Beeps, Voices, and Van Halen

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I worked for a security company that had just taken over a large chain of stores from the competition. With a January 1 deadline to
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Beeps, Voices, and Van Halen

Nov 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Steve Filippini

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I worked for a security company that had just taken over a large chain of stores from the competition. With a January 1 deadline to convert all of the stores over looming, I was faced with working 16-hour days for about five weeks straight. We were working three two-man teams at the time. Each team would do a store during the day, and then we would all meet to do a larger store at night — four stores a day until they were done. When overtime was included, my paycheck was decent, but it just wasn't enough to cover the mental fatigue.

Taking over an account is a lot of work. We needed to completely rewire the stores because the new system we were using required a different wiring scheme, and we had been warned not to use the existing wiring. It seems the old alarm company was a little bitter with us and sabotaged the wiring whenever possible. That meant pulling new cable all day and all night. My hands were chapped and cracked from the work. I had cuts and scrapes on my arms and face, and insulation had penetrated my skin and was setting up residence. My legs were sore, and my back ached from the constant crawling around in the crawl spaces and air ducts. I was a mess.

Don't get me wrong — it was still a blast. I learned many things from the experience, but I also paid the price. Every night, when I went to bed for my four hours of sleep, I dreamed of pulling cable. I would wake up while pulling imaginary wires across my bed. I worked all night and woke up exhausted, and that wasn't the worst part. I was beginning to hear things, things that would drive sane people nuts. I heard beeps, all the time, day and night.

I didn't hear evil voices or sinister whispers (that would have been a blessing, actually). With voices, you can answer back and reason with them, and whispers require a little more attention because you don't want to miss anything. However, beeps are just maddening. These weren't just any old beeps, but random beeps. Morse code, multitoned, “I give it a nine” beeps that faded in and out of my head. It took me weeks to figure out where they were coming from and why I couldn't shake them. I finally realized they were coming from my alarm panels.

The alarm panels communicated with the central station through a dedicated telephone line using a data-driven series of signals — in other words, beeps. We were always listening to the beeps during the testing and signal-balancing phase of the installation. Our central station was a concert hall of hundreds of premise units beeping and chirping. Each panel was independent of the other, so no two panels beeped alike or at the same time. Our operators were so used to the beeps they were able to block them out of their heads. But we were exhausted field technicians, not operators. Our ears acted like sponges and soaked up each beep for later playback. It was kind of like song poison but without the tempo or lyrics.

Eventually, the beeps started to fade away. One day they were gone. I cried for a few minutes out of relief, until a voice in my head told me that they were only sleeping and they could come back at any time. That is when I took a vacation and listened to every Van Halen album I owned. It seemed to work, and I didn't hear the beeps anymore. Thanks, Eddie.

Steve Filippini is a regular columnist for S&VC and a senior security technician with more than 20 years of experience in the security installation industry. He can be reached at ulano5@aol.com.

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