Who’s Monitoring YOUR Alarm System 24/7?

Posted by , , at 9:25 am

Most alarm companies like to brag about their 24/7 monitoring center: each center (also called a “central station”) is faster, better, more secure, more responsive, more reliable than the next – you’ve probably seen the ads, or heard the pitch. It’s worth learning what really matters in monitoring, and what separates the good from the bad, when it comes to who is responding to your alarm events. So what makes one monitoring center better than another? There are several points of differentiation, and here’s what I think they are.

  • Approvals and Licensing – The critical ones are UL, Factory Mutual, Department of Defense (DOD) clearance, and Fire Department of New York (FDNY) – only a handful of centers in the US have FDNY approval. Once achieved, these levels of compliance must be met year after year. In many states and local jurisdictions, central stations need their own licenses to offer services.
  • System redundancy – The point is a combination of multiple monitoring centers, and how robust each monitoring center’s infrastructure is. Redundant primary and backup power, telecommunications (both physical access & carriers), Internet access, servers, even backup HVAC contribute to providing flawless response in any circumstance.
  • Training and employee retention – What caliber of operator is hired, how well are they trained and managed, and how long do they stay? Even with the best systems, it is ultimately people who matter: verifying alarms, following instructions, and dispatching the authorities.
  • Experience and track record – It takes a center time to learn how to monitor well. The best centers have been around for a while, have mastered and customized their hardware and software, and know how to react efficiently and effectively. You will know when you are talking to a good center – and it won’t take long for them to call, after the alarm event in your home.

In-House or Third Party?

Some alarm companies have their own monitoring centers, but the great majority use a third party that specializes in monitoring only. Both solutions work, and I have used both approaches over my twenty-plus years in the industry. Back in the 1980’s the conventional wisdom was for companies to monitor their own accounts, supposedly to save money. But times have certainly changed: it has become far more expensive to build and maintain a world-class monitoring center, and there is constant and significant reinvestment required to stay current. That’s why some of the largest US alarm companies outsource their monitoring to one of the “super centrals:” providing the best monitoring is all these large third party centers focus on, so they are really good at it. And that allows the alarm companies to focus on marketing and sales, which is how they grow. That makes sense.

How Many Locations – and How Redundant?

While it’s good for a monitoring center to have more than one location, this is not a “more is better” situation. Even ADT, with over 6,000,000 customers in North America, only has a handful of monitoring centers. And, it really does not matter where a monitoring center is located – the chances of it being local to you are negligible. Current alarm technology has rendered the local monitoring center irrelevant. Alarm systems communicate over the cellular network (if they are safer, like FrontPoint) or by a vulnerable phone line or Internet (less robust and reliable): either way, the technology does not care where the monitoring center is located, and a phone call is just that – a phone call.

And when it comes to redundant monitoring centers, the real issue is how much redundancy each center has. When a company claims redundancy and one of their centers actually goes down, you can learn the hard way how well the centers share information and route calls in an emergency. As mentioned above, the best architecture is the highest level or redundancy in each center itself, in combination with at least two locations that can operate in a standalone capacity.

FrontPoint’s Monitoring

FrontPoint works with Rapid Response Monitoring. Rapid lets FrontPoint focus on what we do best: providing the best technology, with the best service, at the best price – and with Rapid, we can offer the best monitoring as well. Founded in 1992, Rapid has all the right licenses and approvals – and yes, they are one of those select companies who can monitor commercial fire alarms in New York City, which is the toughest approval in the industry. I have never seen a monitoring company with more advanced technology, or that could match their redundancy, and I have visited many of the “big” ones. I am happy to add we have never experienced a customer complaint about Rapid – and for us, that is best kind of monitoring you can get. And finally, they do have two fully operational centers – soon to be three.

Response Times – What Are They?

You can read all sorts of claims that one alarm company or another has “The fastest response time!” or some similar boast. Response time is an important measure, and is worth an explanation, but also a warning – don’t believe everything you read, even here!

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! But, 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.

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 information and the instructions for your alarm event appear on the operator’s screen.

