of linear power, helping customers reduce their carbon footprint. Because our switched mode power supplies also generate less wasteful heat, they offer a longer lifespan, too.”

Dycon recently took its expanding product line-up further afield to the Middle East, exhibiting equipment for the first time at Intersec in Dubai. The company also showcased its latest MesCom system at Intersec and IFSEC in May. This short-message communicator is said to provide a cost effective, easy-to-install solution for signalling alarm and other system conditions, whether digital or analogue. SMS text messages can be sent via GSM networks to a maximum of four mobile phones.


Moving on to interoperability between intrusion and other building/site security systems, Wilkinson points out that the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission – the organisation that publishes international standards) has drawn up an ad hoc group analysing this subject. The BSIA also has a group examining integration issues and an open protocol, CP249, has already been developed to help promote this within the intruder sector. Published two years ago, this ‘interconnection protocol’ was prepared by the BSIA’s Security Equipment Manufacturers Section, through its Technical Committee TC/1. The intention was to make an open protocol available, permitting manufacturers to develop intruder and hold-up alarm systems with inter-connectibility through a 4-wire bus to simplify installation. Whilst it was developed in the UK, it is intended that the protocol will ultimately be made available to the industry internationally.

“The document was originally drafted to create an open interface that would allow control and indicating equipment and remote peripherals – including detectors, warning devices, power supplies and output devices such as smoke detectors – to be easily connected together to share data reliably and efficiently. The protocol specifies the requirements and performance criteria and is capable of providing signalling and interconnection that meets the appropriate requirements of EN50131-1 grades 1-4,” Wilkinson comments.

“The aim is to provide the ability to interrogate detection devices of whatever make and offer greater levels of alarm management data too. Systems could also become more operationally intelligent; for example, a control panel could tell detectors to switch off/power down to reduce energy consumption in an unset state. Remote diagnostics could also be used to alert an alarm company/user automatically when a detector is reaching its alarm threshold through factors such as environmental interference developing on-site – helping to reduce false alarms.”

CP249’s creation preceded the activities of what’s called the Harmony Integrated Security Alliance, an initiative launched last autumn by a group of electronic security manufacturers. Advanced LED Technology, Elmdene International, GJD, TDSi and Texecom aim to jointly offer integrated ‘best of breed’ technology with a wide solutions base.

Meanwhile, in conclusion, Wilkinson adds that TS50398, covering combined and integrated systems, is essentially a Europe-wide set of rules on how to interface different system types so that, for example, elements of a system (such as intruder, CCTV and access control equipment) aren’t compromised.

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