Professional alarm monitoring is a headline feature in home security. What exactly does that mean and how does it work? Learn about the call centers 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.
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 in the event 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 centers are places in which trained operators handle alarm events. These centers 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.
Monitoring centers access information in the form of alerts or notifications that are 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 system with monitored peripherals (smoke alarms, motion detectors, glass break sensors, water leak sensors, etc.) grants more opportunities for sending signals to monitoring centers.
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 remote security center manned by people who can see your live video feeds on a screen. This service is not part of ordinary home security monitoring, and separate companies who offer it for residential properties do put privacy safeguards in place.
As John MacMahon of the U.K.-based 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.”
Home security monitoring centers are designated places with operators who respond to alarm events for customers. There are several monitoring connections customers can choose from, which include a landline, broadband, or cellular connection. The most secure connection is a cellular connection, as there are no landlines that can be cut, and your home can continue to be monitored in the event your power goes out. This is because your control panel is connected to the monitoring center via cell tower signals.
As mentioned earlier, some home security companies have their own dedicated monitoring centers while others hire a third-party monitoring center to take care of it for them. One is not inherently better than the other. On one hand, in-house alarm monitoring centers 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 center better than another?
Essentially, how well it runs. Size, communication infrastructure, employee training and performance, awards and longevity can all indicate a center’s quality of service.
You’ll need to ask some questions in order to evaluate a home security company’s monitoring services:
When you purchase peripherals that inform you of home hazards like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, water leak sensors, and freeze sensors, that is called home environmental monitoring. Many providers like ADT, Vivint, SimpliSafe, and Frontpoint offer monitored smoke detection and response. This helps save precious minutes by getting emergency responders out to your home in the event of a fire.
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 expensive 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.
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 longer contract.
The most cost-effective option might be a standalone security camera with some 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 basic equipment necessary to monitor the property yourself. In fact, 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.
With approximately 25% of the home security market share, industry giant ADT has plenty of resources to man its own monitoring centers – six of them, to be exact, with over 7,000 trained call operators in total. Altogether, they answer 19 million alarm signals from their 6 million customers every year.
Their monitoring centers are fully redundant (meaning that connectivity has plenty of checks, balances and back-up options) so you can count on 24/7 service. It is certified by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) , has earned Five Diamond Certification from The Monitoring Center (TMA) and was a finalist for Monitoring Center of the Year in the 2018 TMA Monitoring Center Excellence Awards. UL is the oldest and largest independent not-for-profit industrial testing organization in the world, while TMA is an independent regulatory organization for the security industry.
Vivint also staffs its own dedicated monitoring center, so any operator that responds to your Vivint alarms will be familiar with the system and its components. Responding to emergency alarms can be a stressful job, and Vivint has designed its call center to meet employees’ needs so that they can be at their highest levels of performance.
Fun fact: Vivint opened its all-new monitoring center in 2015, after its Founder/CEO Todd Pedersen appeared on the CBS reality series “Undercover Boss” and experienced the monitoring center firsthand. The monitoring center seems to support their goals, because they advertise a less than 10 second average response time. Like ADT, Vivint Monitoring Centers are UL-certified with TMA Five Diamond Certification.
Frontpoint outsources its monitoring to Rapid Response Monitoring services, a multi-award winning monitoring center with two central stations. Rapid Response has unparalleled levels of redundancy and system back-up, with a fully functional second monitoring station. That means the monitoring station never goes down, and that they are always able to relay activity within seconds via email or text notifications.
Rapid Response is UL-certified and approved by the New York Fire Department (NYFD), which is one of the strictest certifications in this field. While Rapid Response does offer video monitoring to other partners, they cannot see the video feeds of its Frontpoint customers.
SimpliSafe outsources monitoring needs to COPS Monitoring, another UL-certified award-winning monitoring center. COPS has 41 years of experience with size capacity to rival ADT’s in-house centers. They have six monitoring stations to cover over 3 million monitored accounts with a 16.2-second average priority alarm response time.
The company has unique video alarm verification practices that it confirmed to Business Insider: “If you have the SimpliSafe Camera, the monitoring center will receive a short clip of what triggered the alarm and use it to verify the alarm for the police. They never have access to your camera so your privacy is protected. SimpliSafe says this reduces false alarms and often leads to faster dispatch and higher arrest rates.”
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