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Glossary of Home Security Terms

Access Code:  A private alphanumeric code, which is entered into the keypad of a control panel and used to arm, disarm or change the settings of a home security system. 

Access ControlAccess control is the process of managing access to and from a given area, such as a community, yard or house.  Acces control can exist in layers, e.g., in gated communities, the first layer starts at the gate with an access card or code, the second layer may be an electric fence, the third layer CCTV cameras protecting the driveway and the fourth the actual locks on the doors and windows of the home.  Automated systems exist that allow owners to control access digitally using a cell phone or the Internet while away from home.

Acoustic Sensor:  Acoustic sensors detect sound using microphones or sophisticated filters. Some glass-break sensors are acoustic.

ADC:  ADC is analog to digital conversion.  Certain devices have this capability, which processes signals into digital format. This benefits people who want to purchase and integrate specific systems and accessories, regardless of the technology of the devices or the preferred technology of their central monitoring station.

Alarm:   "Alarm" can refer to the signal that is sent from your home security system's control panel to your central monitoring station when a sensor is tripped, or it can refer to the signal that the sensors send to the control panel notifiying the system itself of a breach. Alarms are often confused with "sirens;" most alarms have sirens, although some silent alarms use strobe lights instead to notify help of an emergency situation. See Alarm Signal

Alarm Condition:  An alarm condition occurs when some part of the security system, such as a sensor or motion detector, detects an inappropriate event, thus "tripping/ triggering" the alarm.  Alarm conditions usually activate sirens and/ or strobe lights while simultaneously alerting a central monitoring station or  signaling for emergency response. 

Alarm Discrimination:  Alarm discrimination is a function of the control panel that enables it to discern between burglar and fire alarms and then communicate the appropriate information to the central monitoring station. More sophisticated control panels can communicate additional information, such as the sensor that detected the alarm and the zone in which the alarm was tripped. 

Alarm Signal:  "Alarm signal" can refer to two distinct events: the first is when a sensor or detector signals the control panel of your home security system, alerting it that there has been a security breach. The second event is when the control panel alerts the central monitoring station that an alarm condition has occurred, resulting in the dispatch of emergency assistance. Alarm signals use a variety of technologies: the most common is the land-line, however, cellular and VoIP signals are becoming increasingly popular. 

Alarm MonitoringAlarm monitoring is a service provided by security companies, aka central monitoring stations, whereby homes are monitored via a hard-wired, wireless or hybrid security system that communicates alarm events to the central station who receives the signals and dispatches emergency response. 

American National Standards Institute (ANSI):  ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that promotes the use of U.S. standards internationally, or international standards where they meet the needs of the user community.  They advocate an open forum for voluntary standards for each industry and its corresponding companies and mediate agreed upon standards, such as the "Communicatio of Alarm Information," which identifies acceptable alarm signal protocols. 

Amplifier:  Amplifiers are used to increase the force of a signal, such as the range of a sensor, the audio coming through a speaker, or the strength of fiber optic communications.

Analog:  Analog refers to continuous data that can be measured and represented by sampling techniques. Voltage and pressure are two such variables.  When referring to security systems, analog typically identifies systems that are plugged in or "hard-wired," as opposed to wireless systems that are digital. 

Analog Sensors:  Analog sensors, such as pressure, rate of flow and temperature sensors, produce an output that is continuously variable.  They typically, but not always, use wireless technology.

Analog to Digital Converter (ADC):  An analog to digital converter samples a continuous measurement and translates it to a discrete measurement.  Typically, it's an electronic device that inputs analog data and outputs digital data.

Annunciator:  The annunciator is the part of the security system that alerts, either visibly or audibly, when a breach occurs in one of the zones.  Many annuciators are built into the control panel; some are purchased as add-ons and allow you to customize voice recordings for a variety of events, such as the opening of a door or window.

Armed:  When a security system is armed, the sensors, detectors and other components are active and can alert you to an alarm condition.  In many systems it's possible to arm some zones while leaving others unarmed, as you might do when you are in the house alone. 

