Monitored Alarm Introduction
Each year, businesses lose billions of dollars to theft and vandalism. These losses aren't limited to the loss of merchandise and equipment: they include the disclosure of personal information that customers trust you to keep private.
Many companies also experience a significant amount of loss from internal theft. As uncomfortable as it might seem, you need to make sure you can protect your business from employees who find new meaning in "taking their work home."
Monitored commercial alarm systems offer an inexpensive way to protect your business. Once you find a vendor and determine what works best, you can get set up with one right away - sometimes in a single workday. And learning how to use it is a breeze.
This BuyerZone Monitored Alarm System Buyer's Guide takes you through the basics, available options, a review of commercial security system companies, and the costs of getting a system installed.
To begin your search, the first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the many basic features of the alarm system itself. These are common to almost all modern systems and protect against a wide range of intrusions and damage.
Security Alarm Basic Features
When companies consider monitored burglar alarm systems, it's usually for one of two reasons. Either they're getting a system installed for the first time, or they just experienced the loss and disruption to business operations caused by robbery, vandalism, or a break-in.
Monitored burglar alarm systems help deter burglars, discourage employee theft, and ensure employee safety. Composed of a series of devices that detect unauthorized entry, a monitored alarm sends a signal to a central monitoring station when an intruder is detected. These nationwide monitoring centers provide continuous service - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year - and alert local police to dispatch authorities to the scene as necessary.
A basic monitored burglar alarm system includes:
Control panels. This is the power source of the entire system. Typically, the control panel is hidden from plain sight – located in the roof or server closet – and is connected to all other alarm components including a standard phone line. Although the majority of professionals used to use traditional phone lines for their security systems, 99% of commercial systems are Internet-based, and 1% are cellular.
Security keypads. These are installed outside the main entrance and allow employees to get in and out of the office. A digital display notes whether the system is armed or disarmed. If equipped with a dual-communication (two-way) system, people at the central monitoring station can talk directly through this device to check if a person who has tripped the alarm is authorized to be there. Additional panels can be set up and installed in other locations throughout the company for a fee (up to $100 per extra keypad).
Motion detectors. Also known as passive infrared (PIR) detectors, these devices trip the alarm by sensing changes in the infrared energy levels when an intruder is in the area.
Door and window contacts. These magnetic devices are placed along door jambs and window frames to trigger the alarm system if opened.
Glassbreak sensors. The sensors identify the acoustic shock waves of glass breaking and set off the system.
Sirens. These loud horns can be attached to the inside and outside of the building and may include strobe lights to draw immediate attention to the intrusion.
Hard wired vs. wireless
Monitored alarms are available in hard-wired and wireless formats depending on dealer availability and customer preference. If your office has existing wiring from a previous alarm system, it's easy to add a monitored alarm to it. Otherwise, a wireless system is considered more practical - you don't have to disturb the work area with drilling or lifting floors or carpets.
While the security keypad will be in plain sight of potential intruders and employees, the main control panel, which is the brains of the system, is typically installed in closets or backrooms. This helps minimize the risk of intruders or disgruntled employees disabling the system.
Wireless has become much more common than hard-wired systems because the technology gives owners control over their features. Live wireless communication through touch screen color panels allows you to communicate instantaneously to the monitor system. Some automation systems even include a remote control camera that can send images via email or text message.
Instant alarm vs. audible delay systems
Home alarms typically use loud horns or sirens to scare intruders and to alert neighbors to call the authorities. With your business, you really can't depend on the kindness of other people since most neighboring businesses are likely to be empty, too, when an alarm sounds. Still, many companies choose the loud alarm system to frighten intruders off the premises before they can cause any damage to the infrastructure or property.
An alternative is to install an audible delay system that first triggers the alarm before setting off any sirens. This setup is designed to help authorities catch the perpetrator while committing the crime. For example, you could snag disgruntled ex-employees who sneak into the office after hours to steal equipment or to sabotage your computers.
Though a professional alarm system seller will be able to advise you on the best level of protection for your facility, it's a good idea to have a familiarity with some of the more popular options available for advanced protection.
Other Security Features & Add-ons
In addition to your basic monitored burglar alarm system, you have other options to protect your service in the event of system failure and to enhance your level of protection.
