The Best Home Security Monitoring Companies
The best home security monitoring companies have the infrastructure and specially trained operators to survive anything from a tornado to a server fire without the slightest hiccup in service — your life could depend upon it. We reviewed the alarm monitoring services of the seven top nationwide home security companies to see which excelled at protecting you and your home.
Year-round 24/7 alarm monitoring is more intensive process than you might think. Not only must home security monitoring companies maintain an up-to-date infrastructure that can withstand mother nature (earthquakes, fires, tornados, floods); they also have to employ and train operators that can withstand the pressure of a life-or-death situation. We evaluated the monitoring services of the seven best nationwide home security companies to see which truly excelled at network redundancy, operator training, and handling large volumes of alarm calls.
Our Top Picks
ADT’s calling card is its reputation. It has nearly 150 years under its belt and controls 25 percent of the home security market, serving more than 6 million people. It owns and maintains six monitoring stations that are scattered across the United States in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and New York. Thanks to the sheer breadth of its network, ADT is has the most widely available security monitoring service throughout the US and Canada.
The bottom line is this: ADT customers have six monitoring stations and a team of more than 7,000 trained call operators on their side (that’s 3,000 more than the next closest company we looked at, Protection 1). Each one of those stations has an average of 335 active operators at any given time that are ready to intercept alarm signals. That makes ADT especially equipped to handle outrageous numbers of alarm calls — up to 20,000 per station every day, by its own estimation.
New agents train extensively in and out of the classroom for six weeks fielding monitored calls, running simulations, and taking tests. In addition to learning the role of an operator, agents go hands-on with all of ADT’s current hardware, learning how to troubleshoot systems for customers and handle payment issues. It’s an intense process, but one that Lynn Costlow, ADT’s SVP of Customer Care, says is necessary. If ADT outsourced its inbound calls, it would be “more challenging to influence our mission to make people feel safe. We sell the service, and it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re equipped to handle the millions of alarm signals that reach our monitoring centers.”
In 2016, ADT was acquired by the private equity firm Apollo Global, which also happens to own Protection 1. At a glance, the merger seems to be nothing but a good thing for ADT customers (more monitoring stations and operators should mean even greater reliability), but it’s impossible to tell until the process is finalized at the end of 2019.
Like ADT, Vivint prides itself in having full control over the quality of its customers’ experience. It owns two monitoring centers: one in Provo, Utah, and one in Eagan, Minnesota. Both are Five Diamond Certified, making it the only one of our picks that runs 100 percent Five Diamond-certified stations.
In a fun bit of PR, Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen went on the CBS “reality” show “Undercover Boss” with the hope of uncovering the day-to-day stresses of a security operator’s job. Pedersen claims that findings from his visit influenced Vivint’s decision to remodel the Eagan facility, which uses large windows with natural light, a walking trail, and areas for gaming and picnics to help keep employees calm in a high-pressure environment. The pressures on home security operators are a big deal, and we like the fact that Vivint has gone above and beyond to help reduce stress in the workplace.
Vivint has the most extensive training process of all our top picks. Prospective hires are trained over a 14-week period, spending much of their time shadowing a specialist on the Central Station floor of each monitoring center to get real-time experience handling emergency calls. At the end of the training period, prospects must score 90 percent or higher on the final test to become an agent. If they fail the test twice, they may not continue to apply for the position.
As agents are hired, they begin floor training underneath a dedicated “floor coach,” who makes sure their work is complete and supports them as then learn how to navigate their job. All alarm calls that are routed to a brand-new agent within the first two weeks are reviewed by the floor coach.
Protection 1 operates five of its own monitoring centers (two on the east coast, on in California, and two in the Midwest) and employs around 4,000 call operators. And like ADT, we were told that the company slightly overstaffs its stations to make none are ever overloaded with calls.
Marty Hale, the direction of national account operations, says one of Protection 1’s silver bullets is its support system. The company trains all of its operators to handle any type of scenario, so whether you have a billing question or are experiencing a technical problem, “you never have to get transferred to another person.”
