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Maintaining Burglar Alarms

Not all household dangers are derived from natural forces. You also need to take measures to protect against those who would storm the castle, scale the proverbial stone walls, and plunder the family jewels.

Have properly installed solid and secure window and door locks strong enough to deter the average burglar. Then, be sure to use them. Sounds too mundane and simple, you say? Police report that 50 percent of all home burglaries are simply due to windows or doors being left unlocked.

One of the best ways of determining if your home is secure from a potential intruder is to lock yourself out and try to get in without using your house key. You'll either be surprised at how easy it is to gain entry or you'll feel relieved at how tough it is to get into your Fort Knox. During this exercise, be on the lookout for loose doorknobs and deadlocks and shaky windows and doors (including the garage door).

Many break-ins can be averted. A number of whole-house alarm systems are also available today, and -- just as with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors -- these too need occasional testing, checking, and tuning up.

Most systems include a fail-safe battery backup, which needs checking and replacement at regular intervals -- at least twice annually.

Many systems also have a fire-sensing capability that must be checked and maintained.

Most systems also have a keypad for indicating system operation and points of intrusion, and a horn or siren installed indoors (in the attic) or outside under an overhang or eave. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance and checkup of these features at specified intervals -- pay particular attention to all points that signal an intrusion when contact is broken.

Make sure sensitivity levels are properly set to avoid both frequent false alarms (that eventually go unheeded) and a system that doesn't respond properly when it should.

Before ordering and installing an alarm, check with local law enforcement agencies to see if there are any restrictions or special ordinances in your area. Most police departments now discourage homeowners from installing a dialer-type alarm system that automatically calls the police or sheriff's department when activated. They find that when a major disaster takes place, this type of alarm completely swamps incoming lines that are needed to field calls for specific individual emergency situations. A good alternative is to have your alarm monitored by a central reporting agency. Thus, if there is a false alarm, the police or sheriff won't be summoned, and you'll be off the hook for a false alarm fee and the embarrassment of having the cops show up at your home only to find you in your bathrobe collecting the morning paper.