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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It’s the season of spin. But no matter how you slice it, the opening paragraph of last week’s commentary by Hank Clemmensen, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, isn’t a ringing endorsement of central stations.

“I always had supported remote station monitoring for my city’s fire alarms, both because I believed it would provide faster notification and because I believed central stations always take too long,” wrote Clemmensen, the fire chief in Inverness, Ill., on the website FireChief.com. “Phone calls between the central station operators and our PSAP take way too much time, and the conversations are vulnerable to errors.”

It’s tough to argue with that. The garbling of names and addresses has long been an issue for police and fire departments, and when is an emergency call ever fast enough? But it turns out that Clemmensen doesn’t have an ax to grind with the alarm community, as he quickly makes clear in hailing a top industry initiative: the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol.

“The interface allows a central station operator who has to notify a PSAP of an alarm to transmit all the information directly to that PSAP’s CAD screen with only a few keystrokes,” he said. “… Think about an operator from the Deep South talking to a PSAP call taker from New Jersey or Boston. Both are speaking English, but the languages are different. The interface transfers data without a telephone conversation—eliminating the chance of the PSAP call taker misunderstanding the central station alarm operator.”

Clemmensen goes on to praise the Central Station Alarm Association and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System for laying the necessary groundwork to secure the ASAP system. The computerized message broker for ASAP is at the Nlets facility in Phoenix.

“A core group of alarm companies financed the development and implementation of this system, and they are committed to getting jurisdictions with large numbers of alarms connected to ASAP,” he said.

Clemmensen’s take on the protocol has to be music to the CSAA’s ears. It also serves as a rallying point for other fire chiefs nationwide.

“Are you willing to reduce your response times by at least 1.5 to 3 minutes with quicker alarm notification and fewer errors? It sounds like a no-brainer,” he said. “The majority of fire alarms are not true emergencies, and if this new interface gets us the needed information sooner, responses could be modified. … This could just be one more tool to help reduce line-of-duty deaths and make sure everyone goes home.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mary Jo Vance is on the move.

Vance, better known in the security industry as MJ, is no longer with 1 Time Alarms and Security of Henderson, Nev., where she served as manager from late December 2011 until July. She has returned to the St. Louis area and is pursuing other professional opportunities, she told Security Systems News this week.

Vance received the CSAA’s Manager of the Year award in 2007 and the Presidential Award from the Fire Marshals’ Association of Missouri in 2010. Before joining 1 Time, she was vice president of operations and business development for CenterPoint Technologies for three years.

Vance managed about 5,000 accounts at 1 Time, split about 60/40 between commercial and residential. She also handled management duties for the company’s new central station in the Central American nation of Belize. She politely declined to discuss the circumstances of her departure.

After leaving CenterPoint in the spring of 2011, Vance took a brief break from the work world to ride her Harley, fish and spend time with her mother, she told SSN earlier this year. Now she is “jumping right back into the fray” of the industry, she said. Friends and colleagues can drop her a line at mjvancemj@hotmail.com.

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ADT’s split from Tyco isn’t taking any steam out of the monitoring giant’s sails. In addition to becoming an independent publicly traded entity Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, it plans to add 150 jobs at its facility in Irving, Texas by the end of November.

“I think we’ve added 200 jobs in the last several months and we’re looking at another 150 as we continue to expand,” Shawn Lucht, senior vice president of operations at ADT, told NBCDFW.com on Sept. 27.

The additional jobs will be spread across many departments at the company’s Irving campus, one of the largest ADT facilities in North America. Among the departments standing to gain will be the monitoring center, one of six that the company operates.

Dinesh Chand, one of the newer employees hired at the monitoring center, told NBCDFW.com that the department has almost doubled in size during his tenure there.

“When I got here about a year or so ago, we had a little over 200 people,” he said. “Today, we have close to 400 folks here.”

The company is aiming to expand further through a pilot program with Best Buy. The consumer electronics retailer is selling ADT security systems at three of its stores, ADT CEO Naren Gursahaney recently told SSN’s Tess Nacelewicz.

Part of the approach is “to generate leads and create appointments,” he said, because the company still believes that security “is an over-the-kitchen-table type of sale.”

For anyone looking for company on the NYSE, it’s easy to find: the ticker symbol is ADT. Company officials will ring the opening bell there on Oct. 8.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What are central stations doing to keep up with times—and the competition—when it comes to technology, reducing false alarms and other issues of importance to the industry?

The Central Station Alarm Association would like to know.

