There are many factors combining to push the present boundaries of central station alarm monitoring communications. These include shared use of landlines for other communications such as VoIP and DSL; the move away from landlines altogether and new wireless transmission methods; responder issues with verified response and municipal monitoring; changing codes and standards; and new challenges and revenue opportunities from innovations like video and GPS monitoring.
This week we turn our attention to this exciting and critical area, with special attention to wireless communications and municipal monitoring.
Enter Communication Alternatives
As I write this column Hurricane Irene has wreaked havoc on a major area of the United States. Many plain old telephone service (POTS) phone and power lines are down, and will be for a considerable period of time. There is obviously a big concern for reliable central station communications during these emergency periods. This is one of the best times in our industry to be selling and implementing wireless central station communications.
No single wireless technology is perfect; however, by mixing wireless technologies and providing configuration strategies, performance reliability can be considerably enhanced. One example of central station wireless communications comes from Honeywell and its AlarmNet service, a mixture of wireless communication paths to improve reliability.
These communication paths can be via the popular Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) cellular system; General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) that provides alarm reporting and data transmission; and Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging as a backup of alarm reporting should GPRS become unavailable. When these services are provided around today's IP connectivity, a very reliable alarm monitoring foundation is formed. These types of systems can also meet our industry regulatory needs as well.
Another example is the popular IntelliNet long-range "meshed" wireless network systems from AES Corp. In a meshed communications network, each alarm panel has a transceiver that relays monitoring data to other networked receivers. If monitoring data cannot be relayed by one path due to storm damage, it is sent another alternative route. This provides for high reliability during major storms or fires (see summary table).
Municipal Monitoring Challenges
Some of you who are as, ahem, young as I am can remember when it was a common sight to walk into a police station and find a wall full of direct-wire alarm modules called Modularms. I can also remember many of these municipalities getting out of the alarm monitoring business and having to remove these modular alarm banks. As with all history, the times are returning.
You may recall that recently fire chiefs and municipalities in Illinois had attempted to enter the alarm monitoring business. In this case the fire department just simply notified fire alarm customers that they must have their alarms monitored by the city fire department. This was purportedly in the interest of faster response to the fire alarms rather than generating additional revenue. The battle lines are now being drawn and the central station has again become the battle front for recurring revenue streams.
Central stations and municipalities have always realized one of the inefficient areas of alarm dispatch is the relaying of alarm information via a voice phone call from an operator to a 911 emergency center. A new communications standard, APCO/CSAA ANS 2.101-2008, has been jointly created by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and Central Station Alarm Association. "Alarm Monitoring Company to Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Computer-Aided (CAD) External Alarm Interface Exchange," also known as Alarm 3.0, was designed to provide a standardized data exchange for the electronically transmitted alarm information between a monitoring company and a PSAP. More information can be found at apcointl.org.
Probably one of the biggest muni commitments to the PSAP is the Houston Emergency Center. The system went live April 28 and is the fourth-largest 911/PSAP in the U.S. It utilizes an interface called the Web Alarm Reporting Mechanism (WebARM) from Houston's CAD provider Northrop Grumman. Houston officials estimate the system will save $1 to $2 million annually. Look for more of this technology in future central station operations.
Bob Dolph has served in various technical management and advisory positions in the security industry for 30+ years. To share tips and installation questions, E-mail Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Tech Shack blog.
Tech Talk Tool Tip
In keeping with this month's central station communications theme, I wanted to pass on something that recently caught my attention - the latest cellular unit from Telular Corp. (telular.com) to hit the market. It is the Telguard TG-1 Express module, which has a patent pending approach to supporting two-way voice communications directly over GSM on the Telguard cellular network.
The TG-1 interfaces with most alarm panels; has PoE from panel power; transmits formats such as CID, SIA, DMP, Modem IIe, etc.; includes input and output trip circuits; and has programmable auto self-test. It also has free apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry platforms.