Home Security: Remote Monitoring

From the beginning of time, humans have felt the need to protect their dwellings. In prehistoric times, fire was used to scare away hungry beasts. Later in history, kings and queens used moats swarming with angry alligators to deter trespassers. In more recent memory, guard dogs and alarm systems have helped to ensure our families safety.

No matter what the method, our need to feel secure in our homes has remained the same. Luckily, these days home security is more advanced than ever. From hiring a professional monitoring service to enabling Internet-friendly systems, homeowners can rest easy knowing a watchful eye is always trained on their home.

The Hired Gun
Hiring a professional monitoring service ensures a human connection to your home, whether you’re there or not. To utilize this service, your home must have a security system with security stations (panels) installed in your house. Preferably, the installation of a security system would be handled during the home building process; however, homeowners can choose to upgrade an existing house, as well.

When a security panel detects fire, burglary or other problems, it automatically transmits alarm signals to a central monitoring office. Here, trained operators keep an eye on the system 24 hours a day, recording signals and taking appropriate action, such as referring signals to the police or fire authorities when necessary. You may also choose to monitor for other emergencies, such as a flooded basement or power outage, as long as your system is equipped with enough inputs to support water, temperature and power sensors. Indicate up-front in your service contract how you want the company to handle these types of calls.

Look for a couple of things in the company your hire. For instance, central stations should be either UL-Listed (Underwriters Laboratories Inc.) or Factory Mutual approved. Also, before signing on with a service, determine who’s actually monitoring your home. Some companies subcontract the monitoring; the call stations may not even be located in your state.

Fees for professional services vary, but can be less than $1 a day, depending on where you live. This is a small price to pay considering the value of protecting your home and family. For instance, ADT, a nationally known professional monitoring service, offers the Safewatch Pro 2000 system for $26.99 a month plus a $99 installation fee (prices subject to change, check with your local service provider). This service is as easy to use as a telephone. The keypad features illuminated buttons and can audibly alert you to emergency conditions. Some of the standard features offered by the ADT Safewatch Pro 2000 system include one-touch police and fire emergency buttons, a zone bypass feature and a chime feature that can alert you each time a protected door or window is opened.

Sending Out an SOS
Some home security systems don’t require a central monitoring station. You can install home automation systems that will actually send you a message if there’s trouble at home. Whether a door is ajar or the house temperature has dropped below the appropriate range, you can be notified on your pager or cell phone.

The only problem with automated systems is that they rely on your availability and intervention. A message isn’t being sent to emergency personnel, so you must respond appropriately when an issue arises. This type of security is convenient when a small problem happens, such as leaving your security system turned off. In cases like that, you can call most systems remotely with passwords and codes to activate them. However, if there’s an emergency such as a fire, 911 won’t be notified unless you make the call. So there’s the risk of knowing too late.

See for Yourself: Robots and Video Surveillance
Homeowners have a new power over their home security. The latest technology utilizes roving robots, which can be accessed via the Web and maneuvered all around a house.

Probotics offers a robot solution called Spy-Cye. “Spy-Cye is well suited for security by meeting the basic curiosity instinct of people about the places they live and work, when they can’t be there themselves,” says Henry Thorne, CEO of Probotics. “It is the only robot of its kind that is easy to use and costs less than $1,000.” This solution does come with some drawbacks, however, including an inability to climb stairs and difficulty maneuvering on some surfaces. So, robots may allow for some additional levels of security, but they probably can’t do the job entirely by themselves.

Another option for worldwide access to your home is through video cameras. Although home cameras were historically a costly and cumbersome solution, technology has progressed significantly.
Monitoring your home via video streaming on your PC is now a cost-effective option for home security, with some complete solutions starting at under $500.

Web-enabled camera systems transfer images of a home to a remote computer screen or TV. Software and at least one camera usually come packaged with most monitoring systems. However, you would need to have one host computer and Internet access at home to link to the cameras, as well as an additional computer for remote access. This remote computer could be a laptop, your office computer, or possibly a computer in your vacation home. Software for the system can usually be loaded on several PCs, so you can keep several eyes on your home.

With wireless technology eliminating the need for complicated wiring, you can quickly and easily get your home online. Plus, because many wireless cameras include motion sensors and microphones, you can set your system to notify you with an email message or phone call when it detects movement in your defined range. The microphone acts as your ears, so when you dial in you can also hear what’s going on.

Panasonic’s Myeyecam.com service, paired with the Panasonic KX-HCM10 network camera ($499.95), is one of the easiest, most seamless solutions on the market. The camera is a compact, standalone, lightweight network camera that allows users to view live images from a network-connected PC. Myeyecam.com assigns a permanent, personal address-such as Samantha.myeyecam.com-so that users, or anyone they designate, can log on to view pictures and video. $39.95 buys you one year of the myeyecam.com service.

If you aren’t comfortable with the Internet, some companies even allow you to watch your home from a dedicated cable station. BeAtHome is one such company specializing in home camera solutions featuring Internet or cable TV access. Their cameras can alert you to water, smoke, motion, or unauthorized entry.

Never leave your home again without complete peace of mind. Security systems give you the power to travel the world without worrying about your unoccupied home. No more bothering the neighbors “to keep an eye” on the house. From now on you’ll be able to do that yourself. Because whether it’s via the Web, phone, email, or pager, the best person to check on your home is you.

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