Monday, May 26, 2014

Intrusion Security in the 21st Century

By Allan B. Colombo

Electronic intrusion detection has experienced significant changes over the past few decades. Some of them include advances in technology while others involve how traditional alarm companies do business. This is especially true where projects demand network connections and advanced forms of integration.

In this story, we’ll take a look at important technological trends, we’ll examine why it’s sometimes necessary for traditional alarm companies to partner with systems integrators, and we’ll look at several ways in which the very face of intrusion protection could change in the somewhat distant future. To help us do this we’ll call on the expertise of a long-time security expert, Richard Cantor, CEO, with Amerigard Alarm & Security Corp., New York, NY.

Trends in Technology
On the technical side, one of the most notable changes seen in intrusion protection is how security systems integrate with consumer-oriented mobile devices, such as smart phones.

“Today everything is market driven in the end and our industry and the technology which is now offered is all blending together. We are indeed in the iPhone/Internet age. The bottom line is consumers are savvy about products, services and pricing,” says Cantor.

A good example of this is the ability for the homeowner to control their residential alarm system from a remote location using a laptop or cell phone from anywhere in the world. The same connection allows them to view one or more cameras, as well as affect temperature, lighting, and other subsystems in the home.

Business owners and managers also have come to rely on these same technological features. This has effectively extended their reach into the workplace itself, which allows them to keep a closer eye on shoplifting and internal theft. This involves a relatively high level of integration.

“From a product offering standpoint things are blending together more and more. Security systems now offer home automation and home automation systems offer security, and both can take advantage of new wireless protocols such as Z-wave,” says Cantor.

Cantor also says that “…our industry is moving toward cloud type services with Honeywell's Total Connect services, 2Gig's new product line, and Elk's--which has been around for some time now. So right now it’s the wild, wild west out there.”

For example, Home Automation Inc. of New Orleans is poised to integrate wireless, digital locksets and lighting controls with HAI’s Omni-Pro controller using Zigbee technology. This same methodology can be used to link these same locksets with the homeowner remotely over the Internet. More and more we’re also seeing the use of wireless networks using WiFi.

The problem for some traditional alarm companies, however, is that security technicians often lack the necessary skill sets to deal with digital technology in the network realm. When this is the case, it’s not uncommon for them to contract with systems integrators to assist them with the Internet Protocol (IP) side of the job.

IP Video Surveillance
IP network technology now abounds in any number of disciplines within the security venue, including access control, life safety, and CCTV (Closed Circuit Television).

“The CCTV market is in the vortex of developing changes in technology from IP and megapixel cameras to network recorders and analytics with no firm direction yet,” says Cantor.

For example, more and more alarm dealers are being asked by their clients—both residential and commercial—to provide outside access to camera systems. Consumers simply want to take advantage of all the benefits that today’s digital IP technology provides. The same technology can be used by central station operations to look in on facilities immediately after receiving an alarm signal. Police also can be let into a building remotely by the owner over the Internet as well as central station personnel.

“You could add the prospect of remote video monitoring, though that is likely to remain a small niche market,” says Cantor.

There are those who are sure to disagree with Cantor’s assessment in as much as many communities have mandated the use of video verification or some other means to curb the unnecessary dispatch of police officers and fire fighters. Remote video has long offered this capability and will continue to do so in the years to come.

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Central Station Operations
Specifically, IP technology enables central station operators to integrate central station computers with cameras on site. This allows them to look in on specific locations within a facility where alarm signals originate.

By verifying whether anyone is actually there allows the operator to make a determination whether to dispatch the authorities. And, where video is recorded, operators can look back at recorded clips, especially those taken in the vicinity of motion detectors and other intrusion devices that caused the alarm.

The same effect can be achieved by integrating alarm systems with the video motion detection built into some modern IP cameras, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), and other network devices. Mobotix IP Megapixel cameras, for example, not only have the ability to send images by email, but they can generate voice prompts that can be played to the assailant via an audible device.

Many times integration is as easy as linking a DVR with a modem or router while other times it requires additional effort. Traditional alarm technicians who lack the skill sets necessary to complete this portion of the job are turning to systems integrators for assistance. For this reason it’s important for traditional alarm firms to develop partnerships with such. Systems integrators are the best choice because they deal with network technology on a daily basis. The Future of Intrusion Protection Although experts will vary on what they see ahead for intrusion protection, radical changes are sure to lie ahead that will change the face of our industry. Two technological changes that I believe will do this is artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition, coupled with changes in communication technology.

“The CCTV market is in the vortex of developing changes in technology from IP and MegaPixel cameras to network recorders and analytics with no firm direction yet. Then in general all sorts of technologies are merging together,” says Cantor. “Alarm systems now incorporate access control and home automation and as soon as we have accurate facial recognition systems, access control will be revolutionized. Then you will see real integration of alarm, access control, and CCTV.”

