NOTE: This article contains no information about genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this article.
This article was written in response to some comments at the end of an earlier article published in the Plus edition newsletter at http://eogn.com/wp/?p=23353. In a comment, I answered a question about the security system I use that doesn't require conventional telephone lines to call the monitoring service. A newsletter reader responded, “An article about your setup would be great!” I agreed to write such an article.
This is the article I promised to write.
I recently installed a web-enabled security system in my home. It monitors doors and windows for intruders. It also has a motion detector in the living room, the center of the house. Any would-be burglar has to walk through the living room to reach any other part of the house, so the motion detector provides a lot of security. The system also has two moisture detectors: one installed on the floor near the washing machine and another on the floor near the hot water heater. It also has a very loud klaxon horn mounted on the outside of the house that is sure to wake the neighbors at any time of the day or night.
Finally, the new security system has a built-in cell phone for data connections only that notifies a central alarm monitoring service of any problems. In turn, that service will call my cell phone to tell me of any problems. If there is no answer, the central alarm monitoring service will follow a "call list" that I specified. The monitoring service operator will next call one of my relatives. If no answer there, the central alarm monitoring service will call another of my relatives. If no answer there, the central alarm monitoring service will call my next-door neighbor. Finally, if all those calls fail to reach a live human, the central alarm monitoring service will call the 911 emergency dispatch operator in the area where I live and report the type of alarm (intrusion, water, temperature) and also supply my home address. I can change the call list within seconds at any time by making changes online.
The same system also sends an automated text message to up to four cell phones for every alarm or status change, plus it sends email messages to as many email addresses as I care to specify. I can also access the alarm system remotely via its home page on the web.
The best part of all is that I purchased the individual components myself, specifying the items I wished to install, and then I installed everything myself within minutes. Everything is wireless, powered by batteries with a five-year life expectancy. When the batteries eventually get weak, the system sends me an email message telling me which sensors need a battery replacement. All these devices (except the control center) are wireless; I didn't have to string any wires to install the sensors.
Even the "connection" to the central alarm monitoring service is wireless. It works by cell phone data. I didn't want any monitoring system that uses telephone wires to connect to a monitoring service for two reasons: (1.) I don't own a regular telephone, so there are no phone wires at my house; and (2.) I know that any knowledgeable burglar will first rip phone wires off the house before breaking and entering. Traditional alarm systems that use telephone wires to call the central alarm monitoring service are frequently disabled within seconds by knowledgeable burglars equipped with a pair of scissors.
Where I live, the cell phone companies all have strong, reliable signals, so a cell phone solution was perfect for me. It might not work as well in rural areas.
The same security system is also reachable from the World Wide Web. In fact, my home's security system has its own password-protected home page. I can use any web browser on my cell phone, tablet computer, laptop, desktop computer, or even from a friend's computer or a public computer at a library or Internet cafe to check on the status of the alarm system and to make changes. I can also use a specialized app from the security monitoring service if I prefer. However, I find that a web browser works almost as well as the specialized app.
If my security system isn't "armed" and monitoring for intrusions and water problems, I can turn it on via the web. If the security system is turned on, I can turn it off from any web browser. That's handy if I get a phone call from my plumber or other tradesman when I am out of the house. If that person needs to enter my house, and assuming that I trust him, I can talk with him on my cell phone first. I can then use the phone's app or web browser to connect to my security system's web page, enter the password that is known only to me, and turn off the alarm system. After the tradesman finishes his work and leaves, I can turn the alarm back on again. I can do this from anyplace in the world.
I decided to use this system because of a bad experience I had years ago with a well-known national alarm service. I had the national company install a rather expensive security system in the house I owned at the time, using what was a state-of-the-art alarm system in those days. I paid a lot of money for that system and then paid an additional $30 a month for the monitoring service. In those days, none of the home security systems could notify cell phones or had web pages.
The contract that I had with the monitoring service specified that, in case of an alarm, the company would first try to contact me at the several telephone numbers I provided. If unsuccessful, they would contact the 911 emergency dispatcher in my area. I had reasons later to go back and read that contract again. Those requirements were specified in detail and were REQUIRED by the contract.
All went well for about three years with no alarms of any sort. Eventually, I put the house up for sale and listed it with a local real estate agent. I gave the agent instructions on how to disarm the security alarm so that he could show the house to prospective buyers. I also provided instructions to re-arm it again when leaving.
