Glossary of Security System Terms

The security industry can be confusing if you’re not working with it all day, every day, like we are. So Fortress Security has provided this glossary of common security system terms and terminology to help you navigate. And if you have any further questions, just give us a call.


Automated Security Systems

Security systems that, once armed, are designed to alert or warn the owner and Police Department, Fire Department, and Medical Responders, both audibly on the premises and remotely by phone, text or email, in case of a potential threat, break-in, fire or medical emergency. Automated security systems are customizable and come with a variety of security options to meet your specific needs. Start with our popular solutions comparison of your home security system options.


Battery Back-Up

A back-up power source that powers your security system in the event that the main power to your home or business fails. A battery back-up is intended for temporary use (24 to 48 hours) and ensures the continual operation of your security system during a power failure.

Burglary or Break-in

When a person unlawfully enters a residence, car, office or other enclosed property with the use of even a small amount of force and without consent. If the intent was to commit a crime, it could be considered burglary.

Burglar Alarm

A loud warning signal produced by an electronic sound designed to alert the user, neighbors, home security monitoring system and/or police to a specific danger. Security sensors, often used to indicate the opening of a door or window or detect motion, are connected to a control unit and sound the burglar alarm if they are triggered.


Carbon Monoxide Detector (CO Detector)

A device that detects the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) gas in order to prevent injury or death from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless compound produced by incomplete combustion. A CO detector is designed to measure CO levels over time and sound an alarm before dangerous levels can cause harm to people. The Carbon Monoxide Detector gives people adequate warning to safely ventilate the area or evacuate. Some system-connected detectors also alert a central monitoring service that can dispatch emergency services if necessary.

CCTV (Closed Circuit Television):

A visual camera surveillance system used to monitor and record a variety of environments where cameras are accessible. CCTV systems may record continuously, or be set to record upon movement or to a schedule. They are often used as part of a home security system or business security system to activate recording when the security system is triggered. To learn more, check out our camera surveillance solutions.

CCTV Camera (Closed Circuit Television Camera):

Makes visual recordings which can be stored to a hard drive. Depending on the camera’s specifications, you may be able to see close-up, at great distances, and even at night.

Cell Guard

A wireless device or unit, connected to a home or business security system, which allows your security system to alert the central monitoring station over a cellular network. A 4G wireless communicator is considered the fastest form of cell guard transmission of a security system’s emergency and non-emergency signals. Cell Guard units are more secure than systems that transmit the emergency alert over a telephone line, which can be disabled by a burglar cutting the telephone line.

Covert Camera

A surveillance camera designed to look like an everyday object found in a home or business, such as a smoke detector, motion detector, or alarm clock. Covert cameras are used to monitor and record events without alerting visitors or intruders to the presence of a camera.

Control Panel or CPU

The motherboard of your home security system. Access to the motherboard (to change settings or program or test the security system) is restricted via a locking mechanism. The security control panel is usually enclosed in a flat, vertical, surface-mounted metal box.



A steel latch approximately 1 inch long, which exits the edge of the door and passes into a receiver in the door jamb near the keyhole of the door’s frame. A deadbolt is often used as part of a home security system because it makes a door more resistant to entry without the correct key. Z-wave-enabled wireless deadbolts are also available, which connect wirelessly to your security system and can be remotely controlled via a smartphone, tablet or PC.

Digital Video Monitor

A monitor used with a CCTV security system that allows you to view the output from several cameras at the same time.

Door Contacts and Window Contacts

One of the most basic components of a home or business security system, these devices send a notification to your system when a door or window is opened or closed. There are a few different styles typically used by many alarm companies: a recessed contact, hidden in the window track or door jamb; a surface mount contact, which is visible when the door or window is closed; a roller-ball contact, where a spring-loaded ball located in the hinge side of the door jamb is pushed in when the door is closed; and an overhead door contact, designed for overhead garage doors.


Electronic Surveillance

A system of electronic devices, generally including a television, digital video recorder, or video camera, which is used to monitor activity or other changing visual information from a distance. Electronic surveillance systems are often used to enhance security of property and valuables as well as to detect or prevent crime.

Emergency Response

When a police department, fire department, ambulance, or other emergency service responder takes the necessary steps to respond to a call for assistance made by an individual or an electronic surveillance system.


Fire alarm

An alarm that monitors the environmental changes associated with combustion, such as heat, smoke, and flame. Once the alarm has been triggered by fire or smoke, a loud sound emanates to warn occupants of danger, and a fire alarm system sends out a signal to a central monitoring station indicating the unwanted detection of fire and alerting emergency response teams. A home fire alarm system is a critical component of a total security system which also provides burglary protection.

