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WHEN THINGS GO BEEP IN THE NIGHT.

HERE'S HOW TO SAFEGUARD YOUR MOST IMPORTANT INVESTMENT--YOUR HOME

WHEN MONIQUE JONES MOVED INTO HER HOUSE IN VIEW PARK, CALIFORNIA, HER PRIMARY concern was safety, so she immediately had a security system professionally installed. "I figured putting up a lawn sign [indicating that the home was protected] would dissuade intruders," says the CFO of Beverly Hills, California-based Total Film Group. She's right. Studies show that decals and lawn signs do act as a deterrent, but burglars aren't fooled by these trappings alone. It takes a home security system, among other precautions, to really safeguard your home.

Although crime in America is reportedly down, a burglary is still committed every 10 seconds, with an average loss of $1,300. Home owners are installing security systems in record numbers, up nearly 40% last year, according to alarm manufacturer SecurityLink. This safeguard provides home owners with added protection as well as peace of mind.

But does every home need a security system? "It depends," says security expert Chris E. McGoey, author of Security: Adequate or Not: The Complete Guide to Premises Liability Litigation (Aegis Books, $29.95) and founder-Webmaster of the San Francisco-based security consulting Crime Doctor Website (www.crimedoctor.com). "If you have a lot of possessions to protect and are away from home during the day or on business trips, then a security system is a good idea." Home owners in high-crime areas shouldn't be the only ones to consider security systems. Suburban dwellers, especially those who live in houses set apart on a cul-de-sac or close to a wooded area through which a thief may escape easily, should also have security concerns. Consumer Reports found that 30% of houses with alarms were broken into, while 52% of homes without systems were burglarized, so having an alarm system matters.

The choices are simple. You can go with an electronic system, or merely a good set of locks and other commonsense precautions. Here are your options.

WIRED OR WIRELESS

Electronic alarm systems are considered the best burglary deterrent, according to a Consumer Reports survey. With electronic systems, home owners can go one of two ways--a wired system or a wireless system, explains McGoey.

A basic wired system includes alarms on outside doors and windows, motion sensors in key areas, an alarm and/or bright lights and a connection to a central station. Security companies also supply home owners with a lawn sign and window decals. The system can be connected to cable TV instead of phone wires, which often get cut by intruders. "I had a sliding door wired and a glass-break alarm in one room where the windows weren't suitable for wiring," explains Jones, who Chose the level above the basic installation.

With a wired system, you can choose to do it yourself or hire a professional security systems company for installation. Do-it-yourself systems are usually the cheapest way to go, costing less than $200, but it's important to install the system correctly or you could be charged for false alarms, and these fees can eat up your initial savings. Police departments typically charge $50 and up for each false alarm. Generally, home owners are allowed two false alarms before fines kick in. As many as 90% of the alarms set off by home security systems mm out to be false. "Systems that have not been properly installed or do not fit the home owner's lifestyle are the ones that tend to cause false alarms," says McGoey. "The best way to prevent this is to have the system professionally installed."

Professionally installed systems can be pricey, running from $800 to $2,000 or more, depending upon the level of security. On average, installation costs $1,300, although location is another variable that affects price. In some cities, ADT Security, for example, charges as little as $99 for installation, but the installation only includes basic protection (a motion detector, two door contacts, indoor keypad and siren, backup battery, yard sign and window decal).

If you go wireless, the alarm is battery operated. You can find these self-install units at electronic or home stores for a few hundred dollars. They consist of a control box housing a siren and several perimeter sensors that are attached to doors and windows.

Once your system is in place, it's time to decide whether you want it to be monitored or not.

WATCH OUT FOR THE "M" WORD

Monitored systems connect to a service that will try to reach you by phone when an alarm is set off. If you cannot be reached, the police or the company's own security force will respond. Even do-it-yourself systems can be monitored, but many of the major companies won't offer monitoring services unless they've installed the unit. If you have your system professionally installed, the monthly monitoring fee usually hovers in the $20 range. For a non-professionally installed system, the monitoring could be as much as $38 per month. Contracts commonly run for three years and may have an automatic renewal clause. While monitoring is recommended, keep in mind that "it doesn't guarantee the police will respond, especially if you're prone to false alarms," says McGoey.

Although there are thousands of small, independent security companies, the major ones include Protection One, SecurityLink WesTec, Brinks and ADT. The central monitoring systems of these companies have been certified as state of the art by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), a not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization, notes Gwendolyn McNutt, spokesperson for UL. This means "the stations have backup power, alternate alarm systems, computer systems and trained operators," explains McNutt. In your search you'll find that not every alarm company has a UL-certified monitoring system, which means the system may fall short during a break-in. But no system is completely burglarproof.

An unmonitored system will merely sound an alarm when one of the sensors is disturbed. In this case, you have to rely on a neighbor to call the police or hope that the alarm scares away the burglar.

But don't think your choice of a monitored or unmonitored system is the last of your security decisions. Nowadays security doesn't just mean alarms. Safety providers have other offerings.