The first time the real estate agent showed the house to a prospective buyer, he forgot to take the instructions with him. He had a key. He unlocked the front door and walked in. Thirty seconds later, a very loud klaxon alarm started blaring. Since the real estate agent had already entered, and since he knew all the police officers and firemen in this small town, he continued to show the house while he awaited the arrival of law enforcement. Nobody showed up, and the alarm eventually timed out and fell silent. He later left the house, locking the door behind him.
The real estate agent then called me at my office and told me what happened. He expressed surprise that the police never showed up. I was also surprised that the alarm company had not called me at the office, even though I knew they had the number and I had been sitting at my desk for hours.
Upon arriving home that evening, I found my home answering machine had a message. It was from the alarm company, saying, "We want to notify you that your security alarm has detected an intrusion."
I immediately called the alarm company and talked with a customer service rep. When I expressed dissatisfaction, I was transferred to a supervisor. I'll skip all the details and give the summation: the alarm company placed ONE CALL to my in-home answering service to tell me there was a possible break-in at my home. They never called my office or my cell phone, nor did they call the 911 emergency dispatcher. Why did they call my home phone when the house was obviously unoccupied (and alarmed)? Who did they expect to answer my home phone – the burglar?
I pointed out that the company was obligated by contract to provide better service than what I had received. The supervisor agreed (I think he had heard similar complaints before) but stated that the company had "changed its policies" a year or so earlier and no longer called 911 emergency dispatchers directly. Having spent more than $1,000 in monitoring charges in the preceding three years, I was unhappy. After threats of a lawsuit, the supervisor agreed to refund my charges for the past year, and I received a check a couple of weeks later. Of course, I also canceled my monitoring service.
After that experience, I decided I wanted my next security system to allow me to be more "involved." I wanted complete control over all notifications, and I didn't want to be locked into any contracts. After a lot of searching on the web and reading of messages in newsgroups, I selected the security system offered by SimpliSafe, Inc. at http://www.simplisafe.com.
SimpliSafe offers a menu of individual components plus some "package deals." After a lot of reading, I selected the company's Plus Package for $259.95, plus a couple of additional items as well. I ended up with one base station (with built-in cell phone module for sending data to SimpliSafe), a wireless keypad (which does not need to be installed near the base station), four entry detectors for doors and windows, one motion detector, two moisture detectors, a panic button (which I keep beside the bed), a loud klaxon horn, and a wireless keychain remote control.
I placed entry sensors on each door but not on each window. I have too many windows! Buying sensors for every window would be expensive. Instead, I placed the motion detector in a location where it "overlooks" almost all my windows. Anyone who enters by a window will trigger the motion detector within seconds. I then placed entry sensors on the few windows in the bedrooms that are not covered by the motion detector. I suspect it would have been cheaper to buy another motion detector for each bedroom.
Anyone else purchasing a security system from SimpliSafe would probably select different components, depending upon the number of doors, windows, and other things to be monitored in their home. This is not a case of "one size fits all!"
My components arrived two days later by (prepaid) FedEx.
I found installation to be super simple. First of all, everything is wireless. There are no wires to string. Second, most components can be mounted either by screws or by some very strong double-sided tape that is included with the components. I installed all the components listed above in about a half hour, and that included time spent reading the instructions.
The instructions say to place the base unit near a window as it contains the cell phone component and needs a strong cell phone signal. That wasn't convenient for me, so I placed it on a high shelf in the laundry room that is almost in the center of the house with no windows at all in the room. It works perfectly. Admittedly, the cell phone companies all seem to have strong signals where I live; so, placement of the base station probably isn't critical for me. If cell phone signals are weaker where you live, placement of the base station might be an issue. The base station is the only component that requires a wall outlet for power; everything else works on batteries. The base station also has batteries, but these are used only for backup purposes in case of a power outage or if a burglar disconnects the power lines before entering the home. The base station batteries should power the base station for eight to ten hours, according to the user’s manual. I didn't test that.
I am pleased with the operation of the security system. In fact, it has so many options that I am still experimenting. It can notify me via text messages and email messages about every change in status (armed, unarmed, etc.), or I can specify to only notify me of major events (alarm activated, water detected on the floor, etc.). Even when unarmed, opening a door produces a pleasant chime. (The chime can be turned off.) When an alarm goes off, the text message and email even includes the serial number of the sensor that was triggered so that I know which door or which window triggered the alarm. (The first few days I neglected to carry the list of sensor serial numbers with me. At this time, I have copied the serial numbers to a text file that is now stored on my cell phone.)
