Automation is the latest trend in home security systems, allowing users to monitor their residence from a distance via a smartphone or tablet 24/7, even on vacation. Smart security systems are customizable, and homeowners can choose to self-monitor or pay a subscription fee for surveillance by a professional company who will contact emergency services when alarms are triggered.

Craig Morton owns Protect & Serve Security, a small home security installation business in Topeka that he started in 1997. Since then, Morton has performed hundreds of home security installations and has watched as the technology has changed over the years.

“Smart home technology encompasses everything,” said Morton. “There’s a slew of vendors who will provide cameras, Wi-Fi thermostats, Wi-Fi deadbolts, and Wi-Fi garage door openers, all from one phone app.”

The technology works by connecting to a Wi-Fi network so that users can both monitor and control security devices through an app on their phones. Basic systems usually include door and window sensors, a motion detector, and a hub that communicates with these devices and sends information back to the homeowner or monitoring company.

More extensive systems might also have indoor and outdoor security cameras, video doorbells and smart locks.

“Let’s say somebody’s coming to do a home inspection or service your refrigerator, or you left your key in the house,” said Morton.

A smart lock would allow the user to unlock the door for a short period of time to gain entry to the home, and then relock it when they’re finished, all done remotely and without the need and inconvenience of leaving work or driving across town.

Depending on the user’s specific needs, other helpful features can be built into an automated system as well.

“Many security systems have a medical attendant or key fob. There’s a medical pendant on it, and if you fall, you can call for help,” said Morton. “Or a young, single person might want a key fob with a panic button on it.”

According to Morton, the next horizon in home automation will stretch past home security and personal safety to monitor all aspects of living.

“There will be a Wi-Fi chip in virtually everything that takes a battery or can be plugged in,” he said.

A comprehensive security system will allow users to create parameters that work in conjunction with two or more connected devices, such as having lights turn on in the house when motion is detected or having the doors unlock when the smoke alarm goes off. They can also be programmed to begin videotaping when a sensor is triggered within the system.

Sensors can tell homeowners if their basement is flooding or will send alerts when smoke or carbon monoxide detectors are triggered so that response times are shortened, even if no one is home at the time. Users can adjust their thermostats from halfway around the world.

Termed “the internet of things,” this type of automated home technology means that someday even vacuums, lawn mowers, and pet feeders may commonly be controlled remotely through an app on a smartphone.

Morton stresses that vetting out home security companies before hiring one is key to getting the system you want and to maintaining your home’s safety.

“Beware of people knocking on your door trying to sell security systems,” Morton said. “Shop around and stay local because you’re helping out the local business.”

He said all professional installers should be wearing an alarm agent license ID around their necks, which is required by the city of Topeka. These licenses must be renewed annually, along with the installer’s professional insurance, and ensure the installer has undergone a KBI background check.

“Alarm monitoring companies won’t monitor a system unless the installer has renewed their license,” said Morton.

He believes everyone can benefit from the installation of a home security system, regardless of how safe they perceive their neighborhood to be.

“Those are higher target areas,” Morton said. “(Criminals) go to areas where there are things that are potentially valuable. One of the greatest features of having a security system is the sense of security. Whether you’re asleep or away from your house, it’s a relatively inexpensive investment to protect your most expensive investment.”


Shanna Sloyer is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be reached at