Cutting through the jargon: twenty common alarm system phrases, explained

Cutting through the jargon: twenty common alarm system phrases, explained

eps book and devices

eps book and devicesProviding comprehensive security for your home or business is no easy task. Numerous trained consultants, engineers, and technicians are involved in designing and installing the custom solution that fits your protection needs, and once the system is installed dozens more operators, administrators, and technical support specialists help to keep your account and system pristine. Especially at a security company that’s been serving their community for as long as EPS Security—almost 65 years!—it’s easy for prospective and current customers to get bogged down in and confused by the business verbiage and technical jargon companies throw around on a daily basis.

Understanding the basics of how your system functions doesn’t have to be an enigma. In the hopes of cutting through some of the industry-speak, we’ve put together a list of twenty of the more common expressions we use at EPS—and included a brief explanation of what each phrase means for you and your security system.

Twenty common EPS Security alarm phrases

Alarm signal

The entire point of a security system is to alert you when certain criteria are met in specific circumstances. The electronic transmission we receive from your system when, say, motion is detected by a motion detector or smoke by a smoke detector is called an alarm signal. Occasionally, a panel may relay important system warnings or notifications to our Grand Rapids-based EPS Monitoring Center to alert us to abnormal conditions on your system.


A sensor or group of sensors is assigned a zone upon installation. Your front door, for instance, might be assigned to zone 9 and your three basement water sensors to zone 14. If there’s an alarm or fault on your system, your keypad will likely flash the issue on its display accompanied by the corresponding zone number. Zone numbers are important to know for bypassing certain sensors or for identifying whether certain doors or windows are open when you’re trying to set the system. Our Monitoring Center also receives alarm signals as zone numbers with their accompanying label—for instance, we may receive a “ZONE 12 LIVING ROOM MOTION” alarm and notify you of it.


EPS takes security seriously, so we assign a passcode to verified users on every account. This unique password allows our staff to identify those allowed to make changes to an account, disregard a particular alarm signal, or request service for a system. This allows decisions about the alarm system to be made only by those with the authority to do so. Perhaps most importantly, it also allows our Monitoring Center operators to know that they are talking to the homeowner or business operator, not a person breaking into the house impersonating them.


Panels and keypads are often confused for each other by our customers. A panel is the processing component of an alarm system that collects signals from various devices and then alerts the tenant/residence to the signal and/or sends a signal to our Monitoring Center for emergency dispatch.

a honeywell control panel
A Honeywell© control panel. An EPS-installed panel with have a sticker on the exterior with our logo on it.


A keypad is the means by which the system can be armed, disarmed, and otherwise controlled. A panel is usually located out of the way—often in a maintenance room or basement—and a keypad is often in an office or near a home’s perimeter doors. Distinguishing between these two components of your security system is especially important if you’re ever troubleshooting over the phone with the EPS Technical Support team.

6160 keypad
The 6160 model keypad is the version most frequently included in EPS Security systems.


Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. A residential ProSeries© touchscreen controller functions both as a keypad and a control panel.

The Honeywell Home© ProSeries serves both as a keypad and a control panel.



EPS uses the word contact in two difference circumstances. From an account perspective, a contact is someone included on an account call list. If we need to alert someone to an alarm signal or an open service ticket, we will call the contacts in the order they appear on the call list unless otherwise noted on the account.

Additionally, a door or window contact is a device installed on perimeter doors to signal your system in the event the entry way is breached when the system is set. Alternatively, if the magnet in the door is not aligned to the magnet in the door jamb on a disarmed system—if the magnets are not making contact—the system will not set because it considers the door open.

Arming code

An arming code is different from your account passcode. This series of numbers is entered into the keypad to arm and disarm the system. Codes should be programmed for anyone who may find themselves responsible for arming/disarming the system. Additionally, arming codes are used for a variety of other keypad commands, including bypassing zones.


Sometimes you may desire to temporarily ignore a device on your system. For example, if you are having your front door replaced, you will need to temporarily take the sensor out, which will display a trouble message on your keypad and prevent you from setting your system. You can, however, disregard the device by bypassing it on your keypad. While each keypad comes with its own set of bypassing instructions, typically a device can be bypassed by typing in your arming code, hitting the “bypass” button, and then entering the zone number associated with the device in question.

Note: Bypassing a device will only disregard it until the system is next disarmed. If a device needs to be ignored for several nights, it will need to be bypassed every day before arming the alarm.


POTS stands for “plain old telephone service.” Like the name suggests, these are the copper cable phone lines that have been in use for the last century. Historically, alarm systems used these phone lines to communicate alarm signals to a monitoring center. These have recently fallen out of fashion and are quickly being replaced by VOIP lines.


