Keeping intruders at bay

IEC standards for reliable alarm and security systems

By Morand Fachot

Producers of intrusion alarm and electronic security systems, whose past activities have focused mainly on industrial, commercial and government premises, have found new business opportunities and a potentially lucrative market in the home and residential environments. IEC TC (Technical Committee) 79: Alarm and electronic security systems, prepares standards for equipment used by manufacturers in a sector which is projected to grow by nearly 5% a year over the 2011-2015 period.

Smart Point Entry (Photo: Kaba Group) Smart Point Entry (Photo: Kaba Group)

Recession had only a limited impact on market

The intrusion alarm and electronic security systems global market experienced moderate growth following the world economic recession but is expected to regain its vitality in the short-to-medium term. Key factors driving growth include the need for increased safety and security, constant concern over terrorism and rise in crime rates as well as fresh prospects following the recovery in residential, commercial and retail activities. New domains are also opening up opportunities for the industry.

Technology developments and continued migration from analogue-based surveillance to IP (Internet protocol)-based network video surveillance are also expanding the possibilities of these systems as well as opening up opportunities for modernizing an existing installed base and fitting new equipment. International Standards prepared by TC 79 will help the industry meet this growing demand.

Wide scope and multiple systems

TC 79’s remit is to prepare international standards for systems for "the protection of buildings, persons, areas and properties against fraudulent actions". 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 needs, in particular from an ageing population, and to technological advances in electronic components, which allow a wider range of applications, they have also become popular in the field of access control, video surveillance and social alarm systems. This has led TC 79 to create two WGs (Working Groups),WG 11: Electronic access control systems, and WG 12: Video Surveillance Systems (VSS).

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 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

IT (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.

As the other two global standardization organizations, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) are active in some aspects of standardization for alarm and electronic security systems, TC 79 also works with them withinISO/IEC/ITU-T SAG-S (Strategic Advisory Group on Security). This group oversees standardization activities relevant to the field of security. 

TC 79 also liaises with other bodies, such as ONVIF (Open Network Interface Forum) and PSIA(Physical Security Interoperability Alliance) to avoid standards overlapping and being duplicated.

So far TC 79 has published 50 standards. 40 are currently available and 10 were withdrawn in 2011. 14 of the standards 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.

Smart Point Entry (Photo: Kaba Group) Smart Point Entry (Photo: Kaba Group)
Control screen in monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.) Control screen in monitoring centre (Photo: Honeywell International Inc.)
Bosch Advantage Line security system (Photo: Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH) Bosch Advantage Line security system (Photo: Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH)