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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Does anyone remember Carlton, the heard-but-never-seen doorman from the forgettable ’70s sitcom “Rhoda”? Little did anyone realize it, but the character was destined to become a model for RMR more than 30 years later: a remote gatekeeper providing access without the need for actual flesh and blood at the doorway.

Carlton and his real-life colleagues have increasingly given way to remote doorman service, with access granted after audio and video review by a central station operator. Depending on the technology that has been installed, the operator can also escort a person through the building after allowing entry. It’s typically safer and cheaper than a 24/7 doorman, and it negates the need for mindless chitchat.

The problem lies in the recording of the encounter, or more specifically what can happen to the data after the encounter. A security company generating RMR from a remote doorman needs to know what regulations are in place to govern the surveillance and what can happen if they don’t meet the letter of the law.

Industry attorney Ken Kirschenbaum took on the topic in a recent online missive that serves as an effective primer for anyone looking to dip into this stream of revenue. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

The service necessarily has to be concerned with state video and audio laws. Video laws vary; some are rooted in voyeurism laws and others refer to using another’s picture for commercial gain. Audio laws are more similar and are either one-party consent or all-party consent. 

“As with any video or audio system or services, you run the risk of misuse. You also can’t escape the likelihood that other non-consenting people may be in the range of the equipment. For example, while escorting the mailman or the pizza delivery guy in the building, the operator may pick up video or audio of a tenant or others in the corridors or lobby. While the mailman may understand that he is talking with an operator who can see him on video, others [who] may be picked up and recorded are not so advised, and in any event have not consented.

“The real problem is not in the listening or recording, but in the improper use of the data. If data is not disclosed to anyone, then no one is the wiser. It's when the data [becomes] public or it is used for an improper purpose—such as blackmail—that you need to be concerned with violation of the video and audio laws and the consequences that flow from such improper conduct.

For more information on the audio and video laws that could affect your company, click here.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Giving your customer list to law enforcement makes sense.

That statement seems to fly in the face of convention for the alarm industry, which hasn’t exactly been cozy over the years with the boys in blue. But Dave Simon, writing recently for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, makes a compelling case for doing so.

Simon argues that there are far more benefits to cooperating with law enforcement than erecting barriers. Despite concerns in the past that sensitive information about customers could be compromised, that hasn’t happened, he said. And he draws another conclusion (agree with it or not) in this age of surveillance: Police departments will eventually get the lists anyway, so why not partner with them as good citizens?

The bottom line, Simon wrote, is that SIAC believes the cooperative approach bears more fruit. Here’s more of what he had to say:

Besides being nice, alarm dealers are actually helping customers in those cities where they provide the lists. Why? Because the list helps the PD do their job, ensure compliance and get systems registered. All that means a better-run alarm management program, improved enforcement and increased public safety. That’s good for the alarm dealer because customers have fewer false dispatches, saving them expensive fines and the risk of losing police response.

SIAC promotes cooperative problem-solving. This is a great example of how we can be supportive and help local jurisdictions—particularly the police department—conserve resources. We’ve found that even the largest national companies give lists. Cooperating with law enforcement is not a novel idea. Supplying customer lists should be an extension of our continued cooperation to ensure well-executed alarm management programs.

Simon invites opinions on the subject, pro or con, at siacinc.wordpress.com.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Looking for a pair of used Osborne Hoffmann 2000 receivers? How about a mix of Philips Lifeline 6800 and 6900 PERS units? Or maybe you have a security item to sell but you don’t want to pay to list it?

Welcome to AlarmClassifieds.com. It’s the brainchild of Josh Garner, CEO of Ogden, Utah-based AvantGuard Monitoring, who launched the free website in May because he saw a need for it among his dealers and in the industry at large.

“Last year, I had a number of our dealers who emailed me a list of equipment or tools that they were trying to sell, and they asked me to broadcast out to our entire dealer base that they had these items for sale,” he said. “I knew there had to be a more effective way for dealers to sell things to other dealers. So I went out and bought the domain.”

In addition to providing classified advertising space, the website features a directory where people serving the alarm industry can list their names (or the names of their companies). The classified ads expire in 30 days, but the directory items stay online for a year. All listings are free.

“I envision every vendor who is serving the alarm industry would want to put a directory listing up specifically in their category,” Garner said. “Why wouldn’t they? It’s free advertising.”

