SECURITY / ALARMS
A burglar alarm is a system designed to detect intrusion – unauthorized entry – into a building or area. They are also called security alarms, security systems, alarm systems, intrusion detection systems, perimeter detection systems, and similar terms.
Burglar alarms are used in residential, commercial, industrial, and military properties for protection against burglary (theft) or property damage, as well as personal protection against intruders. Car alarms likewise protect vehicles and their contents. Prisons also use security systems for control of inmates.
Some alarm systems serve a single purpose of burglary protection; combination systems provide both fire and intrusion protection. Intrusion alarm systems may also be combined with closed-circuit television surveillance systems to automatically record the activities of intruders, and may interface to access control systems for electrically locked doors. Systems range from small, self-contained noisemakers, to complicated, multi-area systems with computer monitoring and control
The most basic alarm consists of one or more sensors to detect intruders, and an alerting device to indicate the intrusion. However, a typical premises security alarm employs the following components:
Premises control unit (PCU), or panel: The “brain” of the system, it reads sensor inputs, tracks arm/disarm status, and signals intrusions. In modern systems, this is typically one or more computer circuit boards inside a metal enclosure, along with a power supply.
ensors: Devices which detect intrusions. Sensors may placed at the perimeter of the protected area, within it, or both. Sensors can detect intruders by a variety of methods, such as monitoring doors and windows for opening, or by monitoring unoccupied interiors for motions, sound, vibration, or other disturbances.
Alerting devices: These indicate an alarm condition. Most commonly, these are bells, sirens, and/or flashing lights. Alerting devices serve the dual purposes of warning occupants of intrusion, and potentially scaring off burglars.
Keypads: Small devices, typically wall-mounted, which function as the human-machine interface to the system. In addition to buttons, keypads typically feature indicator lights, a small mulch-character display, or both.
Interconnections between components. This may consist of direct wiring to the control unit, or wireless links with local power supplies.
Security devices: Devices to detect thieves such as spotlights, cameras & lasers.
The passive infrared (PIR) motion detector is one of the most common sensors found in household and small business environments. It offers affordable and reliable functionality. The term passive refers to the fact that the detector does not generate or radiate its own energy; it works entirely by detecting the heat energy given off by other objects.
Strictly speaking, PIR sensors do not detect motion; rather, they detect abrupt changes in temperature at a given point. As an intruder walks in front of the sensor, the temperature at that point will rise from room temperature to body temperature, and then back again. This quick change triggers the detection.
PIR sensors may be designed to be wall or ceiling mounted, and come in various fields of view, from narrow “point” detectors to 360 degree fields. PIRs require a power supply in addition to the detection signalling circuit.
Using frequencies between 15 kHz and 75 kHz, these active detectors transmit ultrasonic sound waves that are inaudible to humans. The Doppler shift principle is the underlying method of operation, in which a change in frequency is detected due to object motion. This is caused when a moving object changes the frequency of sound waves around it. Two conditions must occur to successfully detect a Doppler shift event:
There must be motion of an object either towards or away from the receiver.
The motion of the object must cause a change in the ultrasonic frequency to the receiver relative to the transmitting frequency. The ultrasonic detector operates by the transmitter emitting an ultrasonic signal into the area to be protected. The sound waves are reflected by solid objects (such as the surrounding floor, walls and ceiling) and then detected by the receiver. Because ultrasonic waves are transmitted through air, then hard-surfaced objects tend to reflect most of the ultrasonic energy, while soft surfaces tend to absorb most energy.
When the surfaces are stationary, the frequency of the waves detected by the receiver will be equal to the transmitted frequency. However, a change in frequency will occur as a result of the Doppler principle, when a person or object is moving towards or away from the detector. Such an event initiates an alarm signal. This technology is considered obsolete by many alarm professionals, and is not actively installed.
This device emits microwaves from a transmitter and detects any reflected microwaves or reduction in beam intensity using a receiver. The transmitter and receiver are usually combined inside a single housing (monostatic) for indoor applications, and separate housings (bistatic) for outdoor applications. To reduce false alarms this type of detector is usually combined with a passive infrared detector or “Dualtec” alarm.
Microwave detectors respond to a Doppler shift in the frequency of the reflected energy, by a phase shift, or by a sudden reduction of the level of received energy. Any of these effects may indicate motion of an intruder.
