How Do Alarm Systems Work?

Alarm Systems work by sending out signals to a central monitoring station when sensors are faulted. The central hub of an alarm system is the alarm control panel. All system sensors and other equipment communicate with the panel. The panel needs a communicator to send outbound signals.

The purpose of an alarm system is to let the user and the appropriate authorities know whenever there is an emergency. This includes an intrusion, fire, environmental problem or medical crisis. The system identifies these emergencies using various sensors. Some popular sensors for security systems include door and window contacts, motion detecting sensors, glass break sensors, smoke and heat detectors, flood sensors, temperature sensors and security key fobs. Sensors can be hardwired into a security system, or they can communicate wirelessly through the use of a wireless receiver.

When a sensor is activated or faulted, it sends an alert to the alarm control panel. The system will then respond based on the programming settings for that zone. For example, one sensor might only cause alarms if activated while the system is Armed, while others may cause alarms at any time, regardless of the current system status. Making sure that your sensors have the correct programming settings is very important. Zones can also be programmed to have a delay period, which gives the user a short period of time to Disarm the system before an alarm signal is sent out.

When an alarm does occur, the system sends out an alert to a central monitoring station. Most alarm systems today use an internet communicator or a cellular communicator to send out signals. There are also dual-path modules that use both IP and cellular communication. The central monitoring station operates around the clock, 24/7. A trained dispatcher will immediately notice the alarm and begin contacting the end user and/or the local authorities. If the dispatcher does not receive verification that the alarm was false, then the appropriate authorities will be sent out to the premises as soon as possible.

There is also what is referred to as self-monitoring. In this case, the alarm system does not contact a central monitoring station. Instead, it alerts the end user directly through a text message or email. This is done using an interactive service platform like Total Connect 2.0 or It is then up to the end user to contact the appropriate authorities. This can be a good option if the user is confident that they can quickly and consistently respond to texts or emails letting them know that something may be wrong. For more information about our monitoring plans, please review our alarm monitoring page.

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