Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Alarmed and ready to stop farm thieves

Nottingham-based security firm RSS has the answers to solving the disturbing level of rural thefts that Irish farmers are subjected to each year, writes Bruce Lett

RSS technical director Phil Booth and sales director Chris Inman test out the products in their workshop in Nottingham, England
RSS technical director Phil Booth and sales director Chris Inman test out the products in their workshop in Nottingham, England

Bruce Lett

Living close to an urban area has both advantages and disadvantages. With town just a couple of miles away, it is very handy for all things -- big and small. However, it isn't always a good thing. There have been quite a few dumping incidents on and around our home farm over the past 12 months.

It might not be politically correct to say this but the vast majority of these incidents were almost exclusively by migrant workers clearing out their accommodation before returning home. Some just dump in the road ditches or inside a field gate.

I even met one pair at about 12 o'clock one night as they turned around in my brother's drive, which is just off the farm lane. I waited at the top of the lane to speak to them on the way out. Both occupants of the car claimed they were lost and the back of their estate car was empty, so muggins here let them off. Thirty yards down the lane, and still wondering if they were up to something, I could now see why their car was empty -- they had unloaded its entire contents over the fence and into the field.


This is a relatively harmless example of what goes on in the country but not so harmless, though, is rural theft, either from premises or, more sinister, from individuals. The individuals who tend to be targeted are usually the elderly or people living alone, who are seen as a soft target for certain ruthless elements in our society.

I spent a couple of years working for our national electricity company and its contractors, and, coming from a relatively big family, it never dawned on me that there would be such a large proportion of people living alone in isolated rural homes. Some rarely see anyone other than the postman or woman in their green van, and this is an invaluable link for them to the outside world.

So, at around this time last year with the evenings rapidly closing in and with both isolated farms and individuals in mind, I began looking for 'rural' alarm systems that could monitor isolated farms or lanes, perhaps where there was even no electricity. After spending some time on the internet, there didn't appear to be much on offer here other than camera and house alarm systems.

There were various systems in the USA but, closer to home, Britain seemed to offer the most suitable systems for rural dwellers.

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In Britain, there are several small firms which specialise in the supply of rural security systems and, with weather similar to ours, would be the best bet for a suitable alarm system. After speaking to and emailing a couple of firms, I settled on a small specialised company from Nottingham, which offered almost every conceivable -- and practical -- system for rural situations.

This company, Radio Security Systems (RSS), is owned and run by Phil Booth (technical director) and Chris Inman (sales director). Established in 1999, RSS was born out of a larger alarm firm which principally worked in producing alarm systems for caravan parks but with a small division producing alarm systems for rural applications. The larger firm decided to cease its 'rural line' and it was then that Phil and Chris started their own firm developing and specialising rural security products.

"We saw a niche market for farm systems and, using our own experience, designed our own systems to our specifications, and put together reliable and robust systems for the UK farming market," Phil says.

Phil again stresses the importance of the need for reliability and robustness in rural and farm alarm systems.

The lads at RSS have designed and manufactured several systems but their most popular unit is the Sentinel 6.

This is a six-channel portable radio-signal receiver that is capable of monitoring up to six zones, with signals from alarm trigger devices in each of the six different zones.

"The Sentinel 6 is fully portable and is just as suited to the 4x4 as it is to the farmhouse," says Phil.

Most popular of the triggering devices is the Passive Infrared (PIR) detector. Housed in a robust and fully weather-proof casing, this unit is used to detect a heat change -- human or vehicle -- within its operating range and send a signal back to the alarm unit (Sentinel 6). It has a detection range of about 30-35m in a half-conical, fan-like pattern. This detection pattern -- there is no bottom half to the conical pattern -- allows it to be set up above the height of smaller rural creatures, such as rabbits and foxes, so as not to set the alarm off. It is equipped with its own antenna and has a broadcasting range of around 500m -- this, plus the fact that it is weatherproof, makes it one of RSS's more popular devices.

"The PIR unit is powered by a nine-volt fire alarm battery, which has an expected life of around six months," says Phil. "If the battery is running low it sends a signal back to the alarm unit that it needs to be changed.

"The beauty of the outdoor PIR unit is that it can easily be concealed -- we make a bird house that it fits into -- or just as easily moved to another location."

The Sentinel 6 comes with a charger and can also be connected to a landline dialler to ring a landline or mobile number, enabling your premises to be monitored while you are away from it.


To get an impression of who is using their equipment and why, Chris took me out to some of his customers in the Nottingham area who have, and use, the Sentinel 6 and PIR unit.