4.       The operator then follows the instructions – in most cases by 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 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 love the fact that Rapid 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, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat, 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 (20)

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  1. Alan

    Also, not sure why this comment system forces me to put a website URL in… not everyone has one, or has one they want to share.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Alan – Sorry about that: it’s a limitation of the blog platform that we use (WordPress) – which is, we think, about the best one out there – except in this regard!

      Our apologies, wish it was something we could control.

  2. Alan

    Also, not sure why this comment system forces me to put a website URL in… not everyone has one, or has one they want to share.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Alan – Sorry about that: it’s a limitation of the blog platform that we use (WordPress) – which is, we think, about the best one out there – except in this regard!

      Our apologies, wish it was something we could control.

  3. Alan

    Really interesting write-up and visibility into why Frontpoint does business with one of their important business partners/vendors. I always find this interesting, especially when about companies I respect.

    I can also second that over the many years and many interactions I have had with Rapid Response, I have always been impressed by their response time and professionalism. And yes, they do seem to be very well trained and give me confidence with every interaction. I am glad to hear they still have so many important official certifications too. I think when I first signed up with FP years ago, they only had one center, so am happy to hear they will soon have 3 even.

    Commenter Jean has brought up one important point: that Rapid really seems to follow proper protocol… for instance, another example is if you give them the wrong code, they will not acknowledge it is wrong, but will instead just say thank you or something like that, end the call, and dispatch the police. This way, it does not tip a burglar off any further if they answer and try to convince Rapid they are legit.. .or, more likely… if someone is there forcing you to answer and say everything is OK, you can say that, but also give the wrong code (that is a bit of a tough choice, but given the circumstances, in many cases this may be the wisest choice still).

    I imagine Rapid is not the cheapest choice Frontpoint could make, but as with anything, you get what you pay for, and I am happy Frontpoint uses quality vendors for any support roles they need. This is also important for privacy and shared customer information.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post, Peter. Interesting and reassuring.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, Alan – and you have been with FrontPoint for long enough to have an excellent perspective on the quality of Rapid’s performance. Yes, using Rapid as our only monitoring partner from day one has cost us more, but we know it’s worth it. In a similar fashion, we pay Alarm.com more than we would pay other interactive service partners, for the same reason: we only want to work with the best, and are convinced that doing so is in the best short and long term interests of our customers. Thanks again!

  4. Alan

    Really interesting write-up and visibility into why Frontpoint does business with one of their important business partners/vendors. I always find this interesting, especially when about companies I respect.

    I can also second that over the many years and many interactions I have had with Rapid Response, I have always been impressed by their response time and professionalism. And yes, they do seem to be very well trained and give me confidence with every interaction. I am glad to hear they still have so many important official certifications too. I think when I first signed up with FP years ago, they only had one center, so am happy to hear they will soon have 3 even.

    Commenter Jean has brought up one important point: that Rapid really seems to follow proper protocol… for instance, another example is if you give them the wrong code, they will not acknowledge it is wrong, but will instead just say thank you or something like that, end the call, and dispatch the police. This way, it does not tip a burglar off any further if they answer and try to convince Rapid they are legit.. .or, more likely… if someone is there forcing you to answer and say everything is OK, you can say that, but also give the wrong code (that is a bit of a tough choice, but given the circumstances, in many cases this may be the wisest choice still).

    I imagine Rapid is not the cheapest choice Frontpoint could make, but as with anything, you get what you pay for, and I am happy Frontpoint uses quality vendors for any support roles they need. This is also important for privacy and shared customer information.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post, Peter. Interesting and reassuring.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, Alan – and you have been with FrontPoint for long enough to have an excellent perspective on the quality of Rapid’s performance. Yes, using Rapid as our only monitoring partner from day one has cost us more, but we know it’s worth it. In a similar fashion, we pay Alarm.com more than we would pay other interactive service partners, for the same reason: we only want to work with the best, and are convinced that doing so is in the best short and long term interests of our customers. Thanks again!

