Industry Keeps Its Cool During Intense Ice Storms

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The brutal winter storms in late January that caused death and chaos from the Southern Plains to the Northeast also left scores of residents and businesses without functioning fire and security systems for a week or longer.

Central stations and alarm companies caught in the storm’s destructive path were able to gird their operations for the coming onslaught by activating contingency plans that accounted for staffing and an inundation of alarm signals.

Typically, central stations and dealers are vigilant in tracking inclement weather in their service areas, Kevin Lehan, manager of public relations for Chicago-based EMERgency24, tells SSI

“Since we are nationwide with branches in L.A., Detroit, Chicago and Washington D.C., we ramp up monitors’ hours and staffing when storms are expected anywhere in the U.S.,” Lehan says. “We can increase hours in our regional offices based on the storm location so those branch employees are not affected by travel delays resulting from the storms.” 

EMERgency24, like other affected centrals, experienced a massive spike in AC power failure signals during the storms’ highpoint Jan. 27-28. The other common trend during the ice storms was, Lehan says, periods of decreased alarm signals due to telephone poles and power lines snapping under the weight of ice.

An estimated 1.3 million homes lost power during the peak of the turmoil.

“The storm was so significant that about 25 percent of my clientele was without power for up to six days,” John Lombardi, president of Commercial Instruments & Alarms (CIA) Inc. of Fishkill, N.Y., says.

CIA has about 5,500 accounts it services and monitors from its central station. Compounding the loss of alarm communications because of downed power and POTS lines, Lombardi says many of his customers have migrated to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and cable services.

“When the power went out, so did their communications,” he says.

However, roughly 30 percent of CIA customers have alarm backup using the AES-IntelliNet long-range mesh radio alarm communications system. Despite the loss of telephone service and power, the AES radio backup provided alarm signal transmission without any complications.

“This is a self-healing mesh network. If the cell site or the repeating site was without power, the AES network was still able to find its way from point A to the central operation center,” Lombard says.

In Kentucky, officials continue working to cope with what they say was the worst power outage in the state’s history with more than 607,000 affected customers. Stephen Epley, service manager for Bowling Green, Ky.-based AAA Systems, says prior to the severe weather his company made sure its inventory was flush with extra batteries.

“We service a lot of financial institutions.  So we have been running a battery patrol to banks and credit unions, and if they have lost power we’ll run out and swap batteries every other day,” Epley says.

The severe weather is blamed for more than 60 deaths. Traffic collisions and hypothermia caused loss of life in several states, while 36 deaths in Kentucky alone are being blamed on carbon monoxide poisoning.

“People lost power and they were freezing. They had no choice but to find other ways to heat their homes,” says Barbara Taylor, who operates A Plus Alarm Systems in Louisville.

Most of the CO-related deaths were attributed to improper use of generators or space heaters.

“Some people used generators and put them too close to their home or in their basement,” Taylor says. “Our customers are safe, but our prayers go out to those families who lost loved ones.”

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