VOIP (often pronounced “voyp”) stands for “Voice Over Internet Protocol.” The new standard for telecommunications, VOIP lines send signals across great distances via the internet. However, because the technology scrambles the signal and sends them over in so-called “data packets” before reassembling them on the other end of the call, it tends to garble alarm signals and is not a supported medium to use for alarm communication.

Cellular communicator

As POTS lines are replaced by VOIP lines that can’t be used for alarm signal communication, security companies have turned increasingly to the use of cellular communicators. These communicators are connected to alarm panels and send alarm signals from the panel to our Monitoring Center via cellular radio signals. In a nutshell, we receive alarm signals from cell towers instead of phone lines. Cellular communicators often come with Internet capabilities, giving your system two paths of signal transmission in the event of communication issues.

Cellular communicators utilize radio towers to transmit alarm signals from your system to our Monitoring Center.Cellular communicators utilize radio towers to transmit alarm signals from your system to our Monitoring Center.


DVRs/NVRs are the “brains” of video surveillance systems. They record the video footage that the cameras collect. Digital video recorders are used on “analog” camera systems of old, while modern network video recorders are used to collect footage from internet protocol (IP) cameras.


EPS’ Monitoring Center receives thousands of alarm signals throughout any given day, but they only dispatch emergency services on a small percentage of those. Whether they dispatch the police, the fire department, and EMS services depends on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) the device the signal came from, whether we were able to speak with someone on the contact list after receiving the alarm, and any notes the customer may have asked us to place on the account to disregard or call on certain signals contrary to standard policy.

Hand pull

A hand pull or pull station is the device most envision when they think of business fire alarm systems. A hand pull is a lever attached to a wall and, in the event of an emergency, can be pulled downward to set off the sirens and strobes throughout a building.

Hand pulls can be found at a vast majority of businesses.

Test mode

Putting your system in test mode essentially tells the EPS Monitoring Center to disregard signals being sent during the duration of the test. This is especially helpful if there is construction going on and devices are being moved or if devices are being tested onsite. It’s important to contact our Monitoring Center if you plan on physically touching or moving our devices so we don’t dispatch the authorities on the alarms we receive.

Connected devices

Connected devices are “smart” devices. Devices that communicate to each other and can be controlled via internet or radio signals are considered “smart,” as they can be coordinated to function in conjunction with each other. For instance, you could schedule a smart living room lamp to turn on automatically when you unlock your smart front door lock.

Total Connect

Total Connect is a platform EPS uses to allow our customers to control their connected devices from a single application. Not only does it allow for the manipulation of individual devices, but Total Connect can also set schedules for multiple devices so they act in synchronicity. Moreover, Total Connect can be used to check your alarm history and arm and disarm the system remotely, enabling you to adjust your alarm system to your lifestyle and not the other way around.

total connect app and family sitting on a couchThe EPS Total Connect application allows you to control and manage your home’s connected devices and cameras.


Putting a partition on an alarm system is essentially splitting one system into multiple independently functioning “sections.” For instance, a partitioned system in a warehouse allows for the arming of the warehouse office after normal business hours but keeps the warehouse floor disarmed for the second and third shifters still working. Individual codes can be set up so only designated people have access to each partition, allowing for greater flexibility over alarm functions.

Late-To-Test (LTT)

To ensure that we are properly receiving signals in the event of an alarm event, EPS schedules a signal to be sent from our monitored customers’ panels to our Monitoring Center on a regular basis—on the vast majority of accounts, once a day. Our system alerts us if we do not receive your test signal at the usual time—if you are late-to-test. Our Monitoring Center then notifies you of the communication failure to determine whether something environmental is causing the issue or if service is required to rectify the issue.


Water sensors are used as flood detection devices and are often installed near sump pumps, under sinks, or in any other area of a house or business where a leak is possible. WaterBug is a common brand of water sensor, and much like Kleenex and tissue, those in the security industry occasionally use the two interchangeably.


Smokes is security industry jargon for “smoke detectors.” Smoke detectors are not to be confused with “smoke alarms.” EPS Security installs smoke detectors, which are devices that are connected to a monitored panel and annunciate alarms on the system keypad. Smoke alarms are standalone devices that are usually not connected to a monitored system and are typically installed by a building owner and purchased at a hardware store. If you have a “smoke” that is causing trouble, it’s worth identifying if the device is an EPS smoke detector or a standalone smoke alarm before calling for service.

The EPS Advantage

Being industry leaders in home and business security requires us to communicate any number of complicated concepts and technical know-how to customers who may or may not have training in alarm system fundamentals. Luckily, our staff is highly trained in working with customers of all experience levels to craft the security solution that fits their needs. If you’re considering installing a new system or upgrading your old one, take advantage of EPS Security’s knowledgeable and customer-friendly approach—and discover a security solution almost 65 years in the making.

Discover the EPS Advantage

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