How Safe is Your Safe (Part 4)
By RIC BLUM
If an alarm goes off and nobody hears it, does it make any sound?
Once your alarm system has been activated, you need to let the world know a burglary may be in progress.
For many years, the standard method of acknowledging a breach in a security system was the audible alarm bell or siren. The loud noise was intended to alert the surrounding neighbors and any law enforcement within ear’s reach, as well as to scare away the burglar.
The trend in security systems lately has been the silent alarm where an alarm company, a monitoring facility or the police are alerted the intrusion. These alarm signals are usually transmitted in four ways: telephone lines (sometimes, dedicated), the Internet, radio waves or cellular telephones.
Many alarm systems will use telephone lines or Internet connections as their primary form of communication with the alarm provider, and may use a radio or cellular connection as a secondary contact method in case the primary method is disabled.
Today’s alarm systems are really specialized computers that monitor all functions of the alarm system and its detection methods, phone lines, Internet connection and backup transmission on a regular basis. They look for someone or something attempting to tamper with the overall system.
If the alarm system doesn’t report that everything is working properly, this may be taken to represent a breach in the system. The monitoring station may take the same actions as if an alarm was reported or the owner was contacted to make the decision about what actions to take.
Ideally, your alarm system should have Internet monitoring capabilities with cellular backup for more line security. The Internet allows the monitoring station to communicate with the alarm system on a continual basis every one to five minutes. This is better and cheaper than having a dedicated telephone line and still provides redundancy.
Modern alarm systems have changed. Everything and everyone is synched by computer. All computers are on the Web. Do you have Wi-Fi in your store? Can I, or the bad guys, get access to your computers, video surveillance system or alarm system from a notebook computer in your parking lot? How secure is your secured network?
Cut Lines and Jammers
Mobile jammers are one of the tools the bad guys may use when breaking into your business and cutting into your safe. Your telephone and Internet lines have been cut and your cellular backup can’t make the call for help because it is being jammed.
The fact that cellular telephone jammers are against the law in the United States won’t stand in the way of a criminal. They are quite common in other parts of the world, available online and will be shipped to a U.S. address in a plain brown box.
Most portable, handheld cellular telephone jammers resemble a handheld police scanner with multiple antennas. However, larger, more powerful models are available.
Interactive Audio, Video Service
If you have the latest in security hardware, you (or your alarm monitoring facility) may be able to get online on your computer or smart phone and check things out yourself. Chances are your digital video surveillance system is capable of being connected to the Internet.
If this is the case, you can monitor your store from home and see and/or listen to what may have activated your alarm system without leaving the comfort of your home. Or, for that matter, if you aren’t at home, you may do so from almost anywhere in the world. Your monitoring station may also have access to your video surveillance system and may verify if an actual alarm condition exists.
However, don’t expect to be able to recognize a professional burglar from your video surveillance system recordings (if he didn’t find and destroy it). If he’s not wearing a mask to conceal his identity, he may don a set of head-worn, high-intensity lights which will help him maneuver in the dark while also emitting enough light to make video recognition impossible.
And just to make you feel safe and secure, I have found information on the Web on ways to defeat all of the above detection methods. If I can find it, anyone can. And for those with experience in the security/alarm/electronics fields, it should be even easier.
Path Integrity Vital
Chip Shiver, president, Shiver Security Systems, a Sonitrol franchisee serving Ohio and Northern Kentucky, says the most important thing to maintain with an effective alarm system is the integrity of the communication path from the alarm panel to the central station.
Shriver, an expert in the electronic security industry, says this is key to preventing an alarm system from being defeated. Obviously, early detection video monitoring or audio monitoring is the first step of prevention.
Shiver believes if intruders are able to get to the alarm panel and cell unit thus disabling communication, the alarm panel becomes useless.
You need solid protection around the alarm panel and dual paths of transmission to the central station (IP, telephone, cellular or all three).
Alarm System Comes First
Gary Wasserman of Wexler Insurance, Coral Gables, Fla., prefers clients to have a TL-30 rated safe or better. But that is not where it all begins.
First and foremost, he says, is the need for a UL-approved burglar alarm system. The current UL burglar alarm system certificate uses a modular format in which the service that the alarm customer has is specifically described for various categories.
Such a system requires a central station from which the alarm company monitors the premises, dispatches guards and may request the police to respond. Trained operators monitor the alarm system to determine if a signal is an unauthorized entry or any other kind of breach to the system.
Each certificate will describe such things as the various systems located at the protected property, the extent of protection, all physical hardware installed, whether the safe or vault protection is complete or partial, if there is an alarm sounding device, type of remote monitoring, who should be notified in the event of an alarm, the type of signal transmission for the primary and secondary system, and issues of line security.
Alarm response time is specified with options for having runners respond, with or without keys and with or without local police accompaniment.