Asset Tracking:  Asset tracking is a tool used by many small to large businesses, but can also be used by property owners, to manage any assets by tracking their whereabouts. At it's most basic, asset tracking technologies consist of bar codes and software.  Sophisticated commercial uses incorporate RFID (radio frequency) technologies.

Battery Back-up:  Battery back-ups are standard with most security systems.  Their purpose is to  maintain a connection to the central monitoring station in the event of a power failure or a problem with the main line.  Security professionals recommend that you test your back-up battery periodically. 

BiometricBiometric technology uses physical characteristics (biological data, like finger prints, voice and eye retina scans, to identify individuals. Biometric locks are a feature of access control.  In addition to heightened security, they can also provide "hands-free" or "keyless" access. 

Broadband:  Internet signals supply and transfer data, and are measured in kilobits per second. Broadband Internet connections transmit data twice as fast as dial-up connections, at a rate of 256 kbit/s.  Some wireless or web-based home security systems use a Broadband signal to alert users of alarm conditions via their PC or Smart phone. Because Internet communications are dependent upon a third-party service provide in addition to your security provider, and because connection is not infallible, systems that use Broadband as the primary alarm signal are usually not certified. 

Chime Mode:  Most security systems have a "chime" or "bell" mode that is active even when the system is not armed.  The control panel can be programmed so that owners hear a sound when a zone is breached, which can be helpful for personal safety, as with back yard swimming pools.  It can also be used to signal access, such as a child coming home from school. 

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV):  Closed Circuit Television uses video cameras to streamline images to a receiver. CCTV cameras act as the transmitter for the image signal, similar to the control panel in an alarm system. Monitors, tv or computer screens receive the images, and a recording device or software records the images.  Their purpose is to surveil high risk areas or transactions.

Cellular Back-up:  Cellular back-up refers to a secondary signal that is used when the primary  signal (usually a land-line) is either out of commission or not being answered. Cellular back-up is used by the central monitoring station to contact you via your cell phone when an alarm condition has occurred. It is also used by the control panel to signal the central monitoring station when the primary signal is not functioning. 

Central Monitoring Station:  Central Monitoring Stations ("Central Stations") are companies that provide alarm monitoring services.  They are "on call" 24 hours a day. Traditionally, all alarm signals were sent using the POTS (landline) network.  Today, many central stations also handle radio, cell and VoIP signals.  Their job is to receive the signal, notify the home owner of the alarm event, verify that the alarm was not accidental, and dispatch authorities to the residence. Most central stations handle burglar and fire alarms; some also handle personal and medical emergencies and video surveillance monitoring.

Control Panel:  The control panel is the "brain" of the security system.  It is programmed using the keypad to arm, disarm and change any settings. Sensors provide inputs to the control panel, which are displayed by the annunciator and translated into an outgoing alarm signal. The control panel is the "brain" of the security system.  It is programmed using the keypad to arm, disarm and change any settings. Sensors provide inputs to the control panel, which are displayed by the annunciator and translated into an outgoing alarm signal.

Deadbolt:  Deadbolts are a type of door lock that consist of a steel  latch that exits the edge of the door frame and attaches into the corresponding door jamb. The only way to open a deadbolt lock is to turn the cylinder that slides the lock into place.  The primary way to do this is using a key,  although single cylinder deadbolts use a knob on one side of the door which can also turn the cylinder.  Double cylinder deadbolts require a key on both sides. Deadbolts are a signature component found in the innermost layer of access control.  Some insurance companies provide discounts for homes that use deadbolts (amongst other methods) because they signify a determination to protect your home and assets. 

Delay Zone:  Delay zones are programmed using a timer, which will arm your security system once the delay period has expired. Some systems can be programmed remotely, in the case where you want to grant limited access to your residence while you are away from home.

Digital:  Digital technology measures discrete (as opposed to continuous) values when transmitting data.  Digital devices are wireless and many, in addition to transmitting data, must first translate it from analog, which in some cases results in a loss of data.

