Security Alarm Monitoring Quality, Price & Free Stuff

What’s the best security alarm system you can buy? How should you decide between the multitude of security alarm companies banging on your door all the time? One of the most often overlooked aspects when shopping for security alarm systems is the quality of the monitoring service you get with your security alarm. Security alarm monitoring is largely treated as a commodity by consumers, as if it’s all the same. Today I’m going to explain why it is not all the same and why you should take security alarm monitoring quality into account when shopping for an alarm system.

Security alarm monitoring service is not all the same. It varies dramatically. I have personally experienced a very wide range of security alarm monitoring quality. When we first started out, we subcontracted our alarm monitoring to some low cost, and as we quickly learned, low quality central monitoring stations. We fixed that problem fast.

Security alarm monitoring is the other end of the line of your security alarm system. The whole point of a monitored security alarm system is that when the alarm equipment at your house detects an emergency, it sends a signal to the central monitoring station where people handle the emergency for you. They receive the signal, determine whether it’s a real emergency and, if so, dispatch the police, fire department or paramedics to your house as quickly as possible. If the central monitoring station does a poor job then it doesn’t matter how great the security alarm equipment installed in your house is, you won’t get the result you want because the monitoring service is the weak link.

So then what’s the problem? If security alarm monitoring is so important and it varies so much in quality then why do security alarm shoppers treat it as a commodity? The reason is that security alarm monitoring is an intangible item you can’t experience before you buy. It’s not a shiny object. It’s not a flashy feature. When you’re shopping, security alarm monitoring service quality is just a promise that the company you’re signing up with will provide you fast, reliable, high quality alarm monitoring service for years to come. You almost have to take the salesman’s word for it. Almost…

The tangible & immediate items that you should also consider are equipment and installation quality, features, price, contract length and how much “free” stuff they’re willing to give you. These are all selling points you can see, touch, experience and measure before you buy. Therefore, these are the items most security alarm companies focus on when they’re trying to win you as a customer. These are all important factors to consider. As a buyer, I do care about features, price and contract length. My point is that if you only focus on the these tangible items and ignore monitoring service quality then you’re likely to buy a system with the body of a Lexus and the engine of a Yugo! You’ll never know until you put some miles on it and realize it doesn’t work very well.

It usually comes down to price. Monitoring service quality is just one of the factors the affect the price. The others are equipment cost, installation cost, method of communication, potential service calls, contract length, liability insurance, your credit score, etc… The important thing I want you to take away from this article is that the difference between outstanding security alarm monitoring service and awful security alarm monitoring service is often only a few dollars per month. So if you’re going to spend $30, $40, $50, $60 dollars per month on a monitored security alarm system then don’t downgrade from a Lexus engine to a Yugo engine just to save a few bucks a month!

The company offering the absolute lowest price is almost always going to be the company with the Yugo quality alarm monitoring service. Why? Because they spend the least amount of money on running their central monitoring station – the one thing you can’t see before you buy. Therefore they can charge you a few dollars less per month for the system and still make the same profit. The problem is they are selling you a Yugo when the another company may be offering you a Lexus for just a few dollars more!

I’m not saying you should pay more just for the heck of it. On the contrary, I’m pretty frugal. I’m saying you need to consider the quality of the alarm monitoring service when you make your buying decision. How do you do that? It’s a little more involved than counting the number of free sensors you get in your quote but it’s doable.

Average Response Time

One of the measurable ways to compare security alarm monitoring services is average response time. The monitoring station’s response time is the time from when the alarm signal is received by the monitoring station to when an agent calls the first phone number on the emergency call list.

Average response time varies dramatically between different alarm monitoring companies from under 10 seconds up to several minutes. There are even horror stories of alarms taking an hour or more to be handled. Many alarm companies advertise that they are UL listed but to be UL listed you only need to have an average response time of 60 seconds. If you or your property is experiencing an emergency would you rather have an agent handling it in 10 seconds or 60 seconds?

suretyCAM is proud to share our central monitoring station’s measured average response times.

  • suretyCAM Panic/Medical Alarm average response time: 7 seconds
  • suretyCAM Fire Alarm average response time: 8 seconds
  • suretyCAM Intrusion Alarm average response time: 12 seconds

Most alarm companies will not share their average response time data because if shoppers knew that it was going to take 30, 45 or even 60 seconds on average before an agent will even begin handling their emergency then they would not be able to sell as many systems. It’s not until the you’ve already purchased and are using your system that you experience how slow they are. Even large, well known alarm monitoring companies often fall into this category.

The reason for these slow response times is simple. If they can monitor more customers with fewer agents then it costs them less to monitor your system so they choose to have too many customers and not enough agents to handle the work load. I’m all for cutting costs but not when it only saves a few bucks a month and it turns a 10 second average response time into a 60 second average response time!

Dialer Delay

Another way security alarm monitoring companies reduce their costs is by programming a “dialer delay” in the equipment installed at your house. A dialer delay means that after an emergency is detected and the alarm is sounding, your equipment will wait a while before it sends the alarm signal to the central monitoring station. I have seen dialer delays ranging from 15 seconds to as high as 45 seconds.

A dialer delay adds additional delay to the response time. It’s even worse because during the dialer delay period the alarm signal hasn’t even been sent to the monitoring station. If the bad guy who broke into your house destroys your alarm system during the dialer delay then the alarm signal may never be sent and the alarm company will have no idea that an alarm even occurred!

