Why, When & How To Test Your Security Alarm
How would you feel if you paid for a home security alarm system, diligently armed it every day and then came home one day to find you had been broken into and your alarm didn’t work? It never went off. You never got a call. The police never came. Your security and your peace of mind have been violated despite your best efforts! Read on to learn how that can happen and what you can and SHOULD do to prevent it.
Have you ever looked at your ADT or suretyCAM security alarm bill and seen a warning that says “Don’t forget to test your system” – or something along those lines? Did you know that most alarm contracts actually require you to test you system monthly? Why do you think that is?
Security alarms are complex electronic systems and despite our best efforts they can be broken, worn and torn, or even subverted by criminals if they aren’t maintained and tested properly.
Why should I test my security alarm?
How do you know when you car stops working? Easy, you use it’s primary feature, driving, every day and when it fails to start up and drive then you know something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. You do not use the important features of your security alarm every day so you typically will not know if they have stopped working. Therefore, if you don’t test these features, they might not be working at all and you might have no idea!
There are several reasons your system might not be working, including but not limited to:
- One of the sensors might have worn out or accidentally been damaged.
- If you monitor through your phone or Internet the wiring or service might have changed.
- A power surge or brown-out might have damaged the electronics.
- Someone working on your house (you?) may have disconnected something without reconnecting it correctly.
- A criminal may have been in your house under other pretenses, such as a utility worker, and intentionally disabled part of your system so he could break in later, undetected.
I hope his customers tested often!
There are two aspects of a security alarm that are most likely to stop working and therefore are the most important to test regularly:
- The individual sensors that detect someone breaking in. You should test that each and every security alarm sensor is working correctly on a regular basis. If a single sensor isn’t working then that is a hole in your system that criminals can use to break in without being detected. It’s quick and easy to test your sensors. The sensors are the most important parts of your system. Make 100% sure they work. If you’re ever not sure, test them and make sure.
- The communication from your security alarm to the central monitoring station. You should test that when an alarm occurs, your system will properly alert the central station. If this communication isn’t working and someone breaks in, then the siren will still sound but you’ll never get a call from the central station and the police will never be dispatched. Your alarm should test this feature automatically, depending on how the installer set it up, but you should still test it yourself to be sure.
When should I test my security alarm?
At suretyCAM we recommend manually testing you system at least once a month. We also recommend testing your system whenever something happens that might make your system vulnerable. Here are a few examples – but use common sense and apply this concept to your home, your system and your lifestyle:
- Test your security alarm immediately after any service/utility workers have been in your house to do anything. This includes the cable guy, appliance repair guys, the plumber, the electrician, the exterminator, painters, questionable family members and acquaintances, etc… Use this rule of thumb: If someone has just been in your house that you would not trust to leave alone with your kids, your cash or your most prized possessions then you should test your security alarm immediately after they leave. Any person who was in your house could have potentially disabled part of your security alarm so they can come back later and break in, undetected. Even a well designed security alarm is only secure when it’s armed, and even then it’s only secure from the outside – it is vulnerable to anyone who is already on the inside.
- Test your security alarm immediately after you make any modifications to or do any physical work on your house. Whether you’re replacing a door or window, screwing or cutting into drywall, rewiring or changing Internet service providers… When you make changes to your house, that’s when you are most likely to accidentally break something on the alarm system. Some accidents will automatically be detected by your alarm system but not all of them. For example, if you put a screw in a wall that cuts through and “shorts” the wires that go to a normally-closed security sensor, that will prevent the sensor from working but it will not be automatically detected by your alarm system. Yes, old-school alarm enthusiasts will argue that if an end-of-line resistor was properly installed on that loop then it would be detected, but I’ve seen thousands of previously installed alarms and, trust me, most of them do not have end-of-line resistors properly installed.
- Test your security alarm after a lightning storm, power outage or even a power fluctuation. The system can be damaged by electrical problems just as easily as it can be damaged by physical modifications. It’s a common occurrence during late summer and early fall in Columbus Ohio that we get called to repair a security alarm after a lightning storm.
