Central station monitoring is the most valuable part of your alarm system for both you and the Alarm Company that has the pleasure of providing you with this service. For the alarm user the peace of mind that comes with knowing that help is on the way when needed is always welcome and often insisted upon. For the alarm dealer, the recurring revenue that comes from this side of the business is what sustains them.
Monitoring firms come in all sizes. The largest are UL (Underwriters Laboratory) listed facilities with Fort Knox like security. These facilities have large backup generators as well as the ability to instantly switch your signals to the closest available station in the case of a natural or man made disaster. There is great stability in doing business with these firms due to the fact that your account will rarely be sold to another company, who would constantly raise your monitoring rates. Small alarm dealers use monitoring agreements as a way of infusing cash into their business as often as needed, To them your account is like stock.
The largest National and International companies are at an advantage because they have a great number of facilities, and are able to provide local monitoring for their clients. Local monitoring is preferred because you are less likely to loose a signal if it is coming over a local phone line. An example of this is as follows. Lets say you live in the central US and your alarm is being monitored on the east coast over an 800 number telephone line. If a storm knocks out the phone lines between you and the monitoring station, how would they receive your signal for help?
The smallest firms could be a couple of people taking turns watching a digital receiver in a home office. These are undesirable because you may not be able to depend on them when needed. Your personal information is also at risk, due to a potential lack of security in this type of facility. All of the advantages of the large well- funded central stations are reversed when your alarm dealer saves money by doing business with these smallest of companies.
Monitoring stations large and small all have the same function. When your alarm is violated it sends a digital signal to the monitoring stations receiver. The receiver takes only a few seconds to decipher where the signal is coming from and what type of response is required. This information is than translated by computers and a dispatch screen is shown to the first available dispatcher. The dispatcher connects to the proper authority and relays your systems request for a response.
On most non- panic situations the monitoring station should call the house before they dispatch to the proper authority. If you answer the phone and give the correct password they should disregard your signal as a user error. If you give the wrong password, the better monitoring stations will say "Thank You" hang up and dispatch for a holdup/ hostage situation. This is yet another great people protector that is built into your monitoring service.
If you are not home to answer the call a dispatch will be made and the monitoring station will begin at the top of your call list in hopes of contacting you or your agent with a warning of dispatch. This is not so you will go check; it is so you will not walk into a dangerous situation. Looks like another one of those people protection features when used properly doesn't it? This process of dispatching and then calling you or the people on your call list has come under the microscope of late, and many municipalities are adjusting this process. More about ECV (Enhanced Call Verification ) is posted on the "Experts Know" web-site at the provided link.
Your local authority, based on how the signal is reported to them, prioritizes dispatch responses. Your monitoring company should also have dispatch protocol based on the signal type.
A request for a response to a hold up or distress will usually take precedence over a burglary signal.
A request for an ambulance should be dispatched immediately and a phone call to the house made afterwards.
A request for a fire dept. response should be dispatched immediately and a phone call to the house made afterwards.
A distress call made by the use of an ambush code or panic buttons should trigger an immediate dispatch with no phone call to the premise.
An alarm signal dispatch that is trailing a burglar through a protected area such as:
Zone 1 entry, front door.
Zone 5 main floor motion detector.
Zone 3 Upstairs hallway motion detector.
should excite your local authorities into a quicker response, as they are sure it is most likely not a false alarm. This type of reporting format is called "Extended Reporting" and while some cities require it to help prioritize dispatch, most do not. It is always available to you if your control is capable of reporting that way and you request it. Now that you know about it you should ask for it by name.
The alternative dispatch that would just say "Burglary signal coming from the Jones residence 123 any street" and would most likely become a lower priority response.
A monitoring facility that monitors alarms for other local dealers as well as their own installed systems needs a way to control the quality of the systems it monitors, if it is going to have its dispatch requests trusted by the authorities. Some large facilities will monitor only the systems that are capable of sending the most sophisticated signals. When a company such as this limits the amount of false alarms it reports, it will earn a better response record.
If there are many signals coming into a monitoring station at the same time, the signals can only be handled as fast as an operator can get to them. The number of trained employees it has on duty will limit the small to medium size companies. The largest firms have the ability of employing many dispatchers at the same time. One such company that I have worked with has over 700 on duty every day, every shift.
The National average for an alarm dispatch is 13 minutes. The largest firms can boast a 60- second or less average.
Monitoring your alarm is not only its greatest feature, but is also one of the few services of which I can say with confidence " You will most likely get what you pay for." The smallest dealers will monitor your alarm for sometimes half the monthly fee of the larger dealers. Now that you know a few of the differences of this end of the business, I would hope you make the proper decision based on your understanding how important this service is to the protection of you, your loved ones, and your other irreplaceable belongings as well.
I implore you not to cut corners on your choice of monitoring services!
Many municipalities require an alarm permit to be purchased by the alarm user. If a dispatch is made without a permit on file you could receive a hefty fine or worse yet a failure to respond. Some permit holders are charged a one- time fee and others have to renew annually. Check with your alarm company if there is a permit requirement in your town. This way you can avoid being surprised by an unexpected expense.
Most alarm's report over your existing phone line. You don't need another phone line for the alarm. People that have DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines) can still use their line for alarm reporting but a filter will need to be installed on your DSL line. If you do not have a phone line you will have to have one installed for alarm monitoring service, or consider one of the alternative methods of transmitting your signals made available to you by your alarm dealer.