Burglars spend about 30 to 45 minutes choosing their target

MORE PARTNERS AGAINST CRIME

"You can get all sorts of extras, from additional motion sensors to gadgets that turn on your crockpot at a certain time," says McGoey. Escorts and vacation maintenance (collecting the mail and newspaper) are two options security firms may provide customers. These additional services typically cost an extra dollar per month as part of your monitoring package. You can also consider the new high-tech motion sensors. "They're not only infrared but ultrasonic, meaning there needs to be a change in temperature and movement to [trigger the] alarm. Other alarms are triggered if just one of these is detected. You can have an alarm go off if, say, a leaf falls off a plant. These new motion detectors will result in fewer false alarms," adds McGoey. Also, some companies randomly patrol neighborhoods where they have a large number of clients and may offer this service for free.

There are also security systems that do more than safeguard your home from burglars. They protect you from other turmoil. New systems on the market can monitor smoke, carbon monoxide and moisture detectors (devices that alert home owners of basement flooding). And if you're the parent of latchkey kids, there are even security systems that Mil alert you when your children aren't home on time. The Honeywell PC Managed Home Security plus TotalHome Control is one such system. It connects to your PC and allows you to establish and change the schedules and patterns of your alarm system's control unit as well as monitor when your children arrive home. Here's how it works: the child is given a special code to enter when arriving home from school. If the code isn't input by a certain time, the security company contacts the parent.

THE FINAL SELECTION

For Jones, who found that the three companies she met with offered similar services and prices, it was the company representative who sealed the deal for Brinks Home Security. "He explained everything thoroughly and was the most professional, something I want from a security company," she says.

With so many things to consider, it's best to research all options before selecting an electronic alarm system. First, find out if you qualify for a home owners' insurance discount. According to National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), insurance companies offer up to 30% off. Your insurance agent can tell you what type of system entitles you to the highest discount. Then examine your home to determine which areas you want to protect and how much protection you'll need, advises McGoey. Next, shop around, says NBFAA spokesperson Kara Rupard. In addition to getting referrals from friends, family and neighbors, she advises you to obtain at least three bids from security companies. When getting bids, have the selected companies do a walk-through of your home and then get any recommendations and quotes in writing. Also, ask them to compare the perks of leasing versus buying a system. Leasing may be best if you're renting. Use a checklist to compare different packages and prices. And thoroughly examine the contracts to ensure you know exactly what protection each includes.

Once you've narrowed down your selection, see if the security company is a member of a trade association such as NBFAA. Members of this organization must maintain a standard of ethics and are monitored by the association. You can find a listing of NBFAA members on the organization's Website (www.alarm.org). Also ask if the company's employees are trained and/or certified by a trade organization and if the company conducts preemployment screening, since you don't want unscreened employees inspecting and installing a security system in your home.

As a next step, check the company's background. Find out if the company has appropriate state and/or local licenses. Also determine whether any consumer complaints have been filed against the company with the local police department's Crime Prevention Department, state licensing agency, Consumer Protection Agency (www.consumeraid.org) or Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org, 703-276-0100).

Once the system is installed, make sure everyone in the household knows how it works. Most false alarms are caused by user error.

Lastly, consider the option of a trusty guard dog--preferably, one with a bite as big as its bark.

For a free copy of the NBFAA's brochure, Safe & Sound: Your Guide to Home Security, and a list of NBFAA member companies in your area, call 301-907-3202 or log on to www.alarm.org.

RELATED ARTICLE: MORE WAYS TO SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME

* Get a good lock. Deadbolts, which range in price from $20 to $220, are considered the most reliable. Each of the exterior doors on your home should have one. A Consumer Reports test of various locks on the market found the Medeco 11-0100. which costs about $.115. is the best high-security lock. Although it isn't tamper-proof, Kiwkset Titan 780, a single-cylinder lock. also fared well. Make sure you strengthen the lock's strike plate, which is the most vulnerable piece. Instead of installing this part with half-inch screws, use three-inch screws. You can also buy a heavy-duty strike plate or door reinforcer.

* Secure your door. Get a solid wood door or one made of foam core with steel reinforcement. "All doors leading to the outside should have peep holes," says security expert Chris E. McGoey. Secure your sliding doors by placing a wooden or steel pole on the inside track. You can also get a Patio Security Bar by Master Lock for about $27. And don't forget to keep your garage door securely locked, especially if you have an attached garage. Lock your front gate as well.

* Install motion-activated lights at entrances and other detectors inside the house. In addition to good locks and solid doors, position floodlights at the corners of the house. Inside of your home, use timers to turn on lights and/or the radio or TV when you're not at home. And arrange furniture so that your valuables are out of view from windows. Also, consider installing a glass-break detector which picks up either the sound of breaking glass or the shock wave it creates and should detect an intruder. Ademco Sensor Co. (800-467-5875: www.ademco.com) offers one for $125.

* Safeguard your windows. According to NBFAA. 22% of thieves let themselves in through the first-floor window. Keep trees and shrubs near doors and windows trimmed. Most window locks can easily be pried opened with a crowbar or knife, so secure them by pinning the upper and lower sashes together. Drill a hole through the sashes where they overlap, and insert a strong nail or eye bolt from the inside. To safeguard your windows while they are ajar. drill a second set of holes when the window is open (not very wide) and insert a nail or eyebolt.

* Know the residents of your community. "Become friends with the neighbors on either side of you and the three directly across from you and the one directly behind you," advises McGoey. Also, participate in your neighborhood watch program. In addition, don't tell strangers your vacation plans and have mail and paper deliveries stopped so observers don't notice your absence.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:BROWN, ANN
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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