Categories on the site include brokers, consultants, manufacturers, marketing, software providers and RMR-enhancing services. There are more than 20 categories listed, and Garner said if you have one to add, “tell us and we’ll create it for you.”

Garner modeled the site on the popular KSL classifieds that serve Web customers in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. KSL is the NBC news affiliate in Salt Lake City that has basically replaced Craigslist in the region with the advertising section on its home page, he said.

“If you want to buy something, if you want to sell something, you go to KSL.com for free,” he said.

The only mention of AvantGuard on AlarmClassifieds.com is small text block and company logo introducing the website. There is no other display advertising.

“This isn’t about revenue,” Garner said. “It’s a service to my dealers, but it’s really only a service to my dealers if the rest of the industry uses it. It’s about giving something that’s of value to the industry that I think is needed.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It’s not the kind of press you would expect for video surveillance, especially after all of the positive PR for helping bring down the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Only onward and upward, right?

Apparently Philadelphia didn’t get the memo.

Last week, City Controller Alan Butkovitz announced the results of an audit of the police department’s surveillance camera program. The news wasn’t favorable: Only 32 percent of the cameras reviewed were functioning as they should, down from 45 percent found to working properly during a random sampling last year.

“That means that at any given time when crime is occurring around our city, only a third of the cameras are able to capture criminal activity at camera locations,” Butkovitz told the Philadelphia Daily News. He said the system is “worse than useless” because it gives residents a false sense of security.

Butkovitz said the problems included blurry images with pixelated edges and condensation in camera domes, making it difficult or impossible to read license plates and identify crime suspects.

“Suppose that had been the quality of photos in the Boston bombing,” Butkovitz told KYW Newsradio, letting listeners draw their own conclusions.

Mayor Michael Nutter was quick to respond to the assertions, calling Butkovitz’s report inaccurate. Nutter said that by his administration’s count, 85 percent of the 216 police cameras were working as of May 27.

Asked by the Daily News why there was such a wide discrepancy in the figures, Nutter said, “I can’t account for the controller’s inability to count. … We know what cameras work. [Butkovitz] does some kind of sampling. We actually pay attention to all of the cameras.”

Regardless of who’s right, Philly’s spat highlights the benefits for the security industry post-Boston. For cities that don’t have a video surveillance system, the law enforcement benefits of adding one have never been more obvious. For cities that are already onboard, now is the time to make sure the systems are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That goes for the monitoring side as well.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

After a three-year stint in PERS, Ty Davis has launched a venture to make the security world a more beautiful place: producing keypad overlays that can be customized to match any home or office.

Davis, an SSN "20 under 40" alumnus, got his start at Southwest Dispatch and then moved on to become VP of monitoring at Life Alert. He still sees a great future for PERS, but he also sees a growing consumer demand for something beyond the standard white keypad—something that dealers can benefit from as well.

"I'm not talking about the big guys, the ADTs and such, but the smaller dealers who need to be able to brand their security systems like anybody else," Davis said. "This kind of gives them a leg up on branding while matching the decor of the customer's home, which has always been a stickler for many mid- to high-end properties accent-wise."

Davis' new company, OWOW Designs, is catering to that niche. It just expanded to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Agoura Hills, Calif., where four full-time employees are producing keypads personalized with everything from family photos to patterns matching the foyer wallpaper.

"It's basically a car wrap—it's the exact same material," he said. "After the customer chooses what they want, you can still add your company name and logo. That way, you make sure you get that recurring revenue if the customer moves on and the next customer comes in, looks around and says, 'I need to call this guy' because it's his name on the keypad. It's the same way it works for the major alarm companies."

Asked about his tenure at Life Alert and PERS in general, Davis had nothing but good things to say.

"It was a wonderful experience," he said. "The move to a strictly PERS environment was an eye-opener. It was great to see another part of the industry and how it is truly a help to the elderly, providing them with additional protection inside the home. It's amazing how many independent dealers as well as major guys are getting into the market."

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The last time SSN caught up with Mary Jo Vance, she was exploring opportunities in security consulting after a stint with 1 Time Inc. in Nevada and the Central American nation of Belize. Now the CSAA’s 2007 Manager of the Year has launched a venture that combines her love of travel with her dedication to the industry: plugging in as a temporary central station manager whenever and wherever she is needed.

