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Response Alarm Systems

Before we go into the different sorts of response alarms, we'd like to make it clear that this article is not about the DIY Response Alarm system, miGuard range etc.

However, if you are looking for a DIY alarm system we've got a page on that just here.

This article will discuss the different types of response you can get from an alarm system, such as key-holder and police response (via an alarm receiving centre) and self-monitored responses direct from the alarm equipment, via SMS alerts, voice dialler or app notifications.

Let's dive straight in...

Key-holder response | Police response | Personal response | FAQs

Key-holder response alarms

What is it?

A keyholder response alarm is an intruder alarm system which is monitored 24/7 by a 3rd party alarm receiving centre (ARC). The staff at the ARC respond to your alarm activations by contacting you and your pre-defined list of key-holders.

This is not to be confused with a keyholding service, where a 3rd party manned security company have a set of keys for your property, although you could list a keyholding company as a point of contact in your key-holders list. More on that down the page.

keyholder response alarm

Who's it for?

Anyone with a professionally fitted grade 2 (minimum) alarm system can have key-holder response. If you're looking to have a new alarm fitted, speak to an accredited installer about your options.

How does it work?

The monitored alarm system is connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) via communication equipment installed in your alarm system's main control panel. The type of communication equipment is specific to each property and is determined by the alarm installation company during the site survey. This forms part of the security system design specification.

There are many different types of communication equipment, Redcare, Digi Com, CSL DigiAir, UDL Grade Shift etc. You don't need to be concerned about the detail of these items as this will be a decision for the installer based on a few factors specific to your property, i.e. security risk, insurance requirement, availability and quality of signalling path.

The communication equipment will communicate with the ARC via three different signalling paths:

  • GSM (mobile networks)
  • PSTN (landline)
  • IP (broadband connection)

Obviously, if you were in a very rural area where the mobile network strength was weak or non-existent the installer would not design your alarm system to use communication equipment which used a GSM signalling path.

When an alarm event is triggered, the communication device is programmed to alert the ARC.

It is then the operator's job at the ARC to respond to the alarm signal received and follow strict protocol.

For key-holder response alarms, the protocol is to contact your pre-selected list of key-holders in priority order.

As an example, if you were the property owner, you would be the first person the ARC operator would phone. Should you not answer, the operator would proceed to call the next key-holder on your key holder list, and continue until they reach someone who's then informed about the alarm activation.

When the ARC operator successfully contacts a key-holder, the key-holder must confirm their identity by stating their previously chosen password to the operator. A confirmed password is required to close down the call. Without a confirmed password, the operator will continue to call others key-holders on the list.

Key-holder alarm requirements

When setting up a key-holder response alarm, it is the alarm installation company's responsibility to provide the ARC with your key-holder list.

There are typically 4 people required to be listed on a key-holder list.

You, the property owner, will usually always be the first key-holder; often different for commercial premises who employ a guarding/key-holding company.

In a typical domestic key-holder response list, the people you choose should be able to get to the property within 20 minutes.

How much does key-holder response cost?

Keyholder response typically costs around £100 - £150 per year, although you may pay more if your installer includes an annual maintenance contract.

Get a quote for a key-holder response alarm system

A local NSI/SSAIB approved installer will provide a free no-obligation quotation.

Police response alarms

What is it?

A police response alarm is a monitored intruder alarm system which notifies the police in the event of an alarm activation.

police response alarm

Who's it for?

Police response alarms are typically required by contents insurance companies for properties with high value items such as banks, jewellers, museums, and residential properties with high value items.

Police response is only available on professionally monitored alarm systems, installed by a UKAS accredited electronic security systems company to EN 50131 standards.

Intruder alarm systems on police response will also require an annual maintenance contract, which includes 2 system inspections per year. With more advanced technology, one of these maintenance checks may be carried out remotely, offsite via remote access equipment.

How does it work?

Contrary to popular belief, Police response alarms are NOT DIRECTLY connected to the police.

Police response alarms are connected to an ARC in exactly the same way that key-holder response alarms are connected to an ARC.

The main difference is that properties alarmed with police response require a Unique Reference Number, more commonly referred to as a URN.

When an alarm is triggered at a property with a police response alarm, the ARC is notified in exactly the same way as a key-holder response alarm.

The ARC operator will contact the list of key-holders.

Only if the ARC receives a second alarm signal from the property, indicating that a second sensor has been tripped, thus confirming actual movement within the property, referred to as "confirmed alarm activation" will they inform the local county police force and activate a police response. The URN is then passed to the emergency services to provide exact details and location of the property.

BE AWARE: POLICE RESPONSE MAY NOT BE AS FAST AS EXPECTED*

Police response levels

*While the police are informed of the alarm activation the call will be prioritised against other emergency calls and unfortunately, due to most police constabularies being under resourced, a fast response is not always guaranteed.

In fact, if there are 3 levels of police response to intruder alarm systems:

  • Level 1: Immediate Response.
    Once installed and commissioned, a police response intruder alarm system will receive an immediate police response.
  • Level 2: Police attendance, resources permitting.
    If a police response alarm has more than 2 false alarms within a rolling 12 months period the response is downgraded to level 2, meaning the police will attend but response is not immediate.
    Only implemented in Scotland. Police constabularies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland no longer implement a level 2 response, instead they will downgrade immediately to level 3 if they are called to 3 false alarms within a rolling 12 month period.
  • Level 3: No police attendance, unless visual confirmation.
    Alarms downgraded to level 3 have no police response unless someone witnesses a crime/burglary in progress. Level 3 systems can regain a Level 1 response but only after a 3 month period free from false alarm call-outs.

Note: Be sure to inform your insurance company if your intruder alarm system is downgraded.
Although this will probably mean you'll have to pay a premium until you get re-instated to level 1 - at least you won't run the risk of voiding your insurance policy.

These response levels are set by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A full copy of the ACPO Design Document is available for download here.

How to apply for a URN

It is usually the job of the alarm installation company to apply for the URN on your behalf. The URN fee for intruder alarms is £43.49 plus VAT (£52.19) and usually takes around 10 working days to be processed.

Both NSI and SSIAB are UKAS accredited and therefore alarm companies belonging to either of these governing bodies can apply for a URN on your behalf.

How much does police response cost?

On top of a one-off charge for your URN, a police monitored alarm will likely cost somewhere between £250 and £350 per year. You may pay slightly more if an annual maintenance contract is included in your annual payment.

Get a quote for a police response alarm system

A local NSI/SSAIB approved installer will provide a free no-obligation quotation.

Personal response alarm (Self-monitoring)

What is it?

An alarm system which notifies you, the system owner, and others (optional), when it has been triggered.

Personal response alarm

How does it work?

The term "Self-monitoring" is a phrase used for alarm systems that notify you, the property owner, of alarm activations WITHOUT the need of an ARC. Technology acts as the middle-man to relay the message that your alarm has been triggered.

That technology works over IP, using your home broadband, or 3G/4G mobile networks, or a combination of them both.

SMS response via a GSM dialler is older technology but still works well and can be retro fitted to most grade 2 alarm panels.

App notifications

App notification response is newer technology and is supported by the major alarm manufactures, but can't usually be retrofitted to older alarm systems without the need of a panel/PCB upgrade.

Upgrading your existing system or choosing a smart alarm system that provides app control and push notifications is great as you can also remotely arm/disarm the system from anywhere. However, you can go one step further if you upgrade or choose a new smart alarm system with smart PIR motion sensors.

A smart PIR motion sensor is similar to a standard PIR motion sensor but has an in-built camera in which takes a sequence of photographs ONLY when the alarm is set and has been triggered. These JPEG images are then sent to you, along with the push notification via the smart phone app, so you not only receive an alert that your alarm has activated but you also see exactly what's caused that activation.

Now that's really useful.

The pros

  • Cheaper than paying for ARC
  • Can be faster response
  • App notifications can be more valuable (if sent from smart alarm system with visual verification capabilities)

The cons

  • The app's push notifications won't work if you're in an area with poor 3G/4G data coverage
  • You won't get SMS notifications if you're in an area with poor GSM coverage
  • You won't see video/pictures if you're in an area with poor 3G/4G data coverage
  • You're arguably more likely to miss an app notification or SMS than a phone call

Get a quote for a personal response alarm system

A local NSI/SSAIB approved installer will provide a free no-obligation quotation.

Alarm response FAQs

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Kevin Woodberry
Published by: Kevin Woodberry, owner of https://securityalarms.co.uk.
After finishing school, Kevin successfully completed a 3 year modern apprenticeship with Shorrock Security, winning the 1998 UK Apprentice of the Year award. Kevin qualified as an Electronic Security Technician, gaining NVQ level 2 & 3 and went on to work for some of the largest brands in the security industry.
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