Intruder Alarm Systems: A Comprehensive Guide

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Intruder alarm systems are a key part of any effective security system. They deliver an immediate warning if one of your defences is breached.

This allows you (or your representative) to take prompt action. Using intruder alarms effectively helps both to deter intruders and to minimise the damage they can do.

To explain further of their benefits, intruder alarm system suppliers, ISET UK, share their guide on what you should know about intruder alarm systems.

The basics of an intruder alarm system 

All intruder alarm systems must have sensors, a control panel, and an alert system. Modern intruder alarm systems also tend to have some form of remote monitoring option. 

The sensors inform the control panel if they detect activity. The control panel raises the alert. This alert may or may not be perceptible to intruders. In general, there will be some kind of audible and/or visible alert that the intruders will hear/see. There will also be an alert sent to whoever is monitoring the location (on-site and/or remotely). 

Types of sensors 

As yet, you cannot simply install one type of sensor and have it monitor for all potential hazards. Currently, sensors have dedicated roles. This means that you may need to combine several different types of them to get full protection. Here is a quick guide to the main types of sensors currently used. 

Door and window sensors: These sensors come in two parts. One part goes on the moving object (i.e., the door or window itself). The other part goes on the frame. These sensors are the staples of security in both homes and commercial buildings. 

Break-glass detectors: Intruders can sometimes defeat door and window sensors by breaking the door or window. This is less of a risk with doors because of their strength. It is, however, a hazard with windows, even double-glazed ones.  

Double-glazed windows are much more resilient to impact than single-glazed ones, but they are still glass. This means they can still be broken or cut through with the right tools. Break-glass detectors pick up the frequency of glass breaking (or being cut). They are therefore protection against this type of attack. 

Shock sensors: As the name suggests, shock sensors register vibrations. They complement break-glass detectors and can be used for barriers other than glass. 

Motion sensors: Motion sensors can be used to detect movement in restricted areas. This is, however, only likely to be a cost-effective move in the very highest-security locations. They are more commonly used to detect when an object is moved or at risk of being moved. For example, they can be put in display cases or safes. 

Pressure mat sensors: These work as the name suggests. They react to pressure on a mat. This may be on the floor but could also be on a surface such as a table. 

The control panel 

The basic purpose of the control panel is pretty much self-explanatory. It is the central point of communication between the sensors, the alerts and the remote monitoring operation. The precise functionality (and complexity) of control panels varies depending on the system. 

Entry-level systems for basic domestic use tend to be very simple. By contrast, systems for commercial use can have a lot more functionality and hence more of a learning curve. 

The alert system 

Audio alerts have been the standard for a long time. They are the simplest means of broadcasting a call for help over a wide area. Some alarms also use lighting as an alert. This is, however, relatively uncommon due to the potential health and safety issues of using powerful lights such as strobe lights. 

Now, most alert systems also have the function to alert at least one contact remotely. They can also be connected to remote monitoring systems. For domestic alarms, this is likely to mean sending a message to the homeowner. They can then check a camera through their phone/tablet. 

For commercial alarms, this is likely to mean alerting a security service. They can then choose the best option to deal with the situation. This could mean anything from sending an on-site security guard to investigate to calling the police immediately. 

The connection between the components 

Up until fairly recently, wired connections were, literally, the only option. Now, wireless connections have largely taken over. Wired connections are, however, definitely not obsolete. There are still certain situations where they are the best option. With that in mind, here is a quick guide to how the two options compare. 

Installation: One of the main reasons why wireless systems have become so popular is that they are massively easier to install than wired systems. In fact, modern wireless intruder alarm systems are pretty close to being simply plug-and-play. Wired systems, by contrast, need wiring to be installed with all that implies in terms of disruption. 

Cost: The other main reason that wireless systems have become popular is that they are much more economical to implement. They are generally also economical to run. There is, however, a caveat here. They are only economical to run if you can run them off a standard internet connection. If you are using mobile data (or frequently fall back to it), they can be very expensive to run. 

Maintenance: Wired systems are actually much lower maintenance than wireless systems. This is because they don’t need batteries and you don’t need to worry about their signal strength. 

Flexibility: Wireless systems are more flexible than wired ones in the sense that you have more options for installing them. On the other hand, wired systems offer a lot more power and can therefore do a lot more. 

Reliability: Currently, this is an undisputed win for wireless systems. Technically, the wiring does create a point of failure. The same point of failure is, however, present in most wireless systems. This is because most wireless systems ultimately depend on a wired internet connection. In both cases, therefore, you do need to think very seriously about protecting your wiring. 

In principle, you can run a truly wireless intruder alarm system by using the mobile internet. Unfortunately, this approach creates even more reliability concerns. It’s also very expensive. 

Hybrid systems 

It’s also worth noting that there are hybrid systems that have a wired backbone supplemented by wireless components. These are becoming increasingly popular in commercial environments.

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About the Author: Nick Booth

Nick Booth is the Director of ISET UK Fire & Security Distribution, who specialise in home security and automation technology for trade and businesses within the bio tech, corporate sector and beyond.