June 30, 2014
Home Security 101: Central Station
We often talk about the benefits of a monitored alarm system when it comes to protecting your home and family, but rarely does anyone actually explain what happens at the monitoring center. Today we’ll do just that.
What Does Monitored Mean?
In the realm of home security, a monitored alarm system reports alarm and other conditions to a 24/7 operations center where highly trained individuals react and respond to these signals. That means events in the home including the following:
- Panic alarm
- Life safety (think carbon monoxide)
- Environmental conditions, such as low temperatures and flooding/water level
When an alarm incident is reported to the monitoring center, personnel in the center attempt to verify the alarm by contacting you on either of two pre-arranged numbers.
This verification process reduces false dispatches, which is important. The operators will usually ask for your security passcode, to make sure it’s someone authorized to be in the home. There are three possible outcomes of the verification process:
- They reach you, and you tell them it’s a false alarm: no harm done
- They reach you, and either it’s a real alarm event, or you cannot be sure: in those cases, they dispatch the appropriate authorities
- They cannot reach someone with the security code for your alarm system: they will then dispatch the appropriate authorities
There are variations of the basic scenarios listed above, but these are the basics.
Monitored Means Peace of Mind
A monitored system is designed to protect your home and family when you can’t. You may be at work, you may be asleep, or you may be far away on vacation or business travel. The point is that a monitored system is always on the job, and can summon help when it’s needed – so you don’t have to.
In fact, all you have to is turn on your alarm in the first place. And remember, as we’ve covered before, the only truly reliable alarm systems come with safer cellular monitoring built in.
It’s also important to note that the best alarm systems today also offer interactive monitoring features in addition to 24/7 “real” monitoring services by a dedicated response center.
Which is Better?
Most alarm companies like to brag about their 24/7 monitoring center: each center (also called a “central station”) is faster, better, more secure, more responsive, more reliable than the next – you’ve probably seen the ads, or heard the pitch.
So it’s worth learning what really matters in monitoring, and what separates the good from the bad, when it comes to who is responding to your alarm events. There are several points of differentiation, and here’s what they are:
- Approvals and Licensing – The critical ones are UL, Factory Mutual, Department of Defense (DOD) clearance, and Fire Department of New York (FDNY) – only a handful in the U.S. have FDNY approval. Once achieved, these levels of compliance must be met year after year. In many states and local jurisdictions, central stations need their own licenses to offer services.
- System redundancy – The point here is twofold: how many centers a company has backing each other up, and how robust is each center’s infrastructure. Redundant primary and backup power, telecommunications (access & carriers), web access, servers, even backup HVAC contribute to providing flawless response.
- Training and employee retention – What caliber of operator is hired, how well are they trained and managed, and how long do they stay? Even with the best technology, it is ultimately people who are verifying alarms and dispatching the authorities.
- Experience and track record– It takes a center time to learn how to monitor well. The best centers have been around for a while, have perfected their hardware and software, and know how to react efficiently and effectively. You will know when you are talking to a good center – and it won’t take long for them to call, after the alarm event.
In-House or Outsource?
Some alarm companies have their own monitoring centers, and some use a third party that specializes in monitoring. Both solutions work, and I have used both approaches over 25 years in the industry.
The third party companies have a lot to offer versus the in-house center: monitoring is all these centers do, so they tend to be really focused and good at it.
Thanks for joining us here each Monday, as we unravel the mysteries of wireless home security. It’s really not that complicated – especially when you are working with a company that is willing to explain everything up front, and that stands behind their products and services. That’s our approach at FrontPoint: we want to equip you with the latest and most complete information so you can ask the right questions when you are shopping for peace of mind. The more you know, the better and the more prepared you will feel to make the right decisions. See you next Monday!