Flood detector

A device designed to detect the presence of water, typically attached to a security alarm system or fire alarm system. Some flood detectors will send out an early warning alarm for leaky pipes, faulty water heaters, dishwashers and washing machines. Some detectors are sensitive enough to detect even the smallest amounts of moisture before mold, mildew and serious water damage or even flooding will occur.


Glass break sensor

A sensor used to detect if a pane of glass in a window of a home or business is shattered or broken, or if a splintering of the wood around the window happens. Glass break detectors can come in either single technology or double (dual) technology devices. Single technology listens for the frequency of breaking glass. Double or dual technology devices are designed to detect a ‘thump’ sound followed by a frequency hit, in that precise order, in order to set off the alarm.


Heat detectors

A device that responds to changes in ambient temperature, typically attached to a security alarm system or fire alarm system. Heat detectors are made to complement smoke detectors, and are often placed in rooms where standard smoke detectors are not suitable or allowed, such as laundry rooms, garages, and attics.

Home Alarm

A warning device or system that, when triggered, is designed to warn of an intruder, fire, or smoke. Home alarms are the core of a home security system, and serve to call attention to dangerous circumstances, as well as sending a signal to a central monitoring station which can alert first responders such as police, fire department, and ambulance.

Home Automation

Any technology that gives you remote or automatic control of home settings, providing you with more convenience, protection, and information about the devices connected to the system. Home automation services range from connecting lights to a remote control or smartphone or an automatic timer, to having home electronics and a full home security system with indoor/outdoor lighting, temperature, and door locks controlled with automatic settings and remote controls. More advanced home automation can include installing advanced controllers or a voice recognition system.

Home Burglary

When an unauthorized person enters a residence, car, office, or other enclosed property for the purpose of committing an offense. Burglary itself is defined as forcefully entering an enclosed property without authorization and with intent to commit a crime, such as theft, vandalism, or physical harm. The nature of the intended crime does not matter for the offense to be considered burglary; rather, it is the intent to commit a crime that matters.


Identity Theft

The crime of one person stealing the personal and identifying information of another person, such as social security number, credit card information, and bank information, usually with a nefarious intent.

IP Surveillance

IP (Internet Protocol) surveillance systems are digital video surveillance system that is tied into a network. They provide a means for many cameras and video encoders to share the same wired or wireless network for communicating data, typically installed from separate locations. A digital image is more easily stored and retrieved on an IP surveillance system, compared to an analog video tape, and provides a higher resolution, allowing for better identification and facial recognition.



The user interface device for a home or business security system, typically wall-mounted, usually with an alpha-numeric keypad (a set of buttons arranged in a square, similar to the standard telephone touchpad). A keypad controls the functions of an alarm system.



The act of taking another person’s or entity’s property without authorization. In some states, larceny is divided into grand larceny and petty larceny, depending on the value of the property stolen. A lesser charge is referred to as misdemeanor larceny.

Light Activation

A system sensor connected to indoor and/or outdoor lights, weather-sealed for outdoor use, to controls the user’s light activation. When the sensor is activated, the lights will illuminate when someone enters a detected zone. Some systems may use Z-wave technology so they can be turned on with a remote control. Light activation sensors are often used as an effective deterrent to prevent crime.


Medical Alarm

A mobile pendant or button worn by the user, with a receiver connected to the home’s security system. The alarm system is designed to signal the presence of a hazard or emergency requiring urgent attention, and can summon emergency medical personnel. A medical alarm provides the user with around-the-clock 24/7 access to a central monitoring station in case of medical emergency.

Medical Alert

Although “medical alert” is sometimes used to mean “medical alarm,” the more common definition of “medical alert” is a code on the patient’s medical or dental record to indicate a serious pre-existing medical condition, often identified by a red warning label that notes the exact nature of the condition. This alerts medical staff that of the need to consider the pre-existing condition before initiating treatment of any kind.

Mobile Home Security

Allows the user of a home security system to have mobile and remote access to the home security system.
Fortress Security provides mobile home security through the Total Connect smartphone app, which allows the user to not only arm and disarm the system, but also control lighting and temperature and monitor real-time video surveillance.

Motion Sensor Light

A light with a sensor which detects movement. When movement is detected the light will illuminate. Motion sensor lights can be used indoors or outdoors and are often used for home security to deter burglars and illuminate any illicit activity.