  5. Malcolm Chaires

    I had a false alarm due to a sensor issue. They could not reach me at either of the phone numbers I provided so they left email and voicemail. When I received the message there was a callback number. I called the number repeatedly for about 20 minutes but never got an answer. I’m sure I dialed the right number. I finally gave up and called FrontPoint customer service.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Malcolm – Thanks for your comment.I understand that our Support team is working directly with you to determine exactly what happened, and resolve the issue to your satisfaction. Clearly this is not the kind of service our customers expect or deserve. We will get to the bottom of what happened in this instance. Thanks again.

  6. Malcolm Chaires

    I had a false alarm due to a sensor issue. They could not reach me at either of the phone numbers I provided so they left email and voicemail. When I received the message there was a callback number. I called the number repeatedly for about 20 minutes but never got an answer. I’m sure I dialed the right number. I finally gave up and called FrontPoint customer service.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Malcolm – Thanks for your comment.I understand that our Support team is working directly with you to determine exactly what happened, and resolve the issue to your satisfaction. Clearly this is not the kind of service our customers expect or deserve. We will get to the bottom of what happened in this instance. Thanks again.

  7. Jean

    Twice in the past two years I have been awakened about 5:30 in the morning by somebody else’s alarm monitoring company reaching me in error. The first time I was perplexed and confused by the call as I didn’t recognize the alarm company as they hastily identified themself and proceeded to ask me if everything was OK because they received an alarm at the “back door.” None of my sensors are named “back door”, and the phone number they reached me on was not the phone number I gave to my alarm company to contact me. I asked them what address they are calling about and they gave me somebody else’s address. I asked them the name on the account and they gave me somebody else’s name. I explained their error and they ended the call. The next day I looked up the address in the phone book and noticed their phone number is similar to my landline. Just two days ago this same thing happened….waking me at 5:30 a.m. about a “back door” alarm…and in the process of telling me this, the operator said “Oh, I’m getting a cancel, is everything OK?” Interesting that this alarm company did not attempt to first verify to whom they were speaking before verifying the alarm event. FrontPoint’s Rapid monitoring company uses unique instructions to identify that you are the person authorized to tell them whether or not the alarm is real or accidental. I could have been a burglar telling the alarm company that all is OK. With my FrontPoint systems, I have had a few false alarms over the years and the monitoring company’s response is usually within a half minute. I have had one real alarm, and the response was a bit slower…maybe five minutes…but that could be due to my tying up the phone by dispatching 911 myself after getting the Frontpoint text message alerting me to the alarm at my secondary residence down the street…..and then hopping in my car and racing to the scene of the burglary in progress. This was not a good idea, by the way, as it was upsetting to law enforcement and very confusing to the canine unit. If you have multiple alarm systems, it is a good idea to be sure to have clear information to identify your address and sensor names to the monitoring company so that if you do get that call in the middle of the night, you can figure out which address and whether the alarm is real or false…..or just a “wrong number” by somebody else’s ill-trained monitoring company!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Jean – thanks for the excellent perspective on your experiences with another alarm company’ monitoring center – and with us! We regard you as a long-time “power user” of the interactive technology that we offer, and know that you have gotten good use and significant peace of mind out of your FrontPoint systems. As for the response time on your previous “valid” alarm, it certainly would have been impacted by your being on the phone calling 911, so thanks for recognizing that. And with interactive monitoring, you can always expect to receive the signal yourself before the central station calls you. Sorry to hear that some other alarm company has some data entry problems – and even more so that they have some odd policies that they follow on verification. Glad we are working with the best monitoring center – and of course, we have the best customers! Thanks again.

    • Aaron

      I work for an alarm centre in Australia. The general rule is;

      If calling a landline number (the house or business) It’s OK to say Hello XXX, we have an alarm coming from XXX sensor are you OK. We would then identify the customer using different means – when calling a residence our number ONE priority is making sure they are OK, and don’t need assistance.

      If you call a customers cell, then it would be Hello, is this XXX? I’m calling in regards to an alarm activation from XXX address that we have you listed for alarm response. May i please identify you so i can advise of the situation.

