True cost of alarm monitoring

Having an intruder alarm installed is a sure-fire way to discourage burglars from attempting to break into your home. If two identical houses are being targeted by villains, you can be sure that, if one has an alarm and the other doesn't, the unprotected property will be the favoured option.

Beyond the basic alarm sounding, what other options are available so that an absent homeowner can be notified that a burglary is taking place? How can an alarm system be monitored for status and activation?

Most alarm companies will offer 3rd party alarm monitoring, where notifications from the system can be routed to a 24 hours-a-day listening-in station. When a confirmed activation is received, the receiving centre will contact the designated responders/keyholders to inform them. There is also the option of asking for a police response if a successful application has been made to the local force. This, of course, is subject to the availability of police officers in the area. Given the unknown response time for the police, some alarm companies offer a response from private mobile security officers, although their exact roles and response times may vary, and certainly their powers under the law are significantly less than the police could call on. There is little evidence to support how effective these private response teams are and how much of a deterrent they could provide in a real-life scenario. Will they turn up? What can they actually do when they get there? Is the cost of monitoring worth it?

Naturally, all these extra services and add-ons are not free. You will generally pay anywhere between £20-£40/month for the support of 3rd party monitoring and response services. And ultimately if you decide to cancel the monitoring, the alarm may become unusable. Systems sold very cheaply or installed for free, rely on the income from third party monitoring, and can suddenly stop working - unbeknown to the home owner the alarm is worthless to them once they cancel the payment.

The control and functionality of alarm systems have taken great leaps forward since the advent of the internet. The norm these days is to administer and control systems via mobile phone apps. The use and sophistication of these app-based set-ups is growing year on year, and the traditional, fixed control unit is losing favour because of this. Whilst traditional systems can operate notification protocols and can incorporate 3rd party monitoring, the advent of instant internet network protocol messaging has moved the game forward and allowed end users to access far more options than before. It is perfectly possible for several people to be notified almost instantly by your alarm when an activation occurs, and it's also possible for a system owner to update the messaging contact list at will, with no extra charges involved. Indeed, the trend in free self-monitoring for homeowners or renters via secure network protocols, is certainly gaining popularity, as the perceived value of 3rd party paid-for services declines.

It is, however, a different story for commercial properties, where insurance companies will normally require policy-holders to engage certified alarm monitoring services, regardless of the nature of the control system.

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