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Smoke and mirror signals

The earliest digital communicators were independent of the alarm panel and reported as few as three signals. However, as alarm products, and especially alarm panels, have evolved, manufacturers have added features galore.

December 9, 2014  By Ron Walters

I doubt that today’s installations use even a small percentage of the reporting capabilities of this generation of panels. This has caused a problem: alarm systems may send signals to the monitoring station where there is no specific instruction on how the central station should respond. This in turn greatly increases the likelihood that, out of fear of liability, an undocumented signal will result in a dispatch. These undocumented signals present some significant problems: unnecessary dispatches of the authorities; liability to both the installing company and the monitoring entity; and loss of confidence by the alarm owner.

In a SIAC article on the ANSI/SIA CP-01 Control Panel Standard we talk about some of the alarm reduction features built into these products. With these features, there are reporting options intended to maximize the information available to the monitoring station while making dispatch decisions.

For almost all installations, and in particular residential installations, you should develop a programming default. This governs how every signal that your system is programmed to send to the monitoring station should be handled. With each signal sent, you should also be specific on the action that will be taken by the central station. With a default program in place, you only have to program any exceptions. However, you should also prepare a “no exception” follow-up process to handle your central station activity reports. There are certain signals that should never bring about a dispatch, unless, through verification, you are led to believe an actual crime is in process. A simple unauthorized opening is not evidence of a crime; the owner should be notified, but authorities should not be dispatched. In fact, some recent alarm ordinances are actually prohibiting dispatching to any signal related to open/close monitoring.


With CP-01 there are some unique signals that can be very helpful. A recent closing signal can accompany an alarm trip, telling you that the alarm was just armed, tripped and then the keypad code was entered, meaning an authorized person is on the premises. This signal will be generated on all CP-01 panels, not just the ones programmed to send open and close signals. Aborts are factory default programmed in CP-01 panels. The monitoring station should be made aware of these signals with the specific action you want to be taken.

I don’t have enough space here to cover all of the potential undocumented signals. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself and address these issues ahead of time. The most important people on the monitoring side of our industry are those that enter your customer information and those that edit it and  it is your responsibility to supply them with the correct data. For more information on the CP-01 Standard please go to www.siacinc.org. 

Ron Walters is the director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (www.siacinc.org).

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