      Just my 2 cents 🙂

      • Peter M. Rogers

        Thanks, Aaron – great to hear from you, and get some international perspective. I know some folks who used to work in the alarm industry in Australia. I think the company was called Signature, and I’m pretty sure they were acquired by ADT – like lots of other other alarm companies! I like the procedure you mentioned – and the important thing is that if they work for your company, then all is good. Alarm verification procedures are often a balancing act between insuring the safety of the alarm owner and reducing false alarms, but in the US we lean toward the safety of alarm owner.

  8. Jean

    Twice in the past two years I have been awakened about 5:30 in the morning by somebody else’s alarm monitoring company reaching me in error. The first time I was perplexed and confused by the call as I didn’t recognize the alarm company as they hastily identified themself and proceeded to ask me if everything was OK because they received an alarm at the “back door.” None of my sensors are named “back door”, and the phone number they reached me on was not the phone number I gave to my alarm company to contact me. I asked them what address they are calling about and they gave me somebody else’s address. I asked them the name on the account and they gave me somebody else’s name. I explained their error and they ended the call. The next day I looked up the address in the phone book and noticed their phone number is similar to my landline. Just two days ago this same thing happened….waking me at 5:30 a.m. about a “back door” alarm…and in the process of telling me this, the operator said “Oh, I’m getting a cancel, is everything OK?” Interesting that this alarm company did not attempt to first verify to whom they were speaking before verifying the alarm event. FrontPoint’s Rapid monitoring company uses unique instructions to identify that you are the person authorized to tell them whether or not the alarm is real or accidental. I could have been a burglar telling the alarm company that all is OK. With my FrontPoint systems, I have had a few false alarms over the years and the monitoring company’s response is usually within a half minute. I have had one real alarm, and the response was a bit slower…maybe five minutes…but that could be due to my tying up the phone by dispatching 911 myself after getting the Frontpoint text message alerting me to the alarm at my secondary residence down the street…..and then hopping in my car and racing to the scene of the burglary in progress. This was not a good idea, by the way, as it was upsetting to law enforcement and very confusing to the canine unit. If you have multiple alarm systems, it is a good idea to be sure to have clear information to identify your address and sensor names to the monitoring company so that if you do get that call in the middle of the night, you can figure out which address and whether the alarm is real or false…..or just a “wrong number” by somebody else’s ill-trained monitoring company!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Jean – thanks for the excellent perspective on your experiences with another alarm company’ monitoring center – and with us! We regard you as a long-time “power user” of the interactive technology that we offer, and know that you have gotten good use and significant peace of mind out of your FrontPoint systems. As for the response time on your previous “valid” alarm, it certainly would have been impacted by your being on the phone calling 911, so thanks for recognizing that. And with interactive monitoring, you can always expect to receive the signal yourself before the central station calls you. Sorry to hear that some other alarm company has some data entry problems – and even more so that they have some odd policies that they follow on verification. Glad we are working with the best monitoring center – and of course, we have the best customers! Thanks again.

    • Aaron

      I work for an alarm centre in Australia. The general rule is;

      If calling a landline number (the house or business) It’s OK to say Hello XXX, we have an alarm coming from XXX sensor are you OK. We would then identify the customer using different means – when calling a residence our number ONE priority is making sure they are OK, and don’t need assistance.

      If you call a customers cell, then it would be Hello, is this XXX? I’m calling in regards to an alarm activation from XXX address that we have you listed for alarm response. May i please identify you so i can advise of the situation.

      Just my 2 cents 🙂

      • Peter M. Rogers

        Thanks, Aaron – great to hear from you, and get some international perspective. I know some folks who used to work in the alarm industry in Australia. I think the company was called Signature, and I’m pretty sure they were acquired by ADT – like lots of other other alarm companies! I like the procedure you mentioned – and the important thing is that if they work for your company, then all is good. Alarm verification procedures are often a balancing act between insuring the safety of the alarm owner and reducing false alarms, but in the US we lean toward the safety of alarm owner.