Home Alarm Systems –What is Alarm Response Time, and Why is it Important?

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It’s hard to shop online for alarm services these days without seeing a claim that some alarm company has “The fastest response time!” or a similar boast. Response time is an important measure, although it’s not everything: as discussed in my prior posts on what makes a good monitoring center, and UL and other levels of monitoring center approval, several monitoring center issues are just as important. But, response time is worth an explanation, and also a warning – don’t believe everything you read, even here!

What is Response Time, and Why is it Important to You?

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! 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. If your system is based on safer, cellular monitoring, (no vulnerable phone line required), good for you!
  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 account information and the instructions for your alarm event appear on the operator’s screen.
  4. The operator then follows the instructions– in most cases 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 by authorities 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 use a monitoring center that 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, and more affordable, it’s our job to provide peace of mind, and that starts with a monitoring center we can be proud of. And we are!

Comments (3)

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  1. Riaan Potgieter

    Good day.
    I would like to know what is the normal resonse time of a Registerd Alarm company?
    I have a Alarm system in my Business and had breakins and burglary in the pass and it took the company over 40 minutes to get out. I waited for them for over a half on hour to phone me after pressing the panic button…
    Now i want to cancel the alarm,now the company wants all sorts of cancellation fees.
    What can i do??
    Thank U
    Riaan Potgieter

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Riaan – Excellent question, and thanks for asking. There are really several elements to the answer.

      1) First your alarm system must communicate to the monitoring center. This is normally very quick. With a FrontPoint system, you never have to worry about the phone line, since we build a cellular phone into every system we sell. If there is a delay, it’s unusual that it happens here.
      2) The the monitoring center mus receive and process the alarm signal, and holds your alarm for the next available monitoring person who will usually call you first to verify an alarm. Again, this should not take long, unless you are working with a substandard monitoring center. I am happy to say that FrontPoint works with Rapid Response – and we consider them the best in the US.
      3) If the monitoring center cannot reach you, or they do reach you and you tell them it is a real alarm, then they dispatch the police or a guard response company. The call for dispatch is usually very quick – but once the monitoring center makes the call, there is no telling how long the response will be.,The monitoring center has done its job once the dispatch call is made, and what happens after that should not be a reflection on the monitoring center, or your alarm system: it’s more a reflection on the police or the guard response company.f course, if your guard response company is the same as your alarm company, that is a different matter.

      One think I can tell you: if it takes them half an hour to call you after pressing the panic button, that is a real problem – and I would say they may have opened themselves to your canceling for cause. I would take this to your local consumer protection agency (assuming you have one) and get them to help you. Sounds like a bad alarm company to me, based on the facts you have provided.

  2. Alan

    Great post Peter.

    I didn’t realize just how narrow a scope the response time encompassed (by how MOST monitoring centers apparently define it).

    Yes, Rapid Response is top notch, and I’ve always been impressed with them. Always very efficient and professional. They have my confidence, and also have an excellent industry reputation last time I checked. I’m glad you guys don’t simply go for the absolute cheapest monitor you can find.

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