Rhonda O’Guinn has no problem with teenagers popping in unexpectedly at her house in Maryland. And she’s really not bothered when her son and daughter invite a group of friends over for pizza at the spur of the moment. But what really drives this working mom crazy—and leaves her feeling vulnerable—is when the kids forget to close and lock the doors as they filter in and out of the house. “We live on a corner lot and have three entrances into the house,” Rhonda explains. “But my main concern is the walkout door of the basement. It’s the door my kids’ friends typically use when they drop by, and they always leave it open.”
The open-door dilemma is what ultimately inspired Rhonda and her husband, Patrick, to install a security system. Sure, they wanted to feel well protected, but at the same time, they didn’t want anything that would make their house feel like a fortress. Blaring sirens, secret passcodes and false alarms were features that they’d rather live without. What Rhonda and Patrick needed was a system that would still allow guests to enter and exit the house as freely as they always had but that would provide them with a way to easily monitor the status of the three main doors.
The homesight system from Motorola fit their needs perfectly. The system is comprised of many components, such as surveillance cameras, temperature sensors, window sensors and water sensors—all of which can be purchased separately. For their home, the O’Guinns selected three wireless surveillance cameras. One camera was aimed at the front yard, another at the door off the deck and a third at the troublesome walkout basement door. After Patrick screwed the three cameras to the exterior of the house, they were ready to transmit real-time video images wirelessly to a PC in the study. Now Rhonda can check the doors by just glancing at the computer screen. “It’s an easy and quick way to double-check to see if the doors have been left open,” she explains.
The ability to monitor a home from anywhere at any time seems to be the mantra of security manufacturers these days. While traditional siren-screaming burglar alarm systems will continue to serve an important purpose, homeowners have discovered that feeling secure takes more than just protecting a home from intrusion. “There are many other elements that contribute to peace of mind,” says Jim Panacek, director of product marketing for Motorola Home and Family Monitoring. On-the-go families are looking for ways to keep in constant touch with their homes so that they know the kids have arrived home safely from school. These same families want to be informed immediately when problems occur while they’re away. And, like the O’Guinns, they want to feel safe but not imprisoned when they’re at home.
Tell It Like It Is
Five years ago, the only people a security system typically communicated with were the dispatchers at a central monitoring station. This type of service ensured that the proper authorities would be sent to a residence whenever an alarm was tripped. The alarm might have been caused by an intruder entering the house or a trespasser stealing the deck chairs from the patio. In cases like these, central monitoring continues to provide a valuable service to homeowners.
However, those same alarms could just as easily be set off by a housekeeper who forgot to punch in her passcode or the neighborhood kids in search of a missing baseball.
To preclude false alarms, manufacturers have developed systems—either as an adjunct to a traditional alarm system or as a stand- alone product—that can inform you the instant an alarm trips at your home. Many of these systems are designed to automatically call a cell phone, which manufacturers agree is one of the best ways to reach most people these days. “People want to communicate with their security system just like they communicate with everyone else,” explains Tom Mechler, product marketing manager at Bosch, which manufacturers a cell phone–talking security system called the Easy Series. Based on the time of day and the text displayed on the screen of your phone, you might determine that the kids probably set off the alarm when they got home from school.
If you’d like to remain completely clandestine when you check up on the happenings in your household, some security systems let you activate a “listen in” feature remotely so you can hear what’s going on right from your cell phone. Need more proof that things are as they should be? New systems from companies like Bosch and DSC can send your cell phone images captured by surveillance cameras when a sensor at the front door detects motion, for example. From the Little League field or the office, you could see that UPS dropped off a package. While it’s been possible for a few years to visually monitor a home by using a cell phone, PDA or computer to tap into an Internet-enabled camera, letting a security system send images to you automatically affords a new level of convenience. “Visual verification of an incident is cutting-edge technology,” says Jim Paulson, general manager for residential and commercial solutions at GE Infrastructure Security. “It’s not widely used yet, but it is growing and may have a major impact on how people use their security systems.”
Regardless of whether a security system sends information in the form of text or pictures, it allows you to decide whether or not to call 911. “The police won’t charge you if you call 911, but they will charge you if your monitoring service calls,” says Jay McLellan, president of Home Automation Inc., a manufacturer of home security and control systems. In fact, remote monitoring capabilities can be so effective that it’s possible to use a monitoring service as just a backup (like when you’re on vacation) or to discontinue the service altogether.
Easy for Everyone
A study by the International Chiefs of Police shows that 80 percent of false dispatches are related to user error. Forgetting to turn off the system before stepping into the house or accidentally pressing the wrong button on the system keypad are common mistakes. ADT, Bosch and other companies believe that making their systems simple to operate can help reduce false alarms. Bosch’s Easy Series system, for example, comes with a key tag that can be carried in a pocket, purse or backpack or on a keychain. Holding the key tag up to the keypad turns off the security system. ADT, meanwhile, offers a system that arms the house as soon as you lock the door. “Because the system requires nothing extra to do, it becomes woven into the fabric of a family’s everyday life,” says ADT vice president of residential custom home services Tim McKinney.
Code-free activation is only one step manufacturers are taking to make their systems more appealing to consumers. A variety of new features are being integrated into security systems, many of which have nothing to do with protection. “We’re moving from a security system that people felt they had to have to a system that’s used to enhance lifestyle,” Paulson says. For example, most of today’s security systems are able to communicate with whole-house music, lighting, heating and cooling and other types of electronic systems. This convergence presents a huge opportunity for homeowners, says Al Lizza, director of marketing for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics. “For example, when you come home and turn off the security system, it could also switch on certain lights and start the stereo system.” At the same time, the protection capabilities of the security system actually improve. For example, when the smoke detectors trip, the security system could instruct heating and cooling to shut off to prevent the smoke from spreading throughout the house. Likewise, a signal from a carbon monoxide detector could have the security system kick on the blowers to vent the harmful gases from the house.
Security systems have grown into something much more than a way to protect your home from theft and vandalism. Thanks to their ability to communicate via the Internet and with other types of electronic components, today’s security systems afford homeowners a new level of comfort, convenience and peace of mind. With features like these, security has evolved from a glorified locking device to a system that can truly enhance the lifestyle of any household.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.