Most monitored burglar alarm systems offer a 24-hour backup component that kicks in should your phone lines get cut. A radio or cellular backup system will send a signal to the central monitoring station that the phone line was dropped. If you lose all electrical power, a backup battery system will keep your alarm up and running.
A backup system is also essential if your company relies on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as your primary phone system. Most alarm systems are considered unreliable and incompatible with VoIP since the technology is not mandated by the same FCC standards as POTS; VoIP customers require a backup system (such as a cellular based system) for the monitored signal to go through. If you have VoIP, in the event of a power failure, you'll need a backup system for the switch, router and VoIP to keep service uninterrupted.
A two-way monitoring system allows the central monitoring station to instantly communicate with your office. Your security keypad acts as an intercom system, so the monitoring service can verify an employee's identity if they accidentally trip the alarm.
Open and close schedule monitoring
There are two ways to track who has opened and closed your office. The first is a supervised system that tells you who armed or disarmed the security system at the exact time it occurs. The central monitoring station can also notify someone if the system is left off.
In contrast, a non-supervised system simply keeps track of when the alarm is armed and disarmed, but you need to call the central monitoring station for the status.
While a homeowner can simply add a smoke detector to their existing burglar alarm system, it's not so simple for a business. Commercial fire alarms must adhere to strict guidelines set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Video surveillance. To monitor what's going on, supplement your monitored burglar alarm system with a wide range of surveillance equipment, from a single video camera and monitorto complex closed circuit television (CCTV) systems with several cameras, multiple operators, and digital recorders.
For more information on video surveillance and to get quotes for video surveillance, see our "Video Surveillance" section.
A burglar alarm system where employees use special cards to gain access into the office or restricted areas, allowing you to track when they enter and leave your office. The cards feature magnetic strips or other technologies for use with a system mounted outside the locked door.
For more information on access control and to get quotes for access control, see our "Access Control" section.
An alarm is often only as good as the service that's keeping tabs on it. Here are some of the primary differences between the two main classes of sellers, as well as the standards and third-party credentials you should expect from each type.
Monitoring Business Alarm Systems
While the business alarm system will detect intrusion, the central monitoring station is the force that actually protects your company. As a result, understanding the role of the central station should be an important part of your purchasing process.
The control panel is pre-programmed with your business information and connected to your phone lines. When your business alarm system is tripped, the control panel sends the relevant details to the central monitoring station wirelessly or via standard phone lines. Within seconds, the central station will call your office – or speak through the security keypad if you have dual-communication monitoring – to see if anything is wrong.
If they reach a live person, they'll ask for a passcode to confirm the person belongs there. If they don't hear the right passcode, or if they get no answer, they will immediately send authorities the scene. The central station will also contact the designated keyholder - someone in the company responsible for determining if there's been a break-in.
Smaller vs. larger security companies
While many small monitored alarm companies license the services of third-party central monitoring stations, larger companies have their own central stations that can simultaneously watch over thousands of homes and businesses. The larger companies may cost more than their smaller counterparts or third-party administrators because they are held to a higher standard through verification from the independent, non-profit Underwriters' Laboratories (UL). Large monitored alarm companies pay for the UL to test their products and services for maximum safety and reliability.
Internally managed central stations are required to contact authorities within 45 seconds of the alarm going off. And should they lose power, they must provide a second power source station, or a backup generator with 10-15 days of reserve power.
Keep in mind that a central station might not even be in your state. That's generally not a problem, but you'll want to find out how the central station operates to know how they will monitor your alarm system.
How central stations help reduce false alarms
False alarms are a growing concern nationwide, and the industry and authorities continually focus on preventing them. Make no mistake about it: the protection and safety of your business is important, but bringing authorities to the scene when they’re not required ties up resources that could be needed for high priority situations.
An audible delay alarm - typically 45-60 seconds before it goes off - can help prevent false alarms. This option gives an authorized employee or visitor enough time to provide the appropriate passcode or verify who they are before the central monitoring station contacts authorities.
Even cellular backups have ways to avoid potential false alarm calls. The backup will alert the monitoring station when there is a problem with the regular phone line. The monitoring station will call your company's keyholder who will check out the offices and see what the problem is. Only if they discover that someone tampered with the phone lines would the police be dispatched to the scene.
With a firm grip on the basics of service available, it's time to compare a few sellers and see how they stack up to your needs.