DIY MonitoringDo-It-Yourself monitoring is a feature that is available with some wireless security systems. It cuts out the central station and allows individuals to monitor their alarm systems themselves.  The process is: during an alarm event, which usually occurs when a sensor detects unusual behavior, the alarm signal is sent to either a cell phone or an email inbox (and often both). The individual is then responsible for dispatching the appropriate law enforcement agencies to the residence.

Digital Communicator:  Wireless security systems feature digital communicators that are either stand-alone devices or integrated into the control panel. During an alarm condition, digital communicators automatically dial the central station and relay information regarding the status of the event. 

Enhanced Call Verification (ECV):  Enhanced Call Verification, also called "multiple call verification" is a feature of some home security systems that is meant to reduce false alarms.  The process requires central monitoring stations to attempt at least two, but usually three or more, phone numbers verifying that the alarm signal they received was not accidental, before dispatching appropriate law enforcement authorities. According to SIAC, there has been a 60% reduction of false alarms in systems that have implemented ECV, which is thus becoming an industry standard.  Some governments, in response to the huge cost of deploying units where they are not needed, have passed laws requiring ECV, like Florida and Tennessee. 

Emergency Monitoring SystemEmergency Monitoring Systems are personal, and usually portable, alarm devices.  They can be worn around the neck, wrist or ankle, or hand-held like key fobs, and are often used as medical alert systems.  Not all central monitoring stations handle EMS, but speciality medical monitoring providers exist who coordinate with EMTs to provide immediate response in the event of a medical emergency. Panic buttons are similar to EMS, in that they too can be hand-held devices that are activated manually, but the monitoring process is usually different. 

Environmental Hazard: Environmental hazards range from natural disasters to faulty appliances.  They are unplanned threats that can be dangerous, in addition to damaging property.  Temperature extremes, water, radon and carbon monoxide leaks, excessive rain, wind, humidity or floods can all be protected against by using environmental sensors that detect changes and alert you to any dangerous levels. 

False AlarmFalse alarms occur when an alarm signal is received by the central monitoring station who then dispatches authorities to a residence at which there exists no immediate threat.  False alarms are accidental and often occur during set up or because users do not know how to properly operate the control panel.  Most central stations provide "testing" time when security systems are first installed so that users can get used to the system and the process. Because of the frequency of false alarms (and the subsequent costs incurred), central monitoring stations have partnered with municipal governments and product and safety testing certification organizations in an effort to reduce false alarms. Techniques like Enhanced Call Verification (“ECV”) have fast become the industry standard. 

Fiber Optics:  Fiber Optic technology is a method of transmitting communications by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber, causing the light to become an electromagnetic wave. A transmitter then moves the optical signal along the fiber and coverts it into an electrical signal. Fiber optic cables are vulnerable to fewer threats than copper cables, such as electrical interferences, attenuation and bandwith limitations. It's ascendendancy as a preferred communications device is gradual because the cables must first be installed underground wherever services are desired (wherease copper cables already exist in most areas). 

Fire ProtectionFire protection is a service offered by home security providers and central stations, and can include monitoring of smoke and heat detectors, and sprinkler systems. Fire alarms are monitored by 24-hour security personnel who will dispatch the fire department during an alarm event. 

Flood Detector:  Flood detectors are designed to detect the presence of water. They will send out early warning devices, programmed to user specifications, when pipes, appliances or windows leak. Some models can also detect moisture and humidity, which is useful for preventing mold, mildew and serious flooding.  Flood detectors are one of many "environmental detectors," and are avaialable as add ons to most security systems, whether hard-wired, wireless or hybrid.

Glass-Break Sensors:  Glass-break sensors come in two types: the first, known as "audio discriminators" detect sounds, like breaking glass or splintering wood; the second detects shock waves (or the frequency) of those sounds.  One sensor can typically protect an area up to 35 ft, but they cannot "hear" around corners. 

