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Rich Miller

Self-monitoring on the down low

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I just saw an item that takes self-monitoring of a home security alarm system to new heights … or should I say to new lows?

It also falls under the category of: “Dude, wouldn’t it be easier (not to mention safer) to have your alarm system professionally monitored?”

What I saw was on a site called Hack A Day. The site is devoted to news about hacking, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about the item, which describes how a hacker who wanted to cancel his monitoring contract decided to rig up a system in which he could monitor his security system himself.

Security Systems News has already written about the drawbacks of legitimate self-monitored systems like Lowe’s Iris home management system. Check out what my colleague Rich Miller wrote on that topic about how most homeowners really don’t want to function as their own central station, trying to decide when to call 911 or not.

In the case of this hacker … yeah, so after what looks like a lot of work he reportedly can now monitor his home security system himself. But to provide the service a central station does, he has to be keeping tabs on his home 24/7 and know how to respond appropriately to each emergency when it occurs. Those kinds of benefits can’t just be hacked into.

Texas twist: N.Y. city outsourcing to collect alarm fines

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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.
 

Lowe’s Iris: Boon or bane in fight against false alarms?

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On one hand, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Lowe’s new Iris home management system. It’s do-it-yourself for those with the dexterity to install a thermostat, it’s cloud-based so homeowners can control and check on their properties remotely, and it’s inexpensive: starter kits range from $179 to $299, and there are no monthly fees for those who choose to do their own alarm monitoring.

On the other hand, how many homeowners are really prepared to be their own central station?

Sarah-Frances Wallace, a Lowe’s spokeswoman, recently touted the self-monitoring aspect of Iris in an interview with SSN's Tess Nacelewicz. Wallace said homeowners “can respond appropriately” when they receive a security alert, using an Iris camera to see “if there’s an intruder in your home that would require police response … or if it’s the dog knocking something over.”

Wallace said DIY monitoring helps avoid the problem of false alarms, for which many municipalities now charge homeowners a penalty. “This kind of gives the homeowner more control over triggered alarm events in the home,” she said.

But what happens when the homeowner decides the alarm is legit, they call 911, police respond and they find nothing amiss? What happens when the scenario gets played out three or four times in a month at the same residence? Do you think the municipality is going to continue to absorb the cost of dispatching officers and cruisers?

Ask any alarm company owner and I think you'll get a consistent response to that. Municipal budgets are tight and they're only going to get tighter. Just because a professional wasn't involved in the installation and monitoring of a system doesn't mean local officials are suddenly going to forgive and forget when it comes to false alarms.

For homeowners who want a little help when it comes to dealing with alerts from their Iris system, Lowe's offers a self-monitoring service for $9.99 a month. "You can set it up so if there's a triggered event in your home, it would email [or text or call] your neighbor … [or a] small network of people you'd want to receive notification of events," Wallace told SSN.

The service is ideal "if you're on vacation and you receive a notification that there is an event in your home," she said. "You could contact your neighbor—because they've also received [the notification]—and they could look into it for you."In a perfect world, it all ends well. If a pet triggered the alarm and the neighbor happens to be around to make that determination, everyone sleeps easy that night. But what if it wasn't Fido who did the deed and it's an intruder instead? What happens when the neighbor walks headlong into that situation?

Hello, Ken Kirschenbaum.

The point is, there are times when it pays to do things yourself and times when it pays to let professionals handle it. Again, it's hard to dispute the appeal of Lowe's Iris system for many people and for many applications. But should home security be one of them? Let the buyer beware.