“It’s a new concept and I truly believe there is a market for it,” Vance said last week from her home base outside of St. Louis. “When I came up with the idea, I asked myself what makes me happy and what am I good at. … I used to fly many years ago for British Caledonian, which is now British Airways, and I was always ready to pick up and go. And what’s my passion? The security industry. So what’s tying me down now? Nothing.”

Vance, better known in the industry as MJ, said the “have manager, will travel” concept will appeal to companies that need an experienced hand to fill in at vacation time, to help groom a new monitoring supervisor, or to handle more pressing concerns.

“I just got a call last night from a prospective client who said he had a central station manager who had some personal problems and just up and left,” she said. “Although that’s not the best way to exit, it does happen, so what do you do? Who fills in until a seasoned manager is hired? That’s where my services come in.”

Vance’s experience includes eight years at CenterPoint Technologies, where she was vice president of operations and business development. She also has served as the president of ESA of Missouri, president of the St. Louis Alarm Association, and treasurer of the Missouri Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. She received the Presidential Award from the Fire Marshals’ Association of Missouri in 2010.

Vance said she keeps the identities of her clients confidential and that her services aren’t limited to the United States. “I have passport, will travel. It’s current,” she said with a laugh. To find out more, drop her an email at mjvancemj@hotmail.com.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“It’s a good day in Georgia.”

That was the reaction from John Loud, president of the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association, after Gov. Nathan Deal signed enhanced call verification into law on May 6. GELSSA, with an assist from the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, had been pushing for ECV for years and finally saw it brought to fruition with House Bill 59.

It wasn’t an easy process. As HB 687, the initiative made it through the Georgia House last year and through state Senate committees, but the legislative session ended before the bill could be brought to a vote on the Senate floor, Loud said. Then, HB 59 had to overcome resistance from those questioning the need for ECV.

“Some of the legislators were asking us, ‘Well, if it’s so great, why don’t you guys do it on your own? Why do you have to make it a law?” Loud said.

The explanation comes down to competition, with some alarm companies in pockets of Georgia using ECV—or lack thereof—to their advantage while ignoring the problem of false dispatches.

“They tell customers, ‘We only have to make one call [for police dispatch],’ so people would go against alarm companies that are doing ECV—‘You don’t want to monitor with them, they have to make two calls,’” Loud said. “And now this kind of equalizes it across the board. It’s right for the industry, it’s right for municipalities and it’s certainly right from the taxpayers’ standpoint.”

Law enforcement worked closely with GELSSA on the initiative, with the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police endorsing ECV. Loud said there were a few initial concerns from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, “but once they understood that this is not about fire, they came on board and supported us right away.” ECV will not be required in the case of a fire alarm, panic alarm or robbery-in-progress alarm, according to the statute.

Loud said success also hinged on “getting the right folks to adopt and carry the bill forward for us.” The legislation was sponsored by state Republican Reps. Tom Taylor, Kevin Cooke and Lynne Riley.

SIAC Director Ron Walters said Georgia is the fifth state to legislate ECV, joining Delaware, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. The law goes into effect on July 1.
 

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 8, 2013

For residents of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in America, terrorism probably doesn’t top their list of concerns. But with video surveillance in the spotlight after the Boston bombing, those cities now have a chance to take advantage of the attack in the name of safety.

The danger list, presented last week by the research website Neighborhood Scout, includes the usual suspects. Detroit, Chicago and Flint, Mich., all made the lineup, with Detroit taking the top three spots based on the predicted number of violent crimes per 1,000 neighborhood residents.

No surprise there. What is surprising is the number of smaller cities that are cited, places that aren’t typically associated with murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault. A neighborhood in Greenville, S.C., comes in at No. 8, Indianapolis shows up twice, and even Nashville takes a hit—residents of the Eighth Avenue South/Wedgewood Avenue area have a 1-in-14 chance of being a victim of violent crime in any given year.

"So many people think, well, I live in a medium city so it can't be that bad, not like big cities like New York or Los Angeles," Andrew Schiller, the founder of Neighborhood Scout, told The Huffington Post. "But those cities aren't that dangerous overall—of course they have dangerous neighborhoods—but they aren't nearly as dangerous as places like Indianapolis."

Schiller’s contention is backed by FBI data from more than 17,000 local law enforcement agencies, making it tough to dispute. For the cities on the list, it can only be seen as a black eye. But for those who see better security through video surveillance, it’s an opportunity to add to a growing chorus in the wake of the Boston bombing.