Evaluating Security Sellers
Despite the millions of businesses throughout the country that have a monitored commercial alarm system, there are fewer than 10 companies that actually manufacture the monitoring equipment. These companies provide the equipment for the thousands of monitored commercial alarm system sellers that sell and install the systems.
These sellers range from large corporations who maintain their own sales forces and local offices to smaller resellers that work as authorized third-party installers for the large corporations or as independent security companies.
Regardless of whether you decide to go large or small, your seller will typically provide all-inclusive services that cover equipment and monitoring service.
Keep in mind that while many monitored commercial alarm system installers provide name-brand or private label equipment compatible with most central monitoring stations, some companies may install proprietary systems - equipment that only works with their licensed monitoring stations.
There may also be master programming and lockout codes that prevent you from making any adjustments to your system, like changing codes on your own or switching monitoring services when your contract has ended. Make sure you have full access to these codes if you own your equipment.
How to choose a commercial alarm system seller
When you're ready to buy a monitored commercial alarm system, talk to a few different companies before having anything installed. They will conduct risk assessments to determine what your security challenges are and how to address them.
A reputable commercial alarm system company should meet with you in person - never exclusively by phone - to determine the best system for you. They will look at your facilities, discuss your needs and possible limitations, and suggest similar solutions that have worked for their other customers.
Get quotes from three to four different installers. Make sure you get all pricing quotes in writing - including setup, equipment, monthly monitoring fees, and warranties. The first company you speak to may seem to have a fantastic deal, but don't sign anything just yet. Take your time and meet with a few more companies and find out who offers the best balance of price and security. Focus on value, not the bottom line.
Once you receive quotes and narrow down your search, get references from each seller - previous clients who gave permission to be contacted about that seller's service. Find out why a company chose a particular seller and ask questions about their quality of service:
- Did they install quickly, in the timeframe they guaranteed?
- Were they readily available if you had any problems?
- Did they provide sufficient training for you and your employees?
- Were the contracts clear and straightforward?
- If you ever experienced an intrusion, did the central station quickly dispatch authorities?
- Will you receive notice ahead of time if the alarm company sells your contract off to another central station?
Before you sign a contract, review it with a fine-toothed comb. Pay special attention to all fees and make sure they are legitimate. A common hidden fee is one to connect to the central station - most of the time, this is a charge already built into the pricing.
The web is full of "professionals" who promise an impressive array of services at an unbelievable price. Watch out for the following sales tactics.
Alarm System Scams & Trunk Slammers
Trunk slammers have given door-to-door salespeople in this industry a negative reputation. These "trunk slammers" earned their nickname by selling alarm systems directly out of their cars, then slamming the trunk and driving away.
Truthfully, most door-to-door sales professionals are legitimate. Larger companies use this door-to-door method successfully to close sales across the country. You’ll simply want to ask to verify the sales rep’s identification and find out if they are licensed representatives for your area.
Some typical problems you should look out for when buying from a door-to-door sales professional:
1. The alarm system isn't necessarily free
The equipment may be leased with fees that are built into the monthly pricing that the trunk slammer doesn't explain when going over the contract with you. Once the contract is up, the alarm company can take the equipment back if you don't renew.
2. The contracts sometimes don't stay with the company represented.
Trunk slammers will buy several alarm systems from a larger company at a deep discount. They then sign up any potential customer they can find and sell the signed contracts to the alarm company. The customers aren't told who they can turn to for service - and then don't know who to contact if they have questions or problems.
Before you hire any seller you’re considering, make sure you research them with outside organizations like the Better Business Bureau, the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), or your Attorney General’s office. These organizations can provide information on service quality and whether they are properly licensed at the local and state level. Legitimate sellers should have no problem providing you with their license or a list of references.
Despite the temptation, don't go with any company simply because of the promise of the cheapest alarm system equipment and setup.
Make sure you get the best deal on your monitored alarm system by reviewing the list of pricing data we've compiled.
Monitored Alarm Pricing
Monitored commercial alarm system companies live by the credo of "a dollar a day" - that's how little it costs to maintain a monitored alarm system for your company.
Monitored alarm pricing
Standard monthly fees will make up a portion of your security system cost and typically are $25-$50 per month. Dual communication capabilities such as cellular backup system in case phone line is disabled will typically add about $10 to your monthly service fees. Tracking systems like open and close schedule monitoring can run you an extra $250-$600 per year. Dual tech sensor systems cost an extra $50-$250 per year. Remote controls can incur an extra fee ($25-$200), but wireless systems enable remote control at no extra cost.