- Test your security alarm at least once a month, in addition to the specific reasons we’ve already covered. Why? That helps cover you just in case you don’t notice the particular event that caused your system to stop working correctly.
How do I test my security alarm?
As described above, you need to test all of your sensors and test that your system is communicating with the central monitoring station.
To test the sensors, you must activate each sensor individually and verify that the security alarm is “aware” that it was activated. There are several ways to do this:
- Some security alarms, including suretyCAM’s 2GIG touch screen alarms, have a “system test” or “walk test” mode that you can put them in and then go around and trigger every sensor. When you get back to the control panel after the test you will be able to see whether each sensor successfully communicated with the alarm system, and even see the wireless signal strength that was measured for each sensor. If any sensor has not been activated when you complete the test then there is a problem with that sensor that needs to be fixed.
- If your security alarm does not have a test mode then the easiest way to test the sensors is to use the chime feature. Make sure the audible chime is turned on for all of your sensors. Then walk around and activate each sensor. If you hear a chime for each sensor then you are OK, if you don’t hear a chime for a sensor then there is a problem with that sensor that needs to be fixed.
- If you can’t use the chime for some reason, then you’ll need someone to help you test the sensors. Most alarm panels show on the keypad when a sensor is activated. Have your helper stand by the keypad and watch. Go around and activate each sensor and have your helper yell at you when they see it displayed on the keypad. If any sensor doesn’t register on the keypad then there is a problem with that sensor that needs to be fixed.
suretyCAM 2GIG system test
Now you might ask, how to I activate each sensor? The short answer is read the instructions for that sensor but, since you almost definitely don’t have the instruction manual for each of your sensors, here are a few tips for the most common types of sensor:
- To activate a door or window open/close contact, first make sure all your doors and windows are closed. Then simply open and close the door or window you are testing. You have to make sure the others are closed first because if you have wired sensors you might have multiple sensors on a single wire loop and if any of them are open then the loop will already be activated.
- To activate a motion detector, wait until the sensor has had time to settle and then walk in front of it. PIR or passive infrared motion detectors will take a little bit of time after they have last detected motion to settle or reset before they will be ready to detect motion again. This takes up to 2 minutes on some PIR motion detectors, so make sure no one walks in front of them for a full 2 minutes before you run the test.
- To activate a glass break sound detector, hold a set of keys in your hand and then clap your hands together several times in front of the glass break detector. Glass break sensors are listening for a thud sound (your hands clapping) and then a shattering sound (your keys jingling). Each glass break detector is a little different and some are better than others, so keep trying if you can’t get it to activate. If you still can’t get it to do anything, try taking the outside cover off and see if the alarm complains that someone is tampering with it. If you get a tamper alert then at least you know it’s communicating, but you need to get it to trigger from noise to know that it’s working.
- To activate a shock sensor, simply knock on the window it’s attached to with your knuckles.
The sensor test failed. Call suretyCAM!
Now you’ve tested all your sensors. You know they’re they’re still working correctly and that you alarm system is detecting when they are activated. The next step is to test that your system is communicating correctly with the central monitoring station. There are a couple ways to do this:
- Some security alarms, including suretyCAM’s 2GIG touch screen alarms, have a built in phone test feature that you can use to make sure the system is still communicating correctly with the central station’s receiver. Simply run a phone test using your control panel and make sure that is passes.
- A more thorough way to test central station communication is to call your central station, ask them to put your account in test mode, and then actually trigger a real alarm by arming your system and then activating one of your security sensors. After doing so, call back into the central station and verify that they received the alarm signal. If they didn’t receive the signal then you have a communication problem. Finally, ask them to take your account off test mode.
suretyCAM 2GIG phone communication test
Think of testing your security alarm like changing the oil in your car. You might be tempted to not do it but you’ll eventually be sorry if you don’t.
Written and originally posted by Ryan Boder at http://suretycam.com/why-when-how-to-test-your-security-alarm/