Line Fault Monitor-
Many of the high- end alarm systems have a line fault monitor built in to them. The mid-range systems have the ability to have one added and the low-end systems are often too simple to even consider this device. The line fault monitor is always on the lookout for an available phone line. If your line goes down while your alarm is armed it will cause an alarm. This way if a burglar cuts your phone line outside of the house or business they will hopefully run, due to all the noise drawing attention to their intentions. If your alarm is not armed, there will be no sirens but the keypad will beep rapidly and let you know that your communication link is down.
Many people think that if the phone line is cut and the line fault monitor goes into alarm there will be a dispatch. This is false because if there is no phone line to carry the signal it has no way of getting to the monitoring station, unless you have an alternative communication system as a backup. Instead this type of alarm will protect you if you are at home by:
Letting the burglar know that they violated a system hopefully causing them to flee.
Giving you an opportunity to call 911 from your cell if one is available.
Allowing you to prepare to defend yourself and your loved ones.
Giving you time to see if all that dog food you have purchased over the years is going to pay off.
Any quality alarm installer will take the time to make sure that your phone line is set up for line seizure. There is no additional equipment needed to accomplish this feature of phone line protection. The phone line is run from your interface jack outside of your house to one of the closest phone jacks inside. It is then run from that jack to the next and this process is continued until your electrician during construction or the Phone Company has wired all of your phone jacks.
The alarm installer that is in a hurry or doesn't know any better will tap your alarm into the closest phone jack. The problem with this is that if a burglar picks up any of the phones that are between the outside interface jack and the jack your control is tapped into it will stop the transmission of your alarm signal.
The knowledgeable and concerned installer will run your control phone line directly to the outside phone interface assuring that it is first on line. They will then run from the control to your first phone jack making it second on line. When an alarm is violated it will seize the phone line completely for its own use and return service to the house after the signals have been sent to the receiver in the monitoring station.
Long Range Radio-
This is a radio transmitter that is used by many large monitoring firms to monitor your alarm instead of over a phone line. The Transmitter sends a radio signal to a repeater much like your cell phone does, and the repeater sends your signal to the monitoring stations receivers in a local station. Many customers that need an increased level of security use the radio transmitted signal and the phone line transmission simultaneously.
This level of protection obviously costs more than the average homeowner would care to pay. Even as a stand alone system the radio signal is less likely to be interrupted than a phone line that is exposed outside your home or business.
This is a communicator that is wired to your alarm control and processes the signals over the cellular communication towers. Most applications I have seen for this device have utilized it as a backup to a phone connection. However I have seen it used as a sole means of communication for the alarm system in a few cases where long range radio and a phone lines were not available. You would have to purchase the usually expensive cellular communicator separately, because it is not built into your alarm control.
Alarm owners that use Long- range radio and cellular communicators as a backup reporting device usually have to pay an additional monitoring fee. As an added measure of security, the alarm companies will often send these backup signals to a separate monitoring central station. This assures two complete dispatch processes from different operators at different locations, thus increasing the level of security.
Opening and Closing Reports-
Most of the average to high-end systems have the ability to report enough data to create opening and closing reports if desired. Opening and closing reports are named as such, because they are mostly used in commercial applications to log the times and users that are opening and closing the business.
There are different levels of opening and closing reports. Some of the most common are listed below as examples:
This type of report lets assigned code users open and close at will, if within the specified window of normal activity. It will log the event into a report that can be forwarded to a report manager at a pre- determined frequency or upon request. If a code user opens or closes outside of a pre-assigned schedule of normalcy it will trigger a supervisory phone call to a manager.
This type of report lets assigned code users enter and exit at will. It will log these events and can be checked by a supervisor upon request.
I have seen supervised opening and closing reports used in a residential situation on a few occasions. You can for example contact an elderly relative's refrigerator door and have a phone call made to you if it does not open within a predetermined amount of time. Or you can set it to have you notified if the kids come home early from school. You can imagine how many creative ideas you can come up with if you want to.
The Alpha Keypads and controls of many high-end systems allow you to scroll through and read the last 100+ events. By having one of these systems you can create your own opening and closing controls and reports without having to bear the monthly expense of this service. The small amount of dollars spent on this upgrade will pay for itself in a hurry.
Many of the alarm systems have an onboard paging device so you can receive the time and code user of each event such as arming and disarming when opening and closing reports are programmed to the on position in your alarm control. You will also receive a code for alarm violations and the zone or zone numbers that are violated during an alarm breach. You would have to have a digital pager for this to work and once again your teenagers are going to hate how much you now know about alarms!
Other articles you should read when considering who will monitor your Alarm System are:
Alarm Systems and VoIP
Alarm System ECV Will Effect All Alarm Users in 2006
These articles are posted on The Experts Know! Alarms web-site
Matthew is a 22 year veteran of the alarm industry. He has served as an installer, salesman, licensed alarm company owner, monitoring station designer, promotions and marketing director with one of the worlds largest security dealers. He now works as a consumer advocate, teaching consumers how to buy or get systems for free (without being taken). He also consults alarm dealerships on how to market to the educated consumers that today's alarm dealer is finding. He is committed to being unbiased.
His web site is