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False Alarms Shouldn’t Be a Reason Not to Have an Alarm System

One of the most common reasons we hear for people not having an alarm system is, “I’d probably just have false alarms all the time”.  This is a valid concern considering that most municipalities will actually bill a user for alarm response after a certain, fixed number of false alarms in a one year period (generally speaking, this number is 3 per year).  (And, 99% of alarms are actually false).

False alarms where police are dispatched are certainly not a good thing.  Many police agencies will brand homes or businesses with regular false alarms as a problem property and will take their time attending to a dispatch request at that address.  This is obviously a problem if there is an actual, true reason for dispatching.

Sierra Security employs several different procedural rules to prevent police from being dispatched needlessly.  Our goal is to make sure your alarm system is effective and that police are only dispatched in a real burglary situation.

1)  Every system user is trained by our installer, not only on how to use the system itself, but how a central station operator is going to respond to an alarm situation for this particular user.  Knowing how the entire process works, from the alarm being triggered to a police car rolling to the property, is key to preventing false alarm dispatches.

2) Our monitoring center codes each zone, on each alarm system account, with a response code that dictates how an alarm on that zone is to be handled.  The response codes can vary greatly.

The code for “Dispatch 1st”, meaning that as soon as the alarm comes in, the dispatcher calls the correct local authority, is often used with fire alarm devices, hold up alarms and medical panic buttons.  These buttons are deliberately pressed for 2-3 seconds so the chances this is a false alarm are slim.  Time is of the essence.

The other end of the spectrum would be Code 402 which instructs the operator to call every contact on the customer’s list of responsible parties (RP’s), before dispatching police.  This gives 2 or 3 people the ability to call off the dispatch in case of a false alarm (not just anyone can call off a dispatch; they must have the owner’s assigned code word on hand to do so).

3) Our monitoring center can also input custom instructions for specific needs of users.  Several customers have instructed us NOT to dispatch at all unless the operator actually talks with an RP who authorizes us to dispatch.

To clarify, all of these specific response codes are assigned to each ZONE on a system, not to the system as a whole.  This means that all the various devices connected to an alarm system, can each have their own response code.  We regularly monitor systems for burglary, fire, smoke, carbon monoxide, freezing, standing water, motion, glass breakage, etc.  Most of these devices would dictate a specific response code based on the device, the customer and the location of the device.

Free consultations are always available at Sierra Security.  Call today and schedule yours.

DIY Residential Cameras

We constantly get asked, no, almost begged to install residential surveillance cameras.  Our resounding answer to homeowners is, “No”.  There are two reasons for this.

First, most homeowners have had something happen recently and they want to “catch” the person.  No offense, but it really doesn’t work that way.  The chance of getting useable video for the local authorities is extremely slim, and most police agencies do not have facial recognition software, yet.  Plus, for probably the last 5 years, every time we’ve quoted camera systems for residences, the homeowner opts not to spend that kind of money.  We do high end systems for schools, churches and manufacturing.

Which brings us to the second point:  We just cannot be competitive with what is available on Amazon or at Best Buy.  Given that statement, there are some very good DIY systems available from companies who have the technical support available in the remote chance you run into problems.

We generally do not endorse products we don’t sell but we recently helped an existing alarm customer install an Arlo brand camera at her front door.  Arlo cameras are readily available at Costco, Amazon and others.  This is not an amateur style camera.  These are high definition (1080p) cameras with built in motion sensing (adjustable range) that are perfect for around the house.  They are not the least expensive out there but they are worth the difference.  They are battery operated so they can be installed almost anywhere.  (The mfg. says the battery life is about 3 months).

The base station, which the cameras communicate with and connects to the Internet, was extremely easy and quick to set up and get connected.  Several mounting options are available to make positioning the cameras easy to whatever the application.  An automatic iris adjusts the cameras light sensitivity to whatever the surroundings and the motion detection is outstanding.  The operation of the camera is customizable but we set this customer’s unit up to pull up the picture on her cell phone when someone was about 10 ft. from the front door and it worked flawlessly.

If you’re shopping our site for surveillance systems for your home, please check Amazon for Arlo cameras and save yourself a good deal of green.

We’re Ready for the Next Challenge

We have recently completed one of the most fun and rewarding jobs in our recent history.  Every year or so, one major new challenge comes along, major either because of the size or the complexity or installation timing.  This year it was a church that was remodeling a good portion of their main building.  In the process they required a new commercial fire alarm system, a new burglar alarm system, an access control system and an 11 camera video surveillance system.  The fire alarm system utilized a Honeywell intelligent panel and about 90 devices along with a cellular alarm communicator that must produce a “heartbeat” signal to the central station every 5 minutes.  It was interfaced with the sprinkler system and the whole system was design approved on the first submittal to the fire department and operationally approved by the fire department on the first visit after system completion.

