Survey Says!

By Marilyn Michelson | Oct 15, 2006
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The security and communications boom is upon us


Study participants totaled 315, of which 261 said they currently are involved in security/life safety and/or communications work. The data was compiled and analyzed by Renaissance Research & Consulting Inc., New York. The survey looked at what the contractors did, how they did it, what markets they did it in and how they saw the future for this type of work.

Security/life safety project work involved alarms, access control and emergency signaling work. Communications work involved cabling of networks and information transport systems, backbone cabling and various communication systems such as paging and intercoms.


The approach to the study covered the areas in which electrical contractors did this type of work by looking at the appropriate vertical markets in which they were involved and the products with which they worked. The nine vertical markets (those oriented to one particular specialty) studied were retail, residential (single or multifamily), schools/education, public/cultural, financial, healthcare, industrial, government and hospitality. Within these markets, they looked at security/life safety and/or communications projects. Then, 10 product or system categories were studied in relation to security/life safety and communications work. The 10 products/systems were categorized as access control; burglar alarms and controls; cameras and closed-circuit television video (CCTV) surveillance; emergency signaling (panic/distress or other annunciation or call systems); fire/life safety systems and controls; integrated building and facility management systems (backbone structure/software); intercom/paging and communications systems; networks and information transport systems (cabling and information technology structure and software); sensors/detectors (intrusion, smoke, heat, gas or other); and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).

More information revealed

In addition to the significant facts listed at the beginning of this article, another important piece of information emerged from the contractors’ responses regarding their roles in security and communications. When questioned about their role, the contractors chose from the different responsibilities of the installer, the specifier, the designer, the integrator (low-voltage and/or traditional power supplies with security/life safety and/or communications systems), the repairer (for scheduled maintenance), and the upgrader (for upgrading legacy systems).

A major outcome of this was the corroboration that almost all contractors (97 percent) performed installation work, which was followed by the fact that nearly 80 percent of the participants did some kind of integration work for components, other low-voltage systems or integrating traditional power supplies with security/life safety and/or communications systems. More results showed that the firms performed a wide variety of functions, with three-quarters saying that they worked in four or more of the roles listed. That showed that experience in installation or integration were key services but that skills in at least four of the six roles was important. Also, fields to consider would be specifying, designing, maintenance or upgrading.

Types of work performed

It was overwhelmingly clear that contracting firms working in this field perform both security/life safety and communications projects, rather than only security/life safety or communications work, but if a firm performed only one type of work, it was more likely to be communications (VDV, cabling, etc.) than security/life safety work.

How the work was handled

Almost all of the firms surveyed handled at least some of the security/life safety and/or communications work in-house, with large proportions handling it solely in-house. The remainder of the work (generally less than 10 percent for each type) was usually subcontracted to another firm and very few said that it was exclusively subcontracted to another company. About one-half of the firms surveyed said they acted as a subcontractor for other firms, and security/life safety and/or communications work tended to be handled within the framework of the general work performed by their firm with only about three in 10 (25 to 30 percent) having a separate division to handle this work.

Products/systems the contractor worked on

Contractors worked on a wide variety of security/life safety and/or communications products and systems, with sensors/detectors (at 88 percent) and intercoms/paging (85 percent) topping the list. Other facts reported were that six out of 10 contractor respondents worked on integrated building and facility management systems. Of the products/systems categories surveyed, another fact was reported: More than 60 percent of the firms worked on eight or more of those 10 products/systems. Also, the larger firms and/or those that had been working in security/life safety and/or communications for more than 11 years were significantly more likely than their smaller and/or newer counterparts to work in the areas of UPS, fire/life safety, access control, emergency signaling, and integrated building/facility management systems.

Brand specification and systems design

Contractors who worked on a given product or system tended to be quite involved in its specification, including more than 65 percent who said they are involved in brand selection. They said they always or almost always specified the brand about 40 percent of the time for each of the products/systems in the study. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of respondents said they are perform system design.

Where the work was performed

Contractors who perform security/life safety and/or communications work did so in many different arenas. Retail received the most responses (close to 70 percent). All of the other vertical markets (with the exception of hospitality—which was about 42 percent), were mentioned by about half of the contractors. Aside from retail, work was also spread among the residential, educational, public/cultural, financial, healthcare, industrial and government arenas. The larger firms or those in the business for 11 years or more were far more likely to work in these markets, with smaller firms working in the residential market. Overall, almost seven in 10 firms performed security/life safety and/or communications work in more than four vertical markets and about one-half did so in five or more of the nine vertical markets tested. It was also clear that larger and/or more experienced security/life safety and/or communications firms were even more likely to perform that work in more than one market sector.

Average spending

The electrical distributor/wholesaler channel dominated where contractors spent their money. Another contender was the security equipment distributor, a distant second to the electrical distributor/wholesaler. The purchasing methods used, which were much less significant but nevertheless involved, were those made directly from the manufacturer, online, the local home building store, the industrial distributor or by purchasing using a co-op or group-buying network.

Professional memberships

An interesting finding was that approximately 20 percent of contractors did not belong to any organization or certification training program but that about 30 percent belonged to only one and 50 percent belonged to two or more. The two mentioned most often were NECA and the NFPA, and the distant third was BICSI. All groups tested were NECA, NFPA, BICSI, NICET, NBFAA, CEDIA, NSCA, ASIS and SIA.

Survey conclusions

Electrical contractors are very involved in security/life safety and/or communications work. They work on many different types of products and systems, including basic security/fire life safety products and systems, integrated building and facilities management, network and information transport systems, and UPS. More than 60 percent of the firms worked on eight or more of the 10 products/systems included in the survey. Contractors also play many different roles, including installation, specification of brands and design work, product/system integration, scheduled maintenance and legacy systems upgrades. In fact, contractors who worked on a given product or system tend to be quite involved in its specification. Contractors do this work in all of the vertical markets tested, including industrial and government. An average of more than half (68 percent) of the contractors reported working in slightly less than half (four out of nine) of the vertical markets included in the study. The good news is that almost 70 percent said they expect their firm’s security/life safety and/or communications revenue to increase over the next three to five years.

After all considerations, this survey conveyed good news. Almost 70 percent of those surveyed expected their associated revenue to increase over the next three to five years, even though that was equally true of those not currently working in these fields. Plus, those in the business 11 years or more worked in more related areas and in more vertical markets. That showed that the future looks promising for this type of work, and the longer you are in it, the better chance you have of getting the work.         EC

MICHELSON, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Business Communication Services and publisher of the BCS Reports, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards. To contact her, see or e-mail [email protected]

Electrical Contractor magazine conducted a study in summer 2005 that produced very revealing and informative results. Some significant facts brought to light by this study are the following:

  • In-house personnel, rather than subcontractors, handled the majority of the security and communications types of work.
  • Security sensors/detectors and intercoms/paging products were the most-used products.
  • If contractors worked with fire/life safety products, they almost always specified the brand name. 

The biggest market for this type of work turned out to be retail.
Almost 70 percent of the contractors surveyed expected their firm’s security/life safety and/or communications revenue to increase over the next three to five years.


ASIS              American Society for Industrial Security

BICSI             Building Industry Consulting Service International
CCTV            Closed-Circuit TV

CEDIA          Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association

NBFAA         National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association

NECA            National Electrical Contractors Association

NFPA             National fire Protection Association

NICET            National Institute for Certification in engineering Technologies
NSCA             National Systems Contractors Association

SIA                  Security Industry Association

UPS                Uninterruptible Power Supply





About The Author

Marilyn Michelson, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Business Communication Services and publisher of the BCS Reports, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards.





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