Home security systems can be somewhat overwhelming with the sheer amount of options and add-ons available, both with equipment and companies to choose from. The good news is that the primary way they operate remains the same no matter which manufacturer or company you choose.
You may be looking into how home alarm systems work for many reasons. Maybe you, or someone you know, has recently experienced a break-in or you are more proactive and doing some research before making a decision on whether a security system will solve your specific needs.
Whatever the reason may be, this article will walk you through the processes going on behind the scenes to verify the emergency and notify the correct authorities.
You will learn what is involved in order to get a quick, and accurate, response and what happens behind the scenes to protect your home and family. We will cover this in four sections:
1) Alarm permits and guard response
2) Emergency contacts, verbal password, and duress code
3) What triggers the siren in the alarm panel
4) The steps taken by your monitoring company
Local Rules and Regulations
This one is easy but requires a little due diligence on your part. Unless you have already chosen your alarm company, in which case they can often help you with this process.
Every city/county operates a bit differently and they will have different policies in place for you when getting a monitored alarm system in your home. If you have yet to choose an alarm company, or they can’t help you with this process, then a simple Google search can usually answer your questions. You can also call into your local city hall or county and they will be able to assist you.
The alarm permit can be a one-time fee, while other jurisdictions require an annual renewal. If your area requires one they will notify you by mail when it is time for renewal and they may send window decals for you to place on an exterior window.
Why Is This Important?
Some cities/counties will require you to have an alarm permit to operate a monitored home security system legally. The cost varies by city/county but the price for not taking this step is often far more severe than the cost of the permit alone.
Depending on the city/county the alarm permit will either “buy” you a couple of free false alarms a year or at the very least a discounted fine if the police respond to your home in the event of a false alarm.
In the circumstance your city/county requires a permit and you fail to obtain one, then the result can be as severe as the local police not responding to your alarm. Other penalties can result in much steeper fines for responding to false alarms without having a permit.
These rules were implemented when alarms were less sophisticated and less common than they are today. Some cities, especially larger ones, were spending unnecessary resources responding to false alarms and as a means to deter them implemented alarm permits and fines to recoup the cost of utilizing those resources.
It should also be noted that there are cities/counties throughout the U.S. that will only respond to an alarm if it has been verified first. Unless you’re home and can verify the break-in yourself, this means you will most likely need to add an additional service to your regular monitoring.
These services usually work in tandem with your monitoring company and are referred to as guard response. They will be the first responders when an alarm goes off to check for signs of intrusion or fires.
At this point they will either confirm or deny the emergency, and if confirmed the police or fire department will be dispatched to your home.
It is ultimately up to you to know if there is an alarm permit or guard response required in your jurisdiction so be sure to ask your alarm company or do some research of your own to make sure you are following your local laws.
Set Up Your Account
This step is also easy and requires less due diligence on your part. Your chosen alarm company will ask for all the pertinent information needed to set up your account. They will need the following information to help them prevent false alarms and notify you in the event of an emergency:
- Emergency Contacts. Many companies will ask for at least three phone numbers, however, you can usually add as many as you would like (e.g., you and your spouse, family, friends, neighbors, etc.)
- Verbal Password. This is an important word that you and your emergency contacts should know by heart. It will be the word your monitoring company asks you to provide if the alarm was an accident and no dispatch is required. If you forget the word, the monitoring company will generally dispatch the proper authorities to your home unless they can verify your identity another way.
- Duress Code. While there is a standard code that most alarm companies use, I will not mention it here. They will inform you of what the code is and how to change it if you so choose. This code is for duress only (i.e. somebody broke into your house and is forcing you to turn off your alarm.) This code will act like it is shutting off your alarm, however, your monitoring company will notify the police the duress code was entered and the police will proceed as if a robbery in progress had been reported.
You can change or update any of this information by simply calling into your monitoring company and letting them know what information you would like to change. It also advisable to let your company know anytime you will be going out of town, or on vacation, and you don’t expect anybody at your home. This will help ensure a quick and efficient dispatch time.
Triggering The Alarm
Once your alarm system has been installed according to specifications, this step will essentially take care of itself. The door sensors will typically be set up to work on a delay while the rest of the alarm equipment will typically be set up to work on an instant mode.
If the alarm is set and a door is opened it will allow a predetermined amount of time, usually 30-60 seconds, to pass before the alarm is triggered. This allows the user to get to the panel and type in their security pin to disarm the panel.
The rest of the equipment (window sensors, glass breaks, and motions) will set the alarm off once the window is opened, glass is broken, or motion is detected.
Fire alarms will work the same way, once smoke or heat is detected, the sensor itself will begin to alarm. If multiple smoke detectors are installed, they will all go off together and the control panel’s siren will also be enabled.
Each sensor, depending on the manufacturer, will “speak” a specified language that the control panel understands. If any of these sensors speak to the panel and let it know there is an emergency, the panel will recognize this and an internal siren will begin screeching.
Simultaneously, your control panel will notify your monitoring company there is an emergency and they will take over from there.
Central Monitoring Station
Your alarm system will either be tied into your home phone line, or it will contain a built-in cell radio, and will call the monitoring station based off whichever method the system is running on.
When the panel calls the monitoring station, all of your account info will be displayed for the operator to view. In addition to your account information, they will be able to identify which sensor triggered the alarm. After which they will do the following:
- Call over the control panel’s speaker, if two-way verification has been enabled.
- In the circumstance that two-way is enabled, the monitoring center will continue to listen over the speaker for signs of intrusion or for fire alarms in the event of a fire.
- If the panel doesn’t support two-way, or if they are unable to hear anything, they will then call the primary contact followed by the remaining emergency contacts.
- If you answer over the panel speaker or the phone, and it is a false alarm they will ask who they are speaking with and for the verbal password. You then have the opportunity to dispatch the correct authorities or not.
- This will differ depending on the alarm company but if none of the emergency contacts answer, then the proper authorities will be dispatched.
It may be wise to ask your monitoring company the procedure they take if they receive an alarm from your system. Some companies may dispatch after not being able to reach the primary contact to ensure a faster response time. However, if it is a false alarm this can quickly result in unnecessary fines.
The operator, themselves, do not physically dial your local authorities number which prevents errors being made calling the wrong jurisdiction. Your local jurisdiction will be preprogrammed and dialed if they need to be dispatched.
It should also be noted that if you accidentally type in your duress code, this will typically be treated as if it were the real deal. The police will still respond and want to search your home to verify no intruders are inside.
Is It Worth It?
This is definitely dependent on your personal circumstances and budget. However, with that said, this is often the cheapest utility bill that most homeowners will incur.
I’ll put it this way, if you could hire an individual to continuously watch your home 24/7 watching for break-ins, fires, or medical emergencies would you be willing to provide this individual with a sandwich and a soda every day?
If the answer to this question is a yes, then a home alarm system would certainly be worth it. For $1-2 a day you can have a professional monitoring center “watching” your home day and night on your behalf and call the proper emergency services for you in the event there is a problem.
They will usually lend a hand in making sure you are compliant with your local city/county, put in place a system for reducing false alarms, watch for any signs of trouble, and dispatch the authorities when a problem is detected.
Your home and family are most likely your greatest assets and they can be protected at a super cheap rate by professionals trained to handle stressful situations.