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You can’t escape it: security companies extolling the benefits of their alarm monitoring services.  You see yard signs of various companies as you drive down the road as well as banners on the internet pages you visit.  But most prevalent lately, now that cable providers have entered the market, are the commercials on your television set.

But please take notice when they are running—there’s usually small print at the bottom of the screen.  It contains issues such as contract length and much more.

Tentralarm is a third-party alarm monitoring services provider.

Since you don’t have time to read all of that print, and since we’re all bombarded with marketing messages on a daily basis, we thought we’d break down five areas on which you can concentrate when choosing an alarm monitoring company.

1. Contract Length.  This is a subjective category, but there certainly are general parameters that we can discuss.  Not all security integrators institute a contract, but a majority does.  A common timeframe is one or two years.  When you start approaching the three-year mark and beyond, you may want to seriously consider your decision.

After all, when you factor in price, as we’ll discuss next, three to five years of being locked in at high rates can really put the pinch on—especially when you could end up being unhappy with the alarm monitoring service.

2. Price.  Price can be a tricky issue, so we’d like to explain the different layers that make up the total amount of your monitoring fee.

Always ask what your provider’s base monitoring rate is, so you know you’ll be comparing “apples to apples” when making your inquires to different companies.

In other words, one security integrator may have a base rate of $17 per month for residential monitoring services, but it will most likely increase when you add a service such as cellular back up.  This service protects you if your telephone lines, upon which the security system is typically primarily based, become disabled.  Your security panel will still be able to communicate with the monitoring company via cellular (also referred to as radio) methods.

As for businesses, their base rates can be increased for features such as supervised or unsupervised open and close reports.  These indicate if a store was opened on time or even if it was opened at all in the morning.  If an employee works alone for the closing shift and you’re concerned about safety as the business owner, a closing report will indicate that the system was armed at the correct time as scheduled.

3. Equipment.  Obviously, there can’t be alarm monitoring services without security equipment.  One important question to ask your potential provider is if the equipment it installs is proprietary or non-proprietary.

Non-proprietary security equipment is most beneficial to the customer.  This means that when you decide to part ways with your security provider for any given reason, another company will be able to service the currently installed equipment seamlessly and at no extra labor expense to you. 

Some security companies use proprietary equipment, especially in terms of their security panel, and the next integrator that you choose to take over would not be able to service their equipment.  A new security panel would have to be purchased and installed in this case, and possibly several other components as well.

A conclusion could be drawn that some security companies simply don’t “play nice” and may try and make their customers feel locked-in to their service due to proprietary equipment and the aforementioned long-term contracts.

Quite often, the customer does not even own the equipment—it is leased by the company.  It could actually be required to be surrendered at the end of the contract (although this is often not the case). 

4. The Security Company.  When it comes to burglar, fire and environmental monitoring, there are typically two entities.  There’s a security integrator who installs and services your equipment, and there’s a monitoring company that receives the alarm signal from your security panel and subsequently dispatches authorities and notifies your call list.

When choosing your security company (integrator), besides taking into consideration the above-mentioned issues, there are other things to consider.

Ask if the company uses subcontractors to install and service equipment.  You may not want to use a company that doesn’t even employ its own people to come into your home or business.  They are likely not trained as well on the equipment, for example.

Also, be sure the business has a main office that you can visit in person if necessary.  Make sure it doesn’t operate out of a home or even the trunk of a car!

Check for memberships with security and fire-related associations and with the chamber of commerce as well.

5. The Monitoring Company.  Ask your security provider if the monitoring company (often referred to as a central station) is UL-listed.  Also ask if it has a redundant location in case severe weather and/or widespread power outages cause a break in service at one location.

We hope you are now better prepared to approach security companies and ask about their alarm monitoring services.  As you can now see, there’s a lot more that goes into making a decision than watching a 30-second commercial or driving by some lawn signs.

Thanks for spending some time with us today.

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