Note: Protection 1 is merging with ADT. We’ll continue to update this article as the process finalizes sometime in 2019.
Simplisafe outsources its home security monitoring to COPS Monitoring. It’s easy to be put off by the 90s-style website, but COPS is no joke — it won the 2014 award from the CSAA as the Best Central Station. The company has six monitoring stations (New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, and two in Texas) and five of them are Five Diamond certified. (ADT has the next highest of four certified stations.) Simply put, that means COPS has been recognized for exceptional false alarm reduction and the “development of industry standards to assure optimum central station performance levels.”
The quality of call operators is a big deal; you don’t want just anyone on the line during a crisis. We liked that COPS went the extra mile to provide some insight to its hiring practices on the website, explaining that every candidate works with an industrial psychologist to determine whether they’re right for the job. (As a requirement of UL certification, all of our top picks have hiring practices that hit certain notes, but it was nice to see a company be transparent about some of them.)
In February of 2016, Forbes reported a flaw in Simplisafe’s system that allows burglars with “rudimentary hacking skills” to disarm a system by accessing the user’s PIN. (You can watch the hack in action here.) That sounds bad — and it is — but the reality is less dramatic.
SimpliSafe spokesperson Melina Engel told Forbes “our system provides customers notifications of their disarm events, so they could catch the criminal in the act. Also, customers can change their passcodes anytime locally or remotely via our webapp; so if this ever did happen, any passcode data collected useless in a matter of minutes.” She also said the company wasn’t aware of a real-life exploitation of the flaw.
Simplisafe says it will address the issue with newer hardware that supports over-the-air updates (which it will offer to current customers at a discounted rate), but as of this writing, no timeline has been released.
Simplisafe isn’t the first security company to be hacked (ADT, Vivint, and Xfinity have also experienced similar security breaches), and we still feel comfortable recommending its systems.
Others to Consider
Frontpoint employs Rapid Response Monitoring, which has two stations: one in California and another in New York which put it in a good position to handle a large load of customers and emergency outages. Neither are Five Diamond certified, but we appreciated that Rapid Response has clear pictures and descriptions of its backup power, servers, and communications systems in the event of an outage. For example, the New York facility features four Caterpillar diesel generators (with a 4,300 gallon fuel supply) that supply a total of 2.8 megawatts of backup power — that’s enough to power 90 residential homes for 24 hours. Another plus: It won Central Station of the Year from the Central Station Alarm Association in 2016.
Criticom Monitoring Service (aka CMS) is the monitoring company for DIY security provider Protect America. Criticom has three monitoring centers — one in New Jersey, Florida, and California — but none are Five Diamond Certified. According to the representative we spoke with, each center is “backed up by two generators and uninterruptible power supplies” and serve about 1 million houses and businesses. In terms of training, CMS personnel “all receive specialized training that is similar to 911 operators.”
How we Found the Best Security Monitoring Companies
We spoke with home security experts across the country to find out what it takes to operate a reliable monitoring center. We discovered that while year-round 24/7 alarm monitoring is an industry standard, it’s actually an impressive feat. To pull it off, companies need to maintain multiple server-filled stations across the nation, staffed with hundreds of trained professionals that are ready to immediately intercept your alarm signal any time of day. What if one of those stations loses power? What if a bunch of alarms are triggered at the same time?
“If there is an outage at one facility, the monitoring center needs to be able to quickly move the alarm traffic over to another location. Redundancy is a full-time job.”
That’s where redundancy comes into play. Simply put, a redundant system is one that has a failsafe for almost any scenario imaginable. Using the research from our review on nationwide home security systems, we whittled an initial list of 38 different security monitoring companies down to just seven. Each is truly available nationally and a has a low “headache factor,” which we tested through assessing each company’s reputability, ease of startup, pricing, and technology.
The Seven Home Security Companies We Evaluated
- Protect America
- Protection 1
- Link Interactive
Cellular systems were a must.
