If you're savvy, smart and futuristic, you've already found ways to add security and its related disciplines to your traditional electrical contracting business.

Smart cookie.

You're not alone. Across the country, from coast to coast, electrical contractors are focusing on the market by offering security for both new and existing customers. And, all signs point to continued prosperity and growth for the $1 billion-plus and growing electronic security industry.

We've written about some of those electrical contractors who have seized the future. Cal Harris, owner of Harris Electric in Dublin, Calif., says he does a lot of data work and computer wiring, and that extends itself logically and smoothly into access control.

And, while not the "meat" of his business, Neil Hart, president of Electronic Control Systems Inc. in Miami, also takes seriously his commitment to security as a logical transition to and extension of the job; part of the important customer service edge to "turnkey" a job.

There are many others finding themselves faced with either being able to install some sort of security, audio, or other low-voltage system, or saying "no." Of course, you want to be able to say "yes" with confidence and expertise. Training is a great starting point for those who want to wet their feet and even develop webbed feet in the security marketplace.

Training is the edge that makes it all come together, and every experienced entrepreneur knows it. "Having qualified people is crucial to success in the industry," Harris commented. "Your key personnel have to be trained. It's a big commitment with security." He adds that personnel also have to train the users, so their expertise is invaluable.

Hart said, "You have to have highly trained, technical people. We do a lot of training, seminars, and workshops."

The best you can be

Pick your niche. There's network wiring, fire alarm systems, access control, home automation, security lighting, burglar alarms, wireless devices, and more and more every- day ways to add security to your books. Whatever your choice, you must also decide you will be the best you can be--just like you are in your other work. That means your installation technicians must be trained as experts in their field.

A comprehensive program for low-voltage contractors is the Installer/Technician Program administered by the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), Upper Marlborough, Md. In a joint program between NECA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), sessions are developed with the "train the trainer" concept using accredited speakers from participating manufacturers. NJATC boasts nearly 300 training locations across the country, and a host of sessions on low-voltage with hands-on experience, said Jim Boyd, NJATC's senior director of curriculum development and training.

"The installer technician program keeps people current and also updates them on new technologies," Boyd said. "There's a course taught by Sentrol security systems, and another by Notifier Personnel based on their addressable fire alarm systems." Training on access control, nurse call systems, sound distribution, voice and data, commercial controls, HVAC, and network wiring are also available.

In New York, for example, electrical contractors are getting trained in fire alarm system installation. In fact, they must undergo alarm installation training in order to become licensed to install burglar and fire alarms. But they don't attend these sessions begrudgingly. They come in throngs.
Some 60 percent or more of attendees at the Certified Security Technician Course are electrical contractors, says Alan Glasser, security veteran and instructor for the 60-hour course in New York.

Glasser has been teaching the course, administered by the National Alarm Association of America (NAAA) and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) since 1986. The New York State Certified Security Technician Course is a requirement; However, Glasser concurs that the growing number of electrical contractors taking the course is a gauge of their interest in the field.

It also shows they have the common sense to seek out an important aspect of proficiency in the alarm industry-or any trade for that matter-training.
The NBFAA and NAAA courses are divided into four modules: Installations Standards and Techniques; Security Systems; Motion Detection; and Fire Technology. "They're coming to school to learn systems integration, CCTV, access control, and more," Glasser said.

NBFAA also offers other classes that range from sales to central station management. And, there are additional sources of training that should not be overlooked, says Glasser. First, a call to the state, or even an individual city or county, will determine if an appropriate licensing law or installation regulation is applicable, said Glasser. If so, he said, the licensing agency should have a list of approved classes.

There are other ways to get trained. Some manufacturers have what they call dealer programs and may provide training as part of the plan. Don't be afraid to call the manufacturer of the equipment you are using to find out if it will hold a workshop at your office or at a convenient location where you can send your employees.
Also consider your supplier or distributor. Perhaps your electrical wholesaler offers security and related equipment and knows of applicable workshops, seminars, or product meetings to boost your knowledge.

In addition to NJATC, NBFAA, and NAAA, there's the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), the Security Industry Association (SIA), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Consider their expertise when you need help.

The important thing is to get started, even if it's only dabbling at first. If all signs are correct, electrical contractors are in a perfect place to position themselves as systems contractors. Training is the first order of business on this road to success.

Start Training Today

These organizations and/or associations may help you become better trained in security and low-voltage installations.

National Alarm Association of America (NAAA) Training Systems
Certified Security Technician
P.O. Box 221
Baraboo, Wis.
(800) 944-2598; (800) 944-2599 (fax)

National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA)
National Training School - Alarm Technician Certification and Advanced Technician Certification, also Sales Training and Understanding Alarm Systems, as well as other courses.
8300 Colesville Road, Suite 750
Silver Spring, Md. 20910
(301) 585-1855; (301) 585-1866 (fax)
www.alarm.org

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Fire Code Seminars and Certification Programs such as Certified Fire Protection Specialist
One Batterymarch Park
P.O. Box 9101
Quincy, Mass. 02269-9101
(800) 344-3555
www.nfpa.org

National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET)
Certification and related specialty programs such as fire systems, etc.
1420 King St.
Alexandria, Va. 22314-2794
(888) IS-NICET; (888) 476-4238
www.nicet.org

Security Industry Association (SIA)
(Members are manufacturers and distributors of security products)
635 Slaters Lane, Suite 110
Alexandria, Va. 22314-1177
(703) 683-2075; (703) 683-2469(fax)
www.siaonline.org

O'MARA is the president of DLO Communications, Inc., in Chicago. She specializes in writing about the security market. She can be reached at (773) 775-1816 or domara @flash.net.