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Commercial alarm systems for small businesses: A guide

Protecting your property and staff is vital for your company. Learn about business security systems here

All companies need a way to ensure the safety of their staff and premises – and that’s why business alarm systems are essential. 

While the type and use of an alarm can vary, what remains the same across the range of business security systems is that an alarm is there to deter potential intruders and alert staff to possible dangers. 

A commercial alarm system is a series of sensors connected to a main control unit that when activated sends alerts, which can be sound-only, received as messages, or monitored by an external centre.

If the worst should happen and your business experiences a break-in or a fire, an alarm is often the quickest way to know about it.

But what type of system is best for your business, and how can you choose between the different devices?

This article will look at both security and fire alarms. To begin with, more information about the different types of alarms will be provided. Then, a detailed look at some of the main benefits of business alarms, as well as advice on how to choose a company.

The best alarm system providers at a glance

Alarm systemBest forPrice
Verisure 3G Control PanelQuick set-up timesPrices available upon request
Secom Wireless Intruder AlarmRetail businesses£795+
ADT Custom systemsPrices available upon request

To compare quotes for business security, simply complete the form at the top of the page.

Commercial alarm systems: Understanding the jargon

To begin with, here’s a quick guide to some of the most frequently used abbreviations:

Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) – For monitored business alarm systems; the security company’s centre which monitors the alarms and investigates if they are triggered.

National Security Inspectorate (NSI) – A leading organisation in the UK for security and fire protection company certification. NSI offers two tiers of awards – Silver and Gold.

Police Unique Reference Number (URN) – A specific number attached to a property, enabling it to be identified by the police. Used when an alarm has been triggered and the ARC has informed the police that their response is required. Only available to alarms that have been installed by UKAS accredited organisations.

Security Systems and Alarm Inspection Board (SSAIB) – A certifying body for organisations offering security protection, including alarms; it’s a leading UK-based organisation.

United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) – The only national body in the UK to assess organisations that offer certification and installation. It’s recognised by the government and tests to globally recognised levels. The NSI and SSAIB are UKAS accredited.

There are many business alarm companies out there and choosing the right one for your business is a crucial decision. Useful points to consider include:

  • Accreditation – Is the company approved by the NSI or the SSAIB?
  • Specialisation – Can the company offer business security alarms specifically?
  • Recommendation – Does the company have a positive reputation, both within the industry and with customers?

Why a commercial alarm system is essential

A vital part of your operational strategy, commercial alarm systems provide added security against damages, plus offer additional safety for your staff too. 

Offering extra security if any of your contents (physical or digital) are stolen or vandalised, business alarms are an excellent way to deter would-be intruders and protect your company’s assets, giving you peace of mind.

Another integral part of your business’s security systems are commercial fire alarm systems. These should be a part of your wider fire safety strategy – this includes conducting a Fire Risk Assessment and having a Responsible Person (if your business has five or more employees) for fire security. This is determined by the relevant legislation, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Whichever system you choose, it’s extremely important to regularly test the alarms and conduct fire drills, as well as record the results. This allows you to know that the alarm systems in your business are working correctly and that you’re operating in the most safe and secure manner should a fire occur. Plus, if a fault or another issue should be identified, you can address it immediately.

Types of commercial alarm system

In this section we provide a brief overview of commercial fire and intruder alarms.

Commercial fire alarms

A commercial fire alarm is a system that protects premises against fires, which is essential for any business to protect its property and staff. They are often comprised of call points and detectors, and some systems may be split into zones or operated wirelessly. 

Commercial intruder alarms

A commercial intruder alarm is a device that uses sensors to protect a premises against break-ins and act as a deterrent. When the sensors are activated, an alarm sounds, and some systems may connect to an external monitoring centre, possibly with police response too.

Commercial fire alarms

In this section, we take a look at commercial fire alarms, including some of the best devices and the different types available.

The best commercial fire alarms at a glance

Fire alarm systemBest forPrice
ADT Multiple detection - carbon monoxide, heat and smokePrice on request
SecomBespoke designPrice on request
VerisureMonitoring servicePrice on request

Fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for business security.

