Does Anyone Use Security Fog / Smoke?

They make great show floor demos, like so:

And they have cool names like Flashfog and Fog Bandit, but who's using them?

[2018 Update: European Mega Security Firm Verisure Pushing Security Fog]

I asked this on LinkedIn at least once, and the answer was "nope."

I'm curious if that's changed.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs issued a condemnation of these systems a few years back, citing they inhibit life/safety egress. When the local AHJs are sideways with the concept, it is a hard sell for many!

However, I have firsthand knowledge of their deployment for two national retail chains:

  • a 'rent-to-own' company that experienced several bad years of 'smash and grab' theft through storefront glass after hours.
  • a jeweler that protect inventory in showcases and the showfloor with the system.

Together, these retailers have well over 250 locations in the US, so they are indeed out there.

Man, they give some pretty compelling reasons not to use it. I tend to believe that if firefighters have reasonable objections to something, we shouldn't do it. And the point about this activating smoke detectors means that the fire department is going to have to respond. And fire departments shouldn't be responding to burglaries.

The central station should be able to know if the fog was activated, and request only police, but I'm curious how many jurisdictions would allow that.

I've asked a lot of people about this over the years, never heard of a single case in the US of it being used.

That seems like something that would be a hilarious option for an aftermarket car alarm... disable the window controls, worst case if they break a window out, cops would see a car that looks like its on fire driving down the road.

Nota lot of people in my experience. We have a small handle of customers who have what we have always called smoke cloak. It's neat to work with.

This is an impractical security feature for any public sector environment and one I have never seen or heard of in actual use or even displayed at law enforcement trade shows. One reason I suspect is the same as with the fire safety industry, it presents a serious hazard to first responders and according to one of the vendor sites, the fog remains for up to 45 minutes. Even if it does not pose a respiratory health hazard, there is no way to safely clear an interior for potential suspects and a good probability that an Officer could be injured just trying to walk around in a low visibility environment. Botton line, as a supervisor, there is no way I would allow one of my Officers to enter the building and would not even bother to wait around for the interior to clear. If anything, the owner could come out and check the property themselves or pay for a board up if needed. So I guess it not only repels burglars but first responders as well.

I think Sean may be on to something.... car thief can't swipe your car if he now can't see through the windows once he sets off the smoke. I like it.

Also, I've never seen one of these devices demo'ed in outdoor environments... could it be used to help disperse/disorient unruly crowds 'wrongfully' assembling? (cough, #OWS). With no containment, how does their particular type of smoke behave?

I show a tape similar to this during presentations on alarms I give to police officers from around the world (probably well over 2000 police officers by now), and I always ask if any of the officers have ever seen this deployed. No one has answered yes, although some have seen the demo. Many think its a good idea until I remind them about the fire chief's concerns. The officers also have concerns about how they would react to a room or building full of smoke. Most said they would call the fire department.

I had a friend who used a tear gas version of this in a camping trailer he kept on his lake front property that had been burglarized twice. Despite my warning against using it, he did.... the burglar's burnt the place to the ground in retaliation.

Despite all this, I think that there may be a very limited use for this product in extraordinary risk situations but there are a lot of conditions that need to occur before it is used. Definitely not for the public. May also find use as a means to ward off an attacker while the occupant observes from a safe room, but in this case, the one under duress would manually discharge the smoke. It would not occur automatically.

Let's not forget the law suit over the trap shotgun. If the burglar hurts himself trying to get out, the owner could be liable for damages.

Mark, Jim, good feedback!

Marty, if you put it in the car, they might destroy it in retaliation a la Jim's story above!

This begs the question: Who's using this stuff? These people can obviously afford to spend tens of thousands on trade show booths so someone must be using it? So far, Brian seems to have the only examples of significant use.

What are the liability issues associated with this product.

This would be a great product for completion of Fire DD Testing and Facility Evacuation Testing . I have seen these used in some of my Fire Training Video's From systems sensor & Cooper Wheellock

This is the same type of technology used 20-30 years back to current use's in Concerts ( R&R )

Seen this at concert films & movie theaters .

Not a big inovation , just a different slant on the use

First experience with this products dates back to 1992. Product was not mature back then. We have been selling these products now for more than 11 years. Strict regulations on the use in the European market. It is a "Certified Installers only" product. Hundreds of users and succesfull applications in jewellers stores and retail and also as a VIP protection. Some companies use them as a hold-up prevention system, although we are not in favour of this solution. In combination with sounders and powerfull strobelights it produces an absolute "no go area" for even the most experienced burglar. It is a last resource for companies sufferring from repetitive burglaries/grab & run situations. And I'm speaking from experience. Even my own company experienced this a couple of years ago. If it was not because of the fog cannon, we would have been robbed from everything in our warehouse.

Louis, thanks for chiming in! What do you think about the fire / responder concerns? While I can see how it can really make things difficult for thieves, it does seem to risk causing problems for firefighters / responders. Any thoughts on dealing with that side? Has that been an issue?

