Your Safest Bet

The old wooden boards that read “Beware of Dog” have matured into biometric access control systems. CCTVs, motion detectors, magnetic sensors… there’s no end to the gadgets you could employ to keep your home safe. But how do you know which system is the one for you?


Photograph: courtesy Zicom

The market is rife with manufacturers and applicators who import the best security products from around the world. Look for a firm with a proven ‘after sales service’, as you will need plenty of support when you first install a security system. Talk to old customers if possible. Though you will find diverse experiences coming from various families using the same product, experience shows that families with ageing parents or live-in servants are probably most uncomfortable with electronic gadgets. Learn how to use the system properly or false alarms will soon wear you down.

Electronic security systems are more about a service than a product. It is beneficial to engage a firm, which has a tie-up with a private security service firm. A few reputed vendors offer a 24-hour security backup in response to an alarm. We recommend installing a system that automatically alerts the private security firm of a break-in or the fire brigade of a possible mishap. Intelligent systems could even inform your doctor in case of a medical emergency. The alerted firm calls back on your private number to verify the need, as false alarms are common and inevitable. Yet in the event of a calamity, this process could save precious time and lives.

Photograph: courtesy Bosch

Wired or wireless?
Wired surveillance systems use wires installed inside walls, attics, crawl spaces and underground to connect sensors to a central controller. Surveillance cameras or microphones are also wired to speakers, video switchers and video display monitors. A hard-wired system design normally uses power from the home power wiring as the primary source. A rechargeable battery pack is used by the controller for backup during power outages. The main components of a hard-wired system are similar to a wireless system but without the radio receiver and transmitter. They include a central control panel, sensors, one or more keypads, motion detectors, smoke and fire sensors, cameras, camera switchers, video displays and sirens.

A comparison
1. Hard-wired security systems are considered by most contractors to be more reliable than wireless systems.

2. Hard-wired systems are usually installed by a professional security system contractor with warranties and maintenance support.

3. Hard-wired systems avoid the problem of electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio range limitations inherent in some wireless security systems.

4. The hard-wired components are usually less visible and more aesthetically pleasing than wireless components.

5. Hard-wired systems do not depend on batteries except for power failure backup protection.

6. Hard-wired systems are more expensive than wireless systems.

7. Hard-wired systems are usually leased from the company that installs the system. Unlike a wireless system, the hard-wired system remains an integral part of the home. The components are not capable of being moved to another home when the owner relocates.

8. Problems can arise in the installation of sensors in existing homes where some areas are not accessible for pulling wires inside the walls.

Photograph: courtesy Zicom

Deciding on a security system
1. A threat perception analysis is usually conducted by trained professionals. This exercise identifies vulnerable zones in the house, key concerns and issues like safeguarding home perimetre, valuable assets (gold/cash in the house), medical history for elderly parents, kids, fire and accident prone zones etc.

2. After the analysis, the consumer should zero in on reputed security companies with significant experience and brands available in the market.

3. Reputed Brand: It is imperative to employ a reputed manufacturer as today cheap and spurious security products made in Taiwan/China are easily available in any electronics retail store for a range of budgets starting at Rs 1,500.

4. Installation: The installation of home security is a specialist’s job and should always be given to a trusted system integrator who could test and program the system and is always available for servicing or repairs.

5. Any security products without warranty and service/Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC) back ups could be a costly investment. In case of faults or malfunctioning it could prove troublesome.

6. Central Monitoring Station: This is a value added service without which any security system is incomplete. Consumers should research and get more information about services offered, train and inform family members appropriately.

7. Price Points: It is important to compare the benefits to price ratio for what you are paying for. A costly upgrade to futuristic technology is not warranted.

8. Don’t buy something just because it is available in the market. Do you really require the technology. Evaluate its ease of use. Comfort levels should be analyzed carefully before purchasing.

Photograph: courtesy Bosch

Choosing a security service provider
If you’re planning to buy a continually-monitored home security system, you need to select a security company carefully. Many of them require leases, so it may be difficult to get out of a signed contract if it doesn’t turn out to be what you expected. Leases are fine, as long as you know what you’re getting into. Run through the list below to check whether the company is dependable and fair before you sign anything:

1. How long have they been in business? Try to find a home security company that’s been around for at least five years. This reduces the likelihood that they will fold up and disappear anytime soon.

2. Does the company have all the proper licenses? Ask to see their license numbers so you can verify the information. If they are legitimate, a home security company should have no problem giving you this information.

3. Does the home security company own their own monitoring service and where is it located? Is it local?

4. Will you be required to lease their home security system or do they sell them outright? Both options have pros and cons, and it is important that you know what you’re committing to.

5. How long is the warranty valid and what does it cover?

6. How much does the monthly monitoring service cost in addition to sales and installation? Is it a set price or do the fees increase periodically?

Photograph: courtesy Bosch

Always use a combination of sensors (vibration, magnetic, vision, etc) and request your vendor to group them. Cooperative detective algorithms are built into some systems, to allow them to work in group mode. This enhances their response time and reduces the frequency of false alarms.

Look out for vendors who can use these and other sensors to enhance your built environment. They could wire your house to come alive with your favourite music, lighting, air conditioning or water heating even before you enter the building complex using your phone as a remote control.

Oh! And yes, beware of vendors who claim (falsely) that they can use your existing electrical wires and switches to programme your entire smart home.