Rhonda O’Guinn has no problem with teenagers popping in unexpectedly at her house in Maryland. She’s not even bothered when her son and daughter invite a group of friends over for pizza on the spur of the moment. But what really drives the working mom crazy—and makes her feel vulnerable—is when the kids forget to close and lock the doors as they filter in and out of the house. n “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.” n 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.
Motorola’s homesight system fit their needs perfectly. It’s 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 the family PC.
The ability to monitor a home from anywhere at anytime 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 security should involve more than just protecting a home from intrusion. On-the-go families are looking for ways to keep in constant touch with their homes so that they know that the kids have arrived home safely from school. These same families want to be informed immediately when problems occur while they’re away. Also, 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.
Those alarms could have been set off by a housekeeper who forgot to punch in her passcode or the neighborhood kids in search of a missing baseball that landed in your backyard. Unable to distinguish simple mistakes from real emergencies, the security system would contact the central station regardless of the situation. If the central station couldn’t tell what caused the alarm to go off, the police would be dispatched and you just might have ended up paying a fine.
To preclude embarrassing and costly 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.
Based on the time of day and the text displayed on the screen of your phone, you might determine that the kids probably tripped 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. That way, you can hear what’s going on right from your cell phone. Need more proof that things aren’t as they should be? New systems from companies like Bosch and DSC can send your cell phone video 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 remotely 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 consumers use their security systems in the future.”
Regardless of whether a security system sends information in the form of text or pictures, it allows you to decide whether or not to place a call to 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 HAI, 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 Association of 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 families make. In busy households where many people—the kids, Grandma, the baby-sitter and houseguests—will be using the system, false alarms can be even more prevalent. 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 tag up to the wall 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 Tim McKinney, ADT’s vice president of residential custom home services. “As a result, consumers end up actually using their security systems more frequently.”
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. For example, most of today’s security systems are able to communicate openly 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 through communications with other systems. For example, when the smoke detectors trip, the security system could instruct the blowers 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 systems, today’s security systems afford homeowners a new level of comfort, convenience and peace of mind. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, a security system can tell you the second someone rings your doorbell or strolls across your backyard. From your cell phone, you can check up on the kids while you drive home from work. When you’re at home, count on a security system to keep things running smoothly. It can alert you to open doors and windows and even turn on the stereo after a hard day at work. With features like these, security has evolved from a glorified locking device to a system that can truly enhance the lifestyle of any household.