Chris Sykes recently bought a system from RSS and found it already has had an effect. He farms a couple of hundred acres not far from Nottingham's famous Sherwood Forest. The thieves that were visiting him were certainly nothing like Robin Hood -- robbing the neighbourhood for their own gain would be closer to the mark!

"Because we're farming on the urban fringes of Nottingham, we have always had problems with theft. Diesel was a big one, we fitted out our steel tank with a mains pump (old forecourt pump) and that seems to have knocked that one on the head," says Chris. "Recently, though, we have had about £1,000 worth of scrap metal stolen. Well, really it was scrap metal to them but, to us, it was various machinery parts we had lying around.

"Another example happened in the middle of the day," Chris says. "It was dinner time and we were all inside. There were four of our cars in the yard but someone just came in, not bothered by all the cars, and stole an Ifor Williams trailer down in the shed [100m away from the house]. The dog barked but it was too late by then."

The lane up to Chris's farm was a typical as any in Ireland and Chris had setup the PIR unit to look down the lane. It was set up in a slab of concrete blocks just at the fringe of the farm yard and was virtually invisible. He had a second PIR unit on another lane into the farm and his own house was off to one side of the farm.

"We have had a couple of alarms go off at night but as soon as they see the lights of the Land Rover come on, they're off," Chris says. The unit seems to work well for Chris now that his 'visitors' are aware they are being detected and are therefore staying away.

The next visit was to Max Pickerill, who owns his own specialised groundcare and agricultural contracting business. Max rents a shed on quite a large farm and, in it, he has a workshop, which also acts as a store for all the smaller kit he requires for his groundcare work.

Max has had his system for more than three years and, speaking to him, he was clearly frustrated by repeated robberies and attempted robberies from his premises.

"Before we had the alarm system, we were broken into and had an Ifor Williams trailer taken, which was loaded with some of my smaller groundcare equipment," says Max.

After that he bought and fitted two PIR detectors and a Sentinel PRO 6 system.

"Yes I was broken into after I fitted the alarm, but they got nothing. I have one PIR across the premises door and a second one across the (shipping) container door inside the shed. The thieves had checked out the garage during the day and had obviously spotted the first unit inside the door. That night they broke in through the roof and set off the second PIR inside the shed," Max adds.

"There was another attempt late one night to get in through the pedestrian door at the front of the building, but they had gas cutting equipment at the door and it set off the PIR in the process. Disturbed by me arriving into the yard, they just managed to get away. The police didn't arrive for more than an hour after that."

The word had obviously got around among the local thieving fraternity because Max has had no problems in the past two years. "The system is great and, because I have the system fitted, my insurance premiums haven't gone up either."

More alarm features

While the Sentinel 6 and PIR combination is certainly the most popular rural alarm combination, there are many more alarm trigger and system options. Other triggers include a pressure mat, trip wire, float/heat trigger, heavy-duty door contacts (suitable for shed doors that don't necessarily align that well) and, my favourite, the magnetic probe.

"This sees the Earth's magnetic field and anything that disrupts that field, such as metal passing it or another magnetic field, such as that generated by a car's electric system, sets it off. We have even supplied the magnetic probe to the police, where they have used it in a sting operation to tackle car theft. The probe sees that the car to be stolen has been started, as it disrupts the magnetic field, and alerts the officers of a theft in progress," Phil says.


To extend the range of the standard transmitter, RSS can also supply 'relay' aerials to increase the range between the alarm trigger and receiver to around 1,500m. Using a combination VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency) aerial, the same alarm signal can be sent to a pager, which has a range of up to 5km.

To extend the alarm range even further and monitor well outside of the radio wave systems capabilities, RSS can also provide a GSM- (mobile phone) based alarm system. Using a ready-to-go SIM card, the GSM unit can be integrated into the same range of detection devices, enabling monitoring in the remotest of areas, provided there is mobile phone coverage in that area. The SIM used can be from any network provider, so there is a good chance of there being coverage even in the remotest of rural areas.

When a detection unit is triggered, RSS has designed its GSM unit to first send a text, and then ring up to four numbers -- mobile or landline -- sequentially until the alarm activation is acknowledged.

"Many GSM units on the market will send a text only, but, in reality, it is unlikely that a mobile phone receiving a text is going to wake anyone. We also designed it so the alarm can be armed, monitored and disarmed by ringing the GSM unit rather than texting it," he says.


RSS can supply an array of alarm systems and configurations, and even built special one-off systems on request. As a guide, though, the portable Sentinel Pro 6 lists at £280 (€330) plus VAT and shipping, The weatherproof exterior PIR detector is £210 (€248) plus VAT and the magnetic probe is £449 (€530) plus VAT with 50ft of cable.

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Irish Independent