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An alarm system is only as safe as its communication link to monitoring station
December 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm #8898
To be quite frank, there is no such thing as a safe system. I have been in the data industry for the last 22 years and have not truly come across such a system. Let me know if you have? Any alarm system (does not matter how well they try to promote them, with fancy detectors, multiple zones, multiple monitoring control rooms, best rated response time in the country, radio transmitters, broadband, telephone backup and infra red beams, etc.), is only as good as its communications link back to the monitoring control room. If the data is not received by the security controllers, the alarm may as well never have been activated.
Here is a few things to consider, the security of the communications link back to the monitoring station. How secure is this data because it contains all the vital information such as, site address, zones etc. If your alarm system loses its connection with the security company/monitoring system, how will this system know that your alarm is offline (not connected to the system). If you have an intruder/s inside your dwelling at 03:00 in the morning, you would expect you alarm system to raise the alarm with your service provider. But what if the intruders overcame your communications link/s, prior to entering your property?
So you need to ask a few questions and one of these questions must include the following: how often does my security company check my communications link, once a day, twice a day or once a month. If the answer to this is anything less than 288 and upwards times a day then you should be concerned about the reliability of such a system. Unfortunately we place all our trust in such systems, but the day will come when you really require your distress message to be acknowledged, but due to communications link failure this will not be.
December 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm #8899
Thanks for indicating your concern about the reliability of an alarm panel’s communication link. I will try to provide you with a better understanding of the various alarm monitoring services offered, as well as the different means in which alarm signals reach the monitoring station.
The least expensive monitoring service is provided using an unsupervised telephone line, such as those typically found in your home. If someone cuts your telephone line, you cannot call out for help and neither can your alarm panel. If your panel has been programmed to send a “self-test report”, a possible problem in the communication link is only recognized once the panel fails to “check in”.
If the periodic test report by your alarm panel is sent to the monitoring station once every 24 hours at 02:00 a.m. in the morning, but your telephone line was cut at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, your monitoring station MIGHT be aware of a possible issue 12 hours after the fact when the “self-test” is missed due to the lack of a functional telephone line.
I’ve indicated that the central station MIGHT be aware of your telephone line-cut problem because of your monitoring service agreement; the least expensive monitoring service contracts only require that the monitoring station treat the alarm signals that they actually RECEIVE.
You are not paying the additional costs involved with the added service or equipment necessary with trying to ENSURE that your alarm panel’s signals reach the monitoring station.
You’ve made an excellent point: it is very important for consumers to verify what their monitoring contract provides as to the frequency and response to any missed periodic test signals. Most people NEVER test their alarm systems; how will they know if their alarm will be able to work in the case of an emergency, particularly if their service provider has their panels testing once a month?
Therefore, only opt for unsupervised telephone line monitoring once you know and understand the risks and concerns involved. This type of contract is considered “low-level security”; however, look for alarm companies that provide you with notice that it’s been “24 – 48 hours since we last heard from your panel” and be expected to pay a little more than others who don’t provide this service.
Let’s look at more secure monitoring services: I will assume that your definition of a “safe alarm system” means one “that provides an immediate indication to security personnel of a lack of communication between the alarm control panel and the central monitoring station receiver”.
Contrary to your belief, there are several options that will completely satisfy the requirement posed by your question: “How will this system know that your alarm is offline (not connected to the system)?”
The alarm industry standard used to be a unique and special, dedicated telephone line for the alarm panel known as a DVAC line (Digital Voice Access Control System). One cannot make personals calls on a DVAC line; its use is reserved exclusively for the alarm panel.
The DVAC line has polling capability, continually sending communication back-and-forth to the monitoring station 24 hours a day. If the DVAC line does get cut, the monitoring station is immediately aware of the loss of the communication once the constant DVAC polling suddenly stops.
However, the monitoring station won’t know what’s happening at your home or if there is an actual alarm in progress, since no alarm information can be transmitted over a cut DVAC line. Dependant upon how your alarm response procedure is set-up, immediate calls will be made by the monitoring station operators to your home and cell phone, and/or the Police will be dispatched, to determine what caused the communication break-down.
I’ve only indicated the DVAC line as a point of reference; I don’t recommend the DVAC line anymore as it is slowly being phased out and replaced with newer technology which offers additional advantages over DVAC.
Internet monitoring offers the same polling capabilities as a dedicated DVAC line. You must have a back-up power supply for your router to help ensure that your internet connection continues to function during a power failure. Additionally, internet monitoring allows you to add modules and plug-ins to your alarm system so that you can interface with your home security system over the internet on a webpage or through a Smartphone or tablet.
You can also receive e-mails and text messages from different events such as an alarm, trouble condition or your child returning home from school and disarming your alarm system. You can arm and disarm your security system from your Smartphone. There are additional fees involved with setting up and using these features, which are all available with a more secure means of monitoring through the internet.
Finally, there are wireless communicators such as radio or cellular. These services each come in two formats – “regular” and more secure “supervised heartbeats”.
“Regular” radio or cellular monitoring relies on these two different wireless networks to transmit alarm signals. Periodic test signals are typically sent once every 24 hours using “regular” wireless services.
The wireless communicator can also supervise the telephone line; if there is a telephone line present that does get cut, the wireless communicator will instantly forward notice of this event to the monitoring station. Alarm signals are typically received in 15 seconds or less.
For the highest level, most secure and therefore, most expensive means of alarm panel communication to the monitoring station, both of these wireless communication formats (cellular and radio) can include “supervisory heartbeats.”
As the term implies “supervised heartbeats” allow wireless communicators to emulate the polling found in DVAC or internet monitoring by sending “self-check signals” at timed intervals, typically every five minutes or less, 24/7.
So you can have your request for a “safe alarm” by using one or more of these more secure means of alarm transmission which includes polling or supervised heartbeats.
However, you’ll still need to design a proper security system and install it in such as a way that its most vital components and its communicators aren’t easily compromised.
December 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm #8902
So does Frontpoint offer supervised heartbeats or regular as I am seriously considering front point to replace my existing 12 year old system.
December 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm #8903
Excellent question, we asked them the same thing and here’s the response from FrontPoint on polling:
“Typically, our system expects to hear from each cellar radio on a regular basis, using something called “Ping Frequency.” It is important to note that “Ping Frequency” really means the timeframe across which the system must see ZERO pings before it initiates an automated ping process to determine if a panel is not responding. The system will then ping an alarm panel’s cellular module every 3-5 hours, depending on the GSM network the radio is on (ATandT vs. T-Mobile). This only occurs if the radio has NOT sent anything else. Once that time period is reached, we will send 3 pings to the unit 50 minutes apart. 50 minutes after the last ping attempt, we will flag the panel as “Panel Not Responding” and send the signal to the central station. In reality, the ping frequency is really 3-5 hours.”
December 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm #8904
Internet monitoring or wireless communicators can be added to your existing 12 year old alarm system. Do not spend additional money unless you need features that you presently don’t have.
I have clients with properly designed 20 year old security systems that are still performing perfectly today.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
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