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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, one of the largest storms on record and packing more destructive power than Hurricane Katrina, could very well be a sign of things to come. You can call it climate change instead of global warming and argue that the effects aren’t due to the hand of man, but there’s no denying the impact: the planet is getting warmer, ocean levels are rising and extreme weather events are becoming more common.

Coastal New York and New Jersey learned that the hard way last week. Despite a litany of warnings over the years that Lower Manhattan and the barrier islands were vulnerable to storm surge, it was business as usual until the borrowed time finally ran out. The ocean overran berms, subway tunnels flooded and electrical infrastructure once thought to be safe ended up under 5 feet of water.

“Anyone who says there is not a change in weather patterns is denying reality,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Oct. 30 as he inspected water damage at the World Trade Center. “We have old infrastructure, we have old systems. That is not a good combination, and that is one of the lessons I will take from this personally.”

The vulnerability of the infrastructure hit home for New York-based SecureWatch 24 on the morning after Sandy came ashore. The company had moved its critical systems to a facility in Texas before the storm, but it still had semi-critical servers at a co-location site in downtown Manhattan. That proved to be a problem when much of the island was inundated and the power failed, said Gene Dellaglio, chief technology officer for SW24.

“They have generators on the 17th floor of this building, diesel generators,” Dellaglio said last week as he traced a time line of the storm. “The pumps that supply the diesel to the 17th floor are in the basement, which is now flooded. Manhattan is flooded. The pumps shut down. By the time we get down there, people are carrying 5-gallon spackle buckets up 17 flights of stairs from a diesel tank downstairs to get the [generators] running. It’s a bucket brigade. I said we’ve got to get out of here.”

Within an hour, SW24 had moved the servers and had them up and running at its new Fusion Centre in Moonachie, N.J., which also served as a command post for emergency responders and local officials displaced by Sandy. While the company was happy to help and was grateful that it had weathered the storm, Dellaglio said it was easy to see that a threshold had been crossed.

“I did 12 years in the NYPD. … I saw the blackout in 2004, I saw Sept. 11 up close and personal, but I’ve never seen [an emergency] as expansive as this, with everything from the gas to the stores to the [shortage of] food,” he said. “And I think there is a lot to be learned here too in the bigger picture about critical infrastructure. How do you put pumps in the basement for diesel when the generators are on the 17th floor? They evacuated Bellevue Hospital for the same reason.”

It’s something that hasn’t gotten enough attention in New York, which relies on an intricate network below ground to drive just about everything above it. But with the region facing what Cuomo calls a “new reality” of extreme weather events, it might be time to rethink the game plan.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The snowy remnants of Hurricane Sandy are still blowing across the ridges of West Virginia, but the worst is over for the Eastern Seaboard. Now the recovery begins. And as is the case with any natural disaster, preparation holds the key to the extent of the difficulties ahead.

The lesson—one that’s often learned the hard way—is that it pays to do your homework and have a backup plan in place. The monitoring industry prides itself on that, of course, a fact that was validated by a quick SSN survey of central stations in the Northeast after the storm. It showed that while Sandy packed a tremendous punch, the industry was ready to handle it.

Long Island, N.Y., was one of the areas hit hardest by the storm, with thousands of homes damaged and nearly 1 million customers left without power Monday night. Andy Lowitt, vice president of dealer relations for Hicksville-based Metrodial, said via email Tuesday that despite the horrific damage in the area, the central station weathered the storm.

“Lots of downed trees and power lines … 912,000 [on Long Island] without power today versus 934,000 this morning, so tons of customers with beeping keypads, smokes and carbons,” Lowitt wrote. “Our natural-gas generator powered our central from 3 p.m. yesterday until power was restored today around 2 p.m. We had some valiant efforts of operators making it in during the day yesterday. Most PDs and some FDs stopped responding during the overnight hours and at one point we had over 3,000 signals in queue.”

New Jersey was also pounded by Sandy, but COPS Monitoring in Williamstown was prepared and took it all in stride, according to Executive Vice President Don Maden.

“In short, we proactively re-routed a percentage of alarm traffic away from N.J. to other sites, and significantly increased staffing at our other four central station locations,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “We had 100 percent uptime in N.J. with services, did not lose power, and handled nearly double the normal alarm traffic across our network of central stations yesterday. Today, as expected, was heavy with alarm activity as well. [Generators] kicked on due to a few power flickers, but the grid stayed up.”

Don Piston, vice president of sales and marketing for Dynamark Monitoring in Hagerstown, Md., also reported heavy alarm volume but said “we knew that was coming.”

“We did great. We got battered with AC power loss and low battery signals because of all the power outages, so the traffic was just huge,” he told SSN on Wednesday morning. “But we sailed right through. We had the staffing in place. It’s almost no news because we did everything we were supposed to do.”

Despite Sandy’s mammoth strength and reach, it didn’t cause a lot of damage in Syracuse, N.Y.—just 250 miles from New York City and the home of Rapid Response Monitoring. Morgan Hertel, vice president of operations, said Wednesday that at the height of the storm, “we were getting pizzas delivered by the local pizza place. [Sandy] really wasn’t a big deal. It was like business as usual.”

That might have been the case meteorologically, but it wasn’t the case when it came to alarm traffic. At the peak, “we were seeing well over 100 signals a second coming in,” Hertel said, adding that Rapid is well versed in storm preparation and had extra staffing in place.

“We’re back to normal shifts today,” he said. “The technology did what it was supposed to do, the people did what they were supposed to do, and quite honestly we couldn’t be happier with the result. We even saved a few lives along the way.”

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Looking for signs of the 2G sunset? Don’t blink.

That was the message today from Telguard’s Shawn Welsh, who notified CSAA members via the group’s ACCENT email service that AT&T has begun to pull the shade on Arizona’s Pinal and Gila counties.

“For those of you with cellular customers in Arizona, AT&T has announced that there will be no roaming network available to 2G GSM/GPRS-only cellular devices using [the company’s] 410 SIMs—they are often yellow in color—in Pinal and Gila counties starting on Nov. 1, 2012,” Welsh wrote.

If you struggle to keep pace with the calendar—and I am among you—that means next Thursday.

Welsh said he and his counterparts at other cellular equipment companies made a promise at the CSAA’s annual meeting, held Oct. 12-17 in Hawaii, to keep the industry informed about pockets of lost 2G coverage “as soon as we were notified by our carrier partners.”

“Having just returned this week, this one is beating the official CSAA process,” he wrote.

Welsh advised anyone with customers in the two counties to contact their cellular manufacturer for official confirmation from AT&T and a coverage map to determine if their units are affected.

“Only your cellular device manufacturer (or waiting until next Thursday—not recommended) can advise you of your potential loss of service,” he said.

Welsh said Telguard customers should not notice a change “as we do not use 410 SIMs in our [legacy] 2G or 3G devices.” For those affected by the AT&T announcement, “you’ll need to roll trucks next week and replace the units with a device operating on a 3G/4G network,” he said.
 

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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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