The security system has three settings: off, house unoccupied, and house occupied. The first two are self-explanatory. The "house occupied" setting monitors everything except the motion detectors and is designed to provide security when there are people in the house. All door and window entry sensors are monitored, as are the water, temperature, and other sensors. The occupants of the house are free to move around or to sleep in the bedrooms with the security system monitoring for unwanted intrusions via a door or window.
A door or window can even be left open for ventilation. When the security system is activated, it ignores doors and windows that are open at that moment. However, if someone later closes the door or window, monitoring starts at that time. If opened again at a still later time, an alarm is sounded.
For a description of some of the advantages of the SimpliSafe system versus competitive offerings, look at http://simplisafe.com/home-security-system-8-components and scroll down the page a bit.
I also elected to sign up for the monitoring service by a central alarm monitoring company. This is optional; if you are satisfied with your own monitoring along with that provided by friends and neighbors, there is no requirement to have professional operators ensuring the safety of your home round-the-clock. However, for those who want the extra level of security and like the idea that a human will call the local 911 emergency dispatcher in your area, there are three levels of monitoring available. Prices vary from $14.99 a month to $24.99 a month. Details may be found at http://simplisafe.com/wireless-home-security-feature-overview.
I signed up for the maximum $24.99 a month plan, but I intend only to try it for a while to see how it works. I am thinking I might reduce it to a cheaper plan or to zero at some time in the future, after I have gained some experience. There are no contracts, so I can change or cancel at any time without penalties.
All in all, I am pleased with the SimpliSafe system. I especially like the fact that all status info is available on my cell phone or other computer and that I can even control the system remotely via the Internet. I also appreciate the fact that the system is not dependent upon telephone wires that are easily disconnected by a would-be burglar. I would never purchase a security system that requires a landline telephone. The cell phone interface strikes me as a much better solution.
I also like the idea that monitoring by a central monitoring service is optional: the notifications to me and to selected friends and relatives by text messages and email messages offers rather good protection, although not perfect.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect. I have found a few drawbacks to the SimpliSafe system.
First of all, SimpliSafe isn't all that cheap. In fact, you probably can purchase a "package" from an alarm service for about the same prices or perhaps a bit more. However, such packages usually require being locked in to a one-year or longer contract. SimpliSafe has no contracts; I can cancel at any time. In my mind, the advantages of SimpliSafe are not low prices. Instead, I am more interested in the web access, in the ability to purchase components piece by piece, or a la carte, and the fact that there are no contracts involved.
I suspect I could get a cheaper security system elsewhere, but it probably wouldn't include all the pieces I want, and the various components wouldn't "play together" as well. The tightly integrated SimpliSafe package "just works." I installed the pieces, turned it on, and was protected within minutes. I did call SimpliSafe Customer Support to ask one question. I was on hold for about sixty seconds, and then a courteous rep with an American accent listened to my question and quickly answered it completely. I thought that was fast support, something I wouldn't have if I purchased various components from different vendors and tried to integrate them myself.
The keychain remote is a great device except that it is too bulky, in my opinion. I have now removed it from my keychain, and I leave it in the center armrest of my automobile. I found the only time I ever used it was when arriving home or leaving home, so leaving it in the auto meets my needs. If I had multiple autos, however, I would need to purchase more keychain remotes.
Some locations will require a permit from your local police department before enabling the optional monitoring service by a central alarm monitoring company. This is because some 911 dispatchers have been plagued in the past with too many false alarms. Of course, this problem is true of all alarm services, not just SimpliSafe. I checked and found that my local 911 emergency dispatch center does not require a permit. However, living in a different area might require a permit.
In the first week of usage, I also have not had any false alarms. Of course, one week is a very short test. Should false alarms become an issue in the future, I will have to take appropriate action at that time.
I was surprised that the SimpliSafe web site does not sell smoke alarm detectors or carbon monoxide detectors. If available, I would purchase those. Even stranger, the included instruction manual has instructions for setting up a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector, and even a glass breakage detector! The instruction manual even contains drawings of those devices and the web interface shows options to turn those sensors on or off. Either SimpliSafe did offer those in the past or else is planning to offer them in the future. However, at this time, all I can do is read the manual. Those items are not available for purchase from the web site today.
All in all, I am happy with the SimpliSafe installation, and I would recommend this system to anyone looking for similar capabilities. I am not compensated by SimpliSafe or by anyone else for writing this article. I am simply a satisfied customer.
For more information about SimpliSafe, go to http://simplisafe.com.