The CSAA is looking for help in tracking technology trends and investments in personnel at monitoring centers across the country. The goal is to establish a databank “that will be useful in benchmarking performance” in the industry, according to CSAA Executive Vice President Steve Doyle.

The topics range from the basics—the number of accounts that a central handles and the certifications it has—to specifics about advanced technologies and operational policies. PERS, GPS-assisted calls, UL2050 accounts, video monitoring, video-verified alarms, ASAP protocols and employee training procedures—it’s all covered.

It’s important information that will allow the CSAA to see where the monitoring industry is and where it’s heading. The 25-question survey is also easy to complete—I filled out a placebo version in five minutes, faster than the refs could sort out a holding call in the Pats-Ravens game.

To complete the survey, click here. Participants will receive an executive summary of the findings, which will be released publicly Nov. 11-13 at the CSAA Fall Operations Management Seminar in Fairfax, Va.
 

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is your cloud provider secure?

That question, the basis of a TechSec forum in February, came to mind again this week with the release of Alert Logic’s “State of Cloud Security Report—Fall 2012.” The company, a provider of security solutions for the cloud, issued the report after analyzing more than 70,000 security incidents among 1,600 business customers.

Among the key conclusions was that “on-premise IT infrastructure is more likely to be attacked, more often, and through a broader spectrum of attack vendors than cloud-based infrastructures.” The report also cited a higher incidence of “brute force attacks and reconnaissance attacks” in on-premise environments.

The findings echo one of the points made at TechSec: While many security companies don’t trust their data in the cloud, having it on-site doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be safe.

“[Cloud] security is far greater than open data systems,” said TechSec panelist Brian McIlravey, co-CEO of PPM 2000, a manufacturer of incident reporting and investigation management software. “The enterprise-class cloud is very secure. Third parties that hold data take it very seriously—we don’t want it accessed any more than you do.”

McIlravey stressed due diligence when selecting and moving data to a cloud provider, including asking for certification and knowing what is covered in the service-level agreement. He said the same scrutiny should occur internally in the company that is moving data off-site.

“The cloud provider must have certification, but you should be asking the same questions of your IT group,” McIlravey said, referring to data access, encryption and other safeguards.

Due diligence aside, skepticism could well linger in the security industry because of the “myth” that the cloud isn’t as secure as on-site environments, said Stephen Coty, research director at Alert Logic.

“[It] is a stereotype that has prevented the industry from focusing on the real issues impacting enterprise security,” he said in a news release announcing the fall 2012 report. “Rather than falling victim to perception-based beliefs, businesses should leverage factual data to evaluate their vulnerabilities and better plan their security posture.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You don’t have to look very hard to find an alarm company that isn’t keeping pace with technology. It can be difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest, and some people are reluctant—or even defiant—when it comes to saying goodbye to the tried and true in favor of the Next Big Thing.

That attitude often spills over to the world of social media. Facebook? Twitter? “Friends” and Tweets fly just fine for the junior set, but we’re adults here. Besides, who has that kind of time to throw around?

Maybe your competition.

Social media is rapidly becoming a must-have business tool, and companies that aren’t wielding it effectively risk selling themselves short in an increasingly aggressive marketplace. Exposure and name recognition can translate into accounts no matter where you’re based or how big you are.

That fact hasn’t been lost on the Central Station Alarm Association, which will host a webinar Nov. 7 on social media strategies and how they can affect your business. Teresa Brewer of System Sensor and Michael Kremer of Intertek/ETL will discuss how to use social media to acquire customers or get referrals, boost attendance at company-sponsored events, and increase inquiries via your website or over the phone.

For those who have a success story to pass along, email Brewer at Teresa.brewer@systemsensor.com or Kremer at Michael.kremer@intertek.com. Registration information for the webinar will be available soon on the CSAA’s website.

Welcome aboard: In other CSAA news, the group’s international board of directors has approved Jay Hauhn as first vice president of the Executive Committee and Peter Lowitt as secretary. Hauhn is CTO of Tyco Integrated Security; Lowitt is president of Hicksville, N.Y.-based Lowitt Alarms & Security.

“The CSAA Nominating Committee did an exceptional job in vetting these outstanding candidates, and the unanimous vote of the board of directors reflects the complete confidence of the board in both of these exceptional gentlemen,” CSAA Executive Vice President Steve Doyle said in a prepared statement.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The headline on the news release is an attention-grabber: “PhantomLink technology pushes alarm monitoring to the cloud, threatens industry.” If that isn’t clear enough, the subhead rephrases it: “Cloud-based technology set to undermine traditional alarm monitoring industry.”

