Why the Alarm Industry and Central Stations Need to Embrace Togetherness

Internet and voice networks experience issues all the time, creating potential system liabilities that affect alarm providers and central stations.

There are lots of cute sayings like “two degrees of separation” or concepts like “the domino effect” that can describe certain relationships, but traditionally the alarm industry and the central station community have run in very distinct and separate silos.

We ran separate copper circuits with proprietary receivers and other than dial-up PSTN traffic signals and processes nothing was ever “out of our control.” When a problem with dial-up did occur there were only a couple of vendors, at most, involved.

We used purpose-built monitoring applications with special gear for all of the serial I/O communication and for the most part we were completely unaffected by forces outside of the four walls of the monitoring center, except for the weather.

Fast forward to 2017 where, I believe, technology is just starting to take off with interdependency becoming a real necessity. Even though the industry didn’t necessarily ask for this interdependency, it’s here now and we are knee deep into it.

Communications Outages Highlight Interdependence

By now you may be wondering what in the world I am talking about. As I type I am sitting on the show floor of ISC West in Las Vegas watching hundreds of vendors set up, all of which are now becoming part of this interdependence, and it just hit me.

So let me give you two recent examples. Early in the third quarter of last year Level3, one of the largest voice and data carriers, had an incident in which voice calls would not process at all in North America.

Many of you might be thinking that this is not a problem, because most sensible organizations use multiple voice carriers to deal with outages.

MORE MONITORING MATTERS: Click here for management and operations, sales and marketing best practices as they apply to central stations.

However, this outage was different because what most in the industry did not realize was that not only do big carriers like Level3 sell capacity directly, they also have wholesale divisions selling capacity to other carriers for a variety of reasons.

Dozens of areas where customers were thought to be shielded from the outage because they were using “a different carrier” went completely dark. It was then many discovered that Level3 is actually the underlying carrier for their provider.

Even large players in the industry had issues in certain areas where they were using Level3 to route calls. The second example occurred on the day I’m typing this, when an organization named Kore Telematics experienced a major outage in North America.

Some of you are probably asking, who and what is Kore? Well, Kore Telematics is one of the largest cellular provisioning companies in the world that resells all of the major cellular carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.

More than that, Kore provides the connectivity to the outside world for these companies’ connected devices. The result? Even though you might have a device such as an alarm panel on an AT&T plan, all of the traffic from that panel is actually being routed to the public Internet through Kore’s APN.

No longer are we in a silo. There are thousands of interdependencies in the alarm business and now thousands of opportunities for failures that can “upset the applecart.”

As you can imagine, when Kore went down it created a significant delay in alarm traffic and an immediate large spike in panels failing to check in. I am sure the numbers in all of the central monitoring stations combined were staggering.

Beware of Reliability Issues & Set Proper Expectations

My point to all of this is that no longer are we in a silo. There are thousands of interdependencies in the alarm business and now thousands of opportunities for failures that can “upset the applecart” (or create one of those domino effects).

I am not suggesting that there is anything that can be done at this time, but I think that it’s important for everyone – from the salesperson to the alarm company owners – to be aware that these exist and to set expectations with end users accordingly.

Customers need to understand that all this “cool technology” is a global effort and that problems anywhere in the ether can affect their systems. In truth the Internet and voice networks are pretty fragile and problems both small and large are happening every day.

Some we see and some we don’t, but they are occurring. So as you examine your business strategy for the future, keep front and center the concept that two paths or two providers or two of anything is going to increase the odds of success.

The days of “five nines” of reliability (aka 99.999%) are gone.

READ NEXT: Highland Park (Texas) Adopts Automated Secure Alarm Protocol for Faster Emergency Response

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About the Author


Morgan Hertel is Vice President of Technology and Innovation for Rapid Response Monitoring.

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