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Testing of Intrusion Alarm Systems

Remember when your intrusion alarm system was first installed?

You may have experienced several false alarms during the first year that your system was in operation. Some of these false alarms may have been due to "user error", caused by you or one of your fellow employees. Maybe you also had a false alarm or two due to defective equipment.

Several years have gone by and the false alarms seem to have disappeared. You dutifully turn your system on every night, and turn it off every morning. Everything seems to be working fine. Is it?

A test by one company of its intrusion alarm systems revealed some disturbing results. This company had Silva Consultants perform random tests at approximately fifteen of its facilities located within the western United States. The intrusion alarm systems at these facilities ranged from three to seven years in age and were installed by a variety of both local and national alarm installation companies. Some of the problems that we identified during these random tests included:

  • Motion detectors in a warehouse that were completely blocked by inventory. In one warehouse that was examined, every interior motion detector was blocked by merchandise.

  • Magnetic door contact switches that were disconnected from the system. Most of these switches were "temporarily" bypassed during service calls and were never reconnected to the system. At one facility, switches on 13 of the 28 overhead doors were bypassed.

  • Glass breakage detectors that had their sensitivity setting set to zero. In an attempt to reduce false alarms, the system installer had set the sensitivity settings so low that even a hurricane breaking every window would not cause these detectors to set off an alarm.

  • Alarm control panel that was disconnected from phone lines, preventing the monitoring center from receiving alarm reports. In one case, the customer had upgraded his telephone system more than three years earlier. The telephone line connections to the alarm panel were accidentally disconnected at that time, and the problem was not discovered for three years! All the time the customer was paying for monitoring and was feeling good because the system wasn't having any false alarms!

  • Defective control panel. Control panel allowed customer to turn system on and off normally, but would not send alarm to monitoring center when alarm was tripped. Problem later determined to be caused by lightning damage.

  • Systems not properly interconnected. At one facility, a critical freezer temperature monitoring system was supposed to be connected to the intrusion alarm system to permit monitoring by the alarm company. Upon testing, it was discovered that the final connections between the two systems was never made - each installer had assumed that the installer of the other system would take care of the final connections. This problem existed in the system since the day it was installed and yet was not discovered until the system was tested by Silva Consultants two and a half years later.

 The conclusion: intrusion alarm systems should be tested regularly to assure that they are in proper working order.

Suggestions for Testing

  • Tests of intrusion alarm systems at "average risk" facilities should be conducted at least annually. Systems at "high risk" facilities should be tested at least quarterly. (Your insurance company may require more frequent tests.)

  • Tests should be conducted by a company other than the one who installed and/or services the existing system. Alternatively, the system may be tested by the regular installation and service company provided that the tests are witnessed by the owner of the facility or the user of the intrusion alarm system.

  • Every device in the system should be tested. Open every door, trip every motion and glass break detector, activate every panic button or hold-up alarm device. Remember, if it seems like too much trouble to test a particular device, it is likely that the system installer felt the same way when he first put in the system. These "hard-to-test" types of devices are the ones that need testing the most.

  • If the system is monitored, have the monitoring center provide a written report showing which alarm zones were received and when. As most monitoring centers are now computerized, it is usually not a problem to have a report printed and emailed to you just after completion of the test.

  • Disconnect the system from it's primary power source to test the back-up battery systems. This can usually be done by simply unplugging the low-voltage transformer that is plugged into the wall near the panel. Operate the system for ten to fifteen minutes without power and then trip the system to make sure that it still works OK.

  • If the system is monitored, unplug the connections between the alarm panel and the telephone lines. Leave unplugged for about five to ten minutes to make sure that the panel's telephone line supervision feature is working correctly.


If you have questions, or need help in developing testing procedures, please contact us.


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