Your home is your castle as they say. It’s where you go to escape and find peace in a world full of madness. For this reason, it’s imperative that you create an environment that is safe for the sake of you and your family. A burglary is something that can greatly diminish the amount of comfort you feel in your home. It is one of the most traumatizing violations you can experience, both emotionally and physically.
While it’s true that you can recover some physical things after a home robbery, it’s not so easy picking up the pieces emotionally after you’ve been violated in such a manner. Implementing a monitored home security system can give you and your family just the peace of mind you need to feel safe in your home. Not to mention homes with security systems are 4X less likely to be broken into.
But is alarm monitoring really necessary?
The simple answer is YES! If you are going to invest (or already have) in a DIY home security solution, it makes sense for a professional to monitor it. If you skip this step, many intruders will simply not care that an alarm is sounding, as they know they have a reasonable amount of time before a neighbor gets around to calling the police. And what if a fire alarm goes off? Well, your property will already be severely damaged before anyone notices from the outside.
Alarm Monitoring – How it Works
Alarm monitoring is the rapid, detailed communication between your home alarm system and a security provider’s central station. Your alarm control panel registers an emergency event and sends a signal to the central monitoring station, where the appropriate authorities are notified and sent to your home. The technical specifics may differ slightly for each alarm system brand, but the basics of alarm monitoring is similar in any home security system.
Your system’s control panel is the center of a network of sensors, which may include window or door sensors, motion detectors, glassbreak sensors, smoke or heat detectors, or specialized temperature or flood sensors.
The first signal sent by your control panel will alert monitoring personnel at the central station, who will call to notify you and confirm whether it’s a real emergency, or a false alarm. If you don’t respond, the monitoring service contacts the proper local agency to dispatch emergency personnel to your address. Some security systems offer additional features, such as immediate alarms which don’t depend upon a confirmation call (keypad fire alarm for example) or silent alarms that don’t alert intruders and give them a chance to disable the system before the follow-up signal is sent.
Information sent by your home security system to the alarm monitoring center includes account identification to access your address and contact information, and the type of sensor that has been triggered. Location of triggered device is generally in their database.
For example, a smoke detector event will cause the alarm monitoring service to contact your fire department and tell them there is smoke detected in the basement of your home, while the signal from a medical alert pendant would be routed to local ambulance or paramedic services along with special instructions on how to gain entrance to the home.
If your system has 2-way voice capability, the speaker on your panel will be opened and the responding emergency dispatch operator will address you directly via your panel. You can then tell the dispatcher directly that your alarm was set off by accident. Simply provide your central station password for identity verification. If the emergency is real however, an intruder can be voice alerted that authorities are in route. Check out these other benefits of two-way voice communication:
- Reduces false alarms
- Higher priority level for police responses to verified alarms
- Homeowner can talk hands-free with the central station operator
- Audio verification of all or selected alarm events
If you have not chosen monitoring with 2-way voice, in most situations a phone call will be made to your home where the alarm was activated. If there is no answer or correct password then the proper authorities will be dispatched and your emergency contacts will be notified.
Some exceptions to this process would be buttons that are manually pressed: fire, medical or police buttons depressed directly on the panel, a medical pendant or watch being pressed, or the key fob panic button. These buttons, when held down for 1 to 3 seconds signal an emergency and dispatch of the proper authorities is automatic without verification.
A special duress / panic code can be used as well. A duress code is a separate keypad passcode used in a hopefully rare situation where you are forced to disarm the system by an aggressor. You enter your duress passcode and the system will appear to disarm as normal. This code however alerts the monitoring station of a hostage type situation and authorities are dispatched accordingly without a verification call to your home. No sirens would be used as police race to your location.
Alarm Monitoring Communication Options
In the event a sensor detects an intruder, fire, or environmental issue, the signal is sent to your alarm panel and then transmitted to the central station. How it gets there can take one or more paths to the monitoring facility.
There is traditional phone line communication which works like a fax machine. The alarm takes over the phone line and calls the monitoring station, transmitting the alarm signals which are translated into alarm events for a dispatch operator to respond. When installed correctly (with an RJ31X jack) the land line is taken over even if someone is talking on the phone or is off hook. Land lines can be cut by an intruder before even entering your home however, preventing transmission of signals from the panel to the monitoring center. As well land lines are susceptible to weather outages due to down telephone poles for instance.
Voice over IP (VoIP) and broadband Internet communication are options, but they are not considered reliable paths by themselves like land lines. They can also be cut by a burglar and more importantly they highly vulnerable to power outage. Most people do not have backup power for their home networking equipment such as a modem and/or router. If power goes out so may your Internet connection. Has this already happened to you during a storm?
Land line communication is quickly being replaced by cellular communication. With either a cellular connection or preferably cellular back-up that is accessed only after land line or Internet failure, your alarm will have its own connection that is activated like a standard cell phone call and signals are transmitted to the monitoring station via wireless connection. An intruder can not cut a wire outside preventing central station communication and ultimately rapid police response.
Having a backup communication path in the event a line is cut or a power failure interrupts one of the paths is strongly recommended. In the commercial world it’s a must. For proper home security monitoring we recommend either landline with cellular backup, or baseband Internet with cellular backup.