The PR piece from Phantom Data Services proceeds to trumpet the company’s new PhantomLink project, which encourages homeowners to monitor their own security systems for no charge via the Web. The project “leverages existing equipment, requires only a simple retrofit, and is offered for free with no recurring costs.”

“Nearly 80 percent of households in the U.S. have Internet access,” states Adam Peters, founder of PhantomLink.com. “So why are people still paying their hard-earned money to a central station to monitor their alarm? Just connect it to the Internet and monitor it yourself!”

The news release describes PhantomLink as a small, easy-to-install, build-it-yourself device that links an existing security system to the user’s wireless Internet connection. If the device senses an alarm, company servers alert the user with an email or a text message. Circuit schematics, interface specifications and instructions for using the “self-monitored security system solution” are available for free on PhantomLink’s Web page.

“Do-it-yourself alarm installers and electronics hobbyists are encouraged to participate in this project to develop and expand the capabilities of this technology,” the company states.

Visitors to the PhantomLink website will find all of the information mentioned in the news release, but little about the company promoting the device. Phantom Data Services is described only as “a New Mexico limited liability company specializing in website development and data-processing products and services.”

So is this the new age of monitoring? Is it time to mothball the central station and say goodbye to RMR? Will homeowners tired of “simply paying for piece of mind,” as the news release states, now opt for self-service?

Grammatical glitches aside, peace of mind is what many alarm customers are seeking. Millions have shown the willingness to pay a professional for it, even in a down economy. Do-it-yourself security will obviously appeal to some, but free doesn’t mean free of responsibility.

This also isn’t the first time the alarm industry has been down this path, said Morgan Hertel, vice president of operations for Rapid Response.

“This kind of stuff has been around for years,” Hertel told Security Systems News. “In the ’70s, it was tape dialers calling neighbors, work numbers and sometimes police departments. In the ’80s, we moved to pagers—you could get paged on alarms. Now we have email, SMS and IVR.”

While there is always something new coming down the pike, the bottom line remains the same for alarm companies: provide professional service at a competitive price and chances are you’ll stay in business. PhantomLink and other do-it-yourself offerings are unlikely to change that.

“The professional monitoring and installation companies are still here doing their thing,” Hertel said. “What most [customers] come to realize is that the cost of a monitored security system is so affordable these days, and is packed with so many features, that most people who take security seriously don’t ever consider [a DIY] solution.”
 

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Long Island, N.Y., city frustrated by unpaid false-alarm fines is taking a familiar corporate path to change its fortunes: It’s outsourcing the collection work.

Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney told CBS News that the city of 35,000 is the first on Long Island to hire an outside company to go door-to-door collecting the fines.

“I’m proud that we are innovative and the first ones doing this,” Tangney said. “And I think many municipalities will follow suit.”

The City Council on Aug. 7 voted to hire Texas-based PMAM Corp. to collect the fines, which start at $100 and rise to $700 for chronic offenders. The company will receive 24 percent of all revenues collected.

While the work went to a firm with stateside headquarters instead of one based in Mumbai, many city residents have voiced their displeasure about the outsourcing and have questioned why the city can’t do the job itself.

“I think it shows how desperate the community is for collecting revenue, and turning it over to a collection agency is a little ridiculous,” business owner Steve Felix told CBS.

City Manager Jack Schnirman defended the move, saying the city doesn’t have the resources to collect the money.

“Like many other municipalities across the nation, this is the form we’re choosing to move forward and go out and collect the fines,” he told the Long Beach Patch, adding that outsourcing is “a lot more cost-effective.”

Apparently lost in the discussion is what could be done to reduce the 1,100 false alarms that city police respond to annually, which would mitigate the fines and the need for the collection work.

Maybe a SIAC session is in order.
 

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Make it five for COPS.

The wholesale monitoring company, headquartered in Williamstown, N.J., has opened its fifth central station, an 8,000-square-foot facility in Lewisville, Texas. The new center will share live alarm traffic with the company’s centrals in New Jersey, Florida, Arizona and Tennessee.  

Four-year COPS veteran Derek Kopko will manage the new facility, which has 26 employees. Kopko relocated to Texas from COPS’ headquarters in December 2011 and has been hiring and training new dispatchers for the past seven months, the company said in a prepared statement.

Gene Reed, an industry veteran and COPS’ newest account executive, will oversee sales in the region.

David Smith, director of marketing and communications for COPS, told Security Systems News that adding central stations benefits the company in two key ways.

