HS Technology Group graces the cover of October’s issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION as winner of this year’s Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award. Inside, HST President Stuart Forchheimer and others discuss the company’s approach to reducing false alarms and other management tactics. Below, Forchheimer offers additional insights into economic, weather, technology and other larger landscape issues profoundly affecting today’s security business operators. Be sure to also check my other post where he talks about how HST developed its successful program, as well as what the PDQ Award and false alarm reduction means for the industry at large.
Has the bad economy impacted your false alarm efforts in any ways? Explain.
Stuart Forchheimer: The economy has affected us in many ways. Being involved with FARA and having regular communications with our local FARUs [false alarm reduction units], we realized even more now that we had to implement this program. Many of these public agencies were facing cuts and hiring freezes, but the problem of false alarms was still there and in some areas growing. I remember speaking to one constituent about how the summer sales program affected their workload and he said that they fall behind with data entry for permits. And the funny thing is they are doing data entry and the customer ends up getting sold back to the same company; how sad. There is an increase during the summer for these alarms as there is minimal training on the new systems being installed, not to mention the quality of the installation. So anything we can do to help reduce false alarms is a plus for them.
We have experienced firsthand how the economy has affected some clients. When they have a problem that requires service, we hear comments like, “Why do I have to pay anything? We had a company knock on our door offering to upgrade our system for free.” The economy, combined with some deceptive summer sales tactics, required us to be more proactive in how we handle incoming calls.
We are also finding more customers would like to perform some of their own service. Not having to stay home from work or paying us to replace a battery does make sense; however, in some situations the panel is not easily accessible and the sensor covers do break if the user is not accustomed to opening them to replace batteries. We are in the process of creating a Web store for only our customers allowing them to order replacements batteries at no charge or discounted pricing to enable them to make timely or cost-saving repairs.
HS Technology operates in a sometimes, cold and hostile weather environment. How does that affect your approach to technology, design/installations, maintenance/service, practices/procedures, etc. and what is that impact on false alarms?
Forchheimer: In the past several years we have been plagued with record snowfalls and increasingly stronger winds and hurricanes. The hostile weather environment makes it more difficult to dispatch service trucks to make repairs, so we continue to capture E-mail addresses and have the ability to send an E-mail blast prior to the storm alerting our customers what to do should they lose power during the storm to silence the beeps from their keypads. Our company is set up to allow technicians and staff to work remotely from home as long as they have high-speed Internet and they can remotely forward calls as well as access our customer database to assist troubleshooting over the phone during these outages.
The biggest service request we receive during a storm is when the system loses power. The panel is notifying the user that their system has experienced an AC power failure and will continue to alert them until they clear the status. It will also continue while the backup battery recharges. Most manufacturers specify the minimums when calculating current draws on a device. Where we live, we really need to factor three-four days without power. The last couple of storms we had, if you were without power for three-four days you were lucky, most lost power for more. We offer extended runtime battery backup as an option and recommend it on our commercial installations.
Due to the continual increase in calls during these outages, we have become an Authorized Generac generator dealer. We have a master electrician who has been certified through the Generac training program and we offer this as an option to those customers running access control, CCTV, lighting, security and other integrated security systems that need to be running during a power outage. While the initial investment may be substantial, the notion of being down for several days isn’t acceptable to many of our commercial and some residential customers.
Looking at the industry, what do you believe is going to happen with police response to burglar alarm systems? Is the situation getting better or worse? How the landscape change and what will be the catalysts for this change?
Forchheimer: Looking at the industry and the influx of new players focused primarily on increasing RMR, I feel there is a high probability that the problem may get worse before it gets better. While most of these companies will likely practice ECV and this practice has been proven to reduce false alarms, the increase in uneducated end users will ultimately increase false alarms. Economics would show that if most of these companies have the financial means to market and sell their services, they should also be financially able to develop programs that would educate their customers on ways to reduce false alarms. There are various studies that have been completed showing that somewhere between 70%-80% of false alarms are user-related and the remaining balance is equipment related, pets, pests or Mother Nature. The biggest challenge the industry faces is educating the end users on the proper operation of and how to maintain their systems.
I feel there is an abundance of information available to both the local municipalities as well as companies on measures that can bring about a positive change. With the local governments facing difficult times and balancing budgets, other items on their agenda will probably take priority before this issue gets major billing. Hopefully the major players in our industry will be able to implement measures and begin their campaigns to educate their end users on how to reduce false alarms before stricter legislation arises. Unfortunately, the marketing models I have seen do not focus their efforts on training the end user, but rather on installing the systems as quickly as possible, in many cases, the same day.
With the newer technologies, easier-to-use systems and more interactive communication capabilities, we have taken commercial clients that have had regular user-related false alarms to having none that are user-related at all. We have proven customers that have difficulty operating their systems will stop using their systems over time while contributing to the false alarm problem. It may be as simple as a subsequent training. We do this for our customers at no charge as part of our CFL [Clients for Life] program. How many other companies that have a larger impact on the false alarm problem and have more financial resources than HST could be doing the same, but don’t?
What about video verification and monitoring as a tool to mitigate false alarms? Is this being practiced or investigated by HS Technology? What are the prospects and challenges in this realm?
Forchheimer: When we first started in business we embraced two-way voice as a better form of monitoring for our client base. Every system we installed was standard with this feature. Our customers liked the interaction with the central station and we do believe this form of monitoring did help in the reduction of false alarms. As technology changes, more and more homes and businesses are dropping their standard wired line for communication and inevitably we will see the sunset of POTS lines. The evolving wireless technology both for video and audio has forced HST to rethink its offerings. Unlike the POTS line, which has had established protocols and been very reliable, we are finding that there are inconsistencies in signal strengths, various types of Internet connections as well as various routers, modems, cellular and radio communication devices.
We are always field testing technology and know that video verification will continue to evolve and become more prevalent as the wireless networks and the Internet bandwidth improves. We have looked at video verification for commercial use and feel that this form of verification will become more prevalent in the commercial arena as the standards are developed and the technology improves. The concern over privacy, who owns the video clip/footage and how a central station will be required to respond depending upon interpretation are all good questions when implementing residential video verification. These new technologies will require our industry to invest in more training and develop best practices for the use of this new technology which is now very affordable.
To enter your company for the PDQ recognition, click here.