Resorting to Monitoring
INNSBROOK IS an 8,000-acre resort nestled in the hills of Warren County, Missouri. It was “built out of an admiration for the simple, rejuvenating powers of Mother Nature,” reads its Web site, which goes on to describe the resort’s miles of nature trails and 100 lakes. Photos show wooden chalets on lakefronts or tucked into clearings between rolling hills and trees. It’s all very idyllic, but there’s still the normal need for security, as the vacation homes at Innsbrook are vacant most of the year, and owners want them protected from possible intrusions or misuse when they are unoccupied.
To meet that need, more than 20 years ago, Innsbrook had a company install a basic system to monitor the homes while residents were away. Because most of the homes are on adjoining property, the approach the resort used was to split a single telephone line and use it to monitor two separate homes. But by the 1990s, the facility had grown from around 1,000 facilities to closer to 1,300. As a result, the security system was stretched to its limits.
The use of the single phone line also led to problems with false alarms during storms. Single strand monitoring causes a voltage issue, explains Innsbrook Alarms Supervisor Matthew Aubuchon. As a result, the system often had to be turned off during storms.
The combination of the system being stressed by the growth of the facilities and plagued by numerous false alarms was enough for Aubuchon to advocate for an upgrade. The goal was more reliability so that the security team could focus staff time on “checking out actual alarms,” which is important because the guard booth at Innsbrook is only staffed by one or two guards at a time, he says.
Ideally, the resort wanted a solution that could accommodate its 1,300 buildings without requiring much in additional infrastructure, which was challenging due to the terrain.
“Cable only goes to half the buildings. A wireless solution looks good on paper, but you get around the hills and trees and valleys, you’re going to have a lot of void spots,” Aubuchon says. He wanted a solution that was more reliable.
After researching various types of solutions and service providers, the resort selected Digitize Inc., a Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey-based manufacturer of proprietary alarm monitoring equipment known for its custom alarm installations.
The solution from Digitize included the use of alarm center software by Security Information Systems, Inc. Called DAAMRS, the software provides both audio and visual alerts and guides the guards through the process of dispatching the appropriate responder.
Digitize also designed an interface card that allowed it to monitor Innsbrook’s alarm panels via the resort’s existing phone lines, overcoming both the capacity issue and the problem with false alarms.
As noted, Innsbrook had had a problem with line interference during lightning storms. The new system was modified to address this problem.
“Lighting can cause a momentary change in a voltage reading on the circuit being monitored. Debounce is the process which re-reads the value several times to ensure that you are going to report,” says Digitize President and CEO Abe Brecher.
To reduce false alarms, Digitize devised a way of differentiating status changes that might have been caused by lightning from those that might have been caused by an actual security event that triggered the sensors. It did so by configuring the system to watch for status changes that were shorter than the time it would take someone to open and shut a door.
“NFPA guidelines say you need to respond to a change of status in .82 seconds for a multiplex system. In our design, we have it set to check the status twice in one second,” says Brecher. He explains that lightning doesn’t usually last that long, so if the interruption isn’t present on the second read, it’s not a real alarm.
While Digitize was able to use the phone lines up to a point, those lines still had their limits. To get around that and expand the system as needed, the new system used nearby cell phone towers to send alarms where phone lines were lacking. In this way, newer properties could be tied into the system without the resort incurring the cost of laying new phone lines or installing other infrastructure.
The software’s database maintains information pertinent to the day-to-day operation of the security team and reminds guards of scheduled events that might cause a log event, such as the cleaning crew entering the property at a certain time. It also notes when owners will be absent to help determine the urgency of alarm response.
The new setup is also used to monitor the resort’s grinder pumps (used for waste management). The alarms are set to go off well before a pump overflows.
“We can also monitor the heating and cooling systems. Anything that can be monitored can be adapted to this system,” says Aubuchon.
The system has already proven its worth. When two teens broke into a chalet in the winter of 2011 with the intention of stealing a TV, the sensors were triggered, and the monitoring center received an alarm signal. A security guard was immediately dispatched. He arrived as the two teens were exiting the building, and he was able to prevent them from getting to their vehicle.
“The next day, they came back claiming they had their car towed, but when they went to claim it, they were wearing the same shoes they’d left footprints with,” Aubuchon says, laughing at the recollection. He turned the information over to the local sheriff. The pair were arrested and prosecuted for the theft.
The resort may expand what it does with the system in the future. For example, it may take advantage of the option to send automatic notification of alarms by e-mail or text messages, based on the type of alarm, to security or maintenance personnel and even to owners. Another option would be to enable live viewing of the scene where an alarm sounds by tying the system into the security cameras, which is not currently done. That would help with alarm verification and responder information.
Aubuchon says the new system has reduced false alarms by 85 percent. False alarms related to hardware were eliminated completely.