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These days you can’t rely on the police instantly responding to every burglar alarm but they might come a bit quicker if your alarm system is being remotely monitored



How many times have you been woken by a nearby house alarm, cursed a few times and gone back to sleep? Statistically there’s a better than 95% chance that it was a false alarm and you, like almost everyone else in the neighbourhood ignore it and hope it cuts out, but what if there’s a real break-in?


In an ideal world the sound of the alarm will irritate or disturb a burglar enough for them to leave – it often does, they don’t like sudden loud noises or anything that draws attention to their activities – but nowadays the chances of most house alarms summoning squad cars full of the boys in blue to the scene are practically zero.


It wasn’t always like that but in October 2001, in a determined effort to reduce the amount of time wasted by police responding to false alarms, the Association of Chief Police Officers issued an edict called ACPO Policy 2000 to police forces around the country. The long and short of it is that domestic burglar alarms no longer receive an immediate or ‘Level 1’ response from the police.


They might pop around when they get a spare moment, particularly if they get third party verification that there’s someone actually on the premises and a chance of catching them in the act but this must be in the form of a reliable eye-witness report, evidence from a CCTV camera or microphone or what’s known as a ‘sequential’ or confirmed alarm activation. That basically means that the alarm system has to be an approved type and the intruder must have triggered several sensors, indicating that they are still there and moving around. 


The point is that it’s all very well having a state of the art alarm system protecting your home when you are out, but unless it is monitored, 24 hours a day, its effectiveness in alerting you or the authorities is somewhat limited.


Around the clock monitoring is not something that’s usually associated with house alarms but it can take many forms, and doesn’t necessarily involve a human presence, at least not directly.


Remotely monitored home alarm systems are nothing new and automatic or ‘silent’ alarms that dial up the local cop-shop and play a voice recording on a gramophone first appeared in the 1930’s. The current generation of monitored alarm systems are a little more sophisticated but basic principle is the same.


In a monitored system the household alarm unit or ‘panel’ is connected to a range of sensors that can include door and window switches, pressure mats, infra-red detectors, smoke sensors, panic buttons and so on, any of which, if triggered, sends an alert message by phone to a central monitoring station. An operator then calls a contact number – the householder’s mobile or a nominated ‘keyholder’, for example -- to check if it is a false alarm. If the alarm turns out to be genuine then the monitoring station calls the police or a local security patrol who will investigate.


Depending on the type of alarm and service various additional features may be available. They include audio verification -- microphones that pick up noises or voices – and video cameras sending still or live pictures from the premises. On most systems the telephone connection and alarm panel are frequently or constantly checked and an alert will be triggered if the line is cut or interfered with. To avoid a total loss of contact some systems have a dual-line or wireless (cell phone) backup.


Not surprisingly monitored alarms are significantly more expensive than simple stand-alone systems. Part of the reason is the more sophisticated hardware involved but a significant proportion of the cost is due to the fact that for it to be approved by the police, and to qualify for rapid response, it has to be installed by qualified engineers, regularly serviced and maintained. There are also monthly or quarterly monitoring fees to take into account and whilst systems and services are coming down in price, many householders are put off by the initial outlay and running costs. 


While DIY alarm systems and those fitted by non-approved installers do not have the same status as fully-fledged monitored systems there are a number of alternatives worth investigating.


Deterrence is always the best first line of defence and CCTV cameras are a highly visible sign that premises are being watched. It works well in public places, commercial and industrial environments where there’s likely to be 24-hour on-site or remote monitoring but they can be less convincing on the average suburban semi. Most career burglars know that the chances of someone actually being home and sitting in front of a screen watching them are relatively small, but one simple solution is to continuously record the camera output so at least there will be a permanent record of whatever took place.


Video surveillance recorders, whether they use tape or more up to date digital disc recording systems, operate in time-lapse mode so they can operate unattended for days or even weeks on end. When an alarm sensor is triggered they switch to real-time mode so that more useful detail and information is captured. Motion detection cameras and recording devices make installation even easier. These respond to movement or changes within the camera’s field of view. Most can be programmed to ignore movement in specified parts of the screen area, small animals, leaves blowing across the scene area or flashes from car headlights.


The next major advance looks like being remote alarm and access using cell phone technology and the Internet. A range of security products are coming on to the market that can send alarm alerts in the form of text messages and still pictures to mobile phones and live video and audio to Internet connected PCs, either directly or to monitoring centres. DIY systems are in the pipeline but the police, in possible anticipation of such developments have already stated that they will not automatically provide a Level 1 response to a monitored alarm if they receive more than two false alarms in a 12-month period. The bottom line is if you want a guaranteed response from the local constabulary the next time your home is broken into it looks as though you’re going to have to pay for it, for the time being at least.















Ó R. Maybury 2003, 1404




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