!! ALARM !! (Part 44)

Martin & Mandy

Published Version

Ever since the start of the project we have had an alarm system installed at the Church along with CCTV cameras and infrared illuminators that let us see in the dark. It's a by product of running an IT company I guess, but I want to be able to sit in a pub in Birmingham and look live at the cameras over the internet on my mobile phone. The system also records everything and ships the video off site, which was more than useful when right at the beginning of the project we had the break-in and Peter's windows on both his diggers were vandalised (see part 24), the end result of that one was a pile of community service and a criminal record for the offender thanks to CCTV, alarms, the Police, and I'm pleased to say the offenders' blood.

Anyway we are now water tight and I wanted to get the full blown alarm system we had installed a couple of years ago extended to the main building of the church - not a problem I think. As you can imagine when I was originally after an alarm I wanted one that would let me communicate with it by a variety of methods so I was not after a bog basic system - I'd found the technology I was after and called the manufacturers of the system to get the contact details of the installers they had on their books who were close to site. They gave me five companies and I had three companies turn up, one massive, one very big and one a two man band.

First to come and have a look at the job was the massive company, bloke in a suit turned up and looked around, 'Oo you don't want that' he says, 'you want to fit this' and proceeds to tell me the zillion reasons why the solution he wants to supply is so much better than the solution I've already identified. Now I'm no expert but the industrial units I run my company from have rather comprehensive fire and alarm systems in them so I have more than a clue and I can spot somebody trying to cross sell me a mile away - and that's after they have received the sales lead from the manufacturer of the kit I actually want to buy! He goes away and produces a quotation that stratospherically expensive for a system I don't actually want.

Then the medium size company arrive, two blokes come to have a look around, no suits this time but they fail to pick up on the line 'I run an IT company' and whilst they agree with the technology I want to use one of them spends most of the time trying to convince me out of making any of this system available via the Internet, it's all too insecure for his liking and is about to get hacked by a million 16 year olds from their bedrooms. Trouble with this theory is that years ago I was a 16 year old in a bedroom with a computer so his view of the world does not go down very well and they leave after half an hour or so. Last to visit is Jamie from Sound & Safe the two man band, actually it's about a four or five man band, but you get the idea. First thing he does is spend ages cooing at the building and wandering round asking questions about the place that have no relevance to alarm systems at all. Then we spend ages talking about CCTV systems and things he has used in the past that he likes and stuff he has used that he hates and why. Then we drift onto audio systems and home automation systems and eventually we turn to alarm systems, at this time, which was a couple of years ago, I was just trying to get the garage alarmed and he looked at the systems I was considering and said 'Yep that's a cool setup, but you could look at these couple of additional items which would give you even better control'. Basically he's one of the engineers and not a sales man. He goes away and produces a price that's in the middle of the three and he gets the work.

In general across all the trades we have used we have ended up using the small local guys - there's a definite pattern here.

So the Alarm goes in and that's fine, in the technical specification of the alarm panel it says that you can connect buildings together with RS485 cable so I go and install the highest quality RS485 cable I can lay hands on in the ductwork between the garage and the church for use when I'm ready to alarm the church and the cable sits there for 18 months doing nothing, until now when I'm ready to use it.

Jamie connects the alarm in the garage to the alarm in the church and some of it works some of the time. He try's just about everything he can think of but cannot get the system to work reliably so he ends up phoning the manufacturers support line and they say - 'Ah yes you need this 'specific' type of RS485 cable' - this is like the wrong type of snow! Anyway a few weeks ago we pull out the 150m of cable that's buried in the causeway and replace it with a different but almost the same cable to hook the alarm systems together and this time it all works. Up to now the CCTV cameras have been bolted to the scaffold and are white and stand out, on the finished building they have been painted the same colour as the new build windows so they blend in but get a really good coverage across the site. So the place is now all alarmed and CCTV'ed - the one camera that's not connected up yet is the one in the bottom of the weather vane, I'm missing a single bit of cable that needs installing in the building and some power at the top of the tower but this will be along real soon, this camera is more for looking at wild life than anything else, it can look straight into the entrance of an owl box we have put at the top of one of the trees. The lesson of this whole story here.... small is actually beautiful in terms of suppliers, and my general experience tells me that these small local firms give you the best quality of service.

For more history and information related to St Bartholomew's visit www.layston-church.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @layston_herts

Published Version