Improper installation of home security system leads to two burglaries


home security systemThis access control case involves the failure to properly install a home security and visual surveillance system, which led to two burglaries. The family who owned the home had a security system installed as the house was built. The system included motion sensor devices, window security devices and all around doorway security. The system was installed by the contractor and was then monitored by a local security management systems company.

The first burglary took place as the family was moving into the home. The thieves cut the phone line to the home and then used the realtor’s key box (a combination lock beneath the door handle containing the door key, to allow the realtor entry to the home). The burglars entered the home and ripped the security system from the wall and took a number of valuables including multiple pieces of antique family memorabilia, computers, televisions, and audio equipment.

After the first burglary, the security company assessed the house and installed a wireless notification device in the same location as the first control panel. A few months after the first burglary, the house was robbed again. The thieves again cut the phone lines, but this time they entered the house by breaking a window.  The system tried alerting the security company by dialing out through the hard line about eight times, but eventually the thieves ripped that alarm system from the wall as well, which prevented the wireless alert system from sending a signal. The thieves took more than $400,000 in jewelry and gemstones, and have not yet been apprehended.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. After the first burglary, should the security company have buried the phone line?
  • 2. Should the security company have changed the number of emergency alert attempts to have the system dial out through the wireless uplink?
  • 3. Should the security company have placed the system in a different location?
  • 4. Should the security company have placed the control panel and the wireless up link in separate locations after the first break in?

Expert Witness Response E-007007

1. Phone lines cannot be completely buried. The phone lines are laid by the phone company. One could put conduit around the wires going into the home but that would not guarantee they could not eventually cut the wires.
2. Since they entered with a key and knew where the alarm panel was, it is likely they had enough time to damage it without the alarm actually sending a signal. My question would have to do with the configuration of the system. All alarm systems provide a 30-45 second delay before sending the signal to the central station. Obviously, this is intended to allow the home owner enough time to enter the home and deactivate the alarm. There is no detection of the phone line being cut so they really did not have to hurry to destroy the panel.
3. This is a strong maybe. The purpose of the cell backup is to provide covert redundancy to an alarm system. I would question the training received by the installer regarding high risk locations (especially having had a prior burglary where the system was ripped from the wall).
4. This is a self-contained transmitter. For this to work properly the cell system must have its own power either battery or hardwired. It should not be getting power from the main alarm panel for the very reason that happened here. Absent any structural hurdles, they could have placed the unit elsewhere.

I’ve worked five specific cases just like this one that settled prior to deposition. All involved commercial warehouses and the losses were several million dollars in each case. There are no standards as to how or where an alarm panel is to be installed or how/where the detection devices are to be located. It is mostly a collaborative effort between the client and the alarm company. Also, cut phone lines have been an identified vulnerability for a very long time. I am curious as to why the cell backup was not recommended or requested for the initial installation.

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