Have you ever triggered a false alarm, heard the siren go off, disarmed the alarm and waited, but the monitoring station never called? That usually means you system has a dialer delay programmed to delay sending the alarm signal for a while after the alarm sounds. It greatly reduces the effectiveness of the security system.

Low quality alarm monitoring companies will program a dialer delay into every system they install because it gives you more time to disarm the alarm before it sends them an alarm signal which means they have to deal with fewer incoming alarms. That saves them a lot of money. They usually justify using the dialer delay by saying it helps you prevent false alarms, and therefore false alarm fees, from the police. The problem with this argument is even without the dialer delay they would still have called you to check for a false alarm before dispatching the police, which prevents the false alarm anyway. The honest reason they program a dialer delay is to reduce their monitoring station costs but the tradeoff is it drastically decreases the quality of your security alarm system by delaying the response and giving the bad guy time to destroy your system before it ever sends out the alarm signal!

suretyCAM never programs a dialer delay unless it’s absolutely required and beyond our control.

We think it’s worth a little extra work on our end to provide you a system that actually works well and can’t be easily defeated by an intruder.

Communication Technology

As technology advances so must the central monitoring station. Traditional central monitoring stations received alarm signals via land line or POTS telephone lines. That’s like your alarm system sending the monitoring station a fax. It’s very slow and has been outdated for a long time. Yet that’s still how most monitoring stations receive signals from your alarm system, even today.

Even if your alarm system is sending signals via cellular phone wireless instead of a land line telephone, most central monitoring stations just have the cellular service forward the call to their old land line telephone receivers so it’s just as slow as ever. That land line alarm signal transmission adds 15 to 20 seconds onto the response time just to send the alarm signal to the monitoring station.

suretyCAM receives alarm signals via cellular phone and Internet protocol – both of which are extremely fast.

Low Quality Hat Trick

Now imagine if you pick a low quality alarm monitoring service that fails to deliver on response time, dialer delay and communication technology…

Let’s say they have a 48 second average response time because they saved you $2/month by monitoring 4 times as many customers per agent than we do at suretyCAM. They saved you $1/month by programming a 30 second dialer delay in the alarm equipment so they can avoid having to deal with you when you accidentally set off you alarm a few times a year. Finally they saved you $1/month because they never upgraded their receiver systems and the cell phone signals are still being forwarded to their monitoring station by land line telephone instead of Internet protocol, adding 15 seconds to the response.

  1. The alarm equipment detects a break-in and the alarm goes off.
  2. The 30 second dialer delay means the equipment won’t even try to send the alarm signal to the monitoring station until 30 seconds have passed.
  3. The equipment finally sends the alarm signal via a cell phone message which happens very quickly.
  4. The cell phone receiver forwards the alarm signal to the monitoring station with a land line telephone call which takes at least 15 seconds.
  5. The alarm signal is finally received by the monitoring station but since all the agents are already overwhelmed with incoming alarms the alarm goes into a queue and waits for an agent to become available.
  6. Finally, after 48 seconds of waiting in the queue an agent is ready to handle your alarm.

It took 30 + 15 + 48 = 93 seconds from the time the alarm sounded for an agent to start handling your emergency! And this is a big name UL listed central monitoring station. Nothing is out of the ordinary here.

If you were using suretyCAM it would have only taken about 10 to 15 seconds.

Training & Commitment to Excellence

High quality central stations have the credentials to prove it. Look for the following certifications from the central station you’re about to trust with your security.

  • CSAA 5 Diamond Certification
  • IQ Certification
  • UL Listing

suretyCAM’s central monitoring station is CSAA 5 Diamond certified, IQ certified and UL listed and far exceeds the minimum requirements for those certifications.

The Unmeasurable Differences

Some of the most important differences between high quality and low quality alarm monitoring service are unmeasurable. The only way to detect them is to experience the service. You can usually tell pretty quickly whether a service is high quality or low quality when you actually experience it.

So how do you determine whether a security alarm monitoring service is high quality or low quality before you buy? The most effective way to do this is to research. Ask around. Google it. Don’t just take the salesman’s word for it. Somehow every alarm salesman in the world claims to be selling the highest quality monitoring service with the fastest response time. It’s a miracle!

Here are some questions to ask the alarm salesman before you buy.

  • What is the average response time of your monitoring service?
  • Does your company program a dialer delay in the alarm equipment?
  • Does the alarm signal get forwarded from the cellular phone receiver to the monitoring station by land line telephone or Internet protocol?
  • What certifications does your monitoring station have?
  • Can you refer me to any existing customers that will vouch for the quality of your monitoring service?

Here are some questions to ask other customers to learn more about the quality of the alarm service.

  • How long does it usually take from the time the alarm goes off to when you receive the phone call? Compare the answer with what the salesman told you their average response time is.
  • Have you ever set off the alarm and then disarmed the system but never received a phone call from the monitoring station? The answer should be no if the salesman told you they don’t program a dialer delay.
  • Do the monitoring station agents seem professional and efficient when you talk to them?
  • Do you like working with this company? Would you recommend them to me?

You’ll never really know until you’ve started using the service and experienced it for yourself but if you take the quality of the alarm monitoring service into account when you make your buying decision it might become glaringly obvious why cheaper isn’t always the better value. Saving a few bucks a month or getting a free smoke detector isn’t such a great deal if it means you’re going to be stuck with a low quality service provider for the next 3 years.

suretyCAM security and automation is located in Columbus, Ohio – the only place in America where wolverines are afraid of buckeyes.

Written by Ryan Boder

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