The intruder detection and alarm market is the longest established sector in the electronic security field. Despite such maturity, it is often considered too conservative, overburdened with red tape, and slow to react to end users’ needs. However, are these claims warranted? The Devil’s Advocate spoke with Jim Ludwig, MD of Texecom, to seek some clarification.
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The intruder alarm sector in the UK currently has a suite of standards that are unfinished. The creation of these documents commenced in what seems to be a different era. Back then, the police responded to any alarm calls, regardless of the quality of the systems involved, and they had adequate resources to do so. With regards to communications, very few users had mobile telephones or internet connectivity, and businesses and organisations relied on postal services for data exchanges!
Given changes since they were started, surely the ENs are always going to be out of sync with the real world?
Yes. The standards creation consensus process cannot move as fast and technology, and so they’re always going to be out of sync. The objective of the standards isn’t to be in sync with the real world; it’s to attempt to prescribe a level of system performance and expectation of what a system will do. We’re talking about a system that is ostensibly serving a life-safety role. There is a responsibility for the people making it, the people installing it, the people using it to have equipment that does what it’s supposed to do.
If a user expects to receive a modern and advanced solution, the fact that it’s based upon standards that are lagging behind the technology might not be what they expect. Isn’t that a concern?
The customer is buying a system based on the standards that exist. The fact that the technology has moved on doesn’t mean that the intrusion system isn’t capable of doing what it’s supposed to do, namely identify the presence of someone who’s not supposed to be in the space. All the changes in technology aren’t going to alter the fact that most systems identify the infrared signature of movement through a space and signal that. You can do what you want with the signal; the core is to have architecture that is going to work.
It’s often said – and experience seems to back this up – that the standards stifle innovation. Is this the case?
One thing that stifles innovation is the amount of money and resources and time manufacturers put into keeping up with standards, testing and third party certification. That is all money and resources that can’t be put into researching new technologies and new product development. All development has to happen within a set of boundaries.
PD6662, for example, doesn’t limit the technology you can apply to the problem, but because of the way the standard is written and things you have to do to meet it, it’s just a huge resource-drain. This is because, to a degree, manufacturers had to re-engineer what they’d already achieved.
Because of the timescales involved and the magnitude of the changes – and the hesitancy of people in the industry regarding change – it turned out to be a massive drain on innovation.
Do some of the oddities that have cropped up indicate that those creating the standards are divorced from the market’s needs?
Probably. We have someone who is very well qualified to sit on standards committees, who can bring some realism to the table because he has real-world experience. A lot of standards are written by people who haven’t been in the field for so long that they can’t remember what it’s like! There are people who don’t have experience in designing, installing or maintaining the systems they are trying to write standards for. There’s a big problem with that.
There have been issues where the inspectorates have placed their own interpretation on standards. Isn’t this outside of their remit?
Who watches the watchers? Obviously they think it’s within their remit. There have been instances where we’ve placed a question-mark over how they’ve interpreted application standards. It’s always an uncomfortable position to be in. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t listen, and then they make their decision.
I recognise that they have to be independent, but who polices them? If an inspectorate makes a decision on what a product is or isn’t supposed to do, that kind of becomes the law, regardless of anyone else’s interpretation of the standard.
Surely that must be damaging for the installation sector?
It adds confusion and complexity to the market. Manufacturers are genuinely trying to develop products that meet the requirements. If an inspectorate sits outside of the manufacturer-certification relationship, and has a different opinion to those within it, there’s an opportunity for confusion for the installer.
So, is there pressure on manufacturers to comply with inspectorates’ thinking rather than the written word of the standards?
You have to try and keep an open dialogue, but I know in the past few years we’ve had instances where we don’t agree with inspectorates. The challenge has been having a debate with inspectors who base their opinions solely on their reading of standard and not on the real world, or the science and engineering behind the system. There is a necessity for a level of knowledge about how you apply standards in the real world that should influence any interpretation.
Does that lack of experience with regard to application mean that they’re out of touch?
I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on that! I’m not avoiding the subject. I don’t see the inspectorates as a day-to-day hindrance to our business or our customers’ business. Occasionally it comes up, but I don’t see it regularly.
Does the fact that a police response is not guaranteed make a mockery of Type A Systems?
The human resources for response are always going to be more limited and more expensive than the equipment you can put in place. The resilience of a system should be a given, and the ability or inability of the police to respond can’t be used as an excuse for the system not delivering that resilience.
Surely a customer has the right to expect all elements of a Type A system – including the response, which is usually the reason for such a specification – to share tha resilience?
That should be factored into the risk assessment of the site. If the viability of a user’s entire security solution is based upon a response from the police, and they’re willing to accept that as a risk, then they get what they get.
There are other options to police response. If it is necessary to have a human on site five minutes after an alarm activation, then there are other response choices.
If that’s the case, then why is the message from across the intruder alarm industry usually about police response?
Part of it is cultural. There is an expectation that the people who can help you if something bad happens are the police. The standards are written with certain requirements to achieve a police response. That resiliency should be there whether the alarms are going to the police or a third party contractor.
If you consider the informed commercial sector – those users with sizeable properties and higher risks – I don’t think they’re so ignorant that they’re not going to be questioning the response issue themselves. The installers have a trusted expert role to fulfil to help educate the customer, but the customers also have a responsibility to educate themselves.
I don’t think there is a pervasive expectation that the police will arrive if there’s an alarm event. If police response is the cornerstone of a security plan, and you don’t realise that there is a big risk element in that, then you have a problem.
If the reality of police response isn’t getting through, who does the onus fall upon to ensure the situation is understood? Does it lie with the end user to understand what they’re buying, or does it lie with the installer to explain all the options?
The ultimate responsibility lies with the person paying the money. They have to understand what they’re getting. In my opinion, the installers and manufacturers have a responsibility to supply as much information as they can, as transparently as they can, so the customer can make an informed decision. If you’re the person buying the system, it’s your responsibility to ensure you know what you’re getting and how to use it.
Wouldn’t private response offer better value?
It’s a cultural thing, because you’re talking about commercial sites with tenants who pay taxes which fund the police. There’s a certain level of expectation that they will enjoy the benefits of that. They might ask why they should pay a private contractor to do a job they’re already paying the police to do.
That argument doesn’t seem an issue in countries that have only have private response. They enjoy a more effective and efficient response service, with the power to buy the appropriate level of security for their needs. Surely that’s the way forwards?
I’ve been to a number of those countries, and it is absolutely more effective. The private responders have a vested interest in ensuring they deliver a quality service, because they can get fired! You can’t fire the police for not turning up; they have a public responsibility, but they don’t have a fiscal responsibility and that tends to focus the mind. Private response is, in the main, going to give a better service.
Shouldn’t the intruder detection market learn some lessons from the video and access markets?
Many of the technologies and the systems are already geared towards delivering that extra functionality.
An access control system, using the most simplistic terminology, is a really clever database management tool. That’s the genius of access control.
The video systems of today – particularly as you move towards IP connectivity – are sitting on the infrastructure that’s connected to every system in the building.
Because these types of systems exist outside of the standards, what they can and cannot do, and what they can and cannot connect to, doesn’t have the same limitations as an intruder detection system. An intruder alarm system is, to a degree, always going to be isolated. It can send information out to tell an access or video system that something has happened, and where it happened. However, the architecture of an alarm system isn’t going to be able to replace those other things.
If you look at the residential market, using alarm systems to drive home automation is completely within the realms of possibility. That’s not the case for commercial applications. Control panels are designed to receive inputs and create outputs, so they should be able to handle automation tasks.
Are the standards what restricts additional functionality?
The intruder alarm control panel is not designed to do that job. The architecture is designed to comply with the standards, and by nature of the design it’s not the best tool to do the job. There are easier and more straightforward ways of doing it.
If you look at the range of life safety systems, the highest level is fire alarm systems. They’re required by law, and the standards and certification outstrips anything in the intruder market. Their architecture has the same limitations as intruder alarm systems. It’s a dedicated self-enclosed system. If the rest of the building falls over, it must be able to survive and still operate.
Just a little down from these are intruder alarm systems. They’re not a legal requirement, but you have standards, grading for insurance, the police response elements, and all of these specifics impact on the architecture and system design.
After intruder you move down again to video and access control. These aren’t really life safety systems. If an intruder alarm fails, you just don’t know what might happen. There’s a responsibility that goes along with that. It’s not the same as if a camera fails or a door fob doesn’t work.
Given everything that’s been discussed, are intruder detection systems today still fit for purpose?
Absolutely, for the job they are designed to do. Every security solution is like an onion. You have to have layers of technology applied the correct way to achieve the expected outcome. Intruder detection is an important part of it. Any of the other systems – without the intruder element – could be argued to be virtually useless.
The baseline system requirement is an ability to tell you that something is happening and you need to take action. Intruder alarms are still the most reliable and economical of all the options. If something bad has happened, it can tell you about it as quickly as possible. There’s nothing else that can do it!