NYT: Is residential security worthwile, part 2

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05/11/2010
boxingpart2 I'd like to think that NYT columnist Paul Sullivan's follow up to his April 30 installment "Weighing the Value of a Home Security System" was, at least in some small part, driven by my coverage of the piece in this blog and subsequent tweeting to my legions (Okay, I only have 155, but most of yesterday the reader read 0 so who's the wiser?) Twitter followers. I'm probably not that powerful, but it's nice think about. Sullivan, in his follow-up titled "Protecting Your Home, Part 2, or, What Readers Think," notes that his April 30 entry incited a "spate of responses." Sullivan puts all of those who responded to his initial story into one of three categories: Technologists, Pessimists, and Pragmatists.
TECHNOLOGISTS The technologists contended that I had not given security alarms their due. Through advances in monitoring technology, they said, the false alarm rate could be lowered and police response time shortened. Peter Goldring, the chief executive of Sentry Protection, told me about video verification systems that send a clip to the security company of the thief inside your house. With this, the company can tell the police there is a crime in progress, which gets them to your door quickly. 'We can prioritize,' he said. Likewise, Jeff Kessler, a managing director at Imperial Capital, an investment bank, and a former security industry analyst, said advances in notification via cellphones helped reduce the false alarm rate, while add-ons to alarm systems--like heating and plumbing monitors and services to provide medical assistance--expanded the uses and value of security systems.
I've been writing about security going mobile and verification of alarms for a while now. It's nice to see Sullivan catching up.
PESSIMISTS This group consisted of people with first-hand experience in the monitoring centers of security companies. They painted a far worse picture than I did. David Scott, who said he used to work as a customer service representative in Florida and is now a computer programmer, complained that security companies give customers a false sense of efficiency with advertisements showing NASA-like monitoring centers. He said that he worked in a cubicle and that standard residential service--as opposed to prominent clients or businesses--was handled by the newest hires. He had two pieces of advice to cut down on frustration with the security companies. One, make sure your system is properly coded so it tells you where a problem is--bathroom window, for example, as opposed to 'Sensor 1.' And if you have guests, particularly anyone who does not speak English well, make sure they know the code. 'I can’t tell you how many times I called inside, and mom or dad who spoke little English accidentally set off the alarm while the kids were at work,' Mr. Scott said. 'No one is happy when that happens.' Larry, a retired Suffolk County police officer and security consultant who did not want his last name used because of his law enforcement background, said police response times got slower after a few false alarms. And he cautioned people who rely on barking dogs that an experienced burglar knows how to get by the pet.
I'm not sure I would have classed these people pessimists. Scott worked at one monitoring company. There are approximately 2,700 U.S.-based central stations that interact with the law enforcement, fire and emergency services agencies. I've visited some of them, some with a typical office feel complete with cubicles and some that were so NASA/sci-fi-command-center, they out-NASA'd NASA. So it's kind of unfair to generalize. Contempt prior to investigation is a dangerous thing. Also, as far as Scott's advice for proper zone labeling, and making sure guests know the code--the CSAA Central Station Operator Training Course level 1 covers stuff like that. I can only surmise that Scott maybe was lacking some training. I like all the talk about false alarm reduction. That's something else I do a lot of writing about. Sullivan's third pigeonhole, pragmatists, is, according to Sullivan, the most useful group since they "provided the most useful insights. The pragmatists admitted that the security industry had many faults but instead of defending or excoriating it, they offered simple, cost-effective advice." Sounds good. So what did Sullivan's responders have to say? Sullivan quotes two people: Alan Lurie, vice president of operations at the Kenstan Lock Company, who recommends bars on windows to keep intruders out, and Mike Jagger of Provident Security. Mike's a vocal member of the industry with a strong blog and Twitter presence. SSN managing editor Martha Entwistle sat down with Mike at ISC West to discuss his take on the industry in an edition of ssnTVnews. Mike's advice is important because it focuses on an often overlooked truth of security: Security does not stop break-ins. Losses will always occur. The function of security is to deter, to impede, to add an extra layer or protection, to slow the bad guys down. From Sullivan's story:
[Jagger] suggested putting a deadbolt lock on your master bedroom. However unsightly this may be, he said master bedrooms are the first place burglars go to look for jewelry and money. While they could still break down the door, the lock will slow them. Similarly, he suggested people with alarms put poles in their sliding glass doors that are two inches too short. That way, when the burglar tries to force the door open, he will trip the alarm but still be stuck outside. (People without alarms might try putting a thick washer at the top of the slider to keep the crook from lifting it off the track.) To keep your high-end plasma-screen televisions on the wall, Mr. Jagger said people should use a bicycle lock to attach the TV to the mounting bracket. Yes, the burglars may still rip the TV off the wall, lock and all, but it will take them a bit of time. The same goes for bolting down computers and safes. If they’re not fastened to the floor they are easy to take out.
I recently spoke with ESA president Mike Miller about the state of the industry and whether or not there should be an appointed industry spokesman to manage public perception of the security industry, and he made much the same point as Jagger. "Someone could kick in my door and run in and steal my beautiful, commemorative coffee mug and be gone before there was a dispatch," Miller said with a chuckle. "Does that mean the security didn't do it's job?" Both Miller and Jagger make the point that a security system is only one part of a series of preventative measures people could take to decrease the likelihood of a break-in and subsequent loss. I feel part two of the NYT look at residential security was a little more balanced than the first part, and a whole lot more accurate than the recent SmartMoney article.