Hard-wiredHard-wired equipment is physically connected using wires and/ or cabling. Many security systems are installed using hard-wired techniques when homes are originally built, while newer homes often use wireless technology.  Land-lines are considered "hard-wired" while cell-phones are "wireless."

Heat Detector:  Heat detectors respond to changes in ambient temperature using a "rate of rise" system.  They are distinct from smoke detectors and usually are placed where smoke detectors aren't suitable, like garages and laundry rooms.  Automated and/or web-based security systems allow owners to check and even control heat levels remotely using their Smart phone or PC, which can save money on utility bills.  

Home AutomationHome automation is the process of integrating and automating the devices in your home for enhanced control, protection and ease of use.  Home automation systems are avaialble in wireless, hard-wired and hybrid versions; they can coordinate with existing electronics, like entertainment systems and lighting, or can be installed specifically to augment home safety and security systems.  Some versions allow home owners to control all their devices remotely using their Smart phone or PC, including access, temperature and appliance control, arming and disarming of their alarm system and environmental sensors, and surveillance of video feed. 

Home Security Provider:  Most states require that security professionals (as well as electricians) be licensed in order to install, advise or maintain equipment. Security professionals can be local small businesses or authorized dealers for larger corporations. Monitoring personnel who supervise alarm signals might also be considered security professionals. 

Intrusion:  Intrusion is the unlawful and undesired, intentional entry of an individual into your home or property. Trespassers may not be intruders if they are unaware that they're trespassing. Burglars and other criminals who intentionally enter a property with the intent of taking something that doesn't belong to them are intruders, as are people who insist upon entry even though they are uninvited and unwelcome. Access control devices, such as CCTV cameras and security equipment like motion detectors can help prevent intrusion. 

Key Fob:  Key fobs are hand-held devices that are similar to car alarm controls.  Depending on the magnitude of their signal, they can arm or disarm security systems from a distance. Many key fobs also include panic buttons, which, if connected to a central monitoring station, can alert emergency response. 

Keypad: Keypads are part of the control panel where access codes are entered to arm, disarm and control the settings of a home security system. They come in a variety of models, including touch tone, LED and voice-activated. In web-based security systems, the keypad is part of the software, as opposed to a tangible device. 

Landline:  Landlines are traditional home phone lines that use the POTS (plain old telephone service) network to signal alarm events to a central station.  Virtually all central stations are set up to receive landline signals, although with the advent of newer wireless devices, fewer homes are being built with landlines in place. 

Local Alarm:  Local alarms are an option in some security systems. Instead of alerting a central monitoring station during an alarm event, they provide visible or audible notification on-site.  Some systems feature "local alarms" that will notify you via your Smart phone or PC. 

Magnetic Sensor:  Magnetic sensors are the most common type of sensor used in security systems.  They are often referred to as "contacts" or "switches."  They are usually discretely placed on access points, such as windows or doors, so that they are not visible from the outside. Magnetic sensors consist of two pieces that form a circuit and when separated signal the control panel that an alarm event has occurred. 

Microwave Sensor:  Microwave sensors are used in some motion detectors.  They are an upgrade to ultrasonic sensors and are so powerful that they sometimes pick up motion in areas that they aren't meant to surveil, which can lead to alarms being falsely tripped. Their best use is for large objects or automatic technolgoies, such as automatic doors. 

Moisture Detector:  Moisture detectors (aka humidity detectors or moisture meters) are a type of environmental sensor.  They are used to measure the percentage of water in a given substance over time. 

Motion Detector:  Motion detectors employ a variety of technologies from microwaves to passive infrared radiation (PIR) to sense movement in a given environment.  When used in conjuction with access control to protect your home's property, they can also activate lights that signal passer-by.  

Non-alarm Zone:  Non-alarm zones are active or "armed" at all times, but do not trigger an alarm. They can operate in chime/ bell mode, which signals audibly when the zone has been breached; alternatively, notifications might be silent and annuciated with flashing lights.  Non-alarm zones can be re-classified into "alarm" zones via the control panel. 

Panic ButtonPanic buttons are one type of emergency response system.  They are small devices that can either be remote and carried on your person or stationery, as  you might see in a convenience store or bank.  They usually consist of one or more buttons that when pressed alert an emergency response team via your central monitoring station. 

Passive Infrared Motion Detector:  Passive infrared motion detectors use passive infrared radiation (PIR) to measure changes in heat levels within a room. Some are sensitive enough to filter out movement from pets or animals up to a given mass. 

Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)Personal Emergency Response Systems are small alarms that can be activated by individuals at will.  They include "panic buttons," which can be stationary (like those found in convenience stores or banks) or remote (like those worn by people who might require immediate medical assistance).  PERS systems communicate with monitoring stations when pressed during an emergency to signal the need for immediate help. 

Photo-electric Motion Detector:  Photo-electric motion detectors are sophisticated devices used to protect extremely valuable objects. The technology consists of small transmitters that beam light between two points; if the beam of light is broken, the alarm is tripped. 

Pressure Mat:  Pressure mats are a type of sensor that responds to changes in pressure when stepped upon.  They are made out of rubber, but appear to be regular mats that are placed at strategic locations, like under windows or in front of gates.

Radio Back-up:  Radio back-up is used when the primary signal (usually a land-line) is unable to send or receive the alarm signal, which is then sent to the central monitoring station using radio waves. Radio back-up can be added to existing security systems and is often included in new systems. 

Radio Frequency:  Home security systems that use radio wave frequencies to transmit alarm signals are available in hard-wired and wireless versions. Radio wave alarm signals are not the most efficient type of security system because they can only pick up the appropriate frequencies in certain "hot spots."  Radio frequency is often used as back-up to other signals, like land-lines or IP.   

Redundant MonitoringRedundant monitoring is when an alarm signal is monitored using more than one process. This could mean that multiple servers (using the same signal technology) are handling and verifying the signal, the signal is being sent to multiple central stations, or more than one type of signal is being used. The purpose of redundant monitoring is to guard against possible system failures like power outages or busy networks and to ensure that, during an alarm event, the signal will be received by a security professional. 

Remote Activation:  Remote activation is the process by which security systems notify you of an alarm event by calling your cell phone or by sending an email. This is often the first reponse and can happen in place of using central monitoring stations altogther, although it is usually used as a back-up method. 

Risk Assessment:  A risk assessment identifies vulnerable areas in your home and property and analyzes any conceivable threats (e.g., burglars, vandals, trespassers and/or environmental concerns).  It then determines the best way to protect against risk while improving safety, including how to most effectively partition your property into security zones and what equipment and devices to position in each zone. 

Runner Response:  "Runner response" refers to the process of dispatching help to residences that have signalled an alarm to a central station.  Central monitoring stations should have enough runners available 24-7 to handle any number of emergency response situations. Runner response is one of the features that is assessed when central stations apply for UL certification. (Other aspects that are assessed include alarm installation and maintenance, and the supervision of opening and closing signals.)

Sensors and Detectors:  "Sensors" are devices that detect and "Detectors" are devices that sense; they are basically the same and are meant to identify changes of state.  Motion detectors, which detect motion, are available in a variety of technologies passive infrared, microwave and ultrasonic); Glass-break sensors can detect sound or vibration; and basic magnetic sensors trip the alarm when one of the two sides moves significantly away from its other half. Environmental sensors detect changes in the environment that are due to moisture, heat, air quality (gas, radon, smoke) or high winds.  Sensors and detectors are available in digital, analog or hybrid varieties. 

Siren:  The siren is the audible part of the security system.  When an alarm is tripped and the alarm signal sent to the central monitoring station, the siren usually sounds with the dual intent of scaring away any burglars or trespassers, as well as helping the emergency personnel to locate your home.  Sirens are often accompanied by strobe lights. 

