Columnists Bob Carroll The Best Policy: Why is my alarm system being changed?

The Best Policy: Why is my alarm system being changed?

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Does it still meet the standards it is supposed to meet?

Joe’s alarm system operated in the following manner: its primary means of communicating information about an intrusion to the monitoring company (aka “Central Station”) was by a device called a digital communicator. In the event of a break-in or burglary attempt, various sensing devices situated about the premises would be triggered, and a signal would flow to the alarm control panel in Joe’s back room.

At that point, the digital communicator would “seize” the telephone line and transmit digitized information about the break-in to the Central Station, where a dispatcher would interpret the signal and take appropriate action.

Should the telephone line be unavailable for some reason (such as by having been attacked as a part of the break-in), the digital communicator would be unable to send a signal. The crooks would have the rest of the night to attack Joe’s safe and clean out the store. [Such attacks are not uncommon in the jewelry industry.]

So to remedy that, Joe’s alarm system included a back-up measure that provided an alternative means of communication using the airwaves. This back-up system monitored the phone line so that such an attack would cause a signal to be sent via radio, which notified the Central Station (CS hereafter) that the phone signal was not operating. Intrusion data would also be transmitted in the same manner, since the digital communicator was incommunicado.

As further protection, the back-up radio system could not only send information (store-to-CS), it could also receive data from the Central Station. In other words, it was not “one-way” radio, but “two-way” radio; and the unit at the store was not a transmitter, but a transceiver (combination transmitter and receiver).

The purpose of the two-way radio was that when the alarm system was set, the CS would automatically send a radio signal to the store as a sort of electronic inquiry (“Are you still out there?”); which required a response, store to CS, in essence indicating, “I’m here and the system’s operating.”

How often did this “check-in” occur? Every three to six minutes, when the store’s alarm system was armed.

Now here’s something that is happening across the country that affected Joe’s alarm system and the security of his store.

Though a reliable method of communication, standard radio communication is limited by distance. Simply having a transmitter at one end and a receiver at the other (or a transceiver at both ends) would work only if the two ends of communication were very near one another – which is seldom the case.

So a network of antenna towers is employed to bridge the gap by relaying the signal through the airways. And the network is designed so that failure at any one tower would simply allow a rerouting of the signal rather than termination. The tower network is in most instances an independent third party operation to which many alarm companies subscribe.

CURRENT DEVELOPMENT: A major tower network that is used to transmit alarm signals across the country is being deactivated.

So here’s what happened to Joe as a result of this “current development.”

The alarm company notified Joe that, due to “technical circumstances beyond the company’s control,” it would be necessary to change his alarm back-up system. The alarm company then replaced the two-way radio system with a cellular back-up system.

How does cellular differ from radio?

A cellular transmission goes from Joe’s Jewelry to the nearest cellular tower; then at that point the signal is converted to a regular telephone “land line.” This can be just as effective as a means of transmitting an alarm signal, but what is absent is the three-to-six minute reverse check-in, Central Station to jewelry store.

However Joe’s alarm company programmed the digital communicator/cellular back-up system to perform an automatic check-in every 24 hours, at 10:00 p.m.

The Crime:

Burglars began their attack on Joe’s store at midnight by cutting through the roof; and from the overhead crawl space, they completely disabled the alarm system. They followed with their torch and cutting tools and succeeded in opening both of Joe’s safes. When Joe arrived the next morning for what he thought would be just another day in the jewelry business, he found his store a mess – and that he had no inventory.

Had the alarm system been in place that he had had before, the burglary would not have succeeded. Within a short time of the compromise of the system, an interrogation signal would have been missed – signaling by its absence that there was a possible attack on the store.

A good reason for a UL Certificate:

Bill had the same type of alarm system as Joe - digital communicator with two-way radio programmed to cross-communicate every 3-6 minutes.

But Bill’s system was UL Certificated. In order to issue a UL Certificate, Bill’s alarm company had to first be qualified to perform UL installations. Then Bill’s system had to be installed according to UL Standards using only UL-listed equipment, and the alarm company itself would be regularly inspected in terms of meeting those requirements.

Bill had a UL Certificate posted on his wall that specifically indicated the level of security that he had on his safes and premises; and the two-way radio back-up further qualified Bill’s system as providing Standard Line Security.

Bill was faced with the same problem as Joe – the dismantling of the tower infrastructure for his two-way radio; and the alarm company decided to “fix the problem” in the same manner: cellular back-up to his digital communicator.

Now the UL difference:

One day, Bill’s alarm technician walked into his store accompanied by a UL technician. UL was there to inspect Bill’s alarm system to see that it met all of the requirements of the certificate that was issued.

Bill was accustomed to the inspections because they were a periodic occurrence afforded him by virtue of the UL certificate; and he knew that UL was there to check the work of his alarm company, not him specifically.

The UL inspector determined that the UL certificate was invalid because the system no longer met the standards described. The digital/cellular configuration that the alarm company had replaced the radio system with was a downgrade, and UL Line Security was no longer being provided!

Bill was not aware that his current system was less than he had before; and neither was Bill’s insurance company.

The alarm company was required to either issue a new UL certificate (at their expense) showing the security downgrade (a solution which was not acceptable either to Bill or his insurance company), or correct the problem with appropriate equipment that would meet the Standard.

[The alarm company installed a combination Internet and cellular system using “dual path” technology which did meet the UL standard for Line Security.]

Back to Joe and his burglary:

Could Joe have an insurance problem with his loss? It is possible that he would – a description of Joe’s alarm system was a part of his insurance application, and the coverage had been approved on that basis. A valid argument by the insurance company could be that, had the alarm system been in place which the company had approved when agreeing to write the coverage – this burglary would have either been prevented or very limited.

Joe’s position, equally valid, would be that the alarm downgrade was not a matter of his choice or even knowledge.

But Bill had the best solution. His UL certificated system had been inspected by UL, its deficiency discovered and corrected; and when burglars attacked, the Central Station became aware of the attack almost immediately – and that resulted in police dispatch and capture of three burglars. His minimal insurance claim was paid quickly and without deliberation.

Lessons to be learned:

Joe and Bill are fictitious jewelers, used here only for illustration. But the dismantling of a major tower system that is used by the alarm industry is not fictitious. This began in 2010 and continues to be taking place; and alarm companies are making adjustments – which may or may not maintain a jeweler’s necessary level of security.

1. Check any changes in your alarm system with your insurance agent or company before allowing the alarm company to proceed.

2. When you have a choice, opt for a UL Certificated alarm system – even if not required by your insurance company. Often, a UL certificate will qualify a jeweler’s policy for premium discounts.

Bob Carroll is a Certified Insurance Counselor who has worked with the jewelry industry for more than a quarter century, representing Jewelers Mutual and other quality carriers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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