Outdoor Lighting

A security lighting system allows residents to use outdoor lights as a deterrent. When lights are properly placed, they can illuminate exterior areas which a criminal may use to hide or to access a residence. Homeowners may benefit from a lighting security system that can detect and recognize movement in an otherwise overlooked and dark surrounding. When positioning security lights, it is important to control light glare, as bright lights can create dark shadows in the negative space, making it harder for eyes to adjust and pick out potential intruders hiding in the dark spots. Working with trained installation technicians can help minimize light glare.

Outdoor Surveillance

Outdoor security cameras, which are weather-proof and can be wired or wireless, are used for surveillance of the exterior of a building, home, or office. Wireless outdoor security cameras are very convenient to use because they do not have cables.


Panic Button

An emergency button that, when pressed, triggers an alarm system and sends a signal to a central monitoring station which can alert emergency services.

Panic Room

A fortified room located in a residence or other building, designed to provide a safe place for people to hide in the event of a break-in, home invasion, or other threat. A panic room may also have a separate emergency telephone line.

Personal Alarm

A discreet, hand-held electronic device that emits a loud siren-like alarming sound when activated. Personal alarms are primarily used to ward off an attack by an assailant and attract attention.

Personal Property

Property that is private and moveable and whose ownership belongs to an individual. This includes everything that is tangible, from office furniture to cars, jewelry, promissory notes, and clothing. Real estate is not considered personal property.

Personal Safety

The freedom from fear or worry regarding a person’s physical and mental well-being. Being aware of one’s surroundings, and avoiding situations and conditions which may be potentially harmful or dangerous, can increase your personal safety.


Remote Home Security

A way for home owners to quickly and easily activate their home security system remotely while away from the home with the use of a handheld device such as a smartphone. Some home surveillance security packages provide constant remote monitoring access via the web by a professional security company. Remote home monitoring can include a phone call or text made directly to your cell phone that alerts you when an alarm is triggered. Advanced home security systems are connected to a professional monitoring service that receives the alerts and will then contact the proper authorities on your behalf.


Security Camera

Captures images by transforming the visible scene observed by a camera lens into an electric signal to be processed by the camera. Security cameras are often used as a means to deter criminal behavior and apprehend a person committing an offense.

Security Monitoring

If any of the home security sensors or detectors are set off while your home security system is armed, an emergency signal is transmitted to a central monitoring station via phone lines, internet lines, or cellular towers. Upon receiving the signal, a trained professional will notify the appropriate authorities.

Security Risk Assessment

The process of identifying all possible risks to a home, business, or property, as well as their likelihood of occurrence and their impact. The results of the assessment are used to identify ways to reduce risk and improve safety with security services and technology.

Security System

An electrical device that sets off an alarm and notifies residents, a central monitoring station, and authorities once a sensor is triggered, generally in the case of a possible burglary, intrusion, fire, or other safety hazard.

Smoke Detector

A device used to detect smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Household detectors are also known as smoke alarms and generally sound an audible and/or visual alarm to provide notification of the possible emergency event.

Spy Camera

A hidden camera, which can record still-photography images and/or video, used to film people without their knowledge.

Surveillance System

Electronic devices and/or cameras used to maintain close or general observation of areas, whether near or from a distance, without being seen.


Temperature Sensor

A device that gathers data concerning the temperature from a source and converts it to a form that can be read and comprehended by the person observing the device. Temperature sensors come in many different forms and are used for a wide variety of purposes, from simple home use to extremely accurate and precise scientific use.

Tempered Glass

A type of glass that has been treated with heat in the manufacturing. This creates a product that is much stronger and can withstand abnormal force or pressure. The result of this treated glass is that when it does break, it will not break into large sharp pieces. Tempered glass is found in doors and in windows that are located near doors.

Theft Protection

A security method designed to protect against having personal property taken without authorization or to reduce the odds of a crime being committed.

Two-Way Keypad

A device that will let a person arm and disarm an alarm system from inside or outside a residence. It also activates an audio connection to a central monitoring center in the event that an alarm is triggered.


Water Sensor

A device designed to detect even the smallest amount or presence of water in the area where the device has been located. Upon detecting water, the water sensor will alert the security system user and a central monitoring station.

Window Lock

A lock that is attached to the sashes of a single or double hung window that can fit both in the shut position. There are devices available which are designed to make prying open a window and/or removing a sliding glass door from its track more difficult.

Wireless Home Security

A home security system that protects a home from theft, fire, and other emergencies without the invasive installation of running wires through walls and into the attic. Wireless home security systems do, however, require the installation of wireless sensors placed around doors and windows and throughout the home or business.


X10 System or X10 Device

A two-way switch, that can be hard-wired or wireless. These devices use line-carrier technology without the need for any wires.