Like many disagreements, the rift between the alarm industry and Illinois municipalities that entered into the alarm-monitoring business was a result of a lack of communication.
Using broad strokes, this is what happened in northern Illinois: About a decade ago, an aggressive salesman began promoting wireless mesh radio networks to local fire chiefs who were fed up with antiquated direct-connect copper lines. Back then, that technology provided a solution to the chiefs' problems.
Granted, the private alarm industry offered the same exact technology — at a lower price — but alarm dealers and the central station community did not effectively communicate that to the chiefs. Another factor in play was that the model followed by the private alarm industry did not put government entities at the receiving end of the revenue stream.
As a result, some communities borrowed money to purchase alarm-receiving equipment and wrote ordinances that made them the sole provider of commercial fire alarm monitoring. Those communities' leaders then said they had to displace the private sector for "public safety reasons."
Whether that was true then is debatable; however, based on the technology that is now readily available, the public-safety argument does not hold water. The private alarm industry offers superior technology.
It's your job as an alarm installer to understand how that technology can be used to satisfy the chiefs in your market.
All of the fire chiefs I have recently spoken with want access to comprehensive alarm system data. Some want notification about alarm events immediately so they can begin the emergency response process right away. The predominant reason is to meet the response time goals of the accreditation model they are following.
Other chiefs are happy with the current dispatch process but want to know when a system has been taken offline. For them, auto-generated reports can be sent at specific intervals in the medium of choice, i.e., E-mail, text message, fax, etc. Additionally, every chief would have online access to the history reports for all systems in their jurisdiction.
Fortunately, the technology exists — and is being used in the field now — to satisfy all of their wishes.
Technology being used today allows chiefs to predetermine what information they want from a central station, when they want it, who should get it and even the medium in which they receive it.
For example, if the chief wants immediate notification of a fire at certain (or all) properties, the chief and others can be informed as soon as the central station receives the signals. Concurrently, human monitors begin the verbal dispatch process and start making call list notifications.
The chief and whoever else he designates will receive the complete alarm signal with point-address data and will continue to receive real-time updates about the alarm event, such as adjacent zones going into alarm.
The obvious benefit is that firefighters are armed with the most complete set of facts available when they arrive at the scene. The precious minutes lost by examining the fire panel can now be spent addressing a known situation. Plus, as more live signals come in, firefighters can react accordingly. Using the same technology, in the future, chiefs will even have access to live video from the impacted zones, as well as other information like blueprints or space-usage advisories.
The point is alarm installers and the central station community need to be more proactive in educating fire and police chiefs about the ever-advancing capabilities of the private industry.
Sell Technology Benefits to Chiefs
"Chief, I'm an alarm installer in your community. I'd like to speak with you about the latest advancements in technology that greatly increase life safety and won't cost taxpayers a dime."
Those words should immediately grab the chief's attention. But even if you have to call a few times to arrange that meeting, you must do so because it's your responsibility to educate local police and fire chiefs, as well as inspectors, about the capabilities of the private alarm industry so that the situation in Illinois does not germinate in your market.
Find out exactly what the local chiefs want and share that with your central station. It's likely they already have a solution to the problem.
Kevin Lehan is Manager of Public Relations for Des Plaines, Ill.-based Emergency24 Inc. He also serves as executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA).