When evaluating a security system for your business, know the features you might need.
There are as many ways to configure commercial security systems as there are ways to steal. A warehouse full of merchandise will need a different type of system than a drugstore's pharmacy. The features you need depend on the risks you face and what you can afford. Use the Business.com Checklist for Commercial Security Systems to note which features you need and what vendors charge for them.
Wired Alarm Systems
An alarm system comprises sensors at key points which, when triggered, send a signal that warns of a potential problem. The signal is often transmitted using a landline telephone system that phones the alarm company and/or police or fire department. This is called a "wired" or "hardwired" notification service. One problem with hardwired alarm systems is they don't work when the phone line doesn't work, such as when lines are down due to bad weather.
Wireless Alarm Systems
An increasingly common alternative to a hardwired alarm system is to send the alarm or notification wirelessly over a broadband WiFi network or cell phone network. Again, a call would be initiated when an alarm condition is discovered. Wireless alarm systems will not work, however, if the cell network or WiFi network is down.
If you opt for wireless, make sure the wireless operates over a cellular connection, which is generally less likely to fail than an Internet connection. Note that many systems offer wireless monitoring where you can access your security system via a cell phone or website and do administrative updates and monitor condition statuses. If a company offers "wireless" options, make sure to find out what kind of wireless monitoring is being offered.
Video Monitoring Systems
Camera surveillance protects your all assets, including your employees. Besides providing 24/7 observation of everything happening on your premises, recorded footage can help identify intruders and can be used as evidence in court proceedings.
Reducing Employee Theft
If you are concerned about employee theft, hidden cameras can catch thieves in the act. Even the mere presence of a camera can deter theft or unauthorized access. "Dummy" cameras that are not hooked into any monitoring system are frequently used for their ability to deter crimes.
Boosting Safety and Productivity
Video systems also monitor employee behavior and detect inefficient or unsafe work habits. Recorded footage can be used as a training aid to point out both productive and unproductive workflows.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
Video systems work in a variety of ways. Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) systems continuously transmit a signal to one or multiple monitors. For high-risk areas, a security guard watches the monitor(s) for suspicious or dangerous activity.
Ability to Record Video
DVRs (digital video recorders) allow you to record and date images for future reference. Footage is stored to either digital video discs (DVDs) or a computer hard drive. Increasingly, hard drive storage is the simpler, time-saving, and more manageable option. Cloud-based storage is the latest trend in security video. Due to the huge size of video files, however, they are still difficult to transmit to cloud-based systems.
Recording may be continuous or begin only when a condition is met. Examples include motion detection, a door or window opening, or a preset condition to turn recording on or off depending on time of day. While constant recording requires more video storage, it may be necessary for observation of high-risk areas where security considerations are paramount.
Wired Video Monitoring Systems
Video systems can be wired or wireless. Wired systems are more suitable for permanent and continuous surveillance situations. They do not require batteries to stay powered, nor do they need slow or unpredictable wireless connections for transmitting and storing video streams.
Wireless Video Monitoring Systems
Wireless cameras are useful when you may need to move cameras around or if you don't anticipate staying at a facility long enough to justify the cost of installing a wired system. Wireless cameras cost about the same as wired, but installation is less expensive and, in many cases, the business owner can position the camera as needed, without hiring a professional installer. A disadvantage is that wireless cameras require batteries to operate and these batteries need to be changed regularly.
Remote Access to Video Monitoring
Most wireless cameras use the same Internet Protocol (IP) to transmit data that is used across private and public networks. This makes the digitized video remotely accessible through a computer, tablet, or smartphone. In some cases, video monitoring equipment can be remotely operated over an Internet connection, allowing for visual verification of an alarm condition or triggered recording and storage of the video stream.
An intercom system is one simple way to safely identify visitors before engaging a remote door release that allows them to enter your building. The one drawback is that the intercom must be continually monitored, which could be impractical outside of normal working hours. The intercom system could be an audio-only operation or it could be combined with video to provide a time- and date-stamped visual record of people who have entered and left a building.
For situations in which intercoms are not practical, electronic access control not only eliminates the cumbersome use of keys to enter your office building and other secure locations, it also tracks who has accessed the location and when. Data files can be viewed from any authorized, Web-enabled computer. The access control system can be integrated with the alarm system to trigger alerts if someone is trying to gain unauthorized entrance.
Identity Verification Systems
In place of a physical key, access authorization is determined in one of four ways:
• With an employee identification card (or some other smart card or key fob) with an embedded authorization code swiped in a card reader
• By a pin (personal identification number) or password entered via keypad
• With photo identification
• By biometric recognition of a fingerprint or face (expensive and for high-end applications in which tight security is paramount).
Time and Attendance Integration
Frequently, access control systems are integrated into time and attendance software. This streamlines the administrative process of payroll accounting for personnel check-in and check-out.
In many cases, the security systems company can host the access control system. This eliminates the need to invest in software updates and IT maintenance. However, larger companies with sufficient IT infrastructure resources and staff may wish to maintain the system on their own.
Fire/Smoke and Environmental Hazard Detection
In these systems, sensors detect the presence of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and/or heightened temperature to trigger alarms. Similarly, low-temperature sensors can be installed in bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms, and other areas where water pipes are present. Sensors can be used in flood-prone areas to detect excessive water levels. Alarms are sent to the security system vendor, police/fire departments, and/or designated personnel.
Lighting/HVAC/Office Equipment Monitor
Remote control of your heating and air conditioning, lighting and office equipment systems cost-effectively maintains your premises. When someone forgets to turn the lights off, leaves the coffee maker on, or fails to reset the thermostat, an email alert notifies you of the condition. You can remotely turn the lights off, shut down the coffee maker, and reset the thermostat at the right temperature. Customized sensors can even detect dangerous conditions within expensive machinery and then send alerts, shut down the machines, or instigate a repair process.
When an alarm is triggered, what is the response? Some alarm systems simply make a loud noise or flash lights. In some situations, that might be sufficient to scare off intruders. However, in many cases you'll want a 24-hour monitoring service. In that case, a triggered alarm initiates a response.
The response depends on your contract with the monitoring service. They might be instructed to notify someone at the company before taking additional action. They might be instructed to investigate themselves, through video monitoring or sending an employee out to check on the situation. They might be instructed to immediately contact the police or the fire department.
Connection Fees and Alarm Fees
Many cities require that commercial alarm systems be registered with law enforcement. Usually, there is a small annual fee, along with a requirement to keep emergency contact information up to date. Many jurisdictions also charge for false alarms – anywhere from $50 to $500 and up per incident, often depending on how often false alarms have happened in the past.