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From a public safety perspective, how safe are smart, automated homes?

24 Apr 2017 4:19 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By George Steiner, Firefighter/ Paramedic/ Police Officer, City of Elgin (Illinois)

Smart or automated homes is a trending technology that is rapidly advancing. It seems that every time you turn on the TV, you see an ad to buy one.  

Smart homes give homeowners the ability to monitor the wellbeing of their homes remotely with a touch of a finger on their cell phones, tablet or computer. Individuals can lock or unlock a door, observe their security cameras, monitor alarm systems, adjust thermostats, turn on or off lighting. Essentially, they can control almost every aspect of their home life as long as it’s electronic.

But, is a smart home really safe? From cybersecurity concerns to fire hazards – is it smart to use this type of technology for your home?

Just like everything there are pros and cons. This article will shed light on some of the benefits that smart homes provide, could potentially provide and discuss some of the concerns. 

There are myriad benefits and conveniences to this technology for the homeowner – and for public safety.

Reducing false alarms

Once a detector or the system is activated, it notifies the homeowner immediately. This can let the homeowner check out the alarm and possibly cancel a false alarm before the fire or police department is notified or while they’re en route. This could help reduce the number of false calls that both police and fire departments respond to which save the individual and the departments time and money.

Detecting smoke, CO and heat

Smart detectors can be packed with many options besides alerting your smart phone and monitoring for smoke and heat. They can sample air quality for dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) levels, can automatically shut down your HVAC system once the detector or system is tripped, and there’s also the possibility of adding a video camera to the detector or area. If a detector keeps malfunctioning or false alarming, there might be an option to change the settings of that specific detector.


If homeowners forget to or are unsure if they shut off the stove, coffee maker or other appliance, they could check that appliance’s status and shut it off before it becomes problematic. Smart appliances or smart outlets can shut down if they get surged, overloaded, or heated up, thus stopping more damage or fire. This also notifies the homeowner that there is a problem.

Real-time video

Real-time video can offer a lot of advantages for the homeowner and possibly for fire responders. The homeowner can observe what’s going on inside the home from a safe location. They can see if there is a fire and the possible location of that fire.

In a perfect world

What if first responders could use this technology to monitor fire safety conditions or home invasion throughout the house?

Regarding real time video, it would be nice if responding firefighters or police officers could also tap into the video system to get a look inside before entering. This would be especially helpful in wellbeing checks. They could possibly get a view inside the house to see if anyone is in the home before forcing entry and causing unnecessary damage.

The real-time video could also let firefighters see where the fire has been and where it’s at, helping get water on the fire faster. Fire investigators could use saved video to assist them to determine the origin and cause of a fire. Video and other important information can be saved remotely in cloud storage rather than being saved in your home on a physical storage device, which can be damaged.

Finally, smart home technology could also benefit police officers and firefighters by giving them real time information that can help determine their incident action plan.

Privacy, connectivity and cybersecurity

On the other hand, allowing the fire or police departments access to your smart home’s video system brings up the potential invasion of privacy.

If you allow departments to access your system during an emergency, could they gain access anytime? Other questions arise as well.  Who has access, what can they watch and when, what kind of information can they collect on the homeowner and what could the information they obtained outside the intended purpose be used for?

Smart homes require Internet access and electricity or an alternative power source. If you lose power, the Internet’s service goes down and you don’t have backup capabilities, your system will not work, leaving you unprotected.

And since the system is tied into the Internet there is always the possibility of being hacked, which can create its own set of problems. There are numerous cybersecurity concerns for homeowners to consider.

Despite the few potential downsides, the technology being used in smart homes will certainly aid in fire safety and overall home safety because it allows homeowners to monitor their homes and adjust as needed.

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