Alarm monitoring is a service provided by a security company, or central monitoring station, whereby a commercial building or residence is remotely monitored using an advanced network of alarms and detectors. In the instance of a fire, burglary, gas leak, or a medical emergency, an alarm is triggered, sending a signal to a team of trained operators who then alert police, fire, or emergency personnel if necessary. (DGA) A detailed report of all incidents are then automatically filed in a corporate database.

The advent of the internet and new technologies have helped the alarm monitoring system industry see tremendous growth over the past decade. Highly-sensitive detection technologies are now able to monitor and detect a multitude of safety hazards simultaneously, including intrusion, fire, flood, as well as harmful radiation, carbon monoxide (CO), combustibles (methane, propane, hydrogen) and toxic gases. Automated alarm receivers retrieve and analyze transmitted protocols using central-monitoring software. Digital transmission and internet connectivity have helped pave the way for increased efficiency and protection for customers in recent years. However, this highly-advanced system of 24/7 remote monitoring came from much humbler beginnings.

I. THE EARLY YEARS: Morse's Telegraph Shifts the Paradigm

Instrumental in the evolution of modern day monitoring systems was the invention of the telegraph, by Samuel Morse, in 1841. Using a pulsating electromagnet to create a series of dots and dashes on paper, Morse proved that signals could, in effect, be transmitted via wire. Unfortunately, public indifference contributed heavily to the delayed adoption of Morse's newfangled invention. Finally, three years and $30,000 later, a telegraph line was run from Baltimore to the Capitol building in Washington. Soon after, congress saw first hand the fruits of Morse's revolutionary new invention, in the form of a Morse Code message sent by wire, which read What has God wrought? (inventors)

II. FIRST ALARM SYSTEMS: Burglars and Open Flames Beware

The concept of using the telegraph to relay alarm signals came only a few years later in 1847, when the city of New York began sending alarm messages between City Hall and the fire department.

In 1851, an affluent doctor named William Channing convinced the city of Boston to install a newer public alarm system, which employed a series of call boxes, or pull boxes, connected by a network of telegraph wires. The call boxes allowed the public to alert the city fire department as to the location of a fire. ( )

However, Channing's system (and all other previous systems) had a problem. It couldn't remotely trigger the fire station bells, which were rung to signal a fire. This problem was quickly solved by electrician, Moses Farmer, who implemented an electromagnet that could ring a bell by breaking and completing a circuit. (inventors)

While Channing's system was being implemented, a Unitarian minister living in the Boston suburbs, named Augustus Pope, developed a burglar alarm utilizing Farmer's remote alarm invention.

Recognizing the profitability of these new burglar and fire alarms, Pope and Channing's patients were subsequently bought up by two entrepreneurs: Edwin Holmes and John Gamewell, respectively.

Holmes began selling burglar alarms in Boston, but consumer skepticism regarding electric alarms in households led to poor sales. As a result, Holmes decided to move his company to New York City, which had garnered a reputation for burglary and crime. This proved to be a strategic victory for Holmes because his business soon picked up as the demand for his home alarms rose. By 1877, the Holmes Burglar Alarm Company established the first central station in New York City. Now, an entire network of alarms could be monitored from a single location, thus offering local businesses and homes an even greater level of security.

(IFPO (10 March 2010). The Professional Protection Officer: Practical Security Strategies and Emerging Trends . Butterworth-Heinemann. pp. 90. ISBN978-1-85617-746-7. Retrieved 2 September 2011. )

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Holmes would later go on to become president of the Bell Phone Company.

By 1895, John Gamewell and his business partner, James M. Gardiner, had found similar success with their fire alarm telegraph products. Despite competition from 36 other companies in the industry, Gamewell managed to amass a 95% market share.

A quote from the Superintendent of the Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph of San Francisco captured the true effect these early fire alarms had on city life:

A careful study during the past year reveals the fact that, out of the one hundred and nine actual fires that have occurred, fully two-thirds of the alarms have been struck [by the automatic telegraph fire alarm boxes] before any appearance of the fire could be seen from the top of the City Hall.
(San Francisco Municipal Reports 1865 - 1866, For the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1866. San Francisco: Towne and Bacon Co., p. 218)

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Alexander Ross developed the very first electric device for fire detection in 1863.

III. EARLY 1900s

As multi-signal call boxes became more common, remote monitoring stations could keep an even closer eye on public safety. During this time, watchmen, or roundsmen, were employed by businesses to send scheduled signals to the monitoring station. If ever a scheduled signal was missed, emergency personnel were immediately sent to the site.

IV. 1930s 1970s: Technological Innovation

This period saw a wave of new safety regulations and technological advancement in alarm monitoring and detection.

Early 1940s The ionization smoke detector is invented in Switzerland. It has an open ionization chamber that can detect smoke particles in the air.
Early 1950s Samuel Bagno invents the motion detector.
1951 The ionization smoke detector is introduced to the U.S.
1959 The Committee on Fire Research's fire safety tests conclude that smoke detectors are safer than heat detectors in schools.
1968 - Fire Research and Safety Act authorizes the creation of a fire research and safety program
1970s Faster computer technology helps store, process, and transmit information more efficiently. The first solid-state device is invented.


Today, internet technology has completely revolutionized the way security systems collect and transmit information. Alarm monitoring systems are more prevalent and effective than ever before. Networks now employ motion detectors, cameras, glass-break detectors, and gas detectors to provide safety solutions to commercial facilities and residences. Digital imaging and hi-speed networks make live video monitoring possible for any user who can afford the service. Sophisticated detection equipment can sense environmental changes faster than ever before.

What new alarm monitoring technology lingers on the horizon is nearly impossible to predict. However, one could surmise that whatever changes the future holds will only strengthen the ability of alarm monitoring systems to effectively monitor and ensure the safety of its customers.

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A home in the U.S. is burglarized every 14.4 seconds; once every minute in the U.K.

Areas with larger populations have higher per capita burglary rates

$4.78 billion is lost every year in America due to burglaries

Homes with security systems in place are half as likely to be broken into

74% of uncompleted burglaries are attributed to audible alarms

$92 million worth of merchandise is stolen from U.S. retailers every day

In the U.S., a commercial robbery occurs about once every four minutes

According to STAT Resources, Inc., 90 percent of police officers believe that alarms deter burglars from entering a house.