- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Once satisfied with residential security systems that sounded an alarm or notified local police and fire departments when there was trouble at home, consumers are turning to wireless and Internet broadband technologies that are expanding capabilities and choice.

The latest trends in home security systems are shifting an ever-increasing share of the burden of home protection and safety to interactive technology.

When vacationing with his family in Denmark this summer, Doug Phillips knew when the front door of his Vienna, Va., home was opened. He received an e-mail notification on his hand-held Blackberry personal communication system.

Mr. Phillips says he was monitoring the neighbor’s daily care of his three young children’s beloved hamsters, with technology that doubles as a residential security system.

He subscribes to a service provided by Alarm.com.

Headquartered in McLean, the company uses two-way wireless technology and on-site data-mining sensors to monitor activity in the home.

Subscribers access Web-based accounts to review detailed activity reports and manage their system.

As a mother of 5-month-old twins, Mary Knebel says she “really started getting the value out of the system as a new mother.”

She is able to work and “keep an eye” on things at home, with sensors mapping the activity of her au pair and children.

Ms. Knebel is also the vice president of business development for Alarm.com.

“There is a tremendous demand for this system as consumers are getting rid of their traditional telephone lines and moving to wireless phones and voice over Internet protocol,” Ms. Knebel says.

Traditional security systems use telephone lines to make contact with monitoring services.

Ms. Knebel says the “always on” wireless system gives consumers the option of e-mail or telephone notification — directed to whomever they designate.

After a decade of using the traditional telephone-line-based system, Mr. Phillips said, he made the leap to wireless technology for more flexibility and remote access.

“I know immediately when an alarm is triggered and where it is triggered,” Mr. Phillips says.

The flexibility in the system is the ability to monitor in real time a breach in security of the home liquor cabinet, the arrival of a latchkey child, or a break-in or fire.

The system appeals as well to those wanting to monitor the activity of their older parents, Ms. Knebel says.

“You can know if they opened the medicine cabinet to take their medications or opened the refrigerator to know that they are eating,” she says.

The system also provides the capabilities of remotely changing home temperature and lighting schedules.

This is particularly appealing, Ms. Knebel says, to those who have vacation and second homes.

It can tell you when the temperature of the freezer rises above an acceptable level. It also can be equipped to monitor unsafe carbon dioxide levels. The applications seem endless.

The cost of the basic package provided by Alarm.com is near $500, with a monthly fee ranging from $24.95 to $49, depending on the monitoring devices used, Ms. Knebel says.

The use of wireless technology is part of a broader trend of a bundling of traditional fire- and burglar-alarm systems with “nontraditional product offerings” such as home automation equipment, telecom services, Internet, broadband services, and structured cabling, according to the industry analyst firm Frost & Sullivan.

Tom Donaldson, president of area custom-home builder SugarOak Corp., says homebuyers are increasingly interested in integrated systems.

“It’s no longer about stand-alone systems. It is integrated systems that include home security, telephone, computers and Internet-ready access,” Mr. Donaldson says.

SugarOak provides home buyers with a variety of built-in options for “wired” and automated homes.

Mr. Donaldson says that though he has been incorporating “smart” home technology in homes over the past five years, he has noticed an increasing interest in the technology since 2001.

Empty nesters, those without children at home and prone to travel, have demonstrated a keen interest in the “smart” home technology, Mr. Donaldson says. “They appreciate the convenience, security, timer systems and the fact they can call in from anywhere to monitor and control home activity.”

For those who want a more secure home but are not inclined to make the leap to existing and emerging technologies, more traditional options remain.

The Home Safety Council (www.homesafetycouncil.org) provides some tips that are particularly useful when families are vacationing or away from home but also are food for thought year-round.

The council’s recommendations include:

• Check all doors and door frames. Outside doors should be hinged from the inside. If you have sliding doors, place a bar in the inside track.

• Check to make sure all door and window locks are working. Replace any broken locks.

m Buy light timers. Set them to come on in different rooms at different times while you are away.

m Shine security lights on key parts of your home and replace burned-out or dim light bulbs.

• Place a blind or curtain over all windows so no one can look inside your home or garage.

• Do yard work before you leave. Trim limbs and keep hedges neat so they can’t be used by thieves for cover.

• Remove extra keys that are hidden outside. Give a spare house key to a close friend or family member. Ask them to keep an eye on the inside and outside of your home while you are away.

• Ask a friend or neighbor to park in your driveway and take out the trash.

• Stop newspaper and mail deliveries while you are gone.

• Think about buying a fireproof safe for important papers, jewelry, etc. Or keep those items in your bank safe deposit box until you get back.

• Never leave an answering-machine message that says you are out of town.

The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association is another resource for consumers.

The group recommends steps for consumers to take when looking for a “reputable and experienced” burglar- or fire-alarm company.

Contact the NBFAA (www.alarm.org) or your state’s burglar- and fire-alarm association for a list of member companies in your area.

The association’s members agree to maintain a high level of conduct under its national code of ethics and render services at the highest level of quality.

The NBFAA recommends:

• Call several companies. Ask if employees are trained and certified by the NBFAA.

• Ask companies if they have appropriate state and local licenses, if required.

• Ask the companies if they conduct any pre-employment screening.

• Contact your local police department’s crime prevention department, state licensing agencies, consumer protection agencies, and the Better Business Bureau.

• Ask your insurance agent, friends, family or neighbors for referrals.

• After you’ve narrowed the field to three or four alarm companies, ask for the name of the person who will call on you. Consider planning the appointment time when all members of your household are present.

• When he or she visits, ask to see company identification.

• Ask each company representative for an inspection, recommendation and a quote in writing.

• Use a checklist to compare packages and price quotes.

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