Photoelectric beam systems detect the presence of an intruder by transmitting visible or infrared light beams across an area, where these beams may be obstructed. To improve the detection surface area, the beams are often employed in stacks of two or more. However, if an intruder is aware of the technology’s presence, it can be avoided.
The technology can be an effective long-range detection system, if installed in stacks of three or more where the transmitters and receivers are staggered to create a fence-like barrier. Systems are available for both internal and external applications. To prevent a clandestine attack using a secondary light source being used to hold the detector in a ‘sealed’ condition whilst an intruder passes through, most systems use and detect a modulated light source.
Glass break detection
The glass break detector may be used for internal perimeter building protection. Glass break acoustic detectors are mounted in close proximity to the glass panes and listen for sound frequencies associated with glass breaking.
Seismic glass break detectors, generally referred to as “shock sensors” are different in that they are installed on the glass pane. When glass breaks it produces specific shock frequencies which travel through the glass and often through the window frame and the surrounding walls and ceiling.
Typically, the most intense frequencies generated are between 3 and 5 kHz, depending on the type of glass and the presence of a plastic interlayer. Seismic glass break detectors “feel” these shock frequencies and in turn generate an alarm condition. Window foil is a less sophisticated, mostly outdated, detection method that involves gluing a thin strip of conducting foil on the inside of the glass and putting low-power electrical current through it.
Heat detection system
Most systems may also be equipped with smoke, heat, and/or carbon monoxide detectors. These are also known as 24 hour zones (which are on at all times). Smoke detectors and heat detectors protect from the risk of fire and carbon monoxide detectors protect from the risk of carbon monoxide. Although an intruder alarm panel may also have these detectors connected, it may not meet all the local fire code requirements of a fire alarm system.
Vibration (shaker) or inertia sensors
These devices are mounted on barriers and are used primarily to detect an attack on the structure itself. The technology relies on an unstable mechanical configuration that forms part of the electrical circuit. When movement or vibration occurs, the unstable portion of the circuit moves and breaks the current flow, which produces an alarm. The technology of the devices varies and can be sensitive to different levels of vibration. The medium transmitting the vibration must be correctly selected for the specific sensor as they are best suited to different types of structures and configurations.
A rather new and unproven type of sensors use piezo-electric components rather than mechanical circuits, which can be tuned to be extremely sensitive to vibration.
pros: Very reliable sensors, low false alarm rate and middle place in the price range.
cons: Must be fence mounted. The rather high price deters many customers, but its effectiveness offsets its high price. Piezo-electric sensors are a new technology with an unproven record as opposed to the mechanical sensor which in some cases has a field record in excess of 20 years.
Passive magnetic field detection
This buried security system is based on the Magnetic Anomaly Detection principle of operation. The system uses an electromagnetic field generator powered by two wires running in parallel. Both wires run along the perimeter and are usually installed about 5 inches apart on top of a wall or about 12″/30 cm below ground. The wires are connected to a signal processor which analyzes any change in the magnetic field.
This kind of buried security system sensor cable could be embedded in the top of almost any kind of wall to provide a regular wall detection ability, or can be buried in the ground. They provide a very low false alarm rate, and have a very high chance of detecting real burglars. However, they cannot be installed near high voltage lines, or radar transmitters.
This proximity system can be installed on building perimeters, fences, and walls. It also has the ability to be installed free standing on dedicated poles. The system uses an electromagnetic field generator powering one wire, with another sensing wire running parallel to it. Both wires run along the perimeter and are usually installed about 800 millimetres apart. The sensing wire is connected to a signal processor that analyses:
amplitude change (mass of intruder),
rate change (movement of intruder),
preset disturbance time (time the intruder is in the pattern).
These items define the characteristics of an intruder and when all three are detected simultaneously, an alarm signal is generated. The barrier can provide protection from the ground to about 4 metres of altitude. It is usually configured in zones of about 200 metre lengths depending on the number of sensor wires installed.
pros: concealed as a buried form.
cons: expensive, short zones which mean more electronics (more money), high rate of false alarms as it cannot distinguish a cat from a human. In reality it does not work that well, as extreme weather causes false alarms.