Not All Alarm Central Stations Are the Same
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a leader in certifying and inspecting central station standards and performance capabilities. UL has rigid standards and only a select percentage of monitoring facilities qualify for their listing. Annual inspections of listed central stations by UL are made to ensure continued compliance.
Certified central stations must be able to withstand physical attack, operate on back-up power sources in the event of power loss, and meet a whole variety of other security and operational standards. You can generally expect higher levels of home security and better service from UL listed central stations. That’s because they are required to meet or exceed certain levels of performance.
Local Alarms and Self-Monitoring Options
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) systems are popping up all over. Many of these systems offer no monthly monitoring commitment as a key selling point instead of $40+ a month for three years or more with companies like ADT or Comcast. If you are a DIY type of person, this might be for you.
The common concern with no alarm monitoring at all (local alarm) is that you are the person in control of emergency situations. For example, many people get an alarm system due to a recent break in or crime activity in the neighborhood. A non-monitored system will alert you to an intruder, only when you are home. From that point it is your job to decide whether to call the police or protect your children first.
Unmonitored “local” alarms can still provide benefit, though limited. There is no monthly expense to deal with especially for multiple years with the big guys. If you’re home, the alarm noise lets you know there’s a problem and allows you to take necessary action. The noise may even frighten off some less-determined intruders. Many emergencies however are too serious to deal with by yourself, especially if you’re disabled or otherwise incapacitated. In most cases you’ll want police, fire, or medical professionals on the scene as soon as possible.
Online security dealers can provide highly discounted UL central station monitoring on a no-contract, month to month basis, with the same features and services as ADT for example. For homeowners with an existing security system, it’s possible to get UL central station monitoring for half the retail price, and still be able to cancel anytime without penalty. One example is SafeHomeCentral which has been offering discount UL monitoring service for more than 30 years. Luckily, it’s not difficult to find online providers below the $10/month mark for the same monitoring services.
Self-monitoring is an option which is less expensive than standard central station monitoring. In this scenario you receive a text and/or email from the monitoring company’s equipment directly and “you” decide if the alarm needs attention. There are no dispatch operators in the loop at all. You are responsible for calling the police or fire department. The problem is what if that text message comes to your phone while you are sleeping, on vacation, or in a meeting at work? Generally, only online security providers will offer self-monitoring as an option.
The reality is people install home security systems because they want their local authorities alerted when something critical happens. When your house is burning down, a text message might not do the trick. Professional monitoring allows you to save your family, which includes pets, knowing that the proper authorities are on their way. That extra layer of protection for you means your family, your house, your keepsakes, and maybe even your neighbors are safer.
The Modern Connected Home
We all have smartphones. Why not use them to control your home security and automation devices too? This is at the top of the wish list for most DIY homeowners.
Interactive remote monitoring is a service separate from central station dispatch. Its an add-on capability that allows you to:
- Arm and disarm your security system from your smartphone, tablet, or computer
- Control Z-Wave lights, locks, thermostats in your home
- View what’s happening inside/outside your home with streaming video or snapshots
- Be notified by call, text, and/or email if there is a break-in, fire, medical emergency, or environmental issue (freeze/flood) in your home
You can usually get interactive service from traditional UL central station monitoring dealers as well as discount self-monitoring providers. One point however. Interactive services do not work with landline-only connection to a central station. Broadband Internet or cellular would be required.
Other Things to Consider
By this point, you understand the basics of home security alarm monitoring. But there are some other key things you should keep in mind when choosing monitoring options. Some things you may have already discovered through previous research. But others you may be surprised to learn about with regards to alarm monitoring.
- Lower Insurance Premiums – Did you know you can usually get a discount on your home insurance, if you install an alarm system with central station monitoring? Installing home security can decrease your insurance premiums by up to 20 percent annually. This is a cost that is usually rolled into your mortgage. You should check in with your insurance agent to ensure this adjustment is added, as soon as you include alarm monitoring with your home security system. Self-monitored and/or local alarms usually have no premium discount (or very little) because the insurance company’s risk of loss is much greater without true central station monitoring.
- Contract Terms – Oftentimes, people think all they do is purchase alarm monitoring for their existing system (or new alarm system) and that’s the end. But usually there are other costs involved that the homebuyer isn’t necessarily made aware of upfront. When shopping around, ask if there is a contract, and for how long the contract is for. Most local dealers use 36 months agreements. You also need to know how much money you’ll have to pay if you break/terminate your contract early. Some alarm companies charge hundreds of dollars for breaking the contract, so it’s imperative you know that information upfront.
- Relocation Fees – If you have had your alarm system professionally installed and monitored, and you decide to move, the company used may charge a relocation fee. A company like Vivint or ADT have policies that they will move your system for free, if you commit to signing another 42-month contract. If you opt out of the contract, you’ll be charged $100 for the moving fee. Each company has their own policy, so research thoroughly before committing.
A home invasion, or fire, is very scary, and people often wonder was there anything they could have done to prevent it. While you don’t want to ever live your life in fear, there is nothing wrong with being proactive. Your best line of defense is a quality alarm system with monitoring. There are home security alarm monitoring solutions to suit every unique need and budget. All it takes is a little bit of research on your end. Call your local dealers, but ALWAYS check online security dealers too for a real price comparison. Don’t be talked into a high priced, multi-year contract with limited capabilities by a sweet-talking salesperson!