Tehnology provides enhancement to home security systems
By Bob Karlovits
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013, 7:24 p.m.
Home security has moved far beyond the days when an alarm was the main protection against a burglar.
Now, home automation systems record when a person comes home. Cameras watch deliveries — and whether a unauthorized person picks them up. They turn on lights and adjust thermostats.
It is more than convenience.
“Security is what we're all about,” says Pamela J. Petrow, president and CEO of Vector Security, headquartered in Warrendale.
Much of it has to do with a blend of the alarms that sound when a door or window is violated and the automation that flicks on lights as a homeowner enters. But the technology all seems rooted in protection.
“When you get right down to it, people are concerned about their stuff,” says Joyce English of American Alarm Systems in Millvale.
Concern about everyday security seemed to heighten after the Boston Marathon bombings in April, but representatives of these businesses say interest in the systems has been steadily growing for a while.
“I saw more of a jump after stock market problems in 2007,” English says. “Them that's got want to keep it.”
Joseph Lininger, senior vice president of marketing for Guardian Protection Services, also in Warrendale, says home security “has been trending greatly” in the past five years or so.
The combination of simple security devices and those that register and initiate household events is a large part of that popularity, Petrow says.
“If you sell 50 alarm systems today, 40 to 45 of them will have motion sensors and the like,” she says. “Three years ago, maybe 20 did.”
Brice Beaver, president of Security Systems of America in Forest Hills, can see the change everywhere.
“You can't go anywhere across town without being on a camera,” he says.
As big or small as it needs to be
Home security systems are as big and sophisticated as a homeowner wants to make them.
Petrow, for instance, says Vector installs systems ranging from $199 to $33,000.
Similarly, Lininger says Guardian often offers a special that installs a $199 system that covers 11 door and window openings.
Beaver says some companies offer the installation of free equipment in exchange for a service contract of three to five years. For that reason, it is possible to spend nothing on equipment or to spend $5,000. It also is possible to spend $15 a month for a monitoring system or to spend $50.
But, English warns, nothing is really free. Equipment that does not cost anything can create a big bill in service contracts, she says.
She says the more dramatic equipment often stirs interest but generates few sales.
“Everybody gets attracted (by) the advanced technology,” English says. “But that often just amounts to a call and some questions.”
B.J. McNeil of Protection Plus in Munhall says the monitoring function is the most important one. Because there are “so many sounds out there” such as car alarms, many people ignore them, meaning an alarm might not create any kind of response.
But a notice to a monitoring company can generate a call to the police or fire department, he says.
For that reason, inquiring about the monitoring system is an important part of choosing a system. Most smaller companies, he says, subscribe to a service that provides monitoring for several companies.
The monitoring service his company uses recently moved to the Munhall area, making it almost a local service, he says.
Bigger companies provide their own monitoring.
Anita Ostrowski, vice president of Vector's central station in Warrendale, says the company has eight to 12 employees on duty almost all of the time, and sometimes a few more. Lininger says Guardian tends to have about 20 on staff.
Thomas Helisek, Vector's vice president of information services, says the task of watching all the “events” that are recorded for the company's 230,000 clients often includes many innocent ones. A usually locked door in a home that is recorded opened at 2 p.m. is a great deal different than one opened at a large home improvement store at 2 a.m.
There are plenty of such events, Helisek says. The firm's 260,000 clients produce 220,000 such signals a day, he says.
Before police are notified, a staff member often will call the client to make sure everything is all right, Helisek says.
Camera surveillance also can be used for that milder form of security, the professionals say.
Art Miller, vice president of marketing at Vector, says the use of video probably is less geared to catching an image of a house-rampaging felon than it is at setting up a “camera fence” to provide an idea of what is happening.
The “fence” establishes a border around the property in which action — even relatively innocent activity — can be observed. You can tell when visitors are pulling up, when packages are being delivered or whether expected contractors are on the job or knocking off early.
Miller says one of the biggest advantages is that they allow clients to see if children or spouses have made it home safely.
“It's as much lifestyle as it is security,” Miller says.
McNeil agrees cameras do more to provide a sense of security than acting as the device that will prevent a crime or chase away the burglar.
“Bright lights and loud alarms are going to do that,” he says.
Quality is another important issue in household cameras, the security representatives agree. Petrow says it is possible to get an efficient camera for $149 but it could cost up to $3,000 to find one that produces “CSI technology” that can create identifiable images of faces.
They don't always lead to an arrest, either
“I found out who was eating all my plants,” English says. Unfortunashe couldn't take much action against the deer, she says, “because they all look alike.”
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.
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