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How Does Alarm System Monitoring Work?

Alarm monitoring is quick and detailed communication between your home security system and the central station of your security provider. Your 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 be slightly different for each security provider, but the basics of alarm monitoring are similar in any home security system. Your system control panel is the centre of a network of sensors, which may include window or door sensors, motion detectors, tamper sensors on the telephone box, or specialized temperature, flood, and smoke detectors. When your system is armed, and any of these sensors are triggered, a signal is sent to the monitoring station-typically via your telephone line. However, some alarm monitoring systems also offer alternate or backup.

Professional alarm monitoring is a headline feature in home security. What exactly does that mean, and how does it work? Learn about the call centres that perform home alarm monitoring, how they help protect your home and family, and how to decide which monitored alarm system is right for you.

What Is Alarm Monitoring?

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Alarm monitoring is the direct communication that your alarm system sends to a central monitoring station where there are people on duty 24/7 who will process the communications and respond to it either by calling you or by reaching out directly to the authorities. Without alarm monitoring, your alarm may make a sound or send a signal to an app installed on your phone, but no third party is typically notified of a problem.

The specifics of home security monitoring vary from one security company to another. But, the reason for installing a monitored system is always the same: you have professionals looking out for your home at all times who can respond quickly in case of an emergency. If you’re incapacitated or unreachable, the monitors can take appropriate action to notify people who can help you.

How Does Alarm Monitoring Work?

When a security system is installed, the procedure usually consists of a centralized control panel and a network of sensors. Depending on the specifics of your system, these sensors could include motion detectors, door and window sensors, devices that detect tampering with your telephone line, smoke detectors; carbon monoxide detectors; temperature detectors; and flood detectors.

If a sensor triggers something amiss, a signal is transmitted to the monitoring station run by your security company — if you have a monitored alarm system. Typically, monitors who receive the signal call you to confirm a problem, but some methods are set up, so no initial call is needed. Action is taken immediately to contact the authorities.

If you don’t answer the call, or your system is set up, so no confirmation call is needed, then the monitor moves on to alert the appropriate authorities. A smoke detector signal could lead to a call to the fire department, for example, while a breached door could prompt the monitor to notify the police of a potential intruder.

In many cases, the alert is sent through the phone line when sensors detect a problem. Still, some systems use other transmission methods or have backup plans in place so intruders can’t disable the alarm. Some alarm systems are silent alarms, so anyone breaking in isn’t alerted to the notice, ensuring that the intruders do not try to disable the system. It all depends on what type of setup you and your security company decide is best.

Alarm Monitoring Basics

To get started, let’s clarify a few terms that aren’t widely used outside of the home security industry.  

Professional Monitoring

This type of home alarm monitoring provides professional assistance around the clock if your security system’s alarm is triggered. During an alarm event, operators at the monitoring facility will first contact the homeowner, and if they’re in danger or unavailable, they will then contact emergency services in your area. With professional monitoring, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee.

Self-monitoring

This type of home alarm monitoring is often provided as an option with DIY (self-installed) security systems. If you choose to self-monitor your system, you’ll be responsible for responding to alarm events and contacting emergency services as necessary. With most DIY providers that allow you to self-monitor, you will not have to pay a monthly fee.

Alarm Monitoring Centres

Are places in which trained operators handle alarm events. These centres are sometimes staffed by in-house employees of home security providers. Sometimes they are third-party companies subcontracted by security companies, makers of personal medical alerts, and manufacturers of similar devices.

A Deeper Look At Home Alarm Monitoring

Monitoring centres access information in the form of alerts or notifications prompted by your in-home sensors and detectors. They do not violate your privacy by granting operators indiscriminate access to your home’s devices. They only receive information when it warrants a call to action.

The exact information available to operators depends on the components of your home security system and the type of monitoring service you subscribe to. For example, a robust design with monitored peripherals (smoke alarms, motion detectors, glass break sensors, water leak sensors, etc.) grants more opportunities for sending signals to monitoring centres.

In general, operators do not access or watch your security cameras. If you have a security camera and monitoring plan that offers video alarm verification, like SimpliSafe, an operator will be able to view footage whenever your alarm is triggered. One of the benefits of this feature is the ability to identify an actual threat, such as catching a criminal in the act or fleeing on camera.

Companies that specifically offer remote CCTV or security feed monitoring are also able to view your cameras. When you pay for one of these services, it’s like having a small security centre operated by people who can see your live video feeds on a screen. This service is not part of regular home security monitoring, and separate companies who offer it for residential properties do put privacy safeguards in place.

Video monitoring service Re: sure explains, “Our technicians and control rooms won’t be watching your home 24/7. We use smart cameras and motion detection to ensure your privacy is protected. Once these motion detectors have identified a potential threat, one of our control centres will be notified, and we’ll take action.”

In-house Vs. Outsourced Alarm Monitoring

As mentioned earlier, some home security companies have dedicated monitoring centres, while others hire a third-party monitoring centre to take care of it for them. One is not inherently better than the other. On the one hand, in-house alarm monitoring centres can give a security company better control over aspects of employee training and system optimization. On the other hand, outsourcing this service may help a home security provider offer more effective monitoring plans at the most competitive rates.