It has been an issue, which is why all smoke generators need to be reported to the local authorities. Buildings equipped with such active systems need to be clearly marked with black/yellow labeling. (see attachment). Also all smoke generators need to be certified under Cenelec

Louis , any drawbacks or problems with the legal side of this product .

Thanks for the pdf

Well, there is the liability. If the burglar gets injurred due to the use of smoke generators, you cannot just say that he/she should not have been there in the first place, ultimately the manufacturer is liable. Also you must not use the smoke generator to create a man trap. Manufacterurs usually have an insurance policy to cater for these circumstances, but also (local) legislation tells you the do's and don'ts. Here is an example of what Danish manufacturer Protect (which is the product we sell) has insured.

"Sums Insured: DKK 30,000,000 (roughly 5,5 million dollar) in the aggregate for bodily injury and/or property damage per insurance year".

Also there is the risk of overfilling a protected area. We have seen some terrible examples of it. Also ventilating after an activation is important. Whilst the smokefluid consists of water and glycol, not ventilating an area within a specific time after activation, might leave some residu. this will eventually disappear, but a stamp collection would not survive this treatment.

On a positive note, I can only say that these devices have proven their usefullness in many "hopeless" cases.

If you want to know more of the certification process, please visit,FSP_LANG_ID:17059,25 Due to copyright issues, I cannot give you a direct link to the document itself.

Thanks for the details, Louis.

I believe that the 'chemical smoke' in some products is a mineral oil/glycol mix. I know that for the jeweler I mentioned about who uses this platform, the residue you mention was a big concern and they determined that oil rather than water was the solution.

Fog generation has tried to gain a foothold for over a decade but strong AHJ resistance has made it difficult if not impossible to deploy. We're missing the boat on effectiveness however. As an integrator, combining fog generation in an enclosed area with prerecorded digital tapes of a deep gutteral growl would enhance impact 3-fold. Authorities could simply follow the urine trail left by the intruder fleeing the area.

"combining fog generation in an enclosed area with prerecorded digital tapes of a deep gutteral growl" >> that's funny!

It is hard to steal what you can't see... residue or not.

Although it's hard not to laugh at how hilarious tradeshow participants look stumbling out of a smoke injected room, we do have high profile clients that consider unusual alternatives such as this one on remote properties amid growing fears of tumultuous times. Even though we don't usually recommend extreme alternatives, sometimes they find them on their own and won't settle for anything else.

Ultimately the market will decide if the product sticks...!

*That's funny Jack, I wouldn't stick around to find out what was growling at me either, lol.

Here is a video clip where someone in South Africa is using this against armed robbers:

Not sure what the laws are in South Africa but they definitely have significant armed robber issues.

In the UK the largest grocery chain, Tesco supermarkets, use Smoke Cloak widely and have done so for many years. I'm guess the UK is less litigious than the US, so its commonplace in jewellers, petrol filling station kiosks and many other retail outlets.

As most have noted, this has been around now for some time.  I looked something just like it several years ago.  Here is NC, the State Fire Marshall's office ruled that it could not be deployed.  It goes off in the event of a crime.  There is a better than even choice that if it is deployed and the local FD responds, the criminal is inside with their personnel and cannot be seen.  With all of the other hazards they have to face, they don't want to get shot at and not be able to see anything. 

I've done a few of these systems over the last 20 years, always as a measure of last resort for a business that was on the verge of closing. The product we use is called "Smoke Cloak" and in every case where we used it the losses stopped.

You have to design the alarm system very carefully so as to detect attempted entry before the perps get in. The best case scenario is when the unit is triggered before entry is gained. This causes the perps to seriously consider whether they want to go in since you now have a) questionable odds of finding anything and getting out and b) a monitored alarm system that has been triggered and authorities on the way.

We usually recommend security window film in as part of the solution as it drastically slows down the perps getting in.

The fog is glycol based and leaves no residue because the particle size is incredibly tiny (I think it was quoted as something in the order of 9 microns but don't quote me)

The manufacturer came up against the liability issues many years ago and went and got a pretty big policy from Lloyds of London as I recall. They had cut a deal with Blockbuster Video but I don't know if it came to fruition and it's a moot point now. 

Any system installed has to be registered at the monitoring station with special instructions to notify responders that the system is there and they get registered with the local fire dept as well. We have never had a suit brought but then again we are in Canada and there are extremely few of these systems installed relative to the number of alarm systems out there. It will never be a mass market product but it has proven to be extremely effective when properly deployed.

I find it amusing that in the US there seems to be a big concern over burglars injuring themselves while breaking in to a fogged facility but you're perfectly within your rights to pull out your gun and shoot the guy. Let the backlash begin!!

#2 good feedback!

To clarify, when you say:

The manufacturer came up against the liability issues many years ago and went and got a pretty big policy from Lloyds of London as I recall.

Does that mean Smoke Cloak then assumed liability for damages or lawsuits against their customers or?

John I honestly don't know. This was a long time ago but I doubt that any manufacturer would put themselves directly in harm's way. It was likely part of the Blockbuster deal because they were directly courting them on a national level so I wouldn't be surprised if they had even named Blockbuster as a coinsured.   

The only thing close to this I would use is non-smokeless black powder in my antiques store.