The initial setup fees vary based on the type of equipment installed, the number of individual security devices included, and the size of the company. Expect to pay $100-$4,000 for installation and equipment, with the higher end being for more comprehensive systems. Generally, a higher installation fee means an upfront charge for equipment.
Installing a wireless monitored commercial alarm system is generally a four to eight hour job, assuming you have a smaller company, such as a 2,000 sq ft storefront. A 100,000 sq ft warehouse is a considerably larger job, and may take a few weeks.
Contracts can be month-to-month, but the standard is a three-year obligation. The contract will guarantee that your fees will not increase and indicate what your rights are. Keep in mind that breaking the contract before it expires will result in hefty penalties - from 75 percent of the fees due to the full amount.
Most basic monitored commercial alarm system equipment - door contacts, motion detectors, glass break sensors - is provided as part of your contract, and you get to keep it after the contract expires. For those companies who lease equipment, you'll likely pay $300 - $500 per year, which can be built into your monthly fees.
Some local police departments require annual permits to have a monitored commercial alarm system. There are typically two permits you will need: a state monitoring permit with local police and an electrical permit to install and monitor the alarm system. There may also be a low-voltage alarm permit mandated by the city. The costs are negligible - between $5 and $40 per year.
Commercial alarm system warranties
Warranties vary: some companies will provide warranties that range from one year up to the life of the contract; others offer only a 90-day installation warranty covering all parts and labor. Avoid a commercial alarm system that does not include a warranty. It doesn't matter if it's an initial 90-day period or the full duration of the standard three-year contract.
Once your warranty expires, you can purchase an additional maintenance and repair agreement to cover any service requests or repairs to your commercial alarm system. Otherwise, you have to pay a trip fee when a service crew is sent out, in addition to any parts and labor.
Monitored fire alarm pricing
Businesses looking for fire protection must install commercial fire alarm systems that comply with NFPA building codes and occupational health requirements. These codes determine the specific fire alarm components you need to install based on your industry and location. As with monitored alarms, you need to connect your fire alarm to a central monitoring service.
Fire alarm pricing is based on total square footage. You'll pay $1 to $5 per square foot of office space, and as much as $10 to $25 per square foot for a complex installation such as a fire alarm system that requires a new sprinkler system. Monthly monitoring service costs $40 to $50 with maintenance agreements running an extra $5 to $10 per month.
For more information about purchasing a fire alarm system, read our Fire Alarms Buyer's Guide.
Security Alarm System Setup Tips
Don't call 911. It's illegal to set your security monitoring alarm up to call 911 if the system is set off. Doing so can result in a large fine and possibly jail time.
Beneficial savings. While a security monitoring alarm is required by most insurance companies, it's not without its benefits. Business owners can save as much as 10-20% on their insurance by verifying they have a monitoring alarm in place.
Change is good. If changes need to be made to your security monitoring alarm system - such as new passcodes - most alarm companies will either make the adjustments for you, or allow you to make changes on your end. This is very important if you decide to terminate an employee who is caught stealing or trespassing and need to eliminate that person's access.
Have no fear. Ask about security monitoring alarm systems with a duress signal option. If you are ever forced to let an intruder into your business and you have to disable the alarm, entering a duress code indicates to the central monitoring station that you were forced to provide access into your company.
Training your staff. Once your security monitoring alarm is installed, you need to make sure that everyone in the company knows how to use it. In most cases, it's very easy and a matter of learning a few buttons. Most sellers can train those in the company in charge of the alarm in just 10-20 minutes. They can then get the rest of the company together and show them how to use codes and how to arm and disarm the system - all in about 45 minutes.
Authorized personnel only. You can assign individual passcodes to allow different internal and external groups to enter your business. This allows you to track which people come in and when. It's also beneficial, for example, when a cleaning crew might come in after everyone has gone home for the evening.
Communication is key. Security monitoring alarm sellers are required to ask about your communication system and find out if you use a system other than POTS. If they don't, they could be liable for any losses you experience should the security monitoring alarm signal not go through. But communication is a two-way street. If you make changes to your system, such as converting your company's POTS to VoIP, it's only right that you let your monitored alarm company know so they can test the system.