All of the companies we looked at offer cellular systems (or systems with a cellular backup). These are important because they’re unaffected by broadband or power outages, and there aren’t any wires for thieves to snip. If the power goes out, the batteries in a cellular-enabled control panel kick in and the alarm signal is still transmitted.
We needed to see load-sharing monitoring stations at separate geographical locations.
Hot standby is a method of redundancy used my most monitoring stations where two identical hardware systems run alongside each other simultaneously. If the primary system crashes do to a technical malfunction or server fire, the “hot” system takes over and monitoring continues without interruption.
But what happens if a natural disaster, like a tornado, wipes out the entire facility? The best home security monitoring companies will have at least one load-sharing station in a separate geographical region. If one station goes down, signals are automatically re-routed to another separate location, so it can pick up the slack.
When this happens, the secondary station has to be equipped to handle the extra call volume — that’s why all of our top picks actually have multiple redundant stations. If the worst should happen, it’s a lot easier to spread the extra load between multiple sites, not just one. (ADT claims its stations are slightly overstaffed for that exact purpose.)
We also took accreditations into account.
Here are a few of the most prominent alarm monitoring accreditations that we required our top picks to have:
- FM Approval. The FM Group thoroughly tests the facilities of monitoring centers, from code compliance all the way down to the integrity of the building materials used. FM Approval requires an investment on the part of the monitoring station being reviewed, but the funds are only used for the testing process and the FM Global Group doesn’t make a profit.
- UL Certification. Pick up any electronic device and you might notice a little “UL” logo on the bottom. That’s short for Underwriters Laboratories, an independent agency that tests electronics to make sure they’re not just pieces of junk. The UL also tests home security monitoring stations. Its testing methods cover a lot of the same ground as the FM Approval, but it goes even further, reviewing the quality of the monitoring technology and the knowledge, response times, and abilities of the operators and employees. If a station gets the UL stamp of approval, its operators, technology, and facilities are the best of their class.
- CSAA Five Diamond Certification. Five Diamond certification requires UL and FM certifications as prerequisites, but also recognizes alarm monitoring companies that contribute to the industry: Their stations must excel in false alarm reduction, the development of industry standards, and compliance with telecommunication laws that promote fair competition.
Did You Know?
There’s no noticeable difference between in-house and third-party monitoring services.
Some home security companies run their own monitoring stations, while others outsource this task to third-party security monitoring companies. So what’s the difference? Is one better than the other?
Where does an alarm signal go? When an alarm is triggered, the signal is sent through a landline, wireless, or cellular connection to a monitoring station. Once the signal is matched with your account information, an operator receives will call one of the two primary numbers listed on your account to make sure the alarm was legitimate. If you don’t answer, or the situation is serious, the operator will call the necessary authorities.
As Frontpoint’s Peter Rogers points out in a blog post, “It has become far more expensive to build and maintain a world-class monitoring center, and there is constant and significant reinvestment required to stay current.” Hence, dozens of third-party central stations have popped up in the past few decades to fill that niche. That competition has nudged third-party operators to step up their technology to the point where their technology and training can stack up against just about any in-house monitoring service.
Anita Ostrowski, head operations of monitoring centers for the company Vector Security, told us “Both in-house and third-party monitoring centers can perform basic monitoring tasks equally.” Vector Security is a regional home security company that runs its own monitoring stations, so that statement carries all the more weight.
The DIY companies we reviewed (Frontpoint, Simplisafe, and Protect America) used third-party monitoring companies, whereas the traditionals providers (ADT, Vivint, and Protection 1) all owned in-house stations. That spread is indicative of a new trend in home security — DIY providers are using outsourced third-party monitoring services to lower costs. Case and point: Rodgers claims hiring a third-party operator allows the company to focus on “providing the best technology, with the best service, at the best price.” And for what it’s worth, Simplisafe and Frontpoint have lower monthly monitoring fees than the in-house provider companies.
A Closer Look at Monitoring Costs
Home Security Company
Cellular Monitoring Payment