How does a security alarm work

January 13, 2023

Security alarms are one of the most crucial parts of any home security setup. As well as being a handy deterrent, alarm systems alert you to what’s going on in your home and offer increased protection out of the house. However, despite their many benefits, many homeowners remain in the dark about how they actually work.

In this post, we detail how security alarms work, their numerous advantages, and why you should install one in your home or business.

How Do Home Security Alarms Work?

Let’s begin with a comprehensive explanation of how home security alarms work.

What Are The Components Of A Security Alarm?

Security alarm systems are composed of several components working in conjunction. These different components can include:

  • Control Panel
  • Motion Sensors
  • Door and Window Sensors
  • Screamer and/or Siren
  • Yard Signs and Window Stickers

What Are The Functions Of These Components?

Each component within a security alarm system has an important function – let’s look at each one in turn.

Control Panel: this is the ‘brain’ of a security alarm system – a central hub that controls each connected device. The central control panel arms and disarms each component, receives signals from attached sensors, and sounds alarms when it detects a breach. In addition, most importantly, the control panel will notify someone, via the internet and/or a phone line, if a sensor has been tripped and an alarm has been triggered.
Motion Sensors: strategically positioned around a property, motion sensors cover a specific invisible ‘zone’. If a sensor detects movement in its zone, it will send a message to the control panel to sound the alarms.
Door and Window Sensors: these sensorstell the central panel to trigger an alarm if they sense the door or window to which they’re attached being opened. Similarly, there are also glass break alarms which trigger an alarm if a window, or glass door, is broken
Screamer and/or Sirens: the ‘alarm’ aspect of an alarm system, which produces a loud, often piercing, sound. This has the immense dual benefit of startling the burglar – and letting them know their presence is known – and notifying the property owners and their neighbours that there’s an intruder. The blue siren is installed outside to alert neighbours, patrols or police.
Yard Signs and Window Stickers: these are an often underappreciated and underrated burglar deterrent, which works by simply letting would-be criminals that your property is protected by an alarm system. These signs and stickers will usually come as part of a security alarm system, as supplied by the manufacturer (also, it doesn’t hurt that it provides the security device manufacturer with a little free advertising!).

What Triggers A Burglar Alarm?

So, now we know that alarm systems work by sounding a siren, the question is, how are they triggered? We’ll address that question in this section.

What Is a Burglar Alarm?

A burglar alarm is a security device that detects the presence of intruders if they attempt to break into a property. A burglar alarm consists of a series of sirens and sensors that are interconnected by a central control panel.

How Do Burglar Alarms Work?

Though they employ different types of technologies, namely ultrasonic or infrared waves, all burglar alarm systems work in a similar manner. Here’s the process when a burglar alarm system is triggered.

Motion detection: if one of the system’s sensors, be it on a window or door, detects motion, it sends a signal back to the main control panel, starting a brief alarm countdown.
Alarm countdown: the control panel initiates a short countdown, during which it expects you to enter an abort code. The countdown and abort code are in place for occasions where one of the residents of a property trips a sensor by accident or requires a set entry/exit delay to enter their premise and deactivate the alarm.
Alarms are triggered: the central control panel triggers the sirens connected to the system, which produce disorienting, high-decibel sounds.
People are notified: The burglar alarm system will notify pre-nominated people that it’s been triggered. If you have a self-monitored alarm system, then it will notify the individuals programmed into the system. While if you have a monitored system, it will notify the professional security company contracted to keep your property secure.

Are They Really Effective?

Here are three reasons why burglar alarms are an effective security measure – you could refer to these reasons as the “3 D’s of alarm effectiveness”.

Deterrence: a burglar alarm can prevent a home invasion before the criminal even steps foot in your home. This is because the mere presence of an alarm (or even the yard sign or window stickers that advertise your home has an alarm system installed) will see many burglars opting to pick another target.
Disorientation: the volume and pitch of the sirens disorient burglars and distracts them from what they’re doing.  As a result, they’ll escape with fewer – or, better yet, none – of your possessions and less damage.
Determining Location: many alarm security systems require dividing a property into zones – especially for larger homes or business owners. So, if an alarm goes off, whoever’s monitoring the system will be able to tell where a burglar entered from and where they’re likely to be.
How Likely Are They To Be Hacked?

