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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The outrage and debate in the wake of the Newtown massacre will inevitably bring change. It might not involve the federal action that many have demanded—a ban on assault weapons tops the list—but it is certain to include local initiatives that strengthen school security: improved access control, additional guard services, expanded video surveillance or a combination of the three.

Unfortunately, school shootings are a problem that security alone can’t address, involving complex issues that go well beyond simply installing metal detectors or better entry controls. A determined, well-armed assailant will still be able to kill despite the best intentions of public officials—that was proven in Newtown. Progress can be made to limit the scope of such tragedies, but to think we can eliminate them is naïve.

That being said, and with the horror of the Connecticut shootings still painfully fresh, it might come as a surprise to learn that the number of school homicides in the United States has dropped since the early 1990s. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were two years during that decade—1992 and 1997—when the school homicide toll among students ages 5-18 rose to 34. By 2010, that number had fallen to 17. The decline hasn’t been constant and one slain student is one too many, but it’s a decline nonetheless.

For many schools, the tipping point for action was the Columbine High massacre in 1999, which led to the widespread adoption of lockdown procedures and other safety protocols. That sense of urgency has faded, however, according to school security consultant Kenneth Trump, who told The Washington Post this week that “the conversation and the training that we have today [are] not at the same level of consistency and intensity.”

Physical security assets at the nation’s schools also have lagged. Michael Dorn, executive director of the nonprofit group Safe Havens International, told the Post that fewer than 10 percent of U.S. schools have strong access control with locked entryways, buzzers, protective glass and camera or intercom systems. That’s likely to change after Newtown, he said, as school districts feel pressure to upgrade security.

“There’s a shift from concern to panic, if you will, and you have parents doing something to improve safety,” Dorn said.

That presents an opportunity for security companies not only to benefit financially—the unspoken result whenever such tragedies occur—but also to strengthen the protection of children across the nation. Regardless of what happens at the federal level, local school districts are sure to come knocking.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response has added four new voices to its campaign to increase arrests and reduce property losses through the use of video-verified alarms.

Joining the PPVAR’s board of directors are Jacqueline Grimm, vice president of security solutions for Diebold Inc.; Douglas Curtiss, president of Sonitrol New England; Jon Bolen, chief technology officer for Interface Security Systems; and Robert Baxter, president of Radius Security.

The new directors from the security industry will work with representatives from the National Sheriffs Association and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an alliance of groups that would have seemed unlikely a few years ago.  

“We’re pleased to join PPVAR to promote priority response to video alarms that are verified by a certified central station,” Grimm said in a prepared statement from the partnership. “[Diebold has] offered alarm verification services for many years, and our focus on priority response, apprehension and risk reduction provides comprehensive threat protection. Also, by assisting law enforcement with a second-by-second situation analysis, we can help improve officer and customer safety while increasing criminal apprehension rates.”

Bolen, who was the chief product officer for Westec before it was recently acquired by Interface, is a 15-year veteran of video verification. He cited its benefits by breaking down the numbers.

“We have reduced and maintained our dispatch rate to less than 3 percent of events handled by our operators, meaning that over 97 percent of the alarms we receive are resolved without the costly, and often needless, intervention of authorities,” he said in the PPVAR statement. “We are pleased to join an organization promoting this kind of value.”

Curtiss of Sonitrol, which has a history working with police to make arrests through audio verification, echoed Bolen’s sentiments.

“Whether it is audio or video, the operator is a witness to a crime in progress,” he said. “From my perspective, the ‘V’ in PPVAR is ‘verification.’ We support his organization and its work to reduce false alarms and make more arrests.”

Canada gets a nod in the PPVAR with the addition of Baxter. He is president of Radius Security, a Greater Vancouver video monitoring central station.

“Alarm response in many cities in Canada has been degrading as budgets and police resources decline,” he said. “Video-verified alarms help us provide greater security for our customers and reduce false alarms for our law enforcement partners.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Picture the perfect world for a monitoring manager: Every dispatcher takes every call efficiently and professionally, with no need for motivation beyond a paycheck and the satisfaction of a job well done. There are no prizes, awards, back-patting or cajoling, saving you time, money and maybe even a bit of your hairline.