Types of commercial fire alarm explained

Conventional system – A series of call points and detectors are wired to a control panel, with sounders and flashers to notify people when activated. The area is divided into zones and it’s possible to locate in which one a fire has started. 

Addressable system – Similar to a conventional system. The key difference is that with an addressable system it’s possible to identify the exact call point or detector where the alarm was raised. Therefore, this could be useful for larger premises that need to identify the precise location that the fire alarm was set off. 

Analogue addressable system – Offers more comprehensive coverage due to the increased number of detection and notification devices that can be connected. They’re particularly suitable for large premises, such as a warehouse or a big shop security system. In addition to the size of the property, a key reason for choosing this system is to reduce or prevent false alarms. Plus, as each aspect of the system has its own identifier, this type of system is ideal for premises with more complex requirements. 

Wireless system – An analogue addressable system that doesn’t use cables. The key difference is that the components, such as the call points and the smoke detectors, along with the sensors, connect with the control panel wirelessly with radio signals. These types of systems can be more easily changed or added to than other types, making them ideal for growing businesses or other premises that need more flexibility.  More details about wireless systems is provided in the next section.

Commercial fire alarm systems are typically made up of all or some of the following parts:

  • Panels – The control panel which connects the parts together
  • Detectors – The devices which identify a fire
  • Manual call points – Wall-mounted boxes; people can activate these upon finding a fire
  • Sounders and flashers – Audio and visual devices that go off when the alarm has been triggered

ADT: Best for multiple detection

According to ADT, it offers ‘industry-leading technology’ in its fire alarms. This includes sensors that can measure carbon monoxide, smoke and heat, as well as detection technology to lower the number of instances of false alarms. 

In addition, ADT offers a round-the-clock fire alarm monitoring service, and if the alarm is activated, then keyholders and the fire service will be notified. 

Plus, with the ADT Smart Business App, you can operate the alarm system remotely.

ProsCons
- Sensors can detect multiple triggers (carbon monoxide, smoke and heat)
- 24/7 fire alarm monitoring service
- Operate alarms remotely with the ADT app
- Limited information available about the alarms

As the ADT fire alarms offer detection of multiple triggers, it’s ideal for businesses wanting an all-in-one solution to fire safety.

Prices are available upon request.

Secom: Best for bespoke design

Secom works with your business to create a fire alarm system that is suited to your business’ individual requirements. When designing a system for your business, some of the factors that Secom take into account include building size and the complexity of the requirements.

Secom has its own Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), operating 24/7. Plus, Secom engineers and fire risk assessors are registered with the British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE).

ProsCons
- Fire alarm systems are designed specifically for your business
- Secom has its own 24/7 ARC
- BAFE registered
- A bespoke design may not be suitable for the smallest of businesses with basic requirements

With Secom offering bespoke designs, this makes it ideal for businesses with larger premises or more complex requirements that need more advanced fire safety systems.

Prices are available upon request.

Verisure: Best for monitoring service 

With smoke detectors that are connected in a series, Verisure offers fire alarms that are battery powered and have wireless connectivity. Warnings and signals are sent at the same time – if smoke is detected and signalled, this will be sent to the NSI-approved Verisure Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) ahead of the alarm sounding. 

It offers a 45-second response time on average to an alarm being triggered. Also, the My Verisure app allows you to control your alarms remotely.

ProsCons
- NSI-approved ARC
- 45-second average response time to an alarm trigger
- My Verisure app offers remote access to fire alarm system
- Not the widest range of fire alarms to choose from

With an average response time of 45 seconds to an alarm activation, Verisure is best for businesses who need a monitoring service with quick responses.

Prices are available upon request.

Commercial intruder alarms

Here, we provide key information about commercial intruder alarms, including some of the best products available and how the different types of systems work.

The best commercial intruder alarms at a glance

Intruder alarm systemBest forPrice
Verisure 3G Control PanelQuick set-up timesPrice on request
Secom Wireless Intruder AlarmRetail businesses£795+
ADT Custom systemsPrice on request

Simply complete the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for business security.