In the past three weeks, there has been an official push for more video cameras—and for greater integration of surveillance systems—in cities including Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles. The successful use of video in identifying the suspects in Boston has tempered criticism of the cost and given rise to discussion of public and private partnerships to share video data.

"If [a company has] a camera that films an area we're interested in, then why put up a separate camera?" said Dennis Storemski, director of Houston’s office of public safety and homeland security, in an interview with The Associated Press. "And we allow them to use ours too."

That kind of cooperation holds promise for cutting crime and increasing arrests, but only if the network is properly set up, integrated and monitored. Success will also hinge on addressing privacy concerns and fears that freedom will fall prey to technology run amok, especially if the surveillance extends beyond city centers and into residential areas like those cited by Neighborhood Scout.

 “Look, we don't want an occupied state. We want to be able to walk the good balance between freedom and security," Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles police told The Associated Press. "If this helps prevent [and] deter but also detect … who did [a crime], I guess the question is can the American public tolerate that type of security.”

Right now the smart money is on “yes.”

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There has been a lot of debate in the past few months about the government infringing on the privacy and rights of its citizens. Most of the heat has been generated by the standoff over gun control, but you don’t have to look far to find people who think Big Brother is lurking around every corner—at the IRS, DHS and even your local cop shop.

So what about video surveillance? Did the fact that video helped take down the Boston bombers give the powers-that-be carte blanche to watch your every move, whenever and wherever you go? Will there soon be blanket surveillance every time you step out your door? And if that’s the case, where is the outrage and pushback?

Apparently there won’t be any. In a poll taken after the Boston bombing, The New York Times and CBS News found that 78 percent of Americans favor installing video surveillance cameras in public places, judging that any infringement on their privacy is worth it to help prevent terrorist attacks.

That sentiment bodes well for the security industry, which stands to profit from the increased public and private spending. Even before the bombing, IMS Research was projecting a 114 percent increase in the global market for video surveillance equipment, from $9.6 billion in 2010 to $20.5 billion in 2016. IMS is in the process of revising that forecast, no doubt making it even rosier.

Which brings us to drones (or maybe not, but that’s where I’m going). Last week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said he would be interested in using aerial surveillance technology to monitor events like the Boston Marathon. He wasn’t talking about helicopters—the price of drones has gotten to the point where local police departments are using them, particularly in rural areas.

The security industry might be able to benefit from that development too. The question is, when will the privacy line be crossed in the minds of the public? You might feel safer knowing that your bank or train station is under surveillance, but how will you feel when a police drone flies over your house? Or am I being paranoid?

It will be interesting to see what happens on that front. For now, though, protection has trumped the freedom to remain anonymous, at least when it comes to surveillance on the ground. The Tsarnaev brothers can attest to that.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Looking back on it, it was a little too close for comfort: Walking the streets of Cambridge at about the same time the Boston Marathon bombers were killing a police officer at MIT, just a few blocks from a nightclub where I was heading with a friend. Investigators had released photos of the suspects a few hours earlier and they were now on the run, with a carjacking, police chase (more on that later) and shootout to follow.

The two men should have known they wouldn’t remain anonymous for long. Given the extent of video surveillance at the bombing site and the number of people taking photos of the race on their cellphones, it was only a matter of time before authorities put the pieces together. Credit for identifying the suspects goes not only to the police and FBI, but also to the technology that made it happen.

The use of that technology extended to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect who fled on foot after surviving the shootout on the night of April 18. Holed up in a shrink-wrapped boat in Watertown, his presence was confirmed by helicopter with the help of thermal-imaging cameras provided by FLIR Systems.

In a black-and-white image that has gone viral since Tsarnaev was taken into custody, his glowing body can be seen through the covering on the boat. Police later sent in an unmanned vehicle to lift the covering, which allowed them to determine that Tsarnaev was not wearing an explosive vest. They soon moved in and apprehended him, ending four days of high anxiety.

My night in Cambridge ended with an improvised escape from town. After leaving the club we found the streets buzzing with dozens of police cruisers, all screaming west toward the shootout in Watertown. Think of the chase scene from “The Blues Brothers” movie—no intersection was safe to cross, even if you had a green light. The main routes out of Cambridge were blocked, so we had to pick our way through a maze of side streets until we found our way home.

What we didn’t know that night was that the MIT slaying and the bombing suspects were connected. That information was confirmed after we made it out of the city, which was soon under lockdown. I'm not sure I would have changed my plans, but I'm obviously glad our paths didn’t cross.
 

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