The short answer, fortunately, is not that likely. Most criminals capable of hacking an alarm system are more inclined to apply those skills in pursuit of bigger, more lucrative targets. However, by the same logic, the larger your home is, the higher the chance a cybercriminal is to have a crack it. Plus, more importantly, anything that’s connected to the internet can be hacked – so you can’t afford to be too blasé about it

The great news, however, is that you can significantly reduce the chance of your alarm system being hacked with a few simple, security measures.

Have Your Burglar System Professionally Installed: aprofessional security company knows the ins and outs of an alarm system – including its potential vulnerabilities. Plus, while this may be the first alarm system you’re looking to install, a professional security firm will have repeatedly installed a variety of burglar alarms.
Frequent Firmware Upgrades: opt in for an annual service, test and clean of your system and have the latest firmware updated each year.
Pick Strong Passwords: select strong passwords for your alarm system – and Wi-Fi router.  Also, change those passwords often and never send them in a message to anyone.

How Will A Security System Help To Secure A Home?

We know what a security system does but how exactly does it help to secure your home? Let’s explore this answer below.

What Are The Benefits Of Having A Security System In Your Home?

There are several benefits to installing a home security system:

Crime Deterrent: first and foremost, a home security system can prevent you from becoming a victim of a break-in altogether. For many criminals, seeing evidence of a home or business security system is enough to dissuade them from attempting that particular property
Protection: second, there’s the most apparent benefit of a home security system: the functional protection it offers. In the event of a burglary, the criminal will be distracted by the sound of the triggered sirens. Plus, you, and your neighbours will be made aware of the presence of an intruder and can take action – if the alarm didn’t cause them to take off running, that is!
Peace of mind: knowing that your home, family, and possessions are safer thanks to the addition of a home security system gives you tremendous peace of mind.
Reduced home insurance premiums: insurance companies are renowned for giving discounts to property owners who install home security systems. This is because, for all the reasons mentioned above, they’re less likely to be burgled and the insurance company won’t have to make a payout.
Medical Alert: some systems can accommodate a medical pendant to be worn around the home so in the event of a slip or fall, the person can alert authorities they require assistance of a key person or ambulance
Fire Alert: install a 12v hardwired smoke detector to your control panel and be alerted when there is a fire detected
Panic/Duress: mainly used in commercial security alarm systems, staff can press a dedicated button if they are under duress or panic to alert authorities to attend.
What Are The Most Important Features of a Home Security System?

How Well It Has Been Installed

The most important feature of a home security system isn’t the kind of alarm you have or the resolution of any security cameras – it’s ensuring it was installed properly & it’s a reliable brand. Subsequently, even a top-of-the-range home security system will only be effective if it’s been installed correctly. This includes making sure that everything is connected to the central control panel, that alarms are functional, and your devices are serviced annually.

Perhaps most importantly, the control panel must transmit a message to you or a relative, if it’s self-monitored, or to your security company, if you’ve opted for back-to-base monitoring.

Ease of Use

All the security features in the world are only useful if you know how to use them! So, another important feature of a home security system is that it’s straightforward and intuitive to use. To make sure this is the case, pay attention to online reviews of the security system and what other homeowners say about its ease of use. Better still, if you get an opportunity to get your hands on it and try it out before you buy, take it.

How it’s Going to Be Monitored

A home security system can only do its job effectively if someone pays attention to it. While many homeowners go decide to go down the self-monitoring route, as it appears to be more cost-effective, some realise it’s too much responsibility for them to bear.

Firstly – and most crucially – the homeowner(s), and whoever else they might have programmed the home security system to contact, must be available to receive the alert. What if you’re in an area with low phone signal? Or, what if your phone battery dies.  Then, if you do get the alert, are you confident that you’ll know what to do?

A monitored system, by contrast, relieves homeowners from having to make decisions under pressure. Instead, a security professional will receive an alert from the system, contact you to confirm it wasn’t an accident, and immediately send someone out to investigate and escalate the matter to the authorities if need be.

Failsafe Measures

Another important, and often overlooked, feature of a home security system is the measures put in place to make sure it never fails.  The first of which is that it can transmit signals in the event of your Wi-Fi connection going down. This is usually achieved via cellular radio or phone lines in a back-to-base monitoring system.  Similarly, another desirable feature is that the security system has battery backup in the event of a power outage.

What Are The Privacy Concerns Of Home Security Systems?

As we touched upon above, home security systems can be susceptible to hacking because they’re connected to your home Wi-Fi connection – and anything on a Wi-Fi connection can be hacked, even if the chance is small. Worse, however, is the fact that if they hack your home security system through your Wi-Fi, cybercriminals could also gain access to your entire home network.

This means they can access every device connected to your home network, including PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, printers, and home entertainment systems. This means they also have access to the data contained on these devices, which could result in identity theft, fraud, and more.  The most common hacking is via your smart phone and apps that you use. Always change default passwords on all new devices including your router, your security alarm and/or your CCTV NVR recorder.

Also, on the subject of data, another privacy concern associated with home security systems is how your data is used by the manufacturer of the system.  Some device manufacturers will set a low price point for their security systems – with the intention of selling your data. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, read the data privacy section of the manufacturer’s terms and conditions to see how they intend to use your data.

What Are The Other Use Of A Home Security System Aside From Anti-Theft?

Aside from preventing and derailing burglaries, home security systems can be configured to run a smart home. The system’s central control panel can be connected to smart home components, such as smart locks, smart lighting, and thermostats.

For example, an integrated smart home security system can be programmed to turn on certain lights when you enter your home and enter the abort code into the control panel. Conversely, you could program it to turn off lights and lock all the doors, when you leave the house and arm the security system.

Is A Home Security System Worth It?

Right, so now that you understand what a security alarm system is, how all its components fit together, and the benefits they bring, the remaining question is – is it worth getting one? We’ll explore that in this section.

What Value Does A Home Security System Bring You?

Not only does a home security system provide you with immense value, but it also offers you different kinds of value. Firstly, there’s its monetary value, a.k.a., value for money. The cost of a home security system starts at about $150 for an indoor camera and goes into the thousands of dollars, with the average security system priced at about $2000.

Now, when you consider the cost of items commonly found in the average household, like smartphones, tablets, laptops, games consoles, TVs, etc., you can start to see how a burglar could easily make off with over $2000 worth of goods. Therefore, all the average security system must do is prevent one burglary to justify its cost.

Plus, let’s not forget the fact that installing a home security system may make you eligible for a discount on your home insurance with many insurance companies. This means that your security system will pay for itself over time.

But monetary value aside, a home security system also brings the immense, significant value of peace of mind. You’ll feel a greater sense of calm and control knowing that your home, family, possessions – and possibly pets – are better protected.

How to Know If the System Is Worth It?

As touched upon above, the simplest way to determine if a home security system is worth it is to weigh it up against the value of the items in your house.

First, weigh it up against the items you use every day – such as phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Then, consider the most expensive items in your home: how much does the cost of a home security system – even a top-of-the-range security system – stack up against those? If the cost of a security alarm system is less than either of these items, then it’s most definitely worth it.

However, most importantly of all, consider the invaluable items within your home. We’re talking about photo albums, jewellery, antiques, and other things of incredible sentiment value. Though an heirloom may have been in your family for generations, all it takes is mere moments for a burglar to tear it from your grasp. If that were to happen – how would you feel? How much would pay to not feel like that? How much would you pay to get those items back?

If that figure is more than a cost of a home security system – or if it’s too painful to consider – then it’s most definitely worth installing one.

Is A Home Security System An Asset Or More Like A Liability In The Long Run?

In the long run, a home security system overwhelmingly falls into the asset category. The longer an alarm system prevents a burglary, the more it justifies its cost. Not to mention, the immense sense of safety and security it will bring to your household.

Plus, if you have children in the house, a home security system is not highly likely to prevent them from experiencing the often-harrowing experience of being the victim of a break-in. Better still, in being required to arm and disarm a security system when they enter and leave the house, they’ll grow up being more security conscious – which is a highly valuable skill to be able to teach them.

A security alarm system is an integrated system of components, including a central control panel, sensors, and sirens, which work together to secure your home. By demonstrating you’re a security-conscious homeowner, they deter burglars from breaking into your home and, in the event they’re foolish enough to try, triggering your alarm distracts them from their criminal activity and draws attention to your property.

If you’re looking for advice on what kind of security alarm system to install, how to install it properly, or, best of all, a free onsite security assessment of your home, give us a call or drop us a line, and we’ll do all we can to help.

Kylie Butchard of Pacific Security Group.

Kylie Butchard is a highly respected and experienced leader in Australia’s electronic security industry, having successfully steered Pacific Security Group for over 17 years. With a career embedded in customer service, she has consistently focused on putting people first – clients and staff. Known for her strong, resilient, positive, values-driven, consistent, and compassionate approach, Kylie ensures that her team delivers top-notch security solutions tailored to clients’ unique needs.

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