How You Can Get Into Alarm Monitoring

Mention monitoring an alarm to most people and they automatically think expensive monthly fees and picking a phone up to answer the call back from the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) on activation. Neither of these things are true anymore, writes Martin West

This article in two parts will take you through the history of monitoring building up your background knowledge step by step to the present day so you can talk confidently on monitoring to any business decision maker or a residential consumer. With this knowledge and subsequent training you will be able to install a wireless system and connect to an ARC providing your business with additional revenue from point of sale with recurring revenue.

Monitoring – the myths
Most installers believe you have to pay to belong to an alarm inspectorate such as NACOSS, NSI and SSAIB completing up to nine page reports to be able to connect your customer to an ARC. This is not true either.

As such you have every reason to horizontally integrate installing monitored wireless alarms into your business right now.

What is monitoring?
Monitoring means if a security system activates the system automatically sends a signal to a 24 hour 365 day Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). The live operator then talks to the user either by telephoning the house or business or through the panel asking for the password. If the password is received then that is the end of the matter.

Over 99% of all activations to an ARC are down to customer misuse. On average the customer activates their alarm system once per month by coming down the stairs in the morning and forgetting to switch off their alarm or coming home and not disarming their system in time.

This is not a false alarm as the alarm system can only identify people and cannot (yet) tell the difference between the user and an intruder.

If an ARC does not receive the pass word there are several ways it can respond. If the installation is accredited by an inspectorate the ARC may go for an immediate Police response. However, the Police are a public service and no private business of any kind can guarantee either the time of response or any response at all.

The Police will not respond to call from a neighbour about an alarm ringing under the ACPO Police policy of alarm response. Why should the Police respond to what is effectively a piece of outside noise making electronic on someone’s home? The Police require ‘additional verification’ such as an eye witness saying there is a window or door broken or they can see an intruder or visual verification using cameras.

The customer is always contacted on activation but is not always possible to contact the customer. So contact numbers or key holders are called who are usually much nearer to the premises than the Police at that time anyway. So the basic principles of monitoring is that when the alarm activates someone, somewhere is going to respond to the alarm as opposed to the normal alarm bell ringing in the street and being ignored and cursed by everyone.

History of monitoring
Several decades ago a Digital Communicator (Digi) was added to an alarm system to connect to an ARC. Very simple wiring as the Digi takes its power usually from the alarm panel and then just two wires connected to the nearest landline phone point.

The Digi could only send four basic signals:
1 Fire
2 Panic
3 Intruder
4 Open/Close

With the old Digi the customer has to pick up the phone to give their password. Most alarm panels came/come with a fire option where a smoke detector can be wired into the panel or Digi although only relatively a minority of security companies used the smoke option.

The intruder and fire signal are obvious and the panic signal was/is where a customer presses a static panic button normally wired inside the front and back door or in a bedroom upstairs. The open and close signal was/is used where a customer arms and disarms their system. The idea works better for businesses where the property is empty at night and any intruder signals received by an ARC should only be an intruder.

However, some ARCs use premium rate numbers and the idea of a customer paying twice 50 pence twenty years ago just to go into or out of their house or go to bed began to lose its appeal for obvious reasons. Some ARC’s use premium rate numbers so this is something to check on as customers don’t mind paying a monthly/annual monitoring flat rate but then clocking up their phone bill as well!

The alternative to monitoring was/is known as a ‘speech dialler’. This was effectively an old tape style reverse answer phone that then dialled numbers on activation with a pre-recorded message. The Police would ignore speech diallers as matter of course and so it was only used to contact the customer or key holders.

Audio Verification on activation
During the nineties affordable audio verification equipment became available and it is a wonder why some ARC’s are still using the old pick up the phone Digi’s as routine. The audio verification unit (AV) combines a speaker and a microphone which negates the need for a customer to pick up a phone.

On activation the ARC live operator can talk directly to the customer if they are in the property using the AV unit as a hands free phone for monitoring. There are two ways an ARC can respond.

Simplex is where the ARC operator toggles buttons one and two on their telephone to talk and listen to the customer.

Duplex is where both the operator and the customer can talk and listen AT the same time exactly like a hands free phone call.

The main advantage of an AV unit is that an ARC can then (only on activation, the alarm system must dial out first) listen into a house perhaps providing more on the ground information if the operator can hear someone moving around.

This provides Active Intervention. From a study on burglars not one of them said that they would leave the house if the telephone rang. ALL of them said they would leave if the panel started to talk and then ask for a password. As such active intervention monitoring can CHANGE the course of events and not just report the event after it has happened.

Adding monitoring to existing alarms
Nearly every alarm panel has some output trigger that can be used to trigger a Digi. The Digi and the AV unit are relatively cheap and so this saves you having to remove the customer’s perfectly working alarm and installing a new one.

However, you then have the problem that if their old alarm system false alarms the ARC that is picking up the response may disconnect that customer. That leaves you servicing an old alarm which can create even more problems for you.

So it is simpler and more efficient to install one of the new wireless alarms systems that have the speaker and microphone integrated in the panel.

ARC monitoring demonstrations
A few ARCs still supply demonstrations at point of sale. With a wireless alarm demonstration case you can plug into the landline at point of sale and the ARC will talk to you in the house via the panel. This is by far the best and easiest way to display to a customer the benefits of monitoring.

Again, you need to check if the ARC supplies this service and whether they charge you for your demonstration connection or not. Some ARC’s that provide a demonstration service charge for this and some ARC’s supply a demonstration service free of charge.

GSM monitoring
Especially now with the integrated wireless alarm panels a GSM module can be added very easily INSIDE the panel using the GSM network to send a signal on activation. It works exactly the same as the landline monitoring allowing a live ARC operator to talk to the user to request a password.

When a landline and GSM monitoring are combined together this is call Dual Path Signalling or just Dual Signalling. Dual signalling provides a cellular “air wave” back up to the landline. An ARC only needs to respond to the first activation it receives and not once for landline and again for the GSM signal. The GSM is used as a back-up if the landline goes down or if the landline is cut.

Ten years ago BT stated that 10% of the private homes did not have landlines. By now the figure of consumers using just smart phones and not landlines will be much higher. As such if you need to install in a property with no landline you use a GSM device.

The GSM module is great for remote buildings that have electric power for the panel but do not have landlines. It is ideal if the building is remote then the chances are it hasn’t had an alarm on it as “what’s the point” as no one would hear the siren anyway. GSM monitoring is also used where there is no possibility of a landline such as yachts, cruisers, caravans and even campers.

Please note most ARC’s will not let you use Pay As You Go (PAYG) sim cards. You need to use a normal monthly tariff low data use sim card as the PAYG sim cards normally run out of credit and not tell the ARC or the user that the sim card is useless until topped up. Some alarm suppliers include a sim card as standard that can then be activated on installation.

Do not rely on the customer for a sim card on installation. Unless the customer already has the working sim card in their hand you may end up making two visits for one installation. Far simpler to provide a sim card.

Next issue…
Will include the digital age of signalling using GPRS and broadband monitoring using cameras combined detectors and also how to easily increase your monthly revenue using wireless alarms and monitoring services.

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