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. First, here is a reminder on how the alarm process works:
1) Your alarm control panel receives an alarm signal from a sensor in your home.
2) If not quickly disarmed, the control panel sends the alarm event signal to the monitoring center. With the safest systems this happens over a cellular connection, not a vulnerable phone line.
3) The monitoring center calls you to verify if it’s a real alarm (asking for your passcode).
4) If the monitoring center cannot reach you (or does not get the passcode), they dispatch police, fire, or medical, depending on the specific signal they received.
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 – only a handful 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 not how many centers a company has, but how robust each center’s infrastructure is. Redundant primary and backup power, telecommunications (access & carriers), web access, servers, even backup HVAC contribute to providing flawless response.
- 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 are verifying alarms 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 perfected 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.
Some alarm companies have their own monitoring centers, and some use a third party that specializes in monitoring. Both solutions work, and I have gone both ways over twenty-plus years in the industry. These days my sense is that the third party companies have a lot to offer vs. the in-house center: monitoring is all these centers do, so they tend to be really focused on it, and good at it. There are also companies who make a big deal about multiple centers, backing each other up: this sounds good on paper, but when 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 of redundancy in each center itself, so that multiple center redundancy is not required.
FrontPoint works with Rapid Response Monitoring, and we consider Rapid to be the best in the industry. Founded in 1992, they have 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 (you can learn more about Rapid here). I have never seen a center that could match their redundancy, and I have been in many of the “big” ones. I am happy to say we have never experienced a customer complaint about Rapid – and for us, that is best kind of monitoring you can get.