Understanding system differences


Security systems, sometimes called alarm systems or burglar alarms, are designed to alert property and business owners to the presence of intruders. They are made up of a series of sensors connected to a central unit capable of raising an alarm if any sensor is triggered. The types of sensor and alarm can both vary depending on system type and settings. Normally, an alarm system will be connected to a telephone system and automatically dial a preprogrammed number or numbers to report a security breach.

It can be very confusing to try to understand the differences between the great variety of security systems available on the market today, particularly when you consider the broad-stroke differences in the way that alarm systems and home control systems are categorized.


Good, Better, Best

For starters, there are systems that are installed by contracting companies. These are generally of reasonable quality. There are also a wide variety of systems that are designed to be self-installed by the consumer. These do-it-yourself systems vary greatly in quality. Some are at least as good, and often, even better, than systems installed by security professionals. Other DIY systems feature low-end components and don’t offer anything close to reliable performance. The only way to know for sure that you’re getting a quality system is to select a reputable professional security specialist.

Most home alarm systems are made up of some or all of the following components:

Base Unit
The base unit is the “brain” of the system. It is connected to a phone line (either landline or cellular, which is essential to portable systems) and dials out to report any notifications it receives from system sensors.

Nearly every alarm system uses keypads to arm and disarm. Some may only have a single keypad attached to the base unit, but many allow additional keypads to be installed so they can be placed near multiple entryways.

Door/Window Contact
These sensors are placed on windows and doors, reporting whenever they are opened. The most common types are magnetic sensors made of two parts, one on the window/door and one on the door jamb. If the door or window is opened, the connection between the parts is broken, generating an alert.

Motion Sensors
Varying in range, these sensors detect movement. They are perfect for hallways and open entryways.

PIR Sensors
PIR stands for Passive Infrared. These sensors can detect changes in heat in the area they cover, allowing them to function even in the dark.

Smoke Detectors
Some alarm systems can integrate smoke detectors into their functionality. These work just like normal smoke detectors, but generate an alarm from the base unit in case of a fire.

Panic Button
Panic buttons can be installed in specific areas, such as under a retail clerk’s counter, or they can be portable, wireless devices carried by the user. They allow an individual to manually trigger an alarm through the base unit.


Taking it With You

If portability (the ability to move the components of the system to different locations within your home or office, or to move the entire system to a new address) is most important to you, select your security provider carefully.

Some people get apprehensive believing that if a system is portable, that may indicate that it is of inferior quality and not up to professional standards. In some cases, this can be true. There are systems out there that are very much non-professional grade; in fact, they’re basically toys rather than a series of components that will provide real security for you and your family.

It’s important to be aware and educated. Some of the best world class, professional security systems offer superior protection while remaining completely portable.

Let’s look at what makes up a system that can be labeled “portable.”

A portable system gives you the option to immediately move the components to different sections of your home or business, or even to a new location. You should have the ability to do this without any specialized skills, and without having to call a contractor. If a system is truly portable, the company you purchased it from would have provisioned it, programmed it, and tested it to give you a host of options -- options that you can change or adjust as you see fit.

Components you may want to move on a periodic basis could be the control keypad or even the entire system command center. Certain PIR motion detectors may need to be moved depending upon seasonal decor or temporary ornamental decorations. (Remember, any changes you make in your environment, from adding mylar balloons for a party to installing new air conditioning and heating systems, can all affect the operation of PIRs).


Identifying a Quality Security System

System quality is not only important for longevity, it’s important because you need to know you can count on the system to work in the event of an emergency. Some may think that portable devices can be more easily circumvented by the bad guys. This can be true with inferior systems. For example, lower-quality components rely on standard telephone lines for communications. To identify more reliable portable systems, look for systems that operate via GSM cellular communication (rather than via telephone lines), and those that feature “Crash & Smash” protection. Available only in higher end systems, Crash & Smash technology protects against criminals disabling vulnerable security systems by destroying or removing the components and/or the master control panel before it can send an alarm signal. This eliminates any doubt and assures you that you are protected when you need it most. Crash & Smash protection is the most important feature when comparing the reliability of different alarm systems, whether they’re portable or fixed.

Remember, you do not need to give up security for convenience and portability. Stay educated and purchase a system that is easy to understand, install, and operate. Components can be placed throughout your home in minutes and your protection should begin immediately. Should you need to move, the process of relocating the system should be just as easy. You shouldn’t need to call a contractor or invest more money in a system you already paid for.

Published September 22nd, 2021