The operation of a microwave barrier is very simple. This type of device produces an electromagnetic beam using high frequency waves that pass from the transmitter to the receiver, creating an invisible but sensitive wall of protection. When the receiver detects a difference of condition within the beam (and hence a possible intrusion), the system begins a detailed analysis of the situation. If the system considers the signal a real intrusion, it provides an alarm signal that can be treated in analog or digital form.
pros:low cost, easy to install, invisible perimeter barrier, unknown perimeter limits to the intruder.
cons:extremely sensitive to weather as rain, snow and fog for example would cause the sensors to stop working, need sterile perimeter line because trees, bushes or anything that blocks the beam would cause false alarm or lack of detection.
Microphonic based systems vary in design but each is generally based on the detection of an intruder attempting to cut or climb over a chainwire fence. Usually the microphonic detection systems are installed as sensor cables attached to rigid chainwire fences, however some specialised versions of these systems can also be installed as buried systems underground. Depending on the version selected, it can be sensitive to different levels of noise or vibration.
The system is based on coaxial or electro-magnetic sensor cable with the controller having the ability to differentiate between signals from the cable or chainwire being cut, an intruder climbing the fence, or bad weather conditions.
The systems are designed to detect and analyse incoming electronic signals received from the sensor cable, and then to generate alarms from signals which exceed preset conditions. The systems have adjustable electronics to permit installers to change the sensitivity of the alarm detectors to the suit specific environmental conditions. The tuning of the system is usually accomplished during commissioning of the detection devices.
pros: very cheap, very simple configuration, easy to install.
cons: some systems have a high rate of false alarms because some of these sensors might be too sensitive. Although systems using DSP (Digital Signal Processing) will largely eliminate false alarms on some cases.
Taut wire fence systems
A taut wire perimeter security system is basically an independent screen of tensioned tripwires usually mounted on a fence or wall. Alternatively, the screen can be made so thick that there is no need for a supporting chainwire fence. These systems are designed to detect any physical attempt to penetrate the barrier. Taut wire systems can operate with a variety of switches or detectors that sense movement at each end of the tensioned wires.
These switches or detectors can be a simple mechanical contact, static force transducer or an electronic strain gauge. Unwanted alarms caused by animals and birds can be avoided by adjusting the sensors to ignore objects that exert small amounts of pressure on the wires. This type of system is vulnerable to intruders digging under the fence. A concrete footing directly below the fence is installed to prevent this type of attack.
pros: low rate of false alarms, very reliable sensors and high rate of detection.
cons: Very expensive, complicated to install and old technology.
Fibre optic cable
A fibre-optic cable can be used to detect intruders by measuring the difference in the amount of light sent through the fibre core. If the cable is disturbed, light will ‘leak’ out and the receiver unit will detect a difference in the amount of light received.
The cable can be attached directly to a chainwire fence or bonded into a barbed steel tape that is used to protect the tops of walls and fences. This type of barbed tape provides a good physical deterrent as well as giving an immediate alarm if the tape is cut or severely distorted. Other types work on the detection of change in polarization which is caused by fiber position change.
pros: very similar to the Microphonic system, very simple configuration, easy to install.
cons: high rate of false alarm or no alarms at all for systems using light that leaks out of the optical fiber. The polarization changing system is much more sensitive but false alarms depend on the alarm processing.
This system employs an electro-magnetic field disturbance principle based on two unshielded (or ‘leaky’) coaxial cables buried about 10–15 cm deep and located at about 1 metre apart. The transmitter emits continuous Radio Frequency (RF) energy along one cable and the energy is received by the other cable.
When the change in field strength weakens due to the presence of an object and reaches a pre-set lower threshold, an alarm condition is generated. The system is unobtrusive when it has been installed correctly, however care must be taken to ensure the surrounding soil offers good drainage in order to reduce nuisance alarms.
pros: concealed as a buried form.
cons: can be affected by RF noise, high rate of false alarms, hard to install.
Wired, wireless and hybrid systems
The trigger signal from every sensor is transmitted to one or more control unit(s) either through wires or wireless means (radio, line carrier, infrared). Wired systems are convenient when sensors (such as PIRs, smoke detectors, etc.) require power to operate correctly, however, they may be more costly to install. Entry-level wired systems utilize a Star network topology, where the panel is at the center logically, and all devices “home run” its wire back to the panel.
More complex panels use a Bus network topology where the wire basically is a data loop around the perimeter of the facility, and has “drops” for the sensor devices which must include a unique device identifier integrated into the sensor device itself (e.g. iD biscuit). Wired systems also have the advantage, if wired properly, of being tamper-evident.
