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Alarm System Certification: How Important is it? 

What is Alarm System Certification? 

The safety and security industry is subject to requirements imposed by various certification, insurance, government and standards organizations.  Depending on the type of service provided and the preferences of the local governmental jurisdiction, adherence to the standards of these organizations is mandatory in some instances and voluntary in others.

A certified home security provider or central monitoring station has been given a stamp of approval by one or more nationally recognized testing laboratories, such as Intertek, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or FM Global. Being a certified (aka “listed”) central station has its advantages: many insurance companies offer discounts only to those certified providers with whom they are affiliated and some municipal governments only allow certified home security systems to be officially licensed and registered (meaning they will not be liable to respond to systems that are not certified).  A major part of the certification process is false alarm reduction. If home security providers, otherwise known as monitoring companies, incorporate an “enhanced call verification” (ECV) protocol to limit false alarms by requiring multiple notification attempts, their chances of certification are much higher.

Many alarm systems are monitored by central stations that are not certified.  Certification requires that companies supervise not only the monitoring, but also the installation and maintenance of their security systems, as well as technicalities like opening and closing signals and runner response.  If the central station that handles the monitoring is located in a different metropolitan area than the home owner, sub-contractors and/or authorized dealers might be employed to handle the installation, maintenance and runner response.  In these cases, even though the specific alarm system might be advertised as “UL certified,” for example, it is only with the caveat that one company supervises all aspects that this really holds true.

The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) is a national membership-based trade association that represents listed companies.  On their website, you can peruse their list of members either by location or alphabetically by company name. They also offer their own certificate called “CSAA Five Diamond Certification,” which ensures that companies are committed to ongoing professional development, training, random inspections, superior customer service and the reduction of false alarms. The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) works closely with CSAA to license dealers and facilitate false alarm ordinances nation-wide. 

An important distinction to keep in mind is that while companies can be certified, the actual products that they carry are not.  This admits of a bit of grey matter.  In order to remain a listed company, companies must comply with standards overall; however, new products and systems are continuously being put on the market in response to consumer demand.  To account for this, the SIAS exhibits industry standards relative to alarm system equipment and usage.  It illustrates feature designs and specifications for systems and control panels, including recognition and information handling sequences. 

Why Buy a Certified Alarm System?

Nation-wide, municipalities adopt varying preferences and standards regarding certification.  It’s worthwhile to contact you local law enforcement organization before purchasing a home security system to ascertain what companies, if any, they affiliate with or prefer. Some might only allow you register alarms that are UL listed, while others prefer FM Global or Intertek (ETL) listed companies.  It's becoming more and more common for local governments to find residents for false alarms, so systems that have been certified for compliance with false alarm reduction policies are usually a good bet.

Each of the certification agencies is a bit different, as are their quality metrics regarding listing companies. An ETL listed central station or alarm service company is audited subject to system reliability, maintenance and installation services.  They also insure that compliance with all federal, national and local standards is followed. FM Global’s audit examines the facility, receiving equipment, power supplies, and property of transmission signals, as well as code compliance. 

Underwriter Laboratories (UL) is perhaps the best known and most widely used listing agency; it was developed by the insurance industry to establish national standards of excellence.  About 25% of the 2,400 central stations in North America are UL certified. Their requirements cover the building structure, receiving and monitoring equipment, installation and staffing. Specifically, they require one “uninterruptible” power supply plus one standby generator, a building constructed with iron bars, CCTV surveillance of the entries, electronically locking doors with extensive access control and redundant computer technology that ensures alarm signals are effectively received.

Certification by one or more of these organizations is not free; it involves an extensive examination of the facility as well as a regular (usually annual) audit.  The vast majority of security systems are not certified.  Does this mean that they are deficient?  Perhaps, but not necessarily.  Smaller companies might not choose to invest in certification even though their products might be exemplary, even though the market value of security systems tends to increase post-certification.

The more security and safety companies integrate with higher technologies - such as cell phones and broadband to transmit alarm signals and video feeds, the more requirements they will face.  Because the security industry is competitive and diverse, the solutions will inevitably result in the safest and most efficient products for customers and governments alike.