Surveillance and Security Demystified - Extended
With a recent increase in home break ins, theft, property damage and vandalism, I’ve been receiving a number of inquiries about residential security and surveillance systems; and what the difference is between the value offerings from Costco and Fry’s Electronics and the more robust professional grade solutions we recommend and install. The first thing to think about when looking at adding or upgrading a security or surveillance system is how important deterrence is, versus actual monitoring and response.
If deterrence is the most important factor; then automated lighting (and activity – such as leaving an upstairs bedroom TV on are easy and convenient first steps), as well as making sure to close drapes so people can’t easily peer inside. The next level of deterrence would be adding external cues that your home is protected, this includes any level of surveillance camera strategically placed (with wiring, even if not hooked up), motion activated lighting, and ‘non-generic’ protected by XYZ security system signs. Having a dog with a loud bark is also high on this list…for the tech savvy motion detectors can be hooked up to audio systems capable of playing back recorded sound files such as a dog barking.
Now that we’ve discussed the tricks to deterrence I’ll go into the finer details regarding Surveillance and Security Systems when a response is important. I’d like to start by discussing the different parts of a security system and what they do, followed by important features and will then discuss the pro’s and cons of different surveillance and recording systems.
Security Systems 101:
Door/Window Sensors: these are the standard wired or wireless devices that detect with a window or door is open and can alert you as such. It is always recommended that these be placed on any ground level or easily accessible points of entry.
Motion/PIR Sensors: these are common interior security devices that are triggered by motion and come in a variety of sizes and form factors and can frequently be set to accommodate being armed but not being falsely triggered by pets. They operate based on thermal and hydroscopic (amount of water) monitoring of movement.
Glass Break/Piezo/Audible Sensors: these are the most looked over type of sensor in budget based security systems, but can help significantly when focusing on protecting ones home. The way they work is they are able to pick up high frequency noises/vibrations made when glass from a window or door is broken…In turn sounding your alarm systems main Siren and alerting your monitoring company.
Siren/Horn: Sirens are what alert those close by to be aware something has happened and to be alert…they are also annoyingly loud and high pitched to deter someone from wanting to stay around. Proper exterior mounting should be in an area not easily accessible (nor should the wires to the siren.
“The Brain/Processor”: this part of the system is what does all the ‘heavy’ lifting. It constantly monitors the status of your system and processes alerts and automatically calls for help via phone or the internet to your monitoring company if you use one. Additionally, depending on your needs, options such as remotely arming/disarming and sending you text notifications of ‘trigger events’ are possible…even more advanced integration is capable when paired with capable home automation systems.
Keypads/Touch Screens/Points of Control: keypads are straight forward devices used as primary or secondary control points for arming/disarming and checking the status of your system, and usually have 1 or 2 lines of text feedback. Higher end systems usually use a small Touch Screen control point to aid with feedback and are frequently used in conjunction with Keypads at secondary control points. A third type of control device would be a remote access (cell phone or automation system) or panic (small local Radio Frequency – like a keyless entry for a car) controller.
Important Features of a Security system:
The most important features I recommend paying attention to when designing a security system are its flexibility/ability to be upgraded, does it use a phone line or can it be used with an internet connection for monitoring and can it be integrated into a home automation system and/or controlled remotely. Additionally, for many of our clients being unobtrusive is important so the size and styling of the different sensors is frequently a topic of discussion. Other key features may include door lock integration as well as the ability to track/log ‘event’ activity over a certain period of time.
For recommended security product manufacturers we recommend and use, please check out the links at the end of this article.
Surveillance Systems 101:
Cameras: there are 2 main types of cameras, Analog and Digital (Internet Protocol). Analog cameras are generally very basic used ‘fixed’ style mounting and work fine when budget and deterrence are the most important factors. Most cameras ‘we’ work with and recommend today are digital as they give us many more levels of control and performance to choose from to meet a client’s needs with entry level cameras/systems being found at very attractive prices. What you need to know about Digital cameras is the run anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. When design a system we like to survey a property and determine what areas are most important (points of entry/occupant monitoring/paths) and then determine which cameras make the most sense. We frequently choose to use cameras that give us the flexibility to remotely zoom/tilt/pan the camera for the best views and best coverage area. Most mid and higher end digital/IP cameras also allow for integration with a whole home automation system as well as remotely logging in to control and monitor them (sometimes requiring additional equipment or services). The other reason we recommend digital/IP cameras is that they offer higher resolution images/video recording capabilities and enhanced zoom and digital rendering features allowing for better recording at night and other high contrast or motion scenarios.
Recording Devices/DVR’s: when designing surveillance systems for our clients we try and find out what they want (or need) to do with the content. For some just being able to see who’s at the door as all they require, but for many the ability to go back over recorded content after something has happened is very important. When choosing a recording device (VCR/DVD/DVR/remote server), things to take into account are the number of camera’s in your system, the resolution with which you want to record (including frame rate – images/second), and how long of continuous recording you require (1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, etc.). The better the video quality and the longer you want/need your recording device to be capable of storing, the greater the capacity necessary to meet your needs.
Pro’s and Con’s of a few Sample Surveillance Systems:
The Budget Friendly ‘Costco’ Special: The current Costco Special Q-see (item # 570835) 8 camera, 16 channel DVR system with iDevice/Android viewing apps and a 19” monitor and a 1TB DVR hard drive is a great value for those primarily interested in deterrence and remote monitoring. Where it falls short is with the cameras resolution, fixed operation (no zoom/pan/tilt), limited field of view and limited low light capabilities…however, at only $1000 it’s a great package.
Our Solutions: Our engineered entry level systems would generally take a customized approach and choose cameras based on your needs ranging from lower end fixed camera’s to mid level HD capable Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) cameras (GE or Panasonic), to higher performance (ultra high resolution/zoom capable; Canon) models in different form factors ranging from about $200-$1000, or more. We would then mate this to an IC-real time DVR recorder designed with the hard drive storage required to meet a client’s needs. This level of system also allows for full integration with iDevice/Android products as well as remote viewing through a computers internet browser and full integration with home automation touch screens and local viewing through connected TV’s (as well as some TV’s with built in apps that work natively with these DVR’s). On the plus side you get a custom designed system to meet your needs, however most of our systems start around $3000 before installation. For more information on these products, check out the links below.
Costco Q-See Special: