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An alarm monitoring center or central-station is a company that provides services to monitor burglar, fire and residential alarm systems. The central-station may also provide watchman and supervisory services.
Central-stations use special telephone lines, computers, software and trained staff to monitor their customers' security systems and call the appropriate authorities in the event an alarm signal is received. Typically, there is a fee for services rendered. Because quality and experience can vary greatly among alarm companies, prospective customers are well advised to do their own research before making a final choice. Not all alarm companies monitor the systems they install and may outsource these services to another company.
Some facilities are certified by independent agencies. In the USA Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a leader in inspection and certification of central-stations. UL Standard 827 must be adhered to in order to maintain a UL issued Central-Station listing. UL conducts annual audits of these listed facilities to ensure compliance.
"UL Listed" companies typically offer higher levels of service and reliability because they are mandated to follow certain regulations. Higher levels of service also include range of services, and a separation from companies with conflicts of interest who may be owned or operated by entities that in fact compete with the central station's customers.
If the UL Listed Central Station is "automated", the computers and software must meet very special requirements processing and storing very large amounts of data and integration with many different alarm protocols.
Incoming signals are processed by digital alarm receivers; these convert the incoming event packets to serial or TCP packets which are then analysed by the Central Station software. Event packets can be communicated over any transmission medium: PSTN, GSM, Radio, direct line, Ethernet, GPRS, etc.
In Australia Central Stations are graded on 2 areas: operational and physical performance. Operational performance includes the ability of the monitoring system to respond to events - generated by customers' security systems, operational reliability, data retrieval, etc. Physical performance includes measures such as the construction of monitoring rooms - most high security rooms have airlocks which can only be operated internally. The highest standard is 1a to 3c. To be graded at 3c central stations still meet very high standards.
In the UK a similar structure of auditing takes place, with the National Approval Council for Security Systems provision of inspection and certification. Numerous standards such as BS5979 must be adhered to in order for a central station to be allowed to pass alerts to the police force. Emerging European standards are superseding these at this time.