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. 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. So what makes one monitoring center better than another? There are several points of differentiation, and here’s what I think 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 of centers in the US 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 is a combination of multiple monitoring centers, and how robust each monitoring center’s infrastructure is. Redundant primary and backup power, telecommunications (both physical access & carriers), Internet access, servers, even backup HVAC contribute to providing flawless response in any circumstance.
- 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 systems, it is ultimately people who matter: verifying alarms, following instructions, 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 mastered and customized 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 your home.
In-House or Third Party?
Some alarm companies have their own monitoring centers, but the great majority use a third party that specializes in monitoring only. Both solutions work, and I have used both approaches over my twenty-plus years in the industry. Back in the 1980’s the conventional wisdom was for companies to monitor their own accounts, supposedly to save money. But times have certainly changed: it has become far more expensive to build and maintain a world-class monitoring center, and there is constant and significant reinvestment required to stay current. That’s why some of the largest US alarm companies outsource their monitoring to one of the “super centrals:” providing the best monitoring is all these large third party centers focus on, so they are really good at it. And that allows the alarm companies to focus on marketing and sales, which is how they grow. That makes sense.
How Many Locations – and How Redundant?
While it’s good for a monitoring center to have more than one location, this is not a “more is better” situation. Even ADT, with over 6,000,000 customers in North America, only has a handful of monitoring centers. And, it really does not matter where a monitoring center is located – the chances of it being local to you are negligible. Current alarm technology has rendered the local monitoring center irrelevant. Alarm systems communicate over the cellular network (if they are safer, like FrontPoint) or by a vulnerable phone line or Internet (less robust and reliable): either way, the technology does not care where the monitoring center is located, and a phone call is just that – a phone call.
And when it comes to redundant monitoring centers, the real issue is how much redundancy each center has. When a company claims redundancy and one of their centers actually goes down, you can learn the hard way how well the centers share information and route calls in an emergency. As mentioned above, the best architecture is the highest level or redundancy in each center itself, in combination with at least two locations that can operate in a standalone capacity.
FrontPoint works with Rapid Response Monitoring. Rapid lets FrontPoint focus on what we do best: providing the best technology, with the best service, at the best price - and with Rapid, we can offer the best monitoring as well. Founded in 1992, Rapid has all the right licenses and approvals – and yes, they are one of those select companies who can monitor commercial fire alarms in New York City, which is the toughest approval in the industry. I have never seen a monitoring company with more advanced technology, or that could match their redundancy, and I have visited many of the “big” ones. I am happy to add we have never experienced a customer complaint about Rapid – and for us, that is best kind of monitoring you can get. And finally, they do have two fully operational centers – soon to be three.
Response Times – What Are They?
You can read all sorts of claims that one alarm company or another has “The fastest response time!” or some similar boast. Response time is an important measure, and is worth an explanation, but also a warning - don’t believe everything you read, even here!
Response time is an alarm industry term used by monitoring centers to indicate how quickly they process alarm “events.” Note: it has nothing to do with how long it takes the authorities to respond! But, the faster the monitoring center response time, the sooner the police or firefighters are dispatched in a real alarm situation. This measurement has long been used by wholesale monitoring centers as a way to market their services to their clients – that is, the thousands of alarm companies that use a wholesale monitoring center. Here’s a breakdown of the alarm event and dispatch process:
1. When triggered, your alarm system communicates an alarm event to the monitoring center.
2. Once the monitoring center receives the alarm event, the event must be matched up with your account information in the monitoring center’s software program.
3. As soon as an operator is available, your information and the instructions for your alarm event appear on the operator’s screen.
4. The operator then follows the instructions – in most cases by trying to reach you by calling the numbers you provided, to verify if the alarm event is real.
5. If a real alarm event, the operator dispatches the appropriate authorities. Actual response will vary by jurisdiction.
Response time is defined by most alarm companies as the elapsed time only in steps 2 and 3 above. That means the clock starts when the alarm event reaches the monitoring center, and runs until the event is “assigned” by the automated software to a human operator, who handles the alarm.
What’s a Good Response Time?
Shorter is better. I have seen individual event response times as low as 1 second, and the better monitoring stations can average 15 seconds or less across all the alarm events that are processed.
What can Affect Response Time, i.e. make it Slower?
- Insufficient staffing to meet alarm event traffic.
- Inefficient or outdated alarm processing software.
- Poor hiring and training, resulting in slower processing of events.
- Infrastructure problems resulting from lack of redundancy (power, telephony, connectivity, etc.).
Since FrontPoint is committed to providing only the best products and services, we love the fact that Rapid has the best response times we know of – in addition to being superior in all the other attributes that we consider important to our customers. As the nationwide leader in interactive wireless home alarms that are safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat, it’s our job to provide peace of mind, and that starts with a monitoring center we can be proud of. And we are!