Home Security 101: Real Monitoring vs. Self-Monitoring

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We often talk about the benefits of a monitored alarm system when it comes to protecting your home and family, but you don’t see much discussion of what that term actually means. Today we’ll tackle the definitions of two potentially confusing terms in the alarm industry: monitored vs. self-monitored.

What Does Monitored Mean?

In the realm of home security, a monitored alarm system reports alarm and other conditions to a 24/7 operations center where highly trained individuals react and respond to these signals. That means events in the home including the following:

  • Intrusion
  • Panic alarm
  • Fire
  • Life safety (think carbon monoxide)
  • Environmental conditions, such as low temperatures and flooding/water level

When an alarm incident is reported to the monitoring center, personnel in the center attempt to verify the alarm by contacting you on either of two pre-arranged numbers (such as your cell and your work number).  This verification process reduces false dispatches, which is important. The operators will usually ask for your security passcode, to make sure it’s someone authorized to be in the home. There are three possible outcomes of the verification process:

  1. They reach you, and you tell them it’s a false alarm: no harm done.
  2. They reach you, and either it’s a real alarm event, or you cannot be sure: in those cases, they dispatch the appropriate authorities.
  3. They cannot reach someone with the security code for your alarm system: they will then dispatch the appropriate authorities.

There are variations of the basic scenarios listed above, but these are the basics.

Monitored Means Peace of Mind

A monitored system is designed to protect your home and family when you can’t. You may be at work, you may be asleep, or you may be far away on vacation or business travel. The point is that a monitored system is always on the job, and can summon help when it’s needed – so you don’t have to. In fact, all you have to is turn on your alarm in the first place. And remember, as we’ve covered before, the only truly reliable alarm systems come with safer cellular monitoring built in.

Interactive Monitoring Features

Before we talk about self-monitored alarm systems, we need to explain that alarm technology has advanced in recent years to include interactive monitoring features. These features may include one of more of the following:

  • The ability to remotely arm and disarm the system from a PC, tablet, or smart phone.
  • The ability to receive text and/or email messages from the alarm system on events happening in the home, such as doors opening, motion sensors being activated, loss of power, etc.
  • Home video services.
  • Home automation functions, such as the ability to remotely control lights, locks, and thermostats.

And it’s also important to note that the best systems today offer these interactive monitoring features in addition to 24/7 “real” monitoring services by a dedicated response center. And yes, we’ll delve deeper into these interactive features in future posts!

So, What Does Self-Monitored Mean?

Now that we understand the interactive services, we can easily grasp the concept of self-monitoring: it means relying only on the self-monitoring services, and ignoring the benefits of the professional, dedicated response center.

What does that mean to you, the homeowner?

Let’s say your family is away from the home – it could be for the day, or you could be vacationing in a warm place (which sounds pretty good, this winter!). There is a fire at your home. With a self-monitored system, you would need to be sure you received that alarm signal. Then, after your initial panic and thinking about whether it might be a false alarm, you would need to call your local fire department, from wherever you are, and convince them to go to your house. By the way, don’t try calling “911” from Cancun.

Just One Example

That is just one example of a possible alarm scenario. The fact is, you can’t always depend on getting that signal from your alarm system, – and if you do, it may not be so simple to do something about it. This prior post actually goes into more detail on the pros and cons of self-monitoring. The fact that today’s more advanced home alarm systems can communicate directly to you does not mean that you should rely solely on that technology for your peace of mind.

New Entrants to Home Security

There has been a lot of press given to the “new entrants” to the alarm industry, referring to the cable and telco providers that have been pumping out new home security and home automation offers for several years. One of them was Verizon, who launched a self-monitored system in 2011. Last October they stopped accepting new customers, but have not announced the reasoning behind their decision.

The alarm industry has a pretty good idea what happened with the Verizon offer: homeowners weren’t buying the concept of self-monitoring. It’s one thing to add interactive features to a monitored system, but it’s a different prospect all together when you remove the foundation of what the system is meant to do in the first place: protect your home and family.

Thanks for being part of this new series on alarm systems and home security. By now you should be getting a pretty clear picture of our approach: we want to equip you with the latest and most complete information so you can ask the right questions when you are shopping for home security. The more you know, the better, and more prepared you will feel to make the right decision – whoever it is you select.

FrontPoint is committed to keeping this educational outreach going for a long time – there are, after all, lots of home security and home automation topics to cover. See you next Monday!

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