The biggest fault Wasserman finds is that some alarm companies are not keeping up with the times and UL requirements. Your alarm system needs to have constant contact with its monitoring station. This is done by what the industry terms a “heartbeat.”
Typically, a signal is sent every 200 seconds from the alarm system to the monitoring station. In reality, every 3 to 5 minutes is probably adequate.
But in fact, the heartbeat may be programmed anywhere from 1 minute to once every 12 days. And there are some monitoring stations that chose to reduce costs by not sending so many signals.
You need to be certain that your alarm system is sending its signal at an adequate frequency. Many store owners report that their systems aren’t sending the signal as often as the alarm company had promised.
Another problem Wasserman sees is that the monitoring station’s line security may not be set up properly. Alarm systems are primarily defeated by cut telephone lines, cut Internet lines, broken cellular antennas and finally, the destruction of alarm panels.
In one instance, he recalls, a throw-away cellular telephone was clipped into an alarm system to dial a false number.
If your telephone, Internet or cellular connection to your monitoring station is disrupted and the monitoring station doesn’t know this because line security is only checked every few hours (or days), the thieves will have plenty of time to go about their trade.
To further complicate matters, owners don’t always take alarm calls seriously. Don’t be complacent, Wasserman says. Add a digital CCTV system to monitor your business. Have cameras cover the entire property. Use technology to remove some personal threat of entering an unknown situation.
This is not an all-encompassing article on security systems and safes; it is just the tip of the iceberg. I recommend a security analysis by your security service provider every other year. New products become available on the market because of new methods of burglaries.
You might even call a competing security service provider to go over your system, telling them you are interested in adding a second system or considering changing providers and get their recommendations. Quite often, your local police department will also provide a free security analysis.
For years I have preached redundant alarm systems with at least one that includes audio detection. Then again, even the best alarms have been compromised.
Don’t ignore your first line of defense — your burglar alarm. Treat every alarm as it is were an actual attempted entry. If you don’t have confidence in your alarm system, replace it. Nonchalance to an alarm signal is one of the things thieves are looking for.
Verify all alarm calls with your monitoring station before responding. You don’t want to meet a robber when you show up or leave your business when your guard is down.
Responding to an alarm must include a check of the interior of the premises.
Don’t enter your business without the police or a guard escort.
Most serious break-ins take place over the weekend. They are well planned and you won’t notice they have occurred from casual observation. They will enter from the roof, HVAC units and ductwork, adjacent structures, floors, ceilings, crawl spaces and walls — not your front door!
The building ventilation system must be alarmed and protected with a physical barrier to prevent easy access to the interior of the building.
Your alarm control unit must be in the direct field of a motion detector.
Phone lines and broadband connections should be buried or come from a discrete location. Furthermore, your telephone and all network interface boxes should be located inside your business.
Also, consider the possibility of a home invasion scenario. Have a distress alarm code set up with your alarm provider for this type of situation.
I don’t need to tell you to have your safe combinations and alarm codes changed when an employee with access to either leaves your employment. Of course, this does no good if a current employee goes astray or shares this information.
Another consideration might be to split your inventory between multiple safes. I feel that one safe is never a good gamble, unless contents are lower value. It is much more difficult to open two safes than one.
Securely fasten the safe shelves to the interior of the safe.
TL-30 safes are obsolete and should be replaced with the minimum of a TRTL-30X6. The TL-30 rating only applies to the door of the safe. The walls of the safe will not stop an attack from common hand tools. If your safes don’t even rate TL-30, you have serious security issues!
On the face of it, it looks like the TRTL-30X6 is about twice as tough as the TL-30X6 safe. That just isn’t so. If you really haven’t tried cutting any of these materials then look up the test results of UL labs and see what they do to test the safes.
The reality is the TRTL-30X6 safe is about 8 to 12 times as tough as the TL-30X6 safes in almost all cases and many times tougher than that if you are looking at a straight TL-30 safe.
When you look at the actual work it takes to cut a significant hole into a TRTL-30X6 safe compared to cutting into a TL- 30X6 safe, you will find that 98 percent of the criminals don’t have the patience, nerve, skills and determination to open the TRTL-30X6.
With proper safe placement, redundant alarms with overlapping coverage, TRTL-60X6 safes and luck, you might survive a professional break-in. Your primary goal is to make your business the least desirable or to appear un-penetrable to the bad guys. If your place of business appears to be Fort Knox, they will look elsewhere.
Given enough time, anything is possible. All alarm systems can be defeated. The fact that all safes are rated in minutes should tell you something right there. If someone wants in bad †enough, they will get into your store. Once in, they have alarms and safes to contend with.
And finally, don’t forget to hang a horseshoe over your safe (with proper positioning — which I leave up to you) and tie a lucky rabbit’s foot to your safe door handle. Then again, the rabbit had four feet and it doesn’t appear they were any luckier for him.