If your central station has a work force that rises to that level, congratulations. Chances are, though, that no matter how many self-motivators you have, you also have employees who are content to just do their time—punch in, punch out, repeat. Maybe the work they’re doing can be considered satisfactory, but that’s not going to cut it in an industry that is getting more competitive by the day.

So how do you get those staffers to take it up a notch to help themselves and your company? To answer that question, the CSAA has recruited Amy Becht and Michelle Lindus, central station managers for Vivint, to share their expertise in a Dec. 12 webinar titled “Measuring Performance for Excellence.”

The session will focus on what the CSAA calls “the nuanced art and science” of measuring and improving staff performance. That includes assessing objective and subjective customer call metrics, promoting professionalism among dispatchers, and implementing incentives. Becht and Lindus will highlight some of the best practices employed by Vivint, which was named 2012 Central Station of the Year by the CSAA.

Becht, honored as the CSAA’s Manager of the Year, oversees monitoring at Vivint’s central station in St. Paul, Minn. She talked about home security in SSN’s “How I Use My System” feature in the September 2012 issue. Lindus is manager of Vivint’s central station in Provo, Utah.

The webinar will run from 1 to 2 p.m. EST and is free for CSAA members. Click here to register or go to www.csaaintl.org.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SecureWatch 24’s new Fusion Centre in Moonachie, N.J., has a new tenant: Monitor America.

That’s the name of the company that will be operating the 25,000-square-foot central station at the facility, which served as an emergency command post for police and municipal officials after Hurricane Sandy.

Jay Stuck, chief marketing officer for Monitor America, said the company “brings together virtually all existing alarm and hosted video services available today, including video analytics, in one central point.”

Stuck said Monitor America is developing a third-party sales initiative and a traditional dealer program. It will all be anchored by the advanced technology at the Fusion Centre, with a 40-by-11-foot video display wall overlooking stadium-style seating for 36 operators.

“It looks like something NASA might put together—our dealer customers and integrators will be knocked out by it,” he said.

Monitor America is hosting a sneak preview of its new facility during ISC East and is expected to begin formal operations by the end of January.

After the storm: How did you cell carrier measure up?

It’s only been a month since Sandy, but officials are already deep into assessing its impact on everything from tunnel vulnerability to emergency communications. Part of the evaluation concerns cellular service, with FCC hearings set early next year on network performance during and after the storm.

Lou Fiore, chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Committee, said the group plans to weigh in and is seeking comment on the following:

1) How alarm service was adversely affected by cellular carriers’ handling of the storm.
2) How cell carriers handled prioritizing restoration of service.
3) How cell carriers communicated with alarm companies about storm issues.
4) How any problems can be resolved.

Fiore said the issue will be discussed at the AICC’s Dec. 6 meeting and all comments are appreciated. Responses can be sent to Ltfiore@aol.com.
 

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

City-mandated video surveillance? It’s on the table in Pine Bluff, Ark.

In the wake of the unsolved killing of a convenience store clerk, local leaders are considering an ordinance to require convenience stores and restaurants to install and maintain surveillance cameras on their properties, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on Nov. 12.

The move was prompted by the shooting death of Mohammad Islam during an attempted robbery Sept. 25 at the Big Red Food Mart. The shooter has not been apprehended, a situation that police investigators say has not been helped by the fact that security cameras inside the store were not working at the time of the crime.

“What we want to ensure is the safety of people working in these stores,” said Alderman George Stepps, who sponsored the ordinance. “That’s the bottom line here.”

Fines of up to $1,000 could be assessed against storeowners, managers or clerks at properties found in noncompliance. The city’s Fire and Emergency Services Department would inspect properties and ensure that cameras are operational.

According to the Democrat-Gazette, Pine Bluff—population 49,083—could be the first city of its size in the state to have such an ordinance.

Capt. Greg Shapiro of the Pine Bluff Police Department told the newspaper that the department supports the proposal and sees it as a crime deterrent.

“We asked for this piece of legislation following [Islam’s] murder,” Shapiro said. “We don’t want to place a financial burden on any business, but this is 2012, and the technology is available and affordable to protect employees [of these businesses] and help us deter, as well as solve, crimes.”

