Cops and Robbers

Robbery is a serious offense commonly associated with crimes of violence by the FBI. According to the agency, there were 447,403 robberies during 2006, a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year. In terms of dollars and cents, this represents a loss of $567 million.

Electrical contractors (ECs) that install and service holdup and panic alarms should be extra careful because of the added liability. If the system fails to work properly during a real holdup, your customer could hold you responsible, and the consequences can be serious.

Just for clarification, according to the FBI, robbery is “the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.”

Getting immediate help

Holdup and panic alarm systems allow people to summon help when a burglary attempt takes place. When used in a commercial setting, this special alarm system is called a holdup system, and when used in a residential application it is referred to as a panic alarm.

With a holdup system installed, for example, it’s possible to summon help at the first sign of trouble. Common commercial applications for holdup alarms include convenience and grocery stores and general office settings. Other examples of holdup system applications include credit unions, banks and stores where people go to cash their paychecks.

When used as a holdup system, activation usually is silent, so as not to provoke the perpetrator. In homes, panic alarm systems usually are audible. Audibility, in this case, is needed to warn neighbors and to frighten the perpetrator(s) off.

But the biggest issue surrounding holdup and panic alarm systems is that robberies are unpredictable. A robber can attack anyone at any time.

In residential settings, the panic alarm function is commonly integrated with the keypads the EC installs in a home. These are the same interface devices the homeowner uses to arm and disarm the burglar alarm system.

Most modern keypads include a panic function, using two designated buttons. To activate the panic feature, it is necessary to press both buttons simultaneously, holding them down for a predetermined period of time. The dual-button activation feature is intended to prevent false alarms. A police shield usually identifies the two buttons used for panic.

Because these buttons are part of the burglar alarm system the home-owner uses on a daily basis and because both adults and children use it, the installer should take sufficient time to train all potential users.

Another popular method of panic alarm activation is a portable, wireless button that can be carried. Some panic buttons take the form of a pendant that can be placed around the neck. Others take the form of a keyfob that attaches to the homeowner’s key ring. It is common for keyfobs to include one or more buttons that will arm, disarm and turn a light on to show the homeowner’s way inside or outside the home.

Commercial/retail holdup systems

Holdup alarm systems are popular in commercial and retail settings where there is the likelihood of robbery. In this case, the equipment is more application specific, which means it is important to know what is available on the market. It also is important to know how to install the various holdup devices and to devise an action plan for central station operators whose job it is to respond.

In the holdup application, it is important that the perpetrator feels he is in control, which means silence is a must when an employee triggers a holdup device. The perpetrator must not see or hear anything that would alert him that authorities have been notified. This is critical in retail facilities, such as convenience stores.

For example, when a holdup signal is received, the central station is supposed to automatically call the police dispatcher for immediate response. In a panic alarm function, the central station would call the premises for a password. Of course, panic alarm systems also come with a duress function. When triggered, the central office wastes no time calling the premises and calls for help instead.

Common holdup alarm hardware includes money clips in cash drawers, dual-action holdup buttons under countertops and desktops, and foot rails under desks and counters. In many instances, grocery and convenience stores and banks will use a combination of holdup devices.

Planning central station response is an important part of what the installing company does when installing holdup and panic alarm systems. This is especially true, since it is important to solicit the help of local law enforcement authorities as quickly as possible when an employee or homeowner is threatened.

COLOMBO is a 32-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He currently is director with and a nationally recognized trade journalist located in East Canton, Ohio.

About the Author

Allan B. Colombo

Freelance Writer
Allan Colombo is a 35-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He is director with and a nationally recognized trade journalist in East Canton, Ohio. Reach him at

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