Columnists Bob Carroll The Best Policy Is your line security still secure?

The Best Policy Is your line security still secure?

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Alarm companies are being forced to make changes in the way your system works.

Jeweler Stan Zanite opened his store on Monday morning anticipating another successful week in the jewelry business.  Those expectations changed dramatically when he saw the debris on the floor of his back room – chunks of ceiling tile, loose insulation, and damaged electronic equipment strewn about.  But the most sobering part of Stan’s discovery was when he recognized that his two safes . . .  were completely gone!

 

That previous Saturday, Stan had loaded his now non-existent safes with all of his customers’ goods, the memo diamonds he had just received to show a customer, and the majority of his inventory including all of his diamond goods.  Now there was only a large vacant spot where the safes had stood – and an unlocked back door which had apparently been the thieves’ means of egress.

Stan had a UL certificated alarm system and he had been at home all weekend.  Why had he not received a call from the alarm company?  He remembered that a technician had recently serviced his alarm system and it had been working fine in the meantime.  At the service call, it was explained to Stan that the alarm company needed to change out some of the equipment – something to do with the way it communicated data to the central station monitoring facility.  Instead of the two-way radio back-up system, it needed to be changed to cellular back-up.

That seemingly minor change in his system couldn’t be the reason that his safes were now gone . . . could it?

Fact #1 - Roof-top burglaries are on an increase.

Over the past few decades, safe burglaries were relatively rare in comparison to other forms of jewelry crime such as theft and armed robbery.  Most burglaries have been of the “smash, grab, and run” variety, where the unsophisticated thieves break in through a window, smash showcases with jewelry in them, and then flee before the cops come (aka “three-minute burglaries,” except that they usually took much less time than that.)  Neither intelligence nor experience on the part of the crook are necessary – the good thing is that prevention simply involves securing as much property as possible and leaving nothing in showcases to draw the thieves in.

But more serious forms of burglary began occurring in the South a couple of years ago, and they’re spreading rapidly across the country.  Thieves simply hide on the roof of the jewelry store with all of their equipment until the time is right to begin the attack – through an air duct, or by just cutting directly through the structure.  If for some reason the building is checked, thieves know that they almost never check the roof.

Occurring just as frequently are burglaries where the thieves enter the jewelry store from adjacent premises – through sheetrock partition walls, or even solid masonry construction.  In 2009, burglars systematically worked their way through a series of three business in order to reach their target – a jewelry store; none of the neighboring businesses had alarm systems.

Fact #2 - No safe or

vault is burglar-proof.

That’s why reputable dealers use terms like “burglary resistant” and speak of relative levels of protection and of UL ratings of safes and vaults.  And because no safe is impenetrable, an effective alarm system is critical to a jeweler – its purpose is to limit the time that a burglar has to work.

Fact #3 - Much of the burglar alarm industry relies on radio communication.

The most important aspect of an alarm system is not the door contacts, not the motion detectors, not even the safe or vault protection – it is the communication system between the premises alarm and the monitoring facility.  When a burglar defeats or circumvents that, he has an open door to the business.  Many jewelers’ alarms rely on radio waves for this link, which usually involves relaying a signal across a system of radio towers.  Also, this radio communication may be designed as one-way (a transmitter at the jewelry store and a receiver at the monitoring facility) or two-way (a transceiver at each end of the line for communicating in both directions).

Two-way radio systems allow for something that insurance companies and Underwriters Laboratories refer to as Standard Line Security.  A signal is sent from the central station monitoring facility to the premises as a “test” to which the premises system must send an immediate reply signal. (Interrogate . . . response).  The absence of a response is taken as an indication that the system at the business is no longer operable and that a burglary may be in progress.  Under the Line Security setting, this automatic exchange of signal occurs every 180 seconds.

Fact #4 (The Problem) - The infrastructure that makes radio communication for alarm systems possible is being closed down.

In many areas of the country it is already gone; in other areas it will be happening soon.  Hopefully this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of this change; there have been several articles throughout the trade media, including in Southern and Mid-America Jewelry News, and at least one jewelry insurance carrier has been directly helping its customers address this serious issue.

Now back to Stan Zanite’s situation:

Stan had a system that included Standard Line Security, sometimes referred to as a “AA” system, though “double-A” is a term no longer used by UL.  It used a system called “Alarmnet M” to access the radio tower system.  Line Security was required by Stan’s insurance carrier, but besides that, having it just made good sense at Stan’s level of inventory.  Stan had line security, that is, until the alarm company replaced it with something less – cellular back-up.  Cell backup is simply an alternative means of sending a signal out (in the event that the telephone line is damaged or cut).  But the 180-second interrogate-response system that was operating on Stan’s system prior to the change is not possible at this time with cellular communication.

So when the thieves broke into Stan Zanite Jewelry, they were smart enough to go directly to the heart of the system and take it out – before the system could transmit the attack.  With no alarm system, they were able to bring in the equipment for moving the safes and take them out the same door.

What should jewelers do?

  1. If your system involves radio communication, one-way or two-way, check with your alarm company to see if your system will be affected by this universal change in the alarm communication system.
  2. If your system includes Standard Line Security, expect a change – Internet Protocol may be the best, if not the only, solution at this time.
  3. If a downgrade to “cellular backup” is recommended, check with your insurance carrier to see if that will be acceptable protection in your case – before agreeing to the change.
  4. If you have a UL certificated system, insist that the certification remain in force.  This will mean the issuance of a new UL certificate listing the updated communication system.

Remember that your alarm system is integral to your insurance coverage, and that a decrease in the level of protection can jeopardize coverage.  Could there be a coverage issue in Stan’s case?  Strictly speaking, Stan no longer had the level of alarm protection that the insurer required as a condition of coverage; on the other hand, Stan’s non-compliance was not intentional – Stan was not aware that he had been downgraded.  Yes, there might be a problem; and whether or not the loss is covered might depend on the carrier – a good reason for insuring with an insurance company with a reputation for fair claims practices.

Always – ALWAYS – check with your insurance agent or insurance carrier before accepting changes in the communication link of your alarm system.

Bob Carroll of Robert G. Carroll and Associates is a Certified Insurance Counselor who has been insuring members of the jewelry industry since 1980, working specifically with jewelers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  “Jewelers’ insurance isn’t just what we do, it’s all we do.”  Reach Bob at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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