Keith Jentoft, president of RSI Video Technologies, said the proposed ordinance is a sign of the times: using technology to fight crime instead of throwing declining law enforcement personnel against it.

“What I find fascinating is that the motivation is not to reduce false alarms, but to make arrests,” Jentoft told Security Systems News. He said Pine Bluff’s ordinance and similar legislation can help the alarm industry “upsell an entire community of businesses so that their alarm systems can do a better job of protecting people.”

The Pine Bluff City Council on Monday night postponed a vote on the proposal.

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We’re getting into the time of the year when opportunistic thieves make the most of others’ holiday cheer and generosity. Packages left at the doorway or a pile of presents that can be easily seen from outside a home send a signal to the unscrupulous: Come and get it.

Alarm systems are an obvious deterrent, with the signs and decals accompanying them often enough to make thieves think twice. But for true peace of mind, there’s no substitute for an actual system. The problem is that many alarm users don’t know how to properly use their systems, or if they do, they neglect to do so.

The Security Industry Alarm Association estimates that 77 percent of all false alarms are due to end-user error. Many of those end users could just as easily forget to arm their systems amid the bustle of the holidays, essentially leaving the door open to property crime. It’s safe to say most alarm companies could tell a tale or two along those lines.

There are other ways to reinforce security at home, though, measures that might seem obvious but somehow are frequently overlooked. With that in mind, the Electronic Security Association has rolled out a tip sheet to help homeowners think like an intruder. Alarm companies can also use the tips to remind their customers to think deterrence, especially during the holidays.

Here’s an excerpt of what the ESA had to say:

Most home intrusions can be classified as random opportunistic acts—not planned events. Homeowners can protect against a home intrusion by looking at the weaknesses of their home from an intruder’s point of view. Here are a few questions an intruder might ask when deciding on a house to target.

 

Is anyone home?
The first thing many intruders do is check to see if anyone is home. Sometimes the intruder will simply knock on the front door. If someone answers, the intruder may make up an excuse for the disturbance, such as being lost and needing directions. If no one answers, the intruder may do further research to ensure the home is vacant. He or she may look into windows and listen for the sound of someone watching television. Other times, if the knock at the door goes unanswered, the intruder may try his or her luck at an unlocked door. Three out of 10 times, he or she will hit the jackpot and walk right in.
 Homeowners should try to make their homes appear occupied at all times. Timers for inside lights and televisions serve as easy solutions. Another effective and cost-efficient measure to consider is motion sensor lights. Placing these lights in dark areas outside of the home may scare away potential intruders lurking in the shadows.

Is the home equipped with an alarm system?
A 2009 study by the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice found that an installed burglar alarm makes a dwelling less attractive to would-be and active intruders and protects the home without displacing burglaries to nearby homes. Additionally, the Cromwell-Olson-Avary study, conducted to better understand offenders’ perception of the risks and rewards involved in criminal activity, found that nearly all convicted intruders (90 percent) admitted that they would avoid homes that are equipped with alarm systems. Additionally, the study revealed that if a potential intruder sees a yard sign or window decal from a credible security company outside of a home, around 75 percent would think twice about going through with an attack. But signs and decals aren’t enough to deter an intruder; alarm systems are the best protection against home intrusion.

What is the easiest way to break in?
On average, intruders will spend no more than 60 seconds breaking into a home, since a longer attempt may result in detection by a neighbor or passer-by. First, they will seek out unlocked or open doors and windows—even on the second or third floor—that can be accessed by a ladder. And sometimes, a standard locked door or window won’t always be enough to stop them. Homeowners should consider upgrading to deadbolts and reinforcing the frame of their front door to make a break-in more strenuous for the intruder.

Will anyone notice?
Intruders tend to target homes that they can get away from easily. For an intruder, an ideal home would be located in a dark, lifeless neighborhood with good hiding places and escape paths, such as overgrown bushes or trees in the yard. Hiding areas can be eliminated by keeping the landscaping neatly trimmed and using outdoor lights so the home is well lit at night. Homeowners are encouraged to start or join a neighborhood watch group. These groups can help reduce the risk of home intrusion for everyone in the community. By enhancing the home’s security features with electronic timers, motion sensor lighting and a professionally installed security system, homeowners can protect their property and keep their family safe from crime.

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.”

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