Every security services company must make a critical decision at least once during its business history, “Whom should we select to monitor the alarm systems of our customers?” This choice has the potential to not only make or break your business, but also to jeopardize or save lives and/or property.
A central station—also known as a monitoring center, command center, or even control and command center—is the place where the people, equipment, telecommunications interface, power supplies and operating procedures will enable your customers to receive the desired assistance in the event of an emergency.
What options are available to help you make the critical monitoring decision? Familiarizing yourself with the operational, equipment and procedural considerations of central stations will make you better prepared to give your customers the service they expect.
A Central Station May Be UL or FM Approved
There are two primary organizations, Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Factory Mutual Research Corp. (FM), that publish and implement standards of operation, then inspect and evaluate central stations against a minimum level of operational and administrative performance.
Non-UL/FM Stations Are Likely Less Reliable
Whether UL Listed, FM approved or neither, the equipment necessary to respond to alarms remains the same. However, for unlisted central stations, there may not be the degree of redundancy in equipment or staffing on-site for emergency situations to enable timely operational transfer in the event of failure or breakdown.
Proprietary Stations Might Accept Accounts
Proprietary central stations are typically owned and operated for the express needs of a single corporate user, which may, as a convenience, accept accounts from a dealer. Most of these are related to financial establishments, large retailers or service providers.
Contract vs. Owned: Which Is a Better Bet?
A contract central station will monitor security systems for others, either exclusively or in addition to servicing accounts that were sold by the providing company.
An owned central station will only monitor accounts sold, installed and serviced by the management of the central station.
Check Communications; Redundancy Is Vital
There is a growing application of dual technology in the transmission of alarm signals using either long-range radio or cellular backup methods. Some techniques call for line integrity service, tamper switches or circuits and links to adjacent properties, but the most common are related either to radio networks or cellular telephone service.
Receivers Must Be Compatible With Panels
The control panel at the customer site encodes or encrypts the intelligence of the alarm system specific to each account and condition. Identity, the nature of the condition being reported, the telephone numbers being called and the zones in a condition of alarm are all included.
Software Programs Will Prioritize Incoming Signals
The next step in the selection process is the receiver option, where the incoming signal is passed on to a computer. Ultimately, every program must do the same thing: bring a visual display to the attention of the operator for response.
Workstations Must Aid Speed of Operators
In a computerized central station, and most today are, every operator has one or more CRT terminals, a keypad and a telephone console. Most use some form of headset to keep hands free for computer operation and access.
Backup Power Is an Essential Feature
A central station needs a reliable and redundant power supply for the computer, PBX/telephone switch, receivers and the workstation area.
Voice Recording Ensures Operator Accuracy
It is a good operating practice in every central station to voice record all incoming and outgoing calls from operator stations. In a UL or FM operation, it is a requirement.
365-Day Operation Requires Good Staffing, Training
The manager is responsible for maintaining the operational quality of the equipment, hiring, training and administering the operators, developing and enforcing operational procedures, and maintaining the documentation audit trail for all activities. The shift supervisor is the front-line representative of the central station management on duty on every shift. The operator is the person who answers the incoming telephone call, notifies the home or business to verify, reaches the responding agent, calls the contact list, enters the response documentation into the permanent file and operates all of the functions of the workstation.
There Can’t Be Too Much Documentation
Reasonable and prudent business practice requires that each monitored security account have an executed contract on file at the central station. The contract specifically identifies the customer, the services expected, the agents that will respond to an emergency, the persons to be contacted in the event of an alarm, the term of the relationship and the liability which may result in the event of a loss.
How to Set Customers Up for Monitoring
Customer contracts are essential for long-term successful operation. First, they indicate all of the account-specific details necessary to establish an alarm response database. Second, they verify the business relationship for both revenue collection and as an asset of the installing company. Finally, they spell out the limits of liability that the central station assumes in the monitoring of the system.
Pick a Station to Reflect Your Professionalism
A central station is the primary contact between the installed security system customer and the company that sold the system from the day the installation is complete. The customer’s satisfaction is what you are selling; make sure you get the best that you can.