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When I bought my alarm system, I was told the signal goes directly to the local emergency services. How does home security monitoring really work?

When people purchase a home alarm system, sometimes the less than completely honest sales people make it sound as if in the event of an alarm activation that the signal goes directly to the local emergency services providers to respond immediately. That is simply just not the case.

The idea that there are people employed at the local emergency services providers that monitor your alarm signals twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year is not possible. The emergency services providers, usually the local 911 center, cannot monitor the thousands of signals that they would have to process if they did monitor alarm systems. The signals from your alarm system are processed by a monitoring center. These people are trained to receive the signals that come in, attempt to verify with the property owner if the signal is legitimate, and then dispatch the appropriate local emergency services.  

How does home security monitoring work

When your alarm activates and sends out a signal. The signal is sent usually one of three main ways:

The first way that the signal may be sent is through the telephone landline. In this case, the alarm system is programmed to seize the telephone line, cutting off anyone or anything that may be using that telephone landline, in order to send out its signal to the monitoring center. Today, we are becoming increasingly more and more comfortable and dependent upon our mobile devices. People are cutting the cord so to speak and cancelling their landline telephone service. If this is the case for you and your household, before you cancel your landline telephone service, please have a chat with your alarm company to discuss your options for your alarm system to continue to function and send out its message.

The second way that your alarm system may be programmed to send out its signals in the event of an activation is through a radio modular that is part of your alarm system. This radio modular is a hardware component of your alarm system that is installed usually not far from the control panel which is the “brains” of your alarm system. These components are usually installed in a closet or in the basement of your home. This radio modular acts almost like a cell phone for your alarm system. It sends its signals through the cell towers to the monitoring center to process them.

A cellular module included in your alarm system is better protection for your home or business because in the day and age we currently live, perpetrators have figured out that if your alarm system uses the land line telephone to send out its signal, they can defeat the alarm system from sending out the signal by simply cutting the telephone line. The alarm system will activate and ring locally on the premises, but it will be unable to send out the signal to potentially alert the authorities. 

The third way that your alarm system may be programmed to send out its signal is through the wi-fi internet connection of your home. Upon installation, the alarm system will be connected to the wi-fi module of your home. Once the alarm is activated by a test, a burglar, or something being wrong with the system, it uses the internet to send its signal to the monitoring center. I’m sure that you have heard the horror stories of people who have had their identities stolen. One of the places that your identity becomes the most vulnerable is when you are on public wi-fi. Most wi-fi is not very secure in terms of internet hacking and compromising personal information. 

Of the three options, the least secure way for your alarm system to send out its signal is the telephone landline. The second would be the internet wi-fi of your home or business, and the most secure would be to use a radio module. Unfortunately, most of the time, the radio module is the least cost-effective way to send out your signal. There is a one-time cost for the physical hardware of the radio module. Your alarm company can sell and install this component for you, or you can go online and order it from a variety of sources that you can install and program yourself at a lower price. Alarm companies and monitoring centers will charge additional fees for the radio service because it is like getting a cell phone. You have to pay the fees to be included in the network and use the cell towers that are a part of that network. 

Most municipalities require alarm monitoring services to verify the alarm signals before they dispatch emergency services. This is required in an attempt to cut down or completely eliminate false alarms. It is expensive for municipalities to maintain emergency services, and they do not want them to be dispatched to use their valuable resources if they are not indeed needed.

To verify an alarm signal means that the monitoring center will call back the premises or whatever phone number or numbers that they have been given for verification. If the monitoring center is able to reach someone, and they are given the correct “password,” then they take no further actions. The “password” is usually a word or phrase that has been established between the monitoring center and the customer to verify the authenticity of the person they are speaking to when they call.

If the monitoring service receives no answer when they call to verify, a busy signal, or an incorrect “password,” then the next step is to dispatch emergency services. Most municipalities require that for fire alarm signals that the monitoring centers dispatch emergency services before they verify the alarm signal. This is a requirement of most municipalities because with a fire alarm activation, time is of the essence in potentially saving the lives of the individuals that may be trapped inside of the building.  

The other thing that most municipalities require is that the alarm system be registered and an alarm permit be issued. Having an alarm registered or getting an alarm permit is simply another form of a hidden tax that municipalities have figured out as a path to acquire more money. Your municipality will require you to fill out at least one form, possibly more, and pay a fee to register the alarm or attain an alarm permit.

Thanks for reading. We hope this blog has helped you understand how your home monitoring system works and where it goes.

Would you like to learn more? Contact us today to have your questions about alarm systems and home security answered.