So what makes one alarm monitoring centre better than another?

Essentially, how well it runs. Size, communication infrastructure, employee training and performance, awards and longevity can all indicate a centre’s quality of service.

You’ll need to ask some questions to evaluate a home security company’s monitoring services:

  • Are our monitoring centres in-house or outsourced?
  • Are they certified by any regulatory body?
  • What’s the average response time?
  • Can operators see your video footage?

What’s The Difference Between A Professional And A Self-monitored Alarm System?

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Home security system monitoring doesn’t have to rely on professionals alone. While professionally monitored systems send alerts to control panels, self-monitored security systems send alerts to you and sometimes to other family or friends as well.

Unlike professional alarm monitoring, there’s no monthly monitoring fee for a self-monitored system. After all, your system isn’t alerting anyone but you of problems. Unfortunately, if you’re incapacitated or don’t get the alert, then the situation at your home could go undetected. This can happen if the signal is sent to your cell phone and you are not in an area with good cell reception of WiFi.

If you don’t want to rely solely on notifications your alarm sends to you, you’re better off with a professionally monitored security system instead of one that you observe all on your own.

What’s Better: Professional Monitoring Or Self-monitoring?

If you’re still on the fence about whether a 24/7 professionally monitored alarm system is right for you, the deciding factors will likely come down to your budget and priorities. Home alarm monitoring means that there will always be someone there to summon the authorities in case of an incident. This has obvious benefits for your peace of mind, but it does entail higher expenses and, in some cases, a more extended contract.

The most cost-effective option might be a standalone security camera with artificially intelligent features or a self-monitored security system that includes door/window sensors, a motion detector, and mobile app access. If your camera (and any other home security products) sends you immediate alerts of any questionable activity – and it’s good at telling the difference between your pets and potential intruders – you’ll have all the essential equipment necessary to monitor the property yourself. Our Safety.com survey found that security cameras are the most popular home security device in the country. Professionally monitored systems are a close second.

There’s also an in-between path you can take: Choose a security system that gives you the freedom to opt into a monitoring plan or not. With providers like SimpliSafe, you can opt-in and out of professional monitoring as allowed by your needs and budget.

Here’s a closer look at some of the pros and cons of professional monitoring and self-monitoring.

For your safety, it’s essential to know how and where to place smoke detectors. Here are a few reminders when buying and installing smoke detectors in your home.

Always remember to….

  • Before installing, check to ensure the detector is approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to meet strict testing and safety requirements.
  • Read the smoke detector’s manual before installing for proper set-up.
  • Check to make sure whether your smoke detector senses ionization or photoelectric fires, or both.
  • Install smoke detectors on the ceiling. If you must mount the smoke detector on the wall, it should be placed less than 12 inches away from the roof.
  • Connect multiple detectors when possible so that all alarms will sound when smoke is detected

Don’t install the detector….

  • On windows or sliding doors as the winds and air may not pick up the heat of smoke or fire
  • In humid or moist areas, including the bathroom
  • In the regions that easily collect dust and dirt, including unfinished attics
  • In more relaxed rooms such as sunrooms or porches
  • Near ceiling fans or air vents
  • In garages, as they are often not temperature-regulated and the cooler temperatures may not detect smoke or fire

Self-Monitoring

Pros

  • Either no or a low monthly fee
  • Avoid false alarm penalties

Cons

  • You could miss notifications
  • A potential limitation of connection options

Professional Monitoring

Pros

  • 24/7 monitoring
  • Two-way communication with the monitoring centre

Cons

  • Monthly fee
  • Potential false alarm penalties

Is A Professionally Monitored System Worth The Price?

Professional monitoring for your home security system typically runs between $15 and $30 monthly, although the specific price will vary depending on which security company you select.

Paying between $180 and $450 a year is often worth it for the peace of mind of knowing that professionals are ready to respond to issues at your home 24/7. This is especially true if you are in an area prone to break-ins, if you have kids or pets left at home alone who could be hurt if something goes wrong or if you are frightened, you wouldn’t be able to call for help on time if someone broke into your home or another problem occurred.

How Much Does Alarm Monitoring Cost?

The cost of monitoring will vary by provider and the plan you choose. You could expect to pay anywhere from around $10 to upwards of $60 for monitoring. Usually, professionally installed security systems have monitoring services that are more expensive than DIY installed security systems. Some providers like ADT, Vivint, and Frontpoint are more costly, with monitoring starting around $30 per month. Some DIY home security providers like SimpliSafe, Cove, Abode, and Ring have inexpensive monitoring plans that start as low as $6 per month.

Alarm Monitoring Is An Essential Part Of Home Security Systems.

If you have a security system that you self-monitor, you must react quickly as soon as you receive an alert. If you’d rather not have the fate of your home resting solely on your shoulders, you should consider a security system with professional alarm monitoring.

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