Columnists Bob Carroll The Best Policy: Alarm system check-up

The Best Policy: Alarm system check-up

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Things you can do yourself to make sure your alarm system is “up to snuff”

For a lot of reasons, spring is a good time of year to give your alarm system a check-up. Although the crime of burglary adheres to no season, with Christmas, inventory, and Valentines behind – this can be a good time for a jeweler to make certain his alarm system is providing the type of protection he needs and believes that he has.

There are several ways that a jeweler can and should check his own system, and we are going to cover some of those here.

1. Start with the perimeter - Are all the “openings” to your store protected? Some are obvious, such as doors, and windows that open – these are most often protected by magnetic switches (contacts) so that if opened when the alarm is set, a circuit opens to signal an intrusion.

You may have openings that are not as obvious. Do you have an unprotected attic opening? Are there vents or is there ductwork that leads to the outside or an unprotected area of the building? Burglars often gain access to jewelry stores through air conditioning systems – especially roof-mounted units. Using a contact switch or trip-wire is an inexpensive means of providing an early warning of the attack.

2. Then the fixed glass windows - The most common form of jewelry store burglary is “Smash, Grab, and Run”: smash a window, grab out-of-safe merchandise, and run away before there’s any response to the alarm.

Some may remember the unsightly gray tape that alarm companies once used to detect glass breakage. Thankfully that technology is in the past and there is better equipment today. Vibration sensors respond to abrupt movement of the glass, and sound discriminators are triggered by sonic frequencies typically generated by breaking glass.

3. The space within - If you see the weekly reports of the Jewelers Security Alliance, you know that thieves do not limit themselves to doors, windows, and other “openings.”

“Thieves Penetrate Roof of Jewelry Store”

“Safe Full of Jewelry Pulled Through Brick Wall”

“Burglars Work Way Through Adjacent Businesses to Reach Jewelry Store”

“Volumetric protection” aka motion detection is an important next step in securing your store and your inventory. Common equipment utilizes invisible light beams, ultra-sonic devices (same principle as submarine “sonar”), and devices that detect temperature variances (passive infra-red).

With all of these methods of motion detection, it may be ironic that none of them truly detects motion. Instead, each is designed to sense an environmental change which implies that there is movement in an area.

For example, passive infra-red (aka “PIR”) constantly tests the ambient temperature of a room and of objects within it by way of an invisible pattern of rays. If a sudden difference is detected, such as by a “warm body” moving into the space, the device is triggered. The number and placement of motion detectors is a matter of priorities – and perhaps meeting insurance requirements.

If a significant amount of inventory remains out of your safe or vault, then securing that area is the first priority since it is clearly the most vulnerable.

Priority number two is determined by where there is the greatest value – which is most likely your safe or vault. Even if they have their own specific detection devices, motion detection should be considered for added protection. Electronic equipment can malfunction – or even be “fooled” by professional criminals; so if there is any place that should have redundant protection, it is that small space that holds virtually all of the targeted property – and perhaps both the present and the future of the business.

Third, consider protecting the very heart of the alarm system. If thieves reach your alarm control box, or an antenna that may be part of it, then they may be able to compromise the entire system in a matter of seconds – and possibly without any notification of such failure going to the monitoring company. Once that happens, they have the rest of the night – or weekend – to penetrate your safe or vault.

The optimal level of motion protection may be defined as “four-step” protection; i.e., a person is not able to take four steps in any direction without being picked up by a motion sensor (24” steps, 1 second interval). Underwriters Lab classifies this as “Extent 2” protection. But even that may not be adequate protection of the space within your store.

A jewelry store sustained a significant loss in out-of-safe merchandise when a thief managed to crawl on his hands and knees behind showcases – in the “shadow” of the cases with respect to the motion sensors.

In another case, a burglary became an armed robbery when the criminal successfully worked his way into an unprotected bathroom, where he waited until employees came in and opened the safe. A motion sensor in the bathroom would have protected the employees.

4. Walk-testing the system - A jeweler often can and should check his own system for effectiveness by a very simple means.

First, check all motion sensors to see that each one has a clear “view” of its protected area – that a unit has not been effectively blinded by shelving or storage boxes, or by a wall that wasn’t there when the system was installed.

Many motion sensing devices have a red light which glows to indicate an intrusion into the protected space. With the room otherwise still, stand where you are certain you are out of range of the device you wish to check. Wait for the red sensor light to go off, and count to ten. Then slowly move into the protected space, one step per second. The red light will come back on when the unit is triggered by your movement.

Now recheck the area by walking in several directions – to and from the device; and cross-wise to it. Some devices are better at recognizing to/from movement; others see cross-movement better. Note the range and span of the device, and how well it covers the area it is intended to protect. Note that a safe is generally better protected by a unit that is across the room than one which is mounted directly above it.

Note: If your units do not have red walk-test lights on them, you may be able to accomplish the test with the aid of another person observing lights on the control panel.

Call your alarm company for service if a motion detector does not appear to be performing up to par, or if you find that there are “shadow” areas that need better protection.

5. Hold-up alarms - Never conduct a test of hold-up devices without first contacting your alarm monitoring company to help you coordinate the test. Your local police will not look kindly on a jeweler who “cries wolf.”

6. Annual inspections - While these tips may help you to spot problems or improve your system, it is still important to insist on an annual inspection by your alarm company. A burglary is a lousy way to learn that your alarm system isn’t working!

7. UL Certificate? - If you have a UL certificated alarm system, an annual inspection may be a part of your contract. So if that has not occurred in the last 12 months, now is a good time to call and remind them of this important service and expectation.

How do I know if I have a UL alarm system?

If you have a UL alarm system, then your alarm company will have provided you with a UL Certificate – a document issued by Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook, Illinois. Important: the UL certificate will have the name and location of your store on it, along with some details of your alarm system.

If you hold a UL Certificate that does not name your store specifically, then you may have only a copy of the monitoring company’s certificate – which is not evidence of a UL alarm system on your jewelry store.

Note these two important advantages of a UL alarm system:

A) Independent verification of your alarm system by someone other than the company that installed it (through a random inspection program by UL), and

B) The possibility of lower insurance premiums. (A UL system may or may not be required by your insurer.)

[Misconception? If you were told that a certificate on the monitoring company, or the fact that UL-listed equipment is used in your system, means that you have a “UL alarm system,” you may have been misinformed.]

8. Get the right advice - Protecting a jewelry store is a matter of probability and priorities, taken with respect to level of risk (e.g., inventory) – the same concepts used by insurance underwriters. Thus it is important to be certain that your system meets the minimum standards of your Jewelers Block insurance carrier.

Anecdote: An alarm company representative sold a system for a jewelry store, boasting that because he had alarmed many jewelry stores he knew exactly what would be required for insurance. The result was that the jeweler paid for much more alarm protection than actually would have been required for his store.

That alarm representative gave insurance underwriting advice knowing nothing of the jeweler’s inventory, business habits, loss history, or the type of safe or vault that the jeweler had. Always check with your own agent or insurer for advice on the level of protection that is appropriate for your situation.

And if a UL Certificated alarm system is available to you, the author recommends you always take that option, even if not required.

Bob Carroll of Robert G. Carroll and Associates is a Certified Insurance Counselor who has specialized in insurance for the jewelry industry for more than 30 years – representing Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co. and other 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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