Later in the 21st Century it’s quite possible that intrusion security will take the form of a fully integrated access/security system using facial recognition combined with AI technology. Gone will be traditional door switches, motion sensors, and access control cards, tokens, and fobs. At that point the AI controlled system will know who belongs and who does not. Through a host of cameras, the AI will also be able to determine when a break-in has taken place. Equipped with the right action plan, the appropriate response will ensue.

Taking this concept one step further, by mobilizing the AI controlled system to include roving mobile units, equipped with cameras, voice interfaces, and other attributes and features, it will be possible to confront those who enter a protected space. Verification of identity will take place using facial recognition, voice, hand geometry, genetic markers, and/or other biometric attributes. When an unauthorized individual is discovered, it will be possible to notify the appropriate authorities for immediate response as a perpetrator(s) is maintained in one of many locations that may act as a man trap.

No matter how you look at the future, intrusion protection will never be the same as in years past. As we move further into the 21st Century, the use of network technology is sure to increase while older methods of detection, identity verification, and signaling fall by the wayside. In their place will be a brave new world.

About the Author
Allan B. Colombo is a 28-year trade journalist in the life-safety and physical security markets. His work has appeared in numerous publications throughout North America, including Security Distributing & Marketing, Security Sales & Integration, The Electrical Distributor (TED), Electrical Contractor, Security & Life Safety Magazine, Security Dealer & Integrator, Locksmith Ledger, and others. To contact Al Colombo, call 330-956-9003, email him at or visit the Safety & Security Facebook Page at


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Unusual leak on Dry Sprinkler System proved hard to find

Ever since a Dry Sprinkler  Fire Protection System was installed at Alcoma Plaza in Penn hills it has been a problem for the owners .
The problem  is a very poor installation by a less than reputable well known North Hills  Contractor  of   the compressor system which was rough handled  when first installed and without proper electrical safety controls.
 The first problem was that the compressor had a 3 phase motor and was installed with out a motor starter contactor to protect the electric motor which had to be replaced after the power single phased during a  thunder storm.
The second problem was the system always seemed to loose air and compressor had to run several times a day instead of once a day.  and the third problem was the Drip Drum which collects condensate from the dry pipes was installed in an unheated room  which if it was not kept properly drained during winter would fill with water and freeze up and break flooding the building.

New system being  installed
After this happened several times  the owner asked me to look into why the system kept having problems I showed him the above problems and we put a plan of action in place.

First I installed a new 3 phase motor with proper fuses and motor starter contactor.
Next I arranged to come in monthly and drain the drip drums.
This helped tremendously but at least once  a year we would still get the system dumping the air and flooding the pipes but luckily not the stores  like it did in the past every summer . But we could never find what was causing it  other than compressor shutting off during a bad storm and needing reset yet that much air leaving system should not be happening.
The final straw was last week it dumped again but this time when I got there and let fire dept in there was a very bad smell in building I noticed it right away bad air from system but where was it leaking from.
I explained to the fire chief who was complaining the whole time they had to respond that there had to be a massive loss of air and that's what we where smelling was that old foul air from the dry pipes which got me thinking we had a bad over pressure relief valve on system  . He looked at me like I was some kind of  asshole making a statement like that but I have been working on air systems for many years so It was egg on the chiefs face when after I did a complete leak test on system with sprinkler company  that we found a hair line crack in the compressor air tank .
Which made the chief look like the ass.There was a massive air loss going on.
 They wonder why I will have nothing to do with fire depts in Penn Hills any more  well every time 223# starts there shit and keeps running their mouths and making snide remarks and alienating people in this town its no wonder they can not find volunteers and depts have a hard time raising funds.

After very carefully looking the tank over the sprinkler tech found the hair line crack right at where the mounting  foot was welded to the tank. He found it  after increasing  the tanks air pressure and checking it for leaks when he could not find them anywhere else on system and what he found  was happening was the tank would stay sealed but as it got hotter outside and in the building the tank would expand and let off its air it was holding   and it was almost 90 degrees  that day  the night the tank let loose  of its air which we could smell all over building,  but by time we got there and started checking  the tank has cooled down  looses its expansion and it looked OK and would pump up. So problem solved  with some good old detective work and a new tank now installed that will hopefully be the end of the problems with the system for a long time and result in less condensate in pipes and a lower electric bill as compressor will not have to run as much.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Getting on Parkway East in Swissvale is a challenge for even skilled drivers with its crazy ramp system

If  you are coming out Braddock Ave. in Swissvale and want to get on to the Parkway East as its called but its really  I-376 west bound you get on a ramp that takes you a full 360 degree to get up on to it the problem in the circle your making you have to yield as another street W. Swissvale Ave. comes into the ramp and your not expecting it as your blind coming around the bend  and cars come down W. Swissvale speeding thru the interchange and are hard to see and unexpected.
others as well as myself have had close encounters with this bad set up which Penn Dot is aware of but with limited space there is not much that can be done to realign  it but you could put a stop sign on the straight thru street. W. Swissvale Ave. or otherwise slow down the drivers approaching the interchange.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Integration I was doing before it was ever called that and most Integration company's ever came into existence

Integration everyone claims to do it now and act like there poop smells better than any one else's . But the truth myself and many older electrical technicians where doing it before many of those claiming to be experts at it where even born.
Integration is nothing new its been around since the 1970's  and even earlier when the melting together of old school electron tubes and and mechanical devices started being changed to solid state electronics to drive equipment.
Back then technicians like myself and  others had to use relays and diodes and capacitors to get certain functions to be able to have an alarm do what you wanted like bypassing certain zones and tripping phone dialers to operating gates and sirens.

