For alarm dealers, area code changes have meant additional labor and increased expenses, coupled wit

The area code you have dialed (310) has been changed; the new area code is (562). Please make a note of it.

Most people when they hear that computer voice on the other end of the phone line, roll their eyes, grab a pen, scratch out the old number and write down the new area code. Thus, apart from a few minutes of inconvenience, area code changes have not affected the general population to a large degree.

For alarm dealers though, it has meant additional labor and increased expenses, coupled with lost accounts and lost revenue. When accounts miss the conversion deadline, liability becomes a major concern.

Joe Cunningham, president of Cunningham Security Systems, Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill., calls area code changes a “nightmare.”

Area Code Changes Prove to Be Pain in Dealers’ Necks

With the influx of cellular phones, faxes, beepers and modems, area codes in most major cities have been exhausted. The demand for new numbers has created the need for new area codes at rates no one expected.

The metro Atlanta area of Georgia, for instance, has had three area code changes in the past five years. They are not alone. Ameritech promised Detroit that the last area code change would be good for seven years to 10 years. That was three years ago and alarm dealers still are reeling from the current change. California’s Bay Area has multiple area code changes going on now and the latest hasn’t hit yet.

“Our company, along with many other companies, is experiencing the pain of area code changes,” says Ronald Ross, president of Vigilante Security in Detroit, Mich.

For most businesses, area code changes mean printing new letterhead, business cards and contracts. Customer phone numbers, as well as those of vendors and employees, also must be changed.

While alarm dealers have to change those things as well, they’re also faced with more serious concerns. Because they are dealing with life safety, every premises phone number, RP list and police department also must be changed in their records and those of the central station.

The real difficulty is that every dialer that is affected by the area code change must be reprogrammed. “It is extremely labor intensive,” says Ross. “We have to drive to the subscriber’s location, make contact with the resident, go to the control panel, pull out the prom, reprogram the prom, put the prom back in, fire everything back up and finally test it to make sure it’s working properly. It turns into a service call that generally takes about an hour.”

That’s only if everything goes right from the start. In some cases, when older panels are reprogrammed, the codes get blown out when the panel is powered down. “Now you’re running around trying to find people to get codes to put back in,” says Ross.

Add to the scenario, missed appointments, scheduling conflicts and no shows, and it’s a wonder alarm dealers have gotten the job done.

Residential Accounts Present Scheduling Problems

Reprogramming was a monumental undertaking for Ross who only had 120 days to reprogram 1,900 communicators. Take 1,900 control panels and divide that into 120 days, it comes to about 16 conversions a day, seven days a week.

“It’s hard getting to 16 subscribers with one vehicle when you’re in a metro area like Detroit,” says Ross. “I physically cannot have 16 systems reprogrammed in a single day by a technician. I have had to put two guys in the field, doubling my costs. We have lost $150,000 to $200,000 in revenue as a result of this last area code change.”

Cunningham admits the main problem his company had was trying to schedule appointments. “It resulted in not programming many of the accounts until after the deadline,” he says. Now that his company is concentrating on commercial accounts, the appointment problem is a lot easier. “You just pop in when you want,” says Cunningham.

Is There a Solution to the Area Code Nightmare?

One suggested solution to the problem of running out of current area codes has been to put all cellular phones on their own separate area code. However, the FCC would not allow that, ruling it “discrimination against that service.”

Another suggestion for alarm dealers is to put accounts on an (800) line. Most alarm dealers have ruled out that option believing the cost of an (800) number far outweighs the expense of reprogramming the chip.

One viable option is a geographic split. The phone company divides an area and “maps out” where the new area code will go and which area will retain the old area code.

The other option is an overlay. With an overlay, existing area codes are kept, but a new one is “dropped down” over the area. One drawback is telephone customers may wind up with a new area code for additional lines such as faxes and modems. In addition, it would require all phone users to dial 10 digits for all calls, even if they are calling right next door.

For alarm dealers, the overlay demands that all dialers are reprogrammed to dial 10 digits. However, once that is completed, it would never have to be done again. All new installs would be reprogrammed with 10 digits as well.

See the December 1997 issue of Security Sales for the entire area code article. Back issues of Security Sales can be purchased by calling (888) 239-2455.

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