Illinois alarm industry helps quash onerous proposals

Ordinances to get communities into the fire-alarm monitoring business fizzle after industry raises concerns
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—The security alarm industry scored two significant victories last week in an ongoing battle in this state over public entities monopolizing fire alarm monitoring, according to the head of the Illinois Electronic Security Association.

“It’s been a great week for the Illinois alarm industry,” Kevin Lehan, executive director of IESA, based here, told Security Systems News. He said that after the industry raised concerns about the government stifling free competition in the market, proposed fire-alarm monitoring ordinances in the communities of Elk Grove Village and Elgin were set aside.

Elk Grove Village on Jan. 24 agreed to scrap an ordinance which, when first proposed, would have mandated that all new commercial businesses—and existing businesses replacing or doing significant upgrades to their fire alarm systems—have wireless fire alarm systems that would connect directly with the village’s emergency communications provider, Northwest Central Dispatch.

And in the city of Elgin, a similar ordinance requiring businesses to connect to that city’s PSAP (public safety answering point) was tabled indefinitely on Jan. 25, Lehan said.

“My opinion is that as long as it’s on the table, it’s not doing harm to the industry. If it should ever come off the table, we’re going to be there to express our opinions,” Lehan said.

He praised both communities for heeding industry concerns, and said stakeholders now plan to talk to community officials about ways to provide them with the safest, most cost-effective fire monitoring solutions. “I think any time the free market is allowed to play out, that’s going to be a benefit for the [commercial] business owners as well as our industry,” he said.

The IESA has been in the forefront of the industry’s fight, ongoing for several years now, against public municipalities and fire districts taking sole control over fire alarm monitoring in this state. The public entities say that would be safer, but the industry denies that and says fire districts and towns just want the revenue from monitoring fees.

Five security companies, including ADT Security Services, have taken the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District to court over the issue. That federal lawsuit is pending. The case is being watched by the industry nationwide because it could have implications for other states.

In the proposed Elk Grove Village ordinance, ADT was to partner with Northwest Central Dispatch in providing the wireless service for $81 per month. The initial ordinance proposal said new businesses and existing ones replacing 50 percent or more of their fire alarm systems would be required to directly connect to the village’s mesh radio network.

But after security alarm companies and business owners protested to village officials about the mandate for what Lehan termed “a government-created monopoly,” the wording of the proposal changed before the Jan. 24 meeting of the Elk Grove Village board, according to a videotaped version of the meeting.

“You were told this is a mandated requirement,” Mayor Craig Johnson told a group of about 40 representatives from security companies and local commercial businesses who attended the meeting. But he said the mandate was mistakenly included in draft language, and that complying with the ordinance would be voluntary.

“We encourage businesses to use this technology but we don’t require them to use the technology,” Johnson said. “This board does not want government coming into my home or place of business and telling me what to do.”

But Lehan at the meeting asked the board not to adopt the ordinance even with the word “encourage,” saying that could discourage competition.

He said that when an AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) “encourages you to go with a specific provider, there’s a certain pressure right there.”

He instead urged village officials to work with industry stakeholders and “we can provide you with the highest level of service based on whatever parameters you would like.”

The board ended up not voting on the ordinance and agreeing the village would work with the industry, but did approve having the village itself switch to a wireless fire alarm system through ADT.