The Evolution of Security Controls in 1’s and 0’s


To understand how security control panels evolved from a collection of batteries and mechanical relays to today’s electronic marvels, we need to follow the path of 1’s and 0’s the language of computers.

One might assume that the hardware existed before the software, but the truth is that each has spurred the development of the other. The first version of windows was slow and clunky and almost unusable, hastening the development of computer hardware needed to support it.

The first significant improvement in alarm control panels occurred when transistor circuits replaced mechanical relay panels. This reduced power consumption and dramatically increased the reliability of alarm controls. Functionally speaking, the new panels operated in much the same way as the relay panels, just better.

This progression continued with the introduction of integrated circuits which placed hundreds of transistors on a silicon chip the size of your little finger, multiplying the capability of transistorized panels many times.

Prior to the introduction of integrated circuits, alarm control operations were limited to a kind of caveman logic, which went something like this:

Alarm on ? Circuit open ? Ring bell.

There are not much in the way of programmable options here.

As integrated circuits evolved, they became programmable. It became possible for technicians to program system parameters and logic in a much broader way. For example, it became possible to instruct the system to delay x seconds after activating before arming (to allow entry and exits), to delay y seconds after an alarm before transmitting an alarm signal (to allow cancellation), and to deactivate the annunciator after z minutes (to comply with noise regulations). You could also program other parameters like the response speed of individual alarm zones, the assignment of always-on emergency circuits, and fire alarm circuits; each triggers different sounds and outputs.

Integrated circuits have also changed how alarm systems communicated with third-party monitors. Previously, tape dialers were the only communication option available to homeowners and small businesses. Unfortunately, they were notoriously unreliable. Tapes would unexpectedly break, and emergency messages were often garbled, leaving customers in the lurch. Voice messages were also slow, and when they did work, they took several minutes to communicate an emergency.

These would be replaced by processor controlled digital communicators that transmitted a clear coded signal to a monitoring facility in a matter of seconds.  Early digital communicators were very primitive by today’s standards and were “programmed,” using a series of jumper wires, to instruct the hardware to perform different operations.

Although not apparent at the time, we (alarm technicians) were becoming programmers, providing instructions to an ever-increasing array of electronic processors that set control panel parameters and logic.

It would be several years before alarm control manufacturers added a computer port that allowed a technician to program all parameters of the control panel and dialer via a local or remote computer, but progress was relentless. Jumpers were eventually replaced with keypads, keypads with computer keyboards, and keyboards with phone apps.

Conclusions and predictions:

Today’s alarm control panels are computers in every sense of the word, expanding programmable options, a world apart from their primitive descendants. Control panels can be programmed to initiate complex logical sequences, linking the operation of alarm systems, electronic locks, home energy management, and endless other user services. With embedded artificial intelligence and deep learning, they will, in all likelihood, learn to program themselves in the future to best serve the needs of their users.