Security advice I give my friends

Fairly often, my friends and family ask me for advice on how generally to make their homes more secure and specifically how to choose a home security system.  My short answer is “make it easy on yourself and choose the best to begin with; choose Sonitrol Pacific.”  However, for people who want to do their due diligence and investigate a few other options I offer a check list of questions to ask.  The large number of companies making various promises makes choosing a system difficult.

A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me this question:
“Are all of the companies/systems basically the same and I’m simply shopping for the best price?  What should I be looking for?”

This is what I wrote back:
“Simple answer, no.

More complicated answer, traditional burglar alarms are all the same – door and window contacts and a motion sensor or two.  Then they contract with a national or regional monitoring center with a 1:10,000 operator to account ratio.  There are a couple major problems with these types of systems, but one of the biggest is they have false alarm rates in the 97-99% range and police don’t respond to them.  In general, these systems offer minimal protection, but if the price is offset by insurance savings (and you don’t get assessed any false alarm fines), you don’t lose money on them.

Security systems with “verification” technology are different.  These systems utilize two-way voice, audio sensors or video surveillance in coordination with contact and motion sensors and a monitor to account ratio of 1:2000.

Really, really cool technologies have come available in the past couple years that combine security and home automation … allowing you to check in on what’s happening at the house from a secure internet connection or your cell phone.

Okay, what you should look for:
Ask where their monitoring center is located.  Is it local?  In the NW?  In Texas?
Ask how they verify an alarm is valid.
Ask the operator to account ratio.
Ask their average police response time (not operator response time).
Investigate their guarantees and warranties – you want a 6-month money back guarantee, a full equipment and labor warranty, a one-hour emergency service guarantee, a false alarm fine guarantee (they pay the false alarm fines the city will charge), and a performance warranty (they pay you compensation if they miss a break in). “

My friend took the checklist and began calling around.  After talking to a few companies, she emailed me again.
“I just got off the phone with Broadview, and I completely stunned the guy when I asked him your questions!  He kept saying that he had never been asked these questions before!  In case this is of interest to you, here are my notes as they pertain to your 5 questions:
1)    Irving, TX and Knoxville TN
2)    Unknown. Jacob had never been asked…so he went on to explain that the operators are all 911-certified, blah, blah, blah…
3)    They have “the fastest response in the industry.”  There is “zero delay in calling the homeowner” to try to validate the alarm once an alarm is sounded – but the response time is out of their control, as it is up to the local police/fire etc.  I asked how they could make the “zero delay” claim  without being able to answer question #2—wouldn’t a high operator to client ratio potentially jeopardize an operator’s ability to deliver such performance?  Jacob couldn’t really say, but just reiterated that their operators “immediately respond.”
4)    Unknown – I would need to independently check with my local police.
5)    Lifetime guarantee on normal wear/tear of equipment (labor and trip fees excluded).  But for an additional $6/month, then the $90/hour labor  would be included.  Jacob was unaware of any “false alarm” coverage or fine-waivers—and claims that “false alarms just never happen because they call to verify the emergency with the homeowner.”  Which made me ask, “But if the homeowner is absent and cannot verify that is was a false alarm caused by your system, how can you claim it never happens?  It MUST happen or the city wouldn’t be charging fines?  All false alarms cannot possibly be the fault of the homeowner.”   He was unable to comment.  There is no performance guarantee for them missing something…  But again, “it just never happens.”  That’s when I added, “If it truly never happens, why not put a guarantee behind that?”  Jacob had never been asked that and was getting pretty uncomfortable with my questions—he suggested that I call their local sales number.”

When considering security for a business or home, at the very least, ask the five questions I outlined for my friend.  Or, save yourself time and money, and call Sonitrol Pacific.