How To Avoid Alarming Mistakes

By Troy Johnston.

Alarm installations are frequently the first chance for locksmiths to enter the electronic security world. It is often a question asked by existing customers when onsite — can you provide such a service?

I had the luxury of installing my first alarm under the supervision of my boss, as an apprentice, many years ago. Subsequent installations were in my own home and for friends, allowing my confidence to slowly build in non-threatening environments before being let loose on the world.

Fast forward several years into the future, a leave of absence from the industry and a new boss eager to push onwards and upwards into electronic security. I heard the following words while onsite with a customer, “By the way, do you install alarms?”

“Of course we do,” I enthusiastically replied while thinking to myself, what am I getting into here?

“Can you provide me with a quote?”

“Sure can,” I replied again, as I manically tapped into memory reserves from the past. Cover the main areas, sensors to face inwards, protect the panel. I can do this, I reassured myself as I confidently talked to the customer about the various options available, or at least those that I could recall.

Several days later, the customer called. “I’d like to book you in for that alarm job,” she bellowed down the phone line

“Oh really? That’s great,” I stated, while secretly thinking the opposite.

I contacted my local supplier who provided me with the correct parts and mentioned that I should probably get some training on the panel. Training, I thought to myself, was for those with no experience and that wasn’t me. “Thanks anyway, but I should be right.”

The morning of the big install had arrived and my manager was proud as punch that we had landed our first alarm installation. “Easy money,” I said confidently, as we pulled into the customer’s driveway.

Six hours later, my confidence had been drained, my customer’s suspicion was rapidly growing and our easy money had been watered down to a non-profitable learning experience, at best.

So what went wrong? Several things, actually.

Let’s start with trying to wing it and only getting half way through the programming before going to the site. Then there was the wonderful step ladder that was about three feet too short to be of any practical use when trying to get into the manhole, despite my best athletic attempts.

Oh, and let’s not forget the torch with the batteries that last forever, only for them to fail once I had reached the far corner of the pitch-black abyss, otherwise known as the roof space. I could go on, but you get the idea — ill-equipped, poorly-planned and therefore poorly-executed.

A few hours later, my saviour, the local supplier, talked me through the relevant programming and I finally had a relieved and happy customer. They even asked me to reinstall the system a few years later in their new home and thankfully, by then, I was somewhat wiser.

Based upon that day, my earlier experiences and the war stories of other locksmiths, I would like to bring your attention to the following cautionary notes in the hope that, unlike me, you won’t have to learn everything the hard way.

Mistake Number 1 — Not Protecting The Alarm Panel.

The alarm panel is the brains and heart of any alarm system; it is paramount that it be protected at all times. Hiding the panel is irrelevant but it must be protected at all times with no exceptions. I have been to installations where one could break into the property and simply switch the panel off without detection. This is likened to fitting the world’s best lock on the front door and leaving the keys in it. Don’t do it.

Explain to the customer why they need an additional detection device protecting the panel, if necessary.

Mistake Number 2 — The Incorrect Positioning Of Detectors.

Basic rules apply here. Face the PIRS inwards, away from direct sources of light, and not facing objects or areas that will change rapidly in temperature. If it’s a harsh environment, use a dual-tech, or mask the PIR if needed.

Mistake Number 3 — The Incorrect Installation Of, Or Failure To Install, A Mode 3 Socket.

If your customer wants to use their phone line for monitoring, you must install a mode 3 socket. If you are not sure or unable to do this, organise a phone technician to do it for you. A double adapter or splitter will, in theory, work as the panel can still dial out and your customer can still make phone calls. Problems arise, however, if the phone is left off the hook, or someone is trying to call the premises in the event of
an alarm.

Mistake Number 4 — Not Using An ADSL Filter.

An ADSL filter is a necessity if the alarm is going to be monitored via the phone line. Not using one, will either completely block the panel from sending information to monitoring or, at best, cause severe delays in the information getting through the line.

Mistake Number 5 — Putting The Panel In The Roof Space.

This is old-school mentality when it comes to electronic security. Alarm panels were not designed to be installed in the roof space because of the heat generated there — especially in Australia, where temperatures often exceed 50 degrees above the ceiling. Nor do you want to climb into the ceiling to work on the panel so install it where it’s protected and not obtrusive. Definitely not in the roof space.

Mistake Number 6 — Not Wiring The Tamper Switch On The Siren Strobe.

Most siren strobes require five or six wires to enable them to function correctly. Unfortunately, most siren strobes end up with four wires attaching them to the panel with a non-functioning tamper switch. Think about it. Would you want someone to be able to simply pull the siren strobe off the wall and cut the wires, without the system even making the slightest noise?

Mistake Number 7 — Not Using Separate Power Supplies For Additional Devices On The Panel.

Most alarm panels will have the ability to fire a relay or output that can control an electric strike or mag lock. This doesn’t mean that the panel can run it by itself without the need for additional power. Always check the panel’s specs and, in most cases, use a separate power supply for relevant accessories.

Mistake Number 8 — Thinking Kits Will Fit Every Application Perfectly.

Kits are a wonderful starting point when looking at a basic alarm system. However, as your knowledge grows, you slowly begin to realize that they are not suitable for everything. Look at what type of sensor, reed and comms device will suit the client’s security needs and budget.

One type of lock does not always fit every door or window and alarms are no different. Each device should be assigned as to its suitability to the application, not because there were three in the box.

Mistake Number 9 — Not Taking The Time To Learn The Panel And Only Wiring It Up Onsite.

Not bench-testing an alarm before installation, particularly if you have not installed one before, can be one of the ingredients for a disaster as per my previously referred to story. If you cannot program it on the bench and get it to work effectively, it will not get any easier onsite.

Mistake Number 10 — Not Having The Correct Tools.

As a locksmith, you already have a great range of tools that you can use for alarm installations, but you need a few extras. A decent ladder of more than four feet, as you will need to enter the roof at some stage. A soldering iron and shrink-wrap — sorry guys, splicing wires and using duct tape doesn’t cut it.

A multi-meter, which is like having 10 different size screwdrivers, several chisels and a set of picks all-in-one. You need it, no exceptions. Cabling tools, pull-wires, pushrods, etc. These are also a necessity and will make your life 10 times easier when running cable onsite.

As locksmiths entering the field of electronic security and alarm installation, mistakes will often be made, and this is part of the learning process. However, when we are protecting an individual’s assets, business and/or family, these mistakes should be prevented.

Be proactive prior to your alarm installation, rather than reactive, and provide your customers with the level of service they deserve. Contact your local supplier and see if they offer any training on the systems you wish to, or currently install, as there is always something to learn.

Troy Johnston has been involved in various aspects of the locksmithing industry for the past 17 years. He is currently based in QLD and working for LSC (Locksmiths Supply Company), Technical Sales and Support, Electronic Security. He can be contacted at: