The desired result of an alarm system is to cause an appropriate alarm output and response when the sensors indicate the valid conditions for triggering of the alarm. The ability of the panel to communicate back to the Monitoring Center is crucial to the concept of monitoring, and it is often overlooked or down played.
Depending upon the application, the alarm output may be local or remote or a combination. Local alarms do not include monitoring, though may include indoor and/or outdoor sounders (e.g. motorized bell or electronic siren) and lights (e.g. strobe light) which may be useful for signaling an evacuation notice for people during fire alarms, or where one hopes to scare off an amateur burglar quickly. However, with the widespread use of alarm systems (especially in cars), false alarms are very frequent and many urbanites tend to ignore alarms rather than investigating, let alone contacting the necessary authorities. In short, there may be no response at all. In rural areas (e.g., where nobody will hear the fire bell or burglar siren) lights or sounds may not make much difference anyway, as the nearest responders could take so long to get there that nothing can be done to avoid losses.
Remote alarm systems are used to connect the control unit to a predetermined monitor of some sort, and they come in many different configurations. High-end systems connect to a central station or responder (eg. Police/ Fire/ Medical) via a direct phone wire (or tamper-resistant fiber optic cable), and the alarm monitoring includes not only the sensors, but also the communication wire itself. While direct phone circuits are still available in some areas from phone companies, because of their high cost they are becoming uncommon. Direct connections are now most usually seen only in Federal, State, and Local Government buildings, or on a school campus that has a dedicated security, police, fire, or emergency medical department. More typical systems incorporate a digital telephone dialer unit that will dial a central station (or some other location) via the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and raise the alarm, either with a synthesized voice or increasingly via an encoded message string that the central station decodes. These may connect to the regular phone system on the system side of the demarcation point, but typically connect on the customer side ahead of all phones within the monitored premises so that the alarm system can seize the line by cutting-off any active calls and call the monitoring company if needed. Encoders can be programmed to indicate which specific sensor was triggered, and monitors can show the physical location (or "zone") of the sensor on a list or even a map of the protected premises, which can make the resulting response more effective. For example, a water-flow alarm, coupled with a flame detector in the same area is a more reliable indication of an actual fire than just one or the other sensor indication by itself. Many alarm panels are equipped with a backup dialer capability for use when the primary PSTN circuit is not functioning. The redundant dialer may be connected to a second phone line, or a specialized encoded cellular phone, radio, or internet interface device to bypass the PSTN entirely, to thwart intentional tampering with the phone line(s). Just the fact that someone tampered with the line could trigger a supervisory alarm via the radio network, giving early warning of an imminent problem (e.g., arson). In some cases a remote building may not have PSTN phone service, and the cost of trenching and running a direct line may be prohibitive. It is possible to use a wireless cellular or radio device as the primary communication method. There is controversy within the alarm industry as to the usage of the Internet as a primary signaling method, due to the twin issues of the immediacy and urgency of an alarm signal, and the lack of quality of service within the current design of the public internet.
Monitored alarms and speaker phones allow for the central station to speak with the homeowner and/or intruder. This may be beneficial to the owner for medical emergencies. For actual break-ins, the speaker phones allow the central station to urge the intruder to cease and desist as response units have been dispatched.
The list of services to be monitored at a Central Station has expanded over the past few years to include: Intrusion Alarm Monitoring; Fire Alarm & Sprinkler Monitoring; Critical Condition Monitoring; Medical Response Monitoring; Elevator Telephone Monitoring; Hold-Up or Panic Alarm Monitoring; Duress Monitoring; Auto Dialer tests; Open & Close Signal Tracking, or Supervision; Open & Close Reporting; Exception Reports; and PIN or Passcode Management. Increasingly, the Central Stations are making this information available directly to end users via the internet and a secure log-on to view and create custom reports on these events themselves.