Protecting homes and buildings from intruders

Multiple sectors to drive steady growth for the alarm and electronic security systems sector

By Morand Fachot

The market for alarm and electronic security systems will continue to expand in coming years, fed by the quest for increased safety and security, constant concern over terrorism and crime as well as the need to protect critical infrastructure. IEC Technical Committee (TC) 79 develops International Standards for alarm and electronic security for a wide range of applications, including new ones like medical and social alarm systems, which are driven by the needs of an ageing population.

Security monitoring Customers not only expect a reliable system but also want an appropriate answer and/or service to follow the alarm immediately

Wide scope and multiple systems

IEC TC 79's remit is to prepare International Standards for systems for "the protection of buildings, persons, areas and properties against fraudulent actions having the purpose to enter in a place or to take or to use something without permission and other threat related to persons".

The wide range of applications and needs of the sector mean many different systems are in deployment. TC 79’s work does not cover the production of Standards for fire detection and fire alarm systems in general, but does include the following:

  • Access control systems
  • Alarm transmission systems
  • Video surveillance systems
  • Combined and/or integrated systems, even those that include fire alarm systems
  • Intruder and hold-up alarm systems
  • Remote receiving and/or surveillance centres
  • Social alarm systems

These systems can be operated by ordinary or trained persons to provide a local or remote alarm. They can be used for calling private guards, social assistance, emergency services or the police, and for recording and transmitting information (dated or undated), sounds and pictures of places and people for surveillance purposes.

Growth areas

Alarm systems have been used for decades as deterrents against theft and hold-up and for fire detection and evacuation warning purposes. However, owing to emerging requirements, such as better perimeter intrusion prevention to protect critical infrastructure and the needs of an ageing population, and to technological advances in electronic components they have expanded to other fields. As a result they have also become popular in the field of access control, video surveillance, and medical and social alarm systems.

This has led TC 79 to create three Working Groups (WGs), WG 11: Electronic access control systems, WG 12: Video Surveillance Systems (VSS), and WG 13: General requirements for building intercom systems.

In addition to traditional markets such as in businesses or government buildings, the expansion of access control and video surveillance systems is a consequence of an increasing need for more safety and security in residential places such as homes, hotels, hospitals and schools.

The other domain in which there is steady growth is that of medical and social alarm systems and services, which allow, for instance, elderly or disabled residents in specially equipped accommodation and dwellings to activate an alarm and call for assistance in the event of an emergency (domestic accident, health problem or other issue).

IT revolution

Information technology has had a major impact on alarm systems, making it easier, cheaper and faster than ever before to transmit and record information or data, including sending sounds, pictures and video through communication systems from the premises being monitored to an alarm receiving centre. Reporting system faults and remote correction of such faults has also become easier.

Modern alarm systems no longer rely solely on the PSTN (public switched telephone network) to transmit signals, but increasingly on other networks too: the Internet, cable TV distribution systems, cellular phone networks or other radio systems.

Protocols are everything…

Customers not only expect a reliable system but also want an appropriate answer and/or service to follow the alarm immediately. This has several consequences for alarm and surveillance systems:

A modern system must be able to transmit the alarm through a reliable communication channel. The consequence of the shift of communication from the PSTN to other networks is a need for standardized transmitting procedures and communication protocols between the components installed both in the place under surveillance and those in the alarm receiving centre.

The alarm receiving and/or surveillance centre should be able to verify and record the alarm, monitor the communication and control the local equipment. There is therefore a demand for remote modification of parameters within the alarm and/or surveillance systems which can only be performed under certain conditions. For social alarms, a direct dialogue between the alarm receiving centre and the user is often necessary.

The equipment installed in the premises or places under surveillance should not only be easy to use but should also provide an appropriate answer to the user. Enhanced computer analysis with high recording capacity and automatic verification is necessary for avoiding unwanted alarms.

Reliability is paramount

Manufacturers, certification bodies, users, etc. should benefit from Standards dealing with access control, VSS communication and protocols. Standard communication procedures between the local alarm system and the receiving centre are also necessary. It is obviously important to have reliable detection systems and transmission channels as alarms are meant to protect lives as well as property.

Although these systems are based on sophisticated electronic design, they differ from other electronic systems in their requirement to be able to work reliably in case of emergency. In addition, intrusion and hold-up systems must be designed to trigger the alarm if someone decides to interfere with the system (tamper protection). Although mostly connected to power outlets, they must also operate in backup mode on batteries in case power is cut off accidentally or wilfully – for instance in cases of attempted burglary or break-in.

EMC (Electromagnetic compatibility) requirements in the field of alarm systems are also extremely important from the point of view of reliability. For example, some components used in alarm systems may behave as antennas, either influencing their environment or being themselves influenced by electromagnetic fields. TC 79 prepares International Standards on EMC immunity requirements for components of fire and security alarm systems.

Full agenda and no end in sight to expansion

The complexity of modern alarm and detection systems and the wide range and nature of the components they include, such as infrared, microwave and ultrasonic or glass break detectors and transmitters, mean they rely on many Standards to operate and communicate signals and orders. TC 79’s work on these Standards involves liaisons with other IEC TCs, like IEC TC 9: Electrical equipment and systems for railways.

TC 79 works the other two global standardization organizations, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) active in some aspects of standardization for alarm and electronic security systems. This work is carried out within ISO/IEC/ITU-T SAG-S (Strategic Advisory Group on Security), which oversees standardization activities relevant to the field of security.

IEC TC 79 works also with ISO TC 21/SC3: Fire detection and alarm systems, and ISO TC 22/SC3: Electrical and electronic equipment for road vehicles.

It also liaises with other bodies, such as the Open Network Interface Forum (ONVIF) is a global and open industry forum with the goal to facilitate the development and use of a global open standard for the interface of physical IP-based security products, and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) to avoid standards overlapping and being duplicated.

As of November 2015, TC 79 had issued more than 50 publications. 43 are currently available and 10 were withdrawn in 2011; 31 of the publications are recent, having been published since 2010. The Standards cover hardware components, interfaces and communication protocols for voice, data and other signals.

Growing security concerns in many countries, an ageing population and more accessible, better performing and cheaper alarm and electronic security systems now being installed in private homes and residential buildings, are indicative of a vibrant market. This is projected to top USD 46 billion in 2015, according to US-based research company GIA (Global Industry Analysts, Inc.).

As utilities roll out Smart Grid applications they expand their offer in the form of monitoring equipment to attract customers by proposing more connected services like fire alarms, gas and water leaks warning systems, as part of their packages, thus opening up another area of growth for the sector.

All this expansion will be supported by additional standardization work from TC 79.

Bosch security system Bosch Advantage Line security system (Photo: Bosch)
Honeywell software Control screen in monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.)
Kaba turnstile This turnstile, used in conjunction with card readers, can reliably control access without the need for monitoring by personnel