Types of commercial intruder alarm explained

There are two main types of intruder alarms: wired and wireless. Both of these types are used to protect property against break-ins and act as a deterrent.

Wired

Wired alarms use cables to connect. They are the older technology of the two and used to be seen as the more reliable option, although now both wired and wireless systems are seen as reliable options.

This type of system requires fewer frequent battery changes, although as it’s a wired system, the structure is likely to be visible. 

As a wired system is fixed to the property, if your business is planning to stay in the same location for an extended period of time, or if you own the property, then a wired system could be ideal. Alternatively, if your business is situated in an area that would experience too much interference for a wireless system to work effectively, then wired devices would offer a more viable option.

Wireless

A wireless alarm system uses radio frequency or wifi to connect the sensors wirelessly. This offers greater flexibility, as well as a quicker and easier installation process. However, wireless systems require more frequent battery changes in the devices than their wired counterparts, although offer a cleaner finish of how they system looks.

Wireless alarms are particularly suited to growing businesses, as well as businesses that are planning or will need to move premises. Plus, any business that wants a less visible system would benefit from this type of alarm.

Within this, there are two main ways that an alarm could raise the signal once activated. These are bell-only or monitored alarms.

Bell-only

This type of alarm uses sounders only to raise the alarm, although it may be accompanied by flashing lights as well. The system is required to be deactivated manually, and relies on passersby to take action, or for the would-be intruders to be deterred by the sounds.

Bell-only alarms could be suitable if you’re nearby your business e.g. a workshop that’s run near or in your home, or for a business that’s on a busy street with high and regular footfall.

Monitored

With this option, in addition to the bell-only alarm features, the alarm is monitored externally by an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). This centre monitors activity, and may also be connected to police response, if relevant. 

A monitored alarm system is suitable for unoccupied premises and high risk premises, as well as any business – as knowing your business is being monitored externally can give you extra peace of mind.

Verisure 3G Control Panel: Best for quick set-up times

Offering a permanent 3G link to the Verisure 24/7 ARC, Verisure says that the 3G Control Panel is the first completely portable alarm device. The control panel has a microphone and a 3G connection, allowing for communication between Verisure and a premises. The panel allows for the alarm to be activated/deactivated at the touch of a button.

The control panel is the centre of the Verisure alarm system – it can connect to sensors and sirens, as well as other devices. These include a perimeter detector, a panic button, and a smart key reader, amongst others, meaning you can create a system that’s most suited to your business. The alarm can be installed in under 24 hours.

Plus, with the Verisure mobile app, you can operate the system on your phone, including accessing images and audio of your premises, as well as using the SOS button (if relevant).

ProsCons
- Portable alarm device
- App for remote access
- Customisable system
- Installation takes 24 hours or less
- Wireless system might not be suitable for all businesses

With installation times of 24 hours or less, Verisure is best suited to businesses that need to protect their premises quickly.

Prices are available upon request.

Secom Wireless Intruder Alarm: Best for retail businesses

Secom offers a system that’s based on your specific business needs, available for both small and large businesses. In general, it offers 24/7 monitoring and an NSI-Gold accredited ARC. Plus, the engineers who install and maintain the system are trained by Secom, and a security consultation is available for free.

The Secom Wireless Intruder Alarm offers the following features:

  • Grade 2 system
  • Installation that’s approved by insurance providers
  • Secure radio frequency
  • Aimed at small commercial premises 
  • GPRS signalling is possible
ProsCons
- NSI-Gold accredited ARC
- Grade 2 system
- Free security consultation
- As it also works with big businesses, very small or new startups may feel daunted by the scale of Secom’s operations

Having worked with major retail UK brands, Secom is a particularly suitable choice for retail businesses.

Prices from £795+

ADT: Best for custom systems

ADT is an NSI-Gold approved organisation that offers intruder alarms with keyholder, police or private security response options. Plus, with the ADT Smart Business app, the security system can be accessed remotely. 

Offering 24/7 support and a 42 second response time on average of a confirmed activation, ADT intruder alarms have both GPRS and phone line monitoring for signalling when alarm is activated. 

In addition, intruder alarms can be integrated with CCTV, access control and smoke detection systems for a complete security system. Other elements like panic buttons and fog systems can be included too.

