Thursday, 28 March 2013

Alarming news! Not all ULC alarm systems are equal!

As a jeweller, you know that when your business is closed, you depend absolutely on your burglar alarm system. But is one alarm system as good as the next? Recent changes to Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada (ULC) alarm system standards show us that the answer is a clear no.

If you've ever stopped to think about it, you've probably realised that there are three equal and essential parts to every burglar alarm system: 1) the alarm equipment in the store or office that detects someone breaking in; 2) the monitoring station that listens for that alarm signal; and finally 3) the communications line that links the two. It is this last element that has recently changed and is the subject of this posting.

Until quite recently, Canadian ULC-certified alarm system installers used a special Bell telephone line, often referred to as a DVACS line, for communication. The main advantage DVACS offers is line protection, permitting the detection of line cuts and compromise attempts within minutes. To give them their due, DVACS lines are time-tested, reliable and are still being installed today. However, DVACS technology has been superseded by improved telephone, internet and wireless systems. Starting in 2010, new alarm installations using DVACS lines are no longer being ULC certified; in fact, many alarm companies are phasing out DVACS entirely. Some existing DVACS systems are being recertified, but much of the necessary hardware to keep them current is no longer in general production; eventually, DVACS will be entirely gone.

How does this affect you? The most important change is that there are now two ULC-approved methods of communicating with a monitoring station rather than only one. The first and most basic of these two methods is the Passive system, aimed primarily at residential and low value businesses. You will see these systems identified on ULC certificates as P1, P2 or P3 (P means passive: higher numbers are better). Passive systems self-test every 24 hours, which is better than not at all, but even so is much too long a time to be considered as offering anything but the most basic level of security, since it will take up to 24 hours to detect a line cut or other attack. Most jewellers will require an Active system, rated at A1, A2, A3 or A4 (again, higher numbers are better). An active system self-tests every three minutes and as a result offers much better line protection than a passive system.

An A3 rating is equivalent to the old DVACS standard, so, if you have a DVACS line now, you should replace it with an A3 or even A4 system. It is probably worth adding here that, since non-ULC alarm systems typically offer no line protection of any kind, we do NOT recommend them for any but the most modest of risks!

As an insurance broker specialising in jewellers block, I look at a lot of ULC certificates. One unfortunate trend I've noticed in the last couple of years is that, when alarm companies upgrade DVACS, they sometimes install a passive system without first discussing it with the owner. As well as providing a lower level of security, it usually costs extra to redo the work into the bargain. So, if your alarm company announces its intention to work on the alarm system, or if you are looking at opening a new store, take the opportunity to talk to your broker first. Get his or her recommendations on the right alarm system for your business before the work is done, and get the right alarm system installed the first time. Good security is a wise investment in your business; we are happy to help you get it right!

Feel free to contact our office.