News & Observer, By Iris June Vinegar


You’re alone in the kitchen and have just poured a Pinot Noire into the coq au vin sauce when an authoritative voice announces in perfect diction that someone is at the door.

Is that Reeves, the butler speaking? Certainly not! Who needs a butler when you have Destiny, a top-of-the-line home security system made by Honeywell/Apex.

Equipped with advanced voice communication and home automation functions, the Destiny 6100 model is being installed by Alert Protection Systems in an 8,763 square-foot custom home built by Bost Construction Company. Scheduled for June completion, the French chateau-style home in Cary’s upscale Birklands will cost $1.8 million.

“Security systems have become more sophisticated with more available features than ever before,” notes Bost Construction’s president and CEO, Rex Bost. He admits the added functions and features mean additional cost, bur he notes, “our clients are willing to pay for the best systems to protect their family and property.” Alarm systems are standard in all the homes Bost builds, which cost from the $600,000’s to millions of dollars.

The Destiny 6100 model in Bost’s home has a system controller with 16 hard-wired zones and a communicator that includes transformer and smoke detector. It also features a control panel with a vocabulary of 475 words that can announce specific window and door openings. Combined with the Lutron lighting system, specific areas will light up when contact points are open, triggering a flashing alarm light when an area is violated.

The model comes with motion and glass-break sensors that can sound an alarm when an intruder is detected.

“We try to protect all the entry points into the house,” explains Larry Beaton, Alert Protection’s president and CEO.

The Destiny 6100 system and Bost’s Birklands home costs $1,640; other Alert security systems are $800 to $2,500 with a central monitoring fee of $20 per month.

Today, some 18 percent of U.S. homes have professionally installed alarm systems, compared with 13 percent in 1999; a large number of these homes are new construction.

For example, Security Solutions, which has offices across North Carolina as well as in South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, is installing alarm systems and high-speed cables in 467 new condominiums in Cary’s Balmoral community. The alarm company, an authorized ADT dealer, is also providing access control in the elevators and garage and a video entry system for visitors.

But although the company annually installs alarms in 1,200 new homes in the Raleigh area, according to Barry Simmons, Security Solutions president and CEO, 60 percent of its entire alarm installations go into existing construction.

Simmons points out that people typically consider a security system three times in their lives – When they buy a new home, are crime victims (or live near one), and after a life-changing event.

Being a crime victim also changed Lee Campbell’s life. The president and CEO of Premier Security got into the alarm business after burglars broke into his home 15 years ago.

“They jimmied the glass door open and I didn’t even know about it until I awoke the next morning and found some things gone,” Campbell recalls. I made him so nervous he had a security system installed. Then he got a job selling alarms and later went into that business for himself.

Most of Premier’s security business is custom-designed equipment made by GE Interlogics (formerly Caddx). The average perimeter protection, which includes 25 doors and window contacts, usually costs $1,000 to $1,200 with monitoring fees under $21 per month.

“All you really need (for security protection) are digital cameras and recorders,” notes Rick Martin of Electro Micro Security Systems (EMSS), video surveillance specialists. Formerly used almost exclusively by commercial enterprises, an explosion of that technology has made video surveillance affordable to the average homeowner. It works best with high-speed Internet communication.

EMSS also offers “nanny cams” and video intercoms. The nanny cams monitor you babysitter’s movements (and others in your home) from your office miles away. The video intercom features a built-in chime with two-way communication that opens at the push of a button.

EMSS installs equipment from a number of manufacturers, including Bosch cameras and Ademco burglar alarm panels. A security system for a 3,000 square foot home could cost $550 to thousands of dollars, depending on components and contacts.

But suppose your alarm system is disabled by the burglar who cut the wires, or by a storm. You can keep it operating with a cellular backup system from IDDS, which offers its basic security system free to customers using their monitoring system for $25 a month.

And, notes IDDS sales manager Dennis Kokos, if you leave home without setting your security alarm, just call “the wizard” from anywhere, put in your code and set the alarm. If the alarm goes off while you’re at work and then turns out to be false, you can call “the wizard” and reset the alarm from your office.

But don’t expect “the wizard” to pay your fine for false alarms, which are a major concern to police departments all over the country. In Raleigh, according to police public information officer Jim Sughrue, 98 percent of burglar alarm calls are false and officer response time translates to about $877,000 of taxpayer funds. In fact, some alarm users are already paying fines of from $50 to $500 for repeat false

alarms. And the Raleigh city council recently approved an ordinance, written with the alarm industry’s help, that requires alarm customers and companies to register with the city.

Beaton of Alert Security believes most false alarms are caused by user errors. He points out that the alarm system notifies the monitoring center, which in turn calls the home for verification.

“If you give them your personal code and explain it was a false alarm, they will not dispatch the police,” Beaton notes.

Premier Security’s Campbell agrees that educating alarm owners on how to use the device is the most critical part of reducing false alarms. His company usually gives customers a couple of days to use the system without police notification “so if they accidentally trigger an alarm the police won’t be bothered.”

But Martin of EMSS points out that advanced technology in security systems has helped to reduce the number of false alarms triggered by cats and other small pets. “It is now almost impossible for a pet under 90 pounds to set off an alarm,” Martin says.

Although glass-break sensors formerly were prone to send out false alarms if anything bumped against the panes, the detectors have improved so they can now actually measure the sound of breaking glass. And, Martin notes, digital video surveillance recorders can be set to record only something that moves. They now record on a hard drive and the tape never needs changing.

Video verification should also help reduce false alarms and their cost to communities, says Simmons of Security Solutions. “If an alarm goes off in a home with a high-speed Internet connection and digital security cameras,” he explains, “it sends an instant signal to the central monitoring station which determines whether police should be notified.”

Simmons points out that the overwhelming majority of alarm owners experience fewer than two false alarms annually, “which indicates the problem is not an abusive situation for most alarm owners.” A board member and former president of the N.C. Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, Simmons notes the alarm industry has become more responsible in its efforts to seek a reasonable solution. By working together, he says, the alarm industry, the consumer and law enforcement are making progress toward reducing the number of false alarms. Better user-friendly equipment along with new communication technology and improved customer training is a start in the right direction.