Wireless systems, on the other hand, often use battery-powered transmitters which are easier to install and have less expensive start-up costs, but may reduce the reliability of the system if the batteries are not maintained. Depending on distance and construction materials, one or more wireless repeaters may be required to get the signal to the alarm panel reliably. A wireless system can be moved to a new home easily, an advantage for those who rent or who move frequently.
The more important wireless connection for security is the one between the control panel and the monitoring station. Wireless monitoring of the alarm system protects against a burglar cutting a cable or from failures of an internet provider. This full wireless setup is commonly referred to as 100% wireless.
Hybrid systems use both wired and wireless sensors to achieve the benefits of both. Transmitters, or sensors can also be connected through the premise’s electrical circuits to transmit coded signals to the control unit (line carrier). The control unit usually has a separate channel or zone for burglar and fire sensors, and better systems have a separate zone for every different sensor, as well as internal “trouble” indicators (mains power loss, low battery, wire broken, etc.).
Alarm connection and monitoring
Depending upon the application, the alarm output may be local, remote or a combination. Local alarms do not include monitoring, though may include indoor and/or outdoor sounders (e.g. motorized bell or electronic siren) and lights (e.g. strobe light) which may be useful for signaling an evacuation notice for people during fire alarms, or where one hopes to scare off an amateur burglar quickly. However, with the widespread use of alarm systems (especially in cars), false alarms are very frequent and many urbanites tend to ignore alarms rather than investigating, let alone contacting the necessary authorities. In short, there may be no response at all.
In rural areas (e.g., where nobody will hear the fire bell or burglar siren) lights or sounds may not make much difference anyway, as the nearest responders could take so long to get there that nothing can be done to avoid losses.
Remote alarm systems are used to connect the control unit to a predetermined monitor of some sort, and they come in many different configurations. High-end systems connect to a central station or responder (e.g. Police/ Fire/ Medical) via a direct phone wire, a cellular network, a radio network (i.e. GPRS/GSM) or an IP path. In the case of a dual signaling system two of these options are utilized simultaneously. The alarm monitoring includes not only the sensors, but also the communication transmitter itself.
While direct phone circuits are still available in some areas from phone companies, because of their high cost and the advent dual signaling with its comparatively lower cost they are becoming uncommon. Direct connections are now most usually seen only in Federal, State, and Local Government buildings, or on a school campus that has a dedicated security, police, fire, or emergency medical department (in the UK communication is only possible to an Alarm Receiving Centre – communication direct to the emergency services is not permitted). More typical systems incorporate a digital cellular communication unit that will contact the central station (or some other location) via the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and raise the alarm, either with a synthesized voice or increasingly via an encoded message string that the central station decodes.
These may connect to the regular phone system on the system side of the demarcation point, but typically connect on the customer side ahead of all phones within the monitored premises so that the alarm system can seize the line by cutting-off any active calls and call the monitoring company if needed. A dual signalling system would raise the alarm wirelessly via a radio path (GPRS/GSM) or cellular path using the phone line or broadband line as a back-up overcoming any compromise to the phone line.
Encoders can be programmed to indicate which specific sensor was triggered, and monitors can show the physical location (or “zone”) of the sensor on a list or even a map of the protected premises, which can make the resulting response more effective. For example, a heat sensor alarm, coupled with a flame detector in the same area is a more reliable indication of an actual fire than just one or the other sensor indication by itself.
Many alarm panels are equipped with a backup communication path for use when the primary PSTN circuit is not functioning. The redundant dialer may be connected to a second communication path, or a specialized encoded cellular phone, radio, or internet interface device to bypass the PSTN entirely, to thwart intentional tampering with the phone line(s). Just the fact that someone tampered with the line could trigger a supervisory alarm via the radio network, giving early warning of an imminent problem (e.g., arson). In some cases a remote building may not have PSTN phone service, and the cost of trenching and running a direct line may be prohibitive. It is possible to use a wireless cellular or radio device as the primary communication method.
In the UK the most popular solution of this kind is similar in principle to the above but with the primary and back up paths reversed. Utilizing a radio path (GPRS/GSM) as the primary signalling path is not only quicker than PSTN but also allows huge cost savings as unlimited amounts of data can be sent at no extra expense.