“First, because all five of our central stations are hot-redundant and actively share the signal load of the entire company, each central station we bring online reduces the probability that adverse local conditions [such as weather] will affect our response times,” he said. “Second, we believe that each geographical region presents its own benefits and challenges to alarm dealers. By operating central stations and having employees in these different regions, we have the opportunity to become more involved with our dealers and better understand how we can support them and help grow their business.”

Smith said the commitment to redundancy proved its worth last August during Hurricane Irene.

“When (Irene) went up the East Coast and actually hit our New Jersey headquarters, it only added about a second to our response time because we were able to overstaff all our other central stations,” he said. “The more we do that, the more that we diversify our staff, the more stable and dependable our fast response times become.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

While AT&T has finally set a date and ended the discussion over when it will push 2G into the sunset, the points of contention grow sharper over 3G versus 4G and the merits of each for cellular alarm communication.

Boiling down the argument to its simplest terms, this much is clear: Technology touted as 4G is faster and more expensive. But is that extra speed worth the money, and more importantly for alarm dealers, will it contribute to longevity in the field? And what is “real” 4G anyway?

On Monday, I talked with two industry experts who couldn’t be further apart on the issue: Gordon Hope, general manager of AlarmNet at Honeywell, and Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telguard. Both made what seemed to be valid arguments, although I confess I’m not qualified to comment on the technical merits of each. What I can do is define HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), HSPA+ (evolved HSPA), and LTE (Long Term Evolution), and offer a bit of what each man had to say:

Hope: “I don’t know whether it’s accidental or intentional, but it seems like our industry is mixing 3G and 4G together in one sentence. In reality, there’s clearly a difference—the carriers delineate it. HSPA+ and LTE from AT&T’s perspective are legitimate 4G technologies, and everything else isn’t.”

Welsh: “At a recent webinar, AT&T and Qualcomm both basically reiterated this statement: 4G is the same as 3G, it just costs more. To get down to the letter version of that, HSPA+ is the same thing as HSPA as it relates to longevity, it’s just that HSPA+ costs more.”

Hope: “We believe the best thing to do is to move up and provide a 4G radio, not stopping at 3G. HSPA+ is a 4G technology … it’s just plain faster. In AT&T’s announcement [about 2G], they even made statements that a third of their postpaid subscriber base is already using 4G technology, not 3G. That speaks to the fact that if you’re not thinking about 4G, you’re probably going to leave yourself shortchanged if you stopped at 3G network capability in the radio module you chose. We went through the additional expense to include HSPA+ 4G technology in our radio. We believe it’s going to directly translate into longevity on the wall.”

Welsh: “There’s a thought that 4G is somehow better than 3G and that somehow it will be around longer, because certainly each generation will be around longer than the previous generation. In this case it’s a misnomer, because 4G as it relates to HSPA+ is really a marketing trick, unfortunately. … What happened was that AT&T and Verizon both went out and bought up spectrum in order to deploy real 4G called LTE. And 4G LTE got a certain level of throughput—it was really fast. Well, T-Mobile did not get spectrum, so they were stuck having to advertise 3G when their major competitors were going to start advertising true 4G LTE. So they simply did what a marketing organization might do. They just said, ‘Hey, you know what? This new 3G HSPA+ is so fast it goes just as fast as that LTE they’re going to deploy, so you know what we’re going to do? Let’s just call ourselves 4G. All that really matters is the speed anyway.’ So overnight they rebranded themselves as 4G in order to compete with the marketing term of 4G LTE. And literally that’s what happened. AT&T was forced to start calling their HSPA+ network— which was really just a 3G network—a 4G network in order to compete with the marketing spin T-Mobile was putting on things. And that’s how we got 4G as it relates to HSPA+.”

Hope went on to say that while speed traditionally hasn’t been important to the alarm industry, it will play a bigger role in attracting future generations of consumers who will be loading their tablets and smartphones with security applications and a whole lot more. Welsh reiterated that longevity will remain the top priority for alarm dealers, and “from a cost standpoint, HSPA+ is a more expensive solution for the exact same longevity.”

For the record, the International Telecommunication Union states on its website that the only “true 4G technologies” are LTE Advanced and WirelessMAN Advanced, neither of which has been deployed on a large scale. The ITU goes on to say, however, that the term 4G may also be applied “to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third-generation systems now deployed.”

That sounds like a gray area open to commercial and consumer interpretation, but there's no arguing this point: Alarm dealers with radios on AT&T’s 2G networks will have to upgrade by 2017 or they’ll be left in the dark. The fadeout due to spectrum harvesting will accelerate before then, so sooner is probably better than later. Then it's just a question of sorting out the Gs.

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