How Alarm Systems Work

How Alarm Systems Work

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In this video, Jorge discusses how alarm systems are used. These systems consist of several essential components that work together to monitor a building. A complete security system can monitor a building for intrusions, fires, medical emergencies and more. It can communicate with a central station.

At the center of every security system is an alarm control panel. This is the central hub and the brains for the rest of the system. All sensors and other added devices will communicate with the control panel. Whenever a sensor is faulted, it will send a signal to the control panel. The system will then respond depending upon the settings for that zone. This can include initiating an alarm event.

If the system goes into alarm, then it will send an outbound signal using an alarm communicator. Most modern alarm communicators use either WIFI or cellular to send outbound signals. Some systems have both WIFI and cellular capabilities, effectively making them dual-path systems. Depending on the user's monitoring plan, the system will communicate with a central monitoring station, an interactive service platform, or both.

When most people think of alarm monitoring, they picture central station monitoring. This means that the system send signals to a central monitoring station during alarm events. These stations operate 24/7/365. Whenever an alarm occurs, a highly trained dispatcher will see the alert and immediately contact the end user or the local authorities. This will ensure that the end user gets the help that they need as quickly as possible.

But not all systems are connected with a central station. Instead, some users have their systems configured for self-monitoring. This means that the system sends alerts to an interactive service platform. Some popular platforms for this purpose include Total Connect 2.0 and The end user will then receive a text and/or email alert to let them know about the situation. It will then be up to the end user to contact the necessary authorities.

Keep in mind that you can certainly have your system send you text and email alerts and notify a central station during alarm events. In fact, this is the setup used by most of our customers. If you would like to learn more about alarm monitoring, please check out our monitoring page on the Alarm Grid website.


Hey, DIYers. I'm Jorge from Alarm Grid. Today, I'm going to be going over how alarm systems work. So alarm systems work by sending out a signal to a monitoring station, or to the interactive platform-- depending what plan you get-- whenever a sensor or a zone is faulted. The sensor then reports to the authorities. And then the dispatch, or the police department, fire department-- whatever-- proper authorities that need to be dispatched get sent out, depending on what kind of monitoring you have. And you also just need to make sure that the alarm system you're using has a way to send out those signals.

Most alarm systems nowadays use either POTS, but we're slowly now moving over to internet and setting their systems only. So for instance, the alarm system has central hubs. Central hubs is the main part of the alarm system. So what you're going to see, all of these here are wireless systems. These are all the central hubs. And then the one of the older style systems is one of the wired systems that has the keypads out in the field, by the front door, backdoor. But the main hub is usually in the beige metal cabinet, which is like this VISTA panel that we have over here.

This is the general, or the typical wired system, all the wires going into it. You can have wireless devices, you just need a wireless receiver. So what is the purpose of an alarm system? The purpose of the system is to notify you or the authorities whenever an alarm goes off.

Now there's different sensors for different applications. These systems can send out different signals. So the systems can send out Berg signals, which will dispatch the police department if you're being monitored. You can also have the fire department dispatch, if you're being monitored, and the medical department-- the ambulance-- dispatch whenever you guys have a medical pedant, or anything like that.

Now, there's different kind of sensors that will notify, or depending on what the response type is that you set it to, will notify the authorities or yourself on the type of alarm that's going off. So for instance, for Bergs-- for Berg signals-- we usually have door, windows, motion sensors, glass break sensors, and panic buttons.

For fire department, we have smokes, CO detectors, you also have a fire panic. And for medical, you also have medical pendants. You have a medical panic on the system, more than likely. There is also key fobs. The key fobs can be set to set different panics and arm and disarm the system.

Now, the different sensors that you can add to these systems, they can be wired or wireless, depending on-- first of all, if they're wired, you need to make sure you have either a wired system, or your wireless system has some wire terminals built in. And if you're going to do wireless sensors, you need to make sure that your system has a wireless receiver.

Now for the wired systems, you need to add that as a separate part. For the wireless systems, they usually have the receivers already built in. A lot of these are the wireless ones, and then the wired one was the VISTA panel that I pointed to earlier.

Now what happens when a sensor is faulted or triggered? So whenever a sensor is faulted, opened-- for instance, if you guys open up a door or a window, the first thing that the sensor does is it sends out a signal. The system acts as a receiver. And it receives that signal. And then, depending on what you have it programmed as, it can either set off an alarm, it can start a delay period. It can set off the alarm right away.

So what I mean by setting off the alarm right away and doing a delay period is that if you guys are entering in through the front door and you guys have a sensor there, you obviously don't want the alarm to go off, especially if that's the door you guys use to enter the house every single time. Because then, the alarm is going to go off every single time.

You can program sensors to have a delay period so it gives you a certain time to get to the alarm system to disarm it. You can also set some sensors to set off an alarm immediately. So for instance, if you have a window on the second floor, nobody should be opening that window up while the system is armed. So you guys can automatically set it to set the alarm off.

Another thing you guys can do, for instance, if you guys have any panic buttons or anything like that, those can be programmed to set the alarm off right away. So there's different kinds of programs that you guys can do on the sensors. Depending on what your is programmed as is going to basically tell the system whether it should report out to the central station right away, or if it should hold onto the signal for a couple of seconds before notifying the central station or you, if you have the interactive service through the app.

So now what happens when an alarm occurs on a system? Well, the first thing that the system does, if you're monitored by a central station, is it's going to send the signal directly to the central station monitoring center, to the dispatch center. And a proper, well-trained dispatcher should receive that signal within, I'd say, about 15 to 20 seconds. That's giving them enough time to read the signal, let them know what's going on, what sensor it is that's going off-- going down the call list, getting everything ready.

They'll go ahead and start calling. And they'll let you know, hey, your front door alarm seems to be going off. Are you home? You then need to provide the dispatcher with the proper false alarm password if it is a false alarm. If it's not a false alarm, obviously, you probably want to have them send the police department over to your house to make sure what's going on.

Now, if you're being self-monitored, what happens if an alarm occurs? Well, if you're doing self-monitoring-- meaning, you only have an interactive app-- well, the app can be set to send you email or text message alerts. These email and text message alerts, depending on how many you have set up, can go to multiple people-- can go to one person-- depends on what you guys set it as. But most of these systems, in order to have an interactive app, do need to have an internet or a cellular communicator.

Now, this goes for both the self-monitoring and the central station monitoring. Now in days, more often what you'll see, is that these alarm systems are using cellular and internet communicators, which means that is what they're using to communicate to the central station or to the app. They're using a cellular path, or an internet path.

If you guys are doing the interactive app, phone line will not work with that. Phone line only works for traditional style central station monitoring. And we also cover that. But nowadays, we're pretty much trying to get our people to go to internet and cellular, as that's more reliable than phone line. So if you guys are doing self-monitoring, you guys can set up emails and text messages. And the alarm signal will not go to a central station if you're doing self-monitoring only, because that's not the way that the system is programmed.

So you guys can choose and decide what you guys are looking for. Some people find that central station monitoring is better for them if they live in the city. Some other people that live in suburban areas find that the closest police station is 30, 40 minutes away. So they'd rather just get self-monitored text messages and take the action into their own hands-- which is not recommended. We always recommend central station monitoring. But we do offer both plans, depending on what you guys plan to do.

If you guys have any more questions about the alarm systems-- how they work, how they send out signals-- if you guys have questions about our monitoring plans, feel free to email us at If you found the video helpful, make sure you Like underneath. Subscribe to the YouTube channel and enable notifications, so whenever we upload new videos, you guys get notified. I'm Jorge, and I'll see you guys next time.