Smart Home Systems:  Smart home systems are automated and can distribute and integrate all your electrical devices and equipment, including entertainment centers, thermostats, lighting and blinds, environmental sensors, CCTV and your security system.  They can achieve greater efficiency and comfort while saving time. 

Smartphone:  Smartphones are cell phones that function as hand-held computers.  They allow users to download and run web-based applications, upload photos, IM and send texts. Newer security systems can send alarm signals to Smartphones either as a first response or a back-up to conventional central station monitoring. 

Smoke Detector:  Smoke detectors provide early detection of potential fires. United States law requires a smoke detector to be placed on each level of a home and within the vicinity of all bedrooms. With newer home developments, law requires that each smoke detector be hard-wired with a battery back up. 

Temperature Sensor:  Temperature sensors can be programmed to measure changes in temperature and signal an alarm when the specified change is breached. In conjunction with smoke detectors, they act as a preventative to fires.  If integrated into a web-based security system, they can be controlled remotely using software and a PC, which can reduce utility waste and save money. 

Transformer:  A transformer is a device typically used to "step down" the power coming out of an electrical outlet into a form that specific equipment can handle.  Transformers must allow enough power to get through to not only run the system but to also supply any backup batteries. 16.5VAC transformers are the most common for security systems and will supply the extra voltage needed without overloading the system. Transformers can also be used to "step up" or increase the voltage. 

Transmitter:  A transmitter is an electronic device that produces radio waves while itself generating a radio wave frequency. The radio waves are stimulated by an antenna, which then passes the waves to a receiver.  Cell phones, Wifi and Bluetooth all uses radio waves to transmit signals.

Two-Way Voice Support: Two-way voice uses heightened audio devices (speakers and microphones) to provide immediate and live communication between monitoring personnel and the inhabitants of the home during an alarm event.

Underwriter's Laboratory (UL):  Underwriter's Laboratory is a global, independent organization that conducts product, service and environmental safety evaluations. They test and certify products to be in compliance with specific codes as well as verifying in the case of alarm systems, that they are properly serviced, maintained, installed and monitored. UL Certified Central Stations have passed standards-complying assessments covering their building infrastructure, signal reception and monitoring equipment and personnel. 

Ultra-sonic Motion Detectors:  Ultra-sonic motion detectors are basic devices that send out waves and measure the returning echo.  If they discern a significant change, then they sound an alarm. Because ultra-sonic sensors can be tripped by wind or other objects and cannot discern lateral motion, they are not the most fool-proof type of motion detector and can often lead to false alarms. 

User:  A user is anyone who consumes or employs a product, service or web application. 

Voice-over IP (VoIP):  Voice-Over Internet Protocol, someiimes called Broadband Telephony, is the transmission of communications (voice, fax, SMS) across an IP network. The application, Skype, is a successful application that uses VoIP technology. Because of the multiple steps involved in the VoIP process and their increasing number of vulnerabilities, it is sometimes considered to be less reliable than "end-to-end" solutions like the PSTN (The Public Switched Telephone Network). The steps involved in sending a VoIP communication are 1. setting up a media channel with a service provider; 2 digitizing the analog voice signal; 3. encoding and sending the signal using IP packets and then 4. decoding the signal and 5. translating it back into analog, which is what most central stations are set up to receive.

Window Contact:  Window contacts are magnetic sensors.  They're also referred to as "switches."  They consist of two pieces that share a contact point; when separated they signal to the control panel that an alarm event has occurred.  They are usually placed in discrete locations, like in the recesses of windows and doors. 

Wireless Home Security SystemWireless home security systems run on battery power and, since they do not use cables, are often portable. They use electromagnetic radiation technology (radio waves) to convey information between the sensors and the control panel. Because of innovative solutions that exist to convert analog technolgoies to digital, wireless security systems can employ land-lines, cellular or Broadband technologies to communicate with your central monitoring station. 

Zone:  Home security systems are partitioned into distinct zones that represent areas of your home and property.  Each zone is connected to a number of sensors and can be separately armed and disarmed to grant access at specific times.