One of the cool installs I did back in the early 80's was at the then" Appliance Store" chains headquarters  along Penn Ave. in Pittsburgh E. liberty Section.
Seems they had a problem with late hour delivery of high end electronics like VCR's which needed secured and would mean having people on duty 24/7 for the arrivals.

They came up with an idea what if they could secure one of the single garage door bays with its own alarm which delivery driver could operate from seat of there truck. they called over to near by Triangle Electronics which has been bought out and resold several time now and talked to the late Frank Mazur who gave them several names of guys who could help them with it including me. After looking at it all declined as this involved a commercial garage door with 230 volt  3 wire  3 button controller.
being an electrician and an electronics guy I looked at it and said yes I can do this.

I rigged up a  Moose MPI-25 alarm with motion sensors  that was tied to one channel of a 4 channel
Linear wireless controller.  so it could be armed and disarmed remotely. via a key switch input.
I then rigged up a metal box with 3 relays to simulate the buttons being pushed.  which where tied to the remaining 3 buttons on the remote. outside in a existing lock box controller I wired 2 small LED lights so drivers could see if system was armed or not and disabled the wiring to controller so it could not be operated externally should some one break into the box .

It worked fantastic the driver would pull up see if alarm was on  he would then dis arm pull in truck .Go outside  close garage door down and arm system . Problem solved it worked well for several years until the chain went bankrupt.

Even today with modern integrated all in one control panels this would still be a challenge for 99.9% of the installers out there but not for me. But that's the difference between me and other so called integrator's
I understand and can design circuitry something they no longer tech in schools which is relay logic.
Dam shame because all I see any more are poorly trained techs with out the drive to design and fabricate like we did in the old days.

Union Electricians should have known better than to install non approved connectors on fire alarm cable

Never fails to amaze me how  some days how professionally trained electricians will fail to follow electrical codes at a customers business where he is moving in and he hired a general contractor to do the renovation work the electrical contractor they hired  did the following while installing the fire system I will eventually be maintaining and monitoring.
In the above picture you see a 4X4 electrical box with 2 14/2 red fire cables pulled thru a MC ( Metal Clad)  Connector and you can see how wire is damaged.
Now the electricians who did this install and caused the ground faults are highly trained and should know better .
MC Connectors are only listed to be used with metal clad cables not plastic jacketed.
They should have used Romex/  NMC connectors or plastic bushing but they chose not to.
of course now we are getting ground faults and there responsible to make good on there work.
Why they chose to do what they did who knows might be only connectors thy had and seemed like they would work or where just too lazy to go get and wait for correct ones .
But either way its wrong and will need corrected and time and money lost. But thats not what all I found bad
  Look at metal flex wire with out proper bushings and wire being hung on washers instead of fastened with proper connectors

and in the picture above you can see 2 places wire was pinched and grounding out.  very un- professional work by union electricians who are professionally  trained and know better than to do work like this

HVAC Installer needs to go back to school and learn proper way to install Duct Detectors after installing in Plastic enclosures

Seems there is always an argument when it comes time to install Duct Smoke Detectors on Jobs
and I end up installing them because they are a pain to install  and I have an HVAC License and Fire Alarm training .But current job I am on the HVAC contractor insisted on installing them and did so against codes and regulations.
First off he installed them on the roof with out a reset station placed inside to be able to test and rest them if they activate as required by code. Which means crawling up on roof or going to basement and shutting off breaker. 2nd he installed them in these plastic enclosures again a code violation these units are not designed to be installed outside as it gets too cold to function properly in Pa.  3rd no matter how well you seal these boxes they eventually get moisture into them and will cause problem.If he had bothered to read the instructions he would have known this.

This fool even insisted we had to have 4 wires to make them work to fire system Wrong as you can see we just pop a 2 wire addressable module in and monitor contacts he has already powered them off the 24 VAC power of HVAC unit .

So needless to say building owner and architect have been put on notice of problems this install will cause.
and that it violates several different codes. But because again this is one of those community's with no Fire marshal or other official to properly inspect things you just do what you want and send in letter saying its installed and tested.
Had the HVAC installer really wanted to put them on roof and do so properly they make a proper weather tight duct detector for the job.

But you can not tell this ignorant know it all HVAC installer.