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Policing the alarm industry: who's responsible?

IN A RECENT ASSESSMENT of failed security alarm systems I discovered some startling and discouraging information. In most cases involving failed systems the end users of the alarm systems were the big losers; in one instance the alarm company itself was affected.

In two cases the failure occurred in the transmission of the alarms from the protected property to the alarm monitoring company; one case involved detection devices in the proprietary alarm system that simply didn't work; another system had faulty wiring; and in another case the alarm monitoring company received the alarm and did not respond. Whenever a security alarm system fails, no one is a winner.

The problem has reached the point where the users of security alarm equipment are starting to ask questions such as, Why am I spending all this money for a security alarm system that may not work? Why does my alarm company make me sign a long and confusing statement that effectively absolves it of responsibility? Why are lawyers hovering around? Why are insurance companies not insisting that their requirements be met? And why aren't tests made in accordance with the various codes? These questions involve a number of issues, including economics, competitive practices, and sales policies, but the big loser is the end user, and the security alarm industry is going to be an even bigger loser unless it steps in and starts policing itself.

If we in the industry fail to police ourselves, the government may decide to do it for us. A number of organizations are in a position to promote the need for self-regulation, including local and state burglar alarm associations, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), risk management insurance companies, and ASIS. Unfortunately, each of these organizations tends to look out only for its own little segment of the problem.

Here are a few of the conflicts:

* The manufacturers of products are looking out only for product problems.

* There is intense, competitive pressure between installing companies-often the installing company is not the monitoring company or the operators at the monitoring company are not adequately trained.

* The wiring is thrown in, not properly supported, or not in accordance with local codes or the proper UL codes.

* The insurance agents do not require the insured to install the carrier's specified system because either the price of the alarm system goes up or the price of the insurance policy goes up.

The list of potential problems goes on.

These problems can affect the largest public company or the smallest one-person operation, and they are not always easy to solve. The training of installers, application engineers, and sales engineers is perhaps part of the problem but is by no means the complete problem. And who is responsible for training: the manufacturer or the installer?

Does the industry need or want more regulation? I hope not, but the consumer, whether a corporation or an individual certainly needs some help. Consumers need to be educated about alarm equipment, how it works, and what options are available.

When alarm systems are properly installed, monitored, and tested, they do an excellent job and provide the property owner with good protection. With large sums of money being paid out in insurance claims and legal fees, I think risk managers should enact more aggressive inspection and testing programs. Such practices could save them money because a properly designed and installed system, monitored regularly, would eliminate a large number of false alarms and failed systems.

Perhaps we in the burglar alarm industry should take a lesson from what happened in the commercial fire alarm business several years ago. Every manufacturer was racing to invent and manufacture the fastest smoke detection device, and installers were throwing them in everywhere. The result: false alarms. The industry got a deserved black eye, but through the joint efforts of responsible manufacturers, installers, fire departments, and others, strategies were developed to overcome the false-alarm problems caused by nonadherence to codes and standards, engineering product problems, and poor installation practices. Now there is an active training program for installers, codes have been refocused, and monthly testing programs have been established in many cities. Those steps have helped establish the credibility of properly engineered and balanced fire alarm systems.

Why shouldn't we in the burglar alarm industry have more demanding, self-established standards that we can educate the public about and require installers to follow? If we had such standards, there would not be as many failed alarm systems and the public would look more favorably on our trade. Someone or some group needs to step forward and take a leadership role.

About the Author ... William L. Bliss, CPP, is president of W. L. Bliss Associates Inc. in Dedham, MA. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Bliss, William L.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Getting a Job, Getting Ahead, and Staying Ahead in Security Management.
Next Article:Personnel professionalization.

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