How does home alarm monitoring work?

24/7 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.

911 dispatcher

Alarm monitoring basics

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

  • Monitored home security systems alert a 24/7 staffed monitoring center whenever an alarm goes off. During an alarm, operators at the monitoring facility first contact the homeowner, and if they’re in danger or unavailable, they will then contact emergency services in your area.
  • These other leading types of home security systems and products are often referred to as either DIY (do-it-yourself) or self-monitored systems. Note that DIY home security may refer to systems that are either self-installed or self-monitored. 
  • Alarm monitoring 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.

A deeper look at the best monitored home alarm systems

Home alarm monitoring does not violate your privacy by granting monitoring center technicians indiscriminate access to your home’s devices.  Instead, operators at monitoring centers receive information in the form of alerts or notifications that are prompted by your in-home sensors and detectors. They only receive information when it warrants a call to action, i.e. if an alarm in your home is activated.

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 environmental monitoring and lots of peripherals (smoke alarms, motion detectors, glass break sensors, water leak sensors, etc.) grants more opportunities for sending signals to monitoring centers. 

Home security system equipment

In general, monitored alarm systems do not access or watch your surveillance cameras. If you have a security camera or video doorbell integrated into your home security system, you and the operator could receive smart alerts like motion alerts or activity detection, but the monitoring center can not see the video feed itself. 

There is one category of exception, and those are companies that specifically offer remote CCTV or security feed monitoring. 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 this service for residential properties do put privacy safeguards in place. 

As John MacMahon of the UK-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.”


In-house vs. outsourced alarm monitoring

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 does 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: Are monitoring centers in-house or outsourced? Are they certified by any regulatory body? What’s the average response time? Can operators see your video footage? We kickstarted your research by highlighting how a few top home security providers approach monitoring.

Comparing home alarm monitoring services

ADT Security

ADT 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 app

Vivint Monitoring

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 security

Frontpoint Monitoring

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 can not see the video feeds of its Frontpoint customers.

SimpliSafe sign

SimpliSafe Monitoring

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.”

ProtectAmerica

ProtectAmerica Monitoring

ProtectAmerica also outsources its monitoring to the well-established, award-winning COPS Monitoring company Unlike SimpliSafe, however, a ProtectAmerica customer service associate confirmed that their own stringent privacy policy prevents the professional operators from viewing any parts of your camera’s security feed, even if an alarm is triggered.


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, a 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 SimpliSafe, abode, Ring, or LifeShield equipment, you can opt in and out of professional monitoring as allowed by your needs and budget.

Looking for more about the best home security systems? Compare top security providers and DIY options