In the shadowy world of home burglary, crooks spend just 30 seconds casing out a home. Any signs of an alarm system, and a burglar will move on to the next house.
That, at least, is the sales pitch you might hear from an alarm-installation company - and many Americans evidently find the pitch persuasive.
"Fear of crime is high ... and unfortunately, fear is what sells alarms," says Michael B. Jones, president of ProFinance Associates Inc., an investment firm that specializes in the security field. "The security industry is bigger than the wireless business, it's bigger than the cable industry, but it's not very well recognized."
Concern about crime may be driving the recent increase in demand for security gizmos, but technological advances have also brought down their price. The average burglary and fire-alarm system now costs $1,200, and companies have become aggressive in seeking new business. Some offer to install new wireless home alarms for free. Others sell $1,000 alarm systems for $500 and make up their profits with two-year contracts to monitor and service the alarms.
"The residential sector is growing by leaps and bounds," says Joe Lynch of Minuteman Protection Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., which caters to the commercial sector. Top-selling items this year have been closed-circuit television and card-access systems to discourage employee pilfering, he says. Some insurance companies, financial institutions, and even a few women's health clinics have begun buying X-ray machines, metal detectors, and bomb-detection devices.
SOME of the new gadgets seem straight out of a James Bond movie, or perhaps a George Orwell novel. One car alarm under development, for instance, would rely on pin-sized cameras inside of computer chips on the dashboard. If a driver fails to punch in a computer code, the chip will transmit the driver's picture to a central station, shut off the ignition, and tell police the location of the car. The expected cost is less than $500.
Home-alarm systems will eventually make keys obsolete. If relatives are coming to town, just give them a temporary code to punch in at the front door. If you want to be sure your son comes home before midnight, program his code so it only works before then. Some security systems will even monitor air quality or chlorine levels in swimming pools.