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SECURITY

Be Alarmed--It's Season for Break-Ins

Homes protected with security systems are about three times less likely to be burglarized.

June 28, 1997|From Associated Press

Ah, the summer months--a time to wind down, chill out and get away. Better make that lock up and look out as well.

The summer is peak season for home burglaries. A disproportionate number of the 2 million residential break-ins each year occur in July and August, when most people are frolicking at the beach or vacationing miles away.

The season also is hot for home security sales, a growth industry in recent years.

Westec Security Inc. in Newport Beach is preparing for a 25% to 40% increase in orders for its customized alarm systems in the next two months. First Alert of Chicago expects to sell 40% of its light timers, safes and other security products between now and August.

Overall, the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Assn. reports a 40% jump in industrywide sales in recent years, even though burglaries have actually declined slightly during that time.

"We're seeing a lot of growth in sales . . . [as] the perception of crime is on rise," said Linda S. Gimbel, a spokeswoman for the Bethesda, Md.-based association. "More and more Americans say they feel safer with a home security system. People are buying empowerment."

Security devices do help, studies show.

Homes protected with security alarms are about three times less likely to be burglarized than those without them and suffer 25% less loss even when burglaries occur. (The average take per house is usually around $1,200 in cash and goods.)

But how can consumers make sure they're not getting ripped off by those trying to prevent rip-offs?

It's not always easy when you look at the arsenal of security devices on the market. Homeowners can arm themselves with everything from simple timers that automatically control indoor lights to sophisticated infrared sensors that detect intruders' footsteps at the front door.

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"You can almost reduce your chances of being burglarized to zero . . . if you create a fortress of your home. But [that] will make your life unpleasant in the house," said Simon Hakim, a Temple University economist who has studied the behavior of burglars.

He believes the best way to ward off burglars is to make life difficult for them. "The average break-in time is 60 seconds. If it takes longer than that . . . a burglar is likely to go elsewhere."

Choosing the right security system depends largely on your budget and living habits. It's not practical, for instance, to invest in something that costs more than the possessions you're trying to secure, especially if you have adequate insurance coverage. You also don't want a system that will severely inhibit movement in your own home.

"A good standard system will cover the perimeters of your home, alert you to when there's an intruder and let the intruder know he's been detected. It [also] will limit damage in your home and summon help," Gimbel said.

Most home security experts recommend a combination of electronic alarms and simple anti-theft devices such as indoor-light timers or outdoor motion-sensing flood lights, which give a vacant house a more lived-in look.

Do-it-yourself alarm kits cost as little as $200 at many electronic stores. Professionally installed systems average $1,200.

The choice in alarms boils down to two: wired or wireless. A wired system includes strategically placed sensors physically linked to a central control unit. In a wireless system, the sensors communicate with the control unit via radio transmitters.

Wired systems are considered the most reliable and are the most popular, though technological advances, such as longer-life batteries, have helped improve sales in wireless alarms, said Joseph Freeman, former president of Wells Fargo Armored Services who now runs JP Freeman & Co., a security research firm in Newtown, Conn.

Freeman said the latest trend is to install a combination. "You can have a wireless system . . . and then you can run a wire through an obstacle, like metallic wallpaper or a wall," he said.

The security products on the market today can adjust to almost any kind of home or lifestyle.

In fact, many companies, such as First Alert, emphasize overall lifestyle enhancements that keep people safe and ward off intruders. There are devices that monitor the level of carbon monoxide in a house or turn down the heat when no one is home.

"The rest of the world may be frightening . . . [but] safety in the home is really the one thing people feel they can have some control over," said Richard F. Timmons, vice president of marketing for First Alert.

That control can be extended to a distance as well. Stuart Barber, marketing manager for Rollins Protective Services, says one of its popular home security devices is its hand-held light-control device that allow users to turn on the lights at their home from up to 1,000 feet away.

More sophisticated home alarm systems include extensive perimeter sensors that trigger an alarm when an established boundary line is crossed. They can be installed at doorways, windows or near overgrown shrubs.

The most common types of perimeter sensors include magnetic reed switches, ultrasonic detectors, microwave detectors and passive infrared detectors. There are also sensors that can detect when a screen is cut or glass is broken.

Jonathan Cobb, a vice president at Westec Security in Newport Beach, says a typical installation usually takes a day, though large homes with more sophisticated systems can take longer.

Gimbel says individuals opting for a professionally installed system should interview at least three companies before hiring one, ask for references or check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any consumer complaints.

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