ProsCons
- NSI-Gold approved organisation
- Option of keyholder, police or private security response
- Integrated systems available
- Small businesses requiring a basic system may be overwhelmed by the available options

As multiple security elements can be added to, and integrated with, the intruder alarm, ADT is best for businesses needing custom alarm systems.

Prices are available upon request.

What are the benefits of commercial alarm systems?

The benefits for your business are wide-ranging. With an alarm installed in your business, you have an additional layer of security that’s always available. Plus, it’s not open to human error that you may experience with only using security guards, as alarms use sensors to detect movement.

In the first instance, an alarm can deter people from breaking in to your premises. If an intrusion should occur, then the alarm immediately alerts others in the vicinity of an issue. Plus, if you choose to have the monitored system, then the ARC will investigate, and if applicable, inform the police or other emergency responders.

Not only do alarms protect your property, they also can be used to monitor staff work times so you know exactly who is coming and going, and when.

Also, consider commercial alarm systems that have smart technology. For example, an app that allows you to monitor the system remotely. This is ideal if you’re overseas, or if you spend a lot of time away from your business premises, as you only require your device and an internet connection to access it.

  • 24/7 security
  • Sensors detect movement
  • Act as a deterrent
  • Alerts others through sound and lights
  • Monitored systems connect to ARCs for investigation or referral
  • Follow staff work times
  • Connect to alarm activity remotely via an app, if possible

If you run a business from home, then you should also consider the physical security of your workspace. You could check with the alarm company as well as your insurer to see if commercial alarm systems are required, or if a domestic alarm will suffice. This could depend on the type of business you run from home, as well as also if you store goods or other valuable products, and other factors.

Top tips for choosing a commercial alarm system

The NSI and the SSAIB are the two leading certification organisations in the UK for companies that offer fire and security protection. It’s important that the company you choose is approved by one of these organisations so you can be sure that the system installed in your business adheres to the required best practice as well as relevant codes and legislation.

  • Think about how it will be installed – Is a wired or wireless system more suitable?
  • Consider the type of connectivity – Can it be combined with an app?
  • How is the signal received – Internet (IP), mobile (GPRS) or radio?
  • Look at the response time – How quick is the process from activation to notification?
  • Check the visual aspect – Are alarm boxes, cameras and warning stickers available to be displayed prominently?
  • Which way of monitoring is best – Do you require an alarm system that connects to an ARC, or is a more simple bell-only device needed?
  • Review the costs – How much and how long is the contract length; what are the installation and maintenance charges, and are they included?

Next steps: Compare alarm systems

Now that you’ve learned more about the types of commercial alarm systems available for fire and security protection, you can find companies that offer products and services most suited to what your business needs. Read our page on alarm system costs for more information.

Or, speak with suppliers – simply fill out the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for business security based on your startup’s requirements.

Commercial alarm systems: The FAQs

Here, we answer some of the most common queries about commercial alarm systems for small businesses.

  • How much is a security system for a business?

The price of installing an alarm system into your startup’s premises can vary greatly, as it depends on the type of alarm and level of protection you require, as well as other factors like installation time, and more. Check out our alarm system costs page for more information.

  • What are some of the top national alarm companies?

While there are many alarm companies you can choose from, brands such as Verisure, Secom and ADT (amongst others) are well-known across the country. This can be ideal if you’re looking for alarm systems for one premises or multiple sites throughout the UK. 

  • Why are wired and wireless alarm systems different?

Wired alarms use cables and a landline to connect the devices, whereas wireless alarms use radio frequency and mobile networks. Wired systems are known for their reliability, while wireless systems can be changed and moved more easily – the best alarm system depends on the nature of your business requirements.

 

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Scarlett Cook attends and reports on many industry events for Startups.co.uk, particularly those relating to communication, equality and diversity in entrepreneurship.

Since joining the team in 2018, she has developed our telephone systems and business mobiles topics as well as ‘how to’ guides, with her work having been referenced by brands such as Hiscox. Previously, she has written for audiences across the UK, Australia and New Zealand.