Security systems, with sensors and a keypad, perform functions that are quite different than those of a surveillance system. And each of these systems, taken alone, can be adapted to a variety of uses. Before planning one or the other, or both, for your home, take a moment to consider what you want to achieve.
We think of security systems as being intrusion alarms to protect us from burglars, but they do much more than that. A well designed complete security system provides comprehensive protection for both the property and its residents. The optimum system protects from gas leaks, smoke and fire, floods, electrical outages, sudden temperature drops and more. It tracks comings and goings of specific individuals, allows for one part of the home to be partitioned from the rest, to be operated separately. It allows for other devices to be controlled by the system through output relays. It can link to lighting systems for integrated home control, including heat setback and lights out commands. It can include an emergency button for personal safety.
A surveillance system is about camera images. It may or may not be combined with a security system and it may or may not include image recording and playback.
THE MONITORED SECURITY SYSTEM
People often assume that security system monitoring is an unnecessary added expense, but it is really the core of the protection provided by the system. Sensors throughout the home report back to the panel, to indicate a change in the status of the sensor. A water sensor reports when it is wet, a door contact reports when it is open, a glassbreak detector reports the sound of breaking glass, etc. The system takes these signals and assigns definitions to them, so that they are understood at the monitoring station. Certain sensors, such as a smoke or gas detector, or personal medical alarm, are defined as urgent, so that the monitoring station, after checking to see if it’s a false alarm, immediately dispatches emergency responders. One of the greatest advantages of this monitoring is that it works whether you are home or not, so if a fire started while the house was empty, the system calls the fire department. A monitored system which will send the police is also much more effective in the case of a break-in than just sirens, which may or may not scare away an intruder. A monitored system also has a silent alarm, so that if someone forces you to disarm it, a secret signal can still alert the station so that the police will be sent. If the cable is cut the monitoring station knows it and dispatches emergency response. The monitoring station checks the system in the middle of the night to make sure that communication is working. People call you to let you know when something other than an emergency is a problem with your system. For all that you pay a monthly fee.
THE UNMONITORED SECURITY SYSTEM
If you install a system that is designed to connect to a monitoring station and don’t set up a monitoring contract you are wasting most of the system’s potential. Now when sensors detect a change of state, a siren will sound or a keypad will chime, depending on your programming. A message will show up on the keypad, either a few letters of text or a code. If it has detected a basement flood the keypad will chime intermittently until you acknowledge it by turning it off. You won’t get a phone call. If it detected a fire when you weren’t there, or an intruder, it would set off the siren, but would the neighbours respond? Would the burglar be scared away? How long would the siren sound before someone realized the house was on fire?
THE SELF-MONITORED SECURITY SYSTEM
You can install a system that puts you in charge of monitoring by calling your cell phone or sending you a text. You are usually doing something else, rather than waiting as a monitoring service does for the system to call, but at least you know what’s happening. Some self-monitored systems are very inexpensive and use wireless sensors. They let you avoid not only the monitoring but the wiring costs. Others combine with a home automation system so that you can use the security system to control lighting or heating, either by a preset schedule or with your phone. They can even include cameras that can be viewed from your phone. This is a system that puts it all on you, and if you’re comfortable with that, it can save money and provide fairly good security. You can get the best of both worlds if you connect a self-monitored system with automation to a system that’s designed to be monitored. That way the professionals keep an eye on things while you have the ability to control all kinds of things from a distance.
WIRELESS VS. HARDWIRED
Theoretically the hard-wired security system should be more reliable because the information travels over dedicated paths. It’s true that interference can get in the way of wireless sensors. But every system, whether hard-wired or wireless, monitors its sensors constantly and if you lost the signal from the sensor you would know right away. It’s not a common occurrence in the real world, where wireless sensor devices are pretty reliable. Many systems designed to be monitored allow for hybrid connections, sharing both hard wired and wireless sensors in the same panel. It’s a way to get around difficult retrofit wiring and also to expand the panel’s capabilities without requiring more terminals to wire in.
A surveillance system is all about watching, maybe also listening, and usually recording. It can be combined with a security system but can’t take over all of the capabilities of a comprehensive security installation. There are only four elements to a surveillance system: cable, cameras, recorder and monitor. The cable transmits power for the camera in one direction and the images (and sound) captured by the camera in the other. Cameras come in many shapes and sizes to suit their application, from pinhole cameras at the ATM to large heated camera enclosures hanging from the eaves. The recorder stores the images, sorts them in a way that they can be retrieved, and sends them to a monitor or the Internet. The monitor is just a TV screen, and most surveillance systems can be displayed on an old CRT screen or a new flat screen. Now a laptop, tablet or phone can also be used as a monitor.
ANALOG AND DIGITAL
Like everything else to do with audio and video, the time-tested analog devices are being supplanted by digital replacements. In a surveillance system it makes good sense to go digital if you’re starting from scratch and even convert to digital if your existing system is getting old. Nothing is the same, except the monitor, between an analog and a digital system. An analog camera requires two cables, one coax for the image, and one pair for power to the camera. A digital camera takes care of everything with one Cat 5 cable. An analog camera sends images to the recorder, optimized with focal length and focus control. A digital camera processes the images before sending them, to allow you to target specific parts of the image and make the camera respond to specific parameters. An analog recorder converts the images from the cameras to digital data and stores them according to the parameters you’ve set. It can also upload the converted images to the Internet. A digital recorder is basically a network switch with a hard drive attached. Many digital surveillance systems offer the option of software to use your regular computer to process and access the video rather than a separate device with the software and hard drive built in to it.
REMOTE VIEWING AND CONTROL
Most surveillance systems, whether analog or digital, now allow the images to be uploaded to the web, so that you can see them from any location using a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone. With digital Internet network cameras, a storage component is not even required if you just want to look at live images. Because the camera can connect directly to your home network, you can connect to it through the software. Some cameras can be operated from a remote location, with pan, tilt and zoom options. In a commercial installation this type of control can be handled with a joystick at the desk of the the security guard, but it you are using it to cover your home, you can set it up to be controlled through your smart phone.
STAND ALONE SYSTEMS
A door intercom with a built-in camera is an example of a system that works on its own, but it can also be integrated into other home systems. For example, when someone is at the front door, the system may allow you to turn your TV to a specific channel to see who it is, or it may mute the loud music you’re playing so that you know someone is at the door, or it may allow you to push a button on your phone to unlock the front door, and use your phone to tell the person to come in.
Having systems which can communicate and interrelate to each other is the ultimate in home electronics. If you plan it properly, you can have a home system in which the security and intrusion functions, the surveillance images, and the home automation commands can be interconnected. For example movement at a specific window within a camera view can be programmed to alarm the security system. The corollary is that a door contact or motion from the security system can trigger the camera to record. Both security and surveillance systems can trigger outside events, so they can be tied into a home automation system. A motion sensor or door contact can turn on lights, or an automation system controller can simultaneously control the security system. Temperature sensors, door contacts or motion sensors can also control the heating and air conditioning, to achieve cost savings.
TAILOR THE SYSTEM TO YOUR SPECIFIC NEEDS
There is no cookie-cutter approach for security and surveillance. It depends on what is most important to you and how you want to use the system on a day-to-day basis. The first step is always to discuss it with someone who knows the options available and has the expertise to guide you on how to integrate different systems to achieve the most effective result.
In the Southern Georgian Bay area, the place to go for the expertise, products and installation specifically tailored to your needs is Homebuttons in Meaford.