Full Monitoring Menu Awaits You

Have you ever visited an old favorite restaurant after some time only to find out that the menu has changed? With a sense of adventure you find yourself trying new selections and possibly missing some old favorites. For some, such an experience elicits excitement; for others, apprehension.

This scenario is playing out today in the realm of central station monitoring. The industry may have never before witnessed a more pivotal period in central station technology than it is at present. Thanks to the Internet and IP technology, monitoring facilities, as we know them, are evolving into an exciting business enterprise. 

A lot of the change is being driven by more technology-savvy customers who expect to have a Web 2.0-type experience — much in the same manner in which they control their credit card and banking accounts online. Why should their alarm monitoring account be any different? And the benefits are mutual because central station operators can reduce their workload and liability by letting those end users and/or dealers enter their own account data.  

Customers Are Being Empowered Via Web Access
For those who may not be familiar with the term Web 2.0, it refers to the concept of how people are no longer merely passive viewers of what happens on the Internet. They now are, and expect to be, interactively part of their own online experience. 

Tim O’Reilly, co-developer of the idea for Web 2.0, recently commented, “The biggest change we’ll encounter [on the Internet] is a move away from traditional network architectures to have the Web as a platform. The first thing we need to realize is that this isn’t just a software revolution. It’s a revolution in the way we capture and coordinate data.” 

There are a number of manufacturers and products in the marketplace that enable this sort of interactivity and enhanced services for customers. Monitoring software manufacturers, such as Security Information Systems (SIS) of Orlando, Fla., provide what is known as secure IP-based dealer and end-user access platforms for IP-savvy customers. Major third-party central station operations, such as Port Chester, N.Y.-based U.S.A. Central Station Alarm Corp., provide secure IP-based services like U.S.A. Connect, which is based on the GE MAS automation platform.

Services such as these allow customers to review/change account information, get reports, review new account activity and put accounts on/off test. Dealers are becoming excited about being able to keep in touch with their central stations, such as those contracted with COPS Monitoring of Williamstown, N.J. COPS dealers are able to use a secure Internet service called COP-A-Link via their handheld phones and PDAs. 

Monitoring Firms Can Offer Access Control Management
As mentioned, the menu of monitored alarm service offerings has never been greater. This substantially expands the horizons of central stations that have spent many years establishing a good, solid revenue base and built their businesses on burglary and fire alarm monitoring. One of these new service opportunities is access control. 

This is a tremendous growth area: a recent survey found that 85 percent of all alarm monitoring customers do not have any form of access control. Central station software can now be integrated with remote access control software, thereby allowing the central station to provide access system data management to existing monitoring customers. 

An example is the VertX CS system by Irvine, Calif.-based HID Global Corp. This system consists of IP-based access controllers that can control up to 12 devices from a central station’s head-end. With this setup, the central station administers the access control system data entry and monitors the access alarm points. Another option is offered by Bethesda, Md.-based Brivo Systems, with its econtrol Online Access Control™ system. Even though the central station monitors the access control alarm points, the customer at the Web 2.0-based head-end can perform the data entry, thereby reducing central data entry labor and liability. 

Analytics Add New Twist to Remote Video Deployment
While some central stations are only experimenting with remote video verification, other operations such as SentryNET of Pensacola, Fla., are applying advanced video compression technology. These systems can deliver video events as an attachment directly to your E-mail account, which can then be viewed with a PC or PDA from anywhere at anytime. 

Remote video systems transmit pre- and postalarm images automatically and directly to the central station. This can provide true video alarm verification — a perfect solution to the costly false alarm problem. The time will come when video and smart motion detection will be unified as one. This could be five or more years down the road, but because technology is moving so fast many may be surprised how soon video begins playing a major role in monitoring. 

One of many companies currently pursuing this technology — also known as video analytics, or intelligent or smart video — forward is Verint Systems Inc. of Denver.

Looking at monitoring from the perspective of an on-site command center, such as those found in a large segment of the public and private commercial/industrial sector, the company has defined three keys to success. They are situational awareness, security systems integration and effective collaboration.

Situational awareness starts with the deployment of sophisticated analytics technologies at the edge of a video surveillance network. Analytics, embedded into “edge devices” like IP cameras, encoders and video servers, can automatically identify suspicious behaviors across the security perimeter, before they escalate. Effective distribution of video data is important to get valuable information to the central monitoring station as quickly as possible. 

“Intelligent video distribution allows a central monitoring station to send video footage to federal, state and local law enforcement simultaneously for a more coordinated and effective threat response,” says Verint Vice President of Global Marketing Mariann McDonagh. 

Thirdly is the systems integration factor. True situational awareness in a centralized command center requires an integrated approach to monitoring all of the data generated by disparate alarm systems, access control sensors and other surveillance and enterprise systems throughout the critical infrastructure organization.

“By integrating all of this information through a networked video management platform, automatic actions can be triggered in accordance with the established security procedures,” adds McDonagh. “If a virtual video perimeter is breached and an access control alarm is triggered, the video management platform can set in motion a series of events that may include locking doors, raising barriers or adjusting camera angles, as well as increasing video recording rates and quality levels to isolate and focus on the threat.” 

Communication Alternatives Abound as AMPS’ End Nears
Another tasty item on the new central station menu is in the area of communications. While the industry is still very entrenched in its main core POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) communications systems, many exciting new communication paths are being rushed into service. 

As more and more of the POTS lines are being converted to digital high-speed VoIP services, the challenge for dealers become providing reliable alternative paths to the central station.

Central stations have always relied heavily on radio communication net text message backup path. Honeywell bundles these services with its 7845i-GSM secure Internet wireles
s GSM service to provide triple path security.

CSAA Committed to Keeping Members Informed,Trained

The delicacies of the new central station menu are further supported by stepped-up activity in the organizations that support that community, such as the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). CSAA has long supported central stations and their ongoing relationship with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) community. This has become even more important since 9/11 and the emergence of tighter false alarm requirements.

“One of our goals is to maintain good relationships with the authorities having jurisdiction; the chiefs of police, sheriffs, fire chiefs, public safety officers,” confirms Bud Wulforst, CSAA president elect and president of A-1 Security in Sparks, Nev. “We will continue to hopefully build on that, because I think [good] things can come from providing a normative dialog, a partnership, with these independent groups.”

CSAA has a forum in which it brings those groups together, which is unique, as they don’t typically have such an opportunity to compare notes. The forum, which takes place at the Vienna, Va.-based, trade association’s annual meetings (locations vary), allows participants to get together and discuss industry issues.

Training and expanding membership are two other agenda items that rank high on Wulforst’s priority list.

“We want to continue our central station operator training, which has been very successful,” he continues. “We are looking at the possibility in the future of some management-oriented training. Another important area is our membership.

The more people we bring into our organization, the better we will be able to develop standards and the uniformities and methodologies we deal with daily.”

For more information on CSAA, visit www.csaaul.org.


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