The burglar alarm system, in order to save money, had to be wireless and yet work in steel framed buildings and across the church campus to out buildings.  Using the new DSC Neo system, we installed wireless door contacts, wireless motion sensors, wireless sirens and (4) wireless keypads to complete a system that acts like 4 different systems in each of the 4 different buildings but is connected to one main panel saving huge money on monthly monitoring charges.  Instead of 4 monitoring bills for 4 systems, they only pay one.

The video surveillance system was very typical EXCEPT for one camera that was to look over a playground from a building with no physical connection to the main building where all the other cameras and the DVR were to be located.  Using a TrendNet, 2 piece outdoor access point, we were able to “beam” the playground camera signal from an outbuilding to the main building for integration with the DVR.

The access control system was also very typical EXCEPT that we were interfacing with an existing magnetic door lock system instead of replacing it, again to save money.  We investigated the operation of the existing system and found a way to utilize it’s control board to provide the lock and unlock mechanics when triggered by the new system we were installing.  The church now has a two door system that can be accessed by PIN code or proximity tag, whichever each user prefers.

We’re ready for the next challenge, whatever that may be.  Bring it on!

New Life for Older Alarms (we have an app for that)

We have recently concluded testing an ingenious device designed to bring older DSC  alarm panels into the 21st century.  The Envisalink 4 is a very affordable retrofit device allowing smart phone control, Internet monitoring and event messaging on your DSC 5010, 1616 or 1832 panel.  Previously, if you wanted an app or web portal to control and view your alarm system, the alarm panel and any keypads had to be updated to the latest model and a cellular communicator added.  When we offered this kind of upgrade for around five hundred dollars, we had very few takers.

The Envisalink 4 can be retrofit onto your existing system, including labor, for $149.00 plus tax.  And, since the Envisalink 4 allows your system to be monitored via the Internet, you can cancel your phone line used for monitoring, saving up to $45.00 per month!  (Internet monitoring adds $5.00 to your existing monitoring rate).

The system can be programmed to send messages to your cell phone or email address when the system is armed or disarmed (including which code was used), when there are system troubles or an alarm occurs.  The Android app and the mobile web portal (which look the same), show the real time status of the system including whether armed or disarmed and the open/closed status of each zone.  Both allow bypassing of individual zones and a history of recent activity on the system can be viewed at any time.  All these features make your alarm system much more flexible and user friendly for an active, on the go lifestyle.

We have thoroughly tested this device with the most common panels that we installed back to 1999 with great success and are excited to offer this as a very affordable upgrade to your system.  Please call us at 949-588-9870 or email us at to schedule your system upgrade.

Powerful New Wireless Alarm Products

Sierra Security has recently completed our first two installations using DSC’s new NEO product line.  The original idea behind this product line was to deploy an exclusive “spread spectrum” wireless technology capable of vastly increasing the effective range and wireless reliability of system devices.  In the past, wireless technologies could be a bit finicky and devices mounted on metal surfaces or systems with a good amount of metal in the building were problematic.  In many cases, to avert false alarms, we’ve had to install the actual radio frequency device off of metal surfaces (like on the wall above the door), and then hard wire the device to contacts on the door or window being protected.  Aesthetically, this is not the most desirable method of protect a door in a retail location as there is wires showing between the device and the contacts.

One of our NEO installations was residential; a house and a shop about 100 yards apart.  The brains of the system were installed in the garage of the house with a wireless keypad inside the garage entry and wireless door and window sensors, with wireless area motion sensors, in both the house and shop.  Since installation in early December 2016, we have had ZERO false alarms and communication issues.

The second NEO system installed was a combined commercial/residential application; an auto and boat repair facility (4 bays and office space), with living quarters above the shop and office and a separate building located on the property about 80 yards away from the main building, used for boat storage.  The installation included door and window contacts and motion sensors throughout all three distinct areas, with keypads in each area and each area partitioned off to act as its own system.  Since installation in early November 2016 we have had ZERO false alarms and communication issues.

Although the NEO systems are a bit more expensive than traditional DSC systems, in the right application NEO is simply the only system that we are going to trust for care free ownership and management.

Cameras for “Home Security”

We constantly get homeowners asking for cameras for “security”. Hollywood, via TV and movies, has created a false narrative that starts with a bad video image of a person that is then software enhanced to finally result in a recognizable facial image fed into a database and the perpetrator is recognized and apprehended. Real life doesn’t work this way and we almost always recommend homeowners not waste money on cameras. If someone broke into your home and you got a decent image of them, where would you take it? The FBI and a very small handful of large, local police agencies even have access to facial recognition software and unless your burglar is already a convicted felon, their face isn’t in the database. And often times, burglars mask their identity by wearing a hoody covering most of their face anyway.
We do install cameras, often, in commercial applications. Local 24 hour access gyms must have cameras to get insurance. Mini storage facilities use cameras to track vandalism, most often occurring after a non-paying renter is locked out of their unit. We’ve even installed cameras on manufacturing processes so a remote user can see and control machinery in the process.
We have a handful of customers who paid us to install cameras on their second homes, but purely for entertainment; so they can see what the weather is like or the lake conditions from their primary homes. Don’t waste your money on cameras for “security”. Like our insurance broker has said “having cameras is a great way to watch your stuff being stolen!”.

