power outage and home alarm systemsA power outage can be seen by a criminal as an opportunity by criminals as they may be able to stay hidden and not be detected while they break in to houses. Understanding how a DIY system handles a power outage helps in understanding how this risk is managed or otherwise by the system.

Whether a DIY wireless alarm system will detect a break in during this time and send out an alert to those monitoring the system depends on how it communicates and its back up provisions.

With Wireless DIY systems the sensors are battery powered but the control panel is powered by the house supply. Fortunately the control panel usually comes with a back up battery that keeps the system working in the event of a power outage for up to 24 hours. Systems will let you know when the battery is not fully charged and needs replacing but typically they last 3 – 5 years before needing replacing. It is something that the owner can do as it is not difficult to do.

The other part of the system to think about (see explanation of how alarm systems work here) is the siren. This sounds when there is a break in or unauthorized movement detected by the system.

Many of the sirens are powered by the house supply and will not work when there is no supply. To overcome this some systems have the internal siren attached to control panel (Fortress GSM-B) or included in it (Simplisafe) so they are powered by the backup battery. This will hopefully be enough to scare a burglar away as they don’t like attention but the downside is that it can show them where the control panel is and they can destroy it.

External sirens are powered by the house supply and will be silent if there is a break in detected.

As well as sounding the siren when there is a security event detected security systems can send out an alert to the person(s) monitoring the system. It can be the owner or a professional monitoring center depending on whether it is unmonitored/self monitored or monitored.

There are 4 ways the notification can be got out to those monitoring the system and depending on the method used determines whether it gets through.

VOIP – If you are using something like Magic Jack or Ooma for your VOIP connection and using that instead of having a landline then when you lose power then it stops working and no alerts can get through. To avoid being without the connection on small outages you can use a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) to keep the connection up for a few hours. How long you get from this depends on the UPS unit and how much power your router requires to keep it going.

With DIY systems VOIP is used as a work around where there is no longer a landline at the house which is often the case now. Most systems are moving away from landline and toward cellular and internet.

Internet – like VOIP the internet won’t be available as the router is down, so alerts won’t be sent out. Many modern systems rely on the internet for communication without any back up for this if there is a power outage. They may send you a notification to let you know that there is no service detected but you won’t be getting any messages. Some systems do offer a cellular back up option in the event the internet is down but they do charge a monthly fee for this service (see Scout Alarm System). Some of the IP security cameras won’t work at all without the internet as they are plugged into the power supply and do not have back up batteries (See Dropcam Pro). To overcome this you need to think about using an UPS to give coverage over shorter periods.

Landline – When there is a power outage the landline will continue to work, so alerts sent over this method of communication will continue to get to those monitoring as phone lines are not affected and the systems have a battery backup (See Pisector PS03-M. There are still systems that rely on this method of communication solely.

Cellular – This method is not affected by power outages at your home so the notifications will be able to get through as long as the system has back up power. It can be used as the primary method for notification or as a backup method in the event the primary method can’t be used. Simplisafe2 is an example of a monitored system that uses the cellular network as it sole method for alerting the monitoring center. 2 DIY self-monitoring systems can use the cellular network as backup or primary method of communication when the landline is not available are the PiSector GS08-M 4g and the Fortress Security Store GSM-B.

If the system uses VOIP and Internet solely you won’t be receiving messages if there is a loss of power at home. With landline and cellular you will continue to be notified of security events during the outage. The sirens will stop working if they aren’t plugged in or part of the control panel because the control panel has a backup battery to keep the system working during a power outage up to 24 hours.

Filed under: Buying Advice

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