Johnny Come Lately?

Has your cable company or internet provider solicited you for alarm monitoring yet? If not, they will soon. AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast, Suddenlink, and many others have decided that the alarm system monitoring business model fits well with their current model. The only problem is their experience in the alarm industry. One non-monitored customer who had a system in her house that we installed 10 years ago called recently asking where the alarm system was located. AT&T sold her on a “digital” alarm system and their technicians had been at her house three hours and had not yet located the existing system (which is cleverly disguised in a 12 by 12 locked box in the master bedroom closet with our company logo on it!). Is this the kind of alarm system support you want from the company monitoring your alarm system?
When approached by an alternate provider whose primary business is NOT alarm monitoring, ask the technicians some simple questions.
1) What is a “digital” system and what advantages does it have, functionally, over the system I have now? (hint, all alarm systems manufactured over the past 15 years are digital).
2) How long has this company been in the alarm monitoring business?
3) Where is their central station located? Local?
4) Is their initial monitoring rate a “teaser” rate like their super low cable and internet rates that are designed to get new customers and then go up to “normal” after a year?
5) Is their monitoring center actively involved in YOUR local alarm industry professional associations?
If you don’t get a great feeling that the answers to these questions were not just made up on the fly, don’t compromise your monitoring. It’s your home and family that you’re protecting. Leave it up to professionals that have been in the business more than a couple years.

Second Home Protection

This is the time of year when many people walk away from their summer homes in the Northwest for the next six or seven months; some just taking their chances on having their homes burglarized, or not.

Even the most inexperienced burglar can spot an unoccupied home, and even easier is spotting that home that has been unoccupied for a few weeks or months. Accumulated advertisements stuck in the front door, phone books on the doorstep and virgin snow in the driveway are all dead giveaways that nobody has been home for a while. This is why not a small percentage of our business in residential alarm systems comes from people who have experienced a burglary while away for an extended period of time.

The most effective way to protect your home, obviously, is a multi-faceted alarm system that can detect burglary, fire and water intrusion making sure that whatever happens, someone will be notified quickly to respond, minimizing damage or loss. With our smart phone app, a system owner can view the real time status of all the homes protected zones, get customized text alerts if virtually anything happens, and remotely arm and disarm the system…all from anywhere there is cell service.

If you know someone with a home in the Northwest that would like to have peace of mind that the home is protected while they are away, please have them call Sierra Security instead of rolling the dice every year.

Why should you care if your alarm company is licensed?

Licensing is a way your state helps protect the consumer.   First, most license issuing agencies require proof of and maintenance of liability insurance. Second, the licensing agency provides a vehicle for consumers to file complaints about contractors with whom they have legitimate issues that have not been resolved. Agencies investigate complaints and log those complaints for future consumers to see on their web sites. If you don’t have personal referrals or glowing references about the company you are considering, at least check their license status and any complaints on your state’s web site.

Third, some licensing agencies, such as California’s Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB) and Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) require a certain number of hours worked in the particular field and the successful completion of a qualifications exam before issuing licenses. In order to do business as an alarm company in California, Sierra Security must hold 4 separate licenses. 1) Low Voltage Contractors License. 2) Alarm Company Operator License. 3) Alarm Company Qualified Manager License. 4) Alarm Company Agent License. All these licenses require verifiable experience and testing.

For certain the best way to select a contractor is by personal referral, but always check a prospective company’s license status. If the company is not licensed, contracting with them for a system could be risky.

Eleven Percent

Read below the article from the CDA Press regarding recent burglary discoveries in and around Coeur d’Alene.  With an average of only 11 percent of burglaries resulting in an arrest in KC, it would have been much better for the owners to have alarm systems.  This is exactly why insurance underwriters discount premiums for alarm system owners.

“The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office has received reports over the past several weeks of waterfront summer cabins that have been burglarized. The reported crimes occurred sometime after the end of the 2014 summer season.

The cabins that were burglarized were on Hayden Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene. Forced entry was made on the cabins by an unknown means and items stolen include household electronics and power tools.

Detectives believe that several of these burglaries were made by the same suspects and are hoping that timely reporting can further the investigation and lead to the recovery of the stolen property.

The sheriff’s office is asking individuals who have unoccupied summer homes to check the residences, and if they have been a victim, to contact deputies as soon as possible.”