Dangers of In-Home Monitoring: Why Central Station Operators Working From Home Is Risky Business

Distracted operators? Increased alarm contractor liability exposure? Forensic alarm expert Jeff Zwirn pokes holes in UL-827’s pandemic-induced standard exception.

In a world where peace of mind is mission-critical, in-home monitoring is nothing short of dangerous. Does it provide more safety and security to subscribers? No. Does it provide the central station operators with more redundant monitoring capabilities? No. Does it provide a better environment for no distractions to the operator? No. So what’s the rationale? You decide.  

It is unclear, but in part, it’s to allow central stations to increase profitability by walking away from the core foundation of what the alarm industry has relied on since the 1800s — being The Central Station.

What happened to life-safety and security? UL-827’s adoption of allowing central station operators to monitor from their own apartments and homes is a decision that has the potential to create unheralded liability.  

In the meantime, alarm contractors have already agreed to indemnify central stations when their subscribers use their services. Does the indemnification apply to the advent of in-home monitoring? Central stations will take the position it does. How many alarm contracting companies have thought about this new legal exposure?  

In other words, if the central station operator is working from their own apartment or home and they receive signal(s), but no action is taken and/or if there is a delay in retransmission by the operator to the police or fire department and/or if there are other causes of action made by the plaintiff against the central station, soon thereafter, the alarm contractor will receive a demand and notice from the central station’s legal counsel/insurance carrier seeking indemnification in accordance with the dealer agreement you entered into with the central station.   

Why would an alarm contractor want to increase their indemnification obligations as a result of in-home monitoring? What part of in-home monitoring provides more reliability to the alarm dealer and its subscribers than from within the four walls of a central station?

Yet with “the approval” through UL-827 (I was the only standard technical panel member on UL-827 who voted no) to allow central station operators to monitor homes and businesses from their own personal apartments and homes, a dynamic has been created that instantly changes the duties of alarm contractors forever.  

At the same time, it significantly increases alarm contractor liability exposure as a result of knowingly or unknowingly adopting this practice. In fact, many alarm contractors using subcontracted central stations have still not been made aware of this change. In alignment with this concealment is that there are no plans to disclose in-home monitoring to millions and millions of subscribers. Why? 

Because central stations know that consumers are not going to want their alarm systems monitored from an operator’s apartment or home, compared to keeping operators where they belong, within the protected, redundant, supervised and no-distraction zone of the four walls of the central station.  

Do consumers and business owners have a right to make informed choices? Where in your contract does it state that you have the right to provide in-home monitoring services instead of central station monitoring? When you sell alarm systems to consumers, how do you describe alarm system monitoring?

Do consumers have a right to rely on your representations? If you were to call each one of your subscribers and tell them that from now on, their systems will be monitored outside of the four walls of the central station and into the personal apartments and homes of central station operators, what would you think they’ll do, embrace this change?

From my interviews with subscribers, this is not the feedback that I received. On the contrary, the subscribers told me that they would cancel their service and/or they would switch to an alarm company that would not provide in-home monitoring, or just as troubling, they wanted the alarm contractor to lower their central station recurring charges. 

Anytime an alarm company makes fundamental changes in the services contracted for, it needs to be disclosed to each subscriber so that they can make informed choices. Failure to disclose any change in services, let alone ones that do not provide consumers with more security, is a recipe for disaster that many in the central station industry are the architects of.

In other words, when you put profitability over the safety and security of your subscribers while touting that you provide peace of mind for them and their family’s life safety and security, is not something that can be attained or sustained because the weakest link is the one that been distinctly created here through parties that decided the reward in their profits is worth the increased risks to their subscriber.  

Notwithstanding, there is no reliable way to supervise operators working out of their apartments or homes remotely, there is no reliable way to remotely stop operators from being distracted on their cell phones or social media while “on duty,” and there is surely no way to solve the problem of losing connectivity and/or communications between the operator’s apartment or home and the central station.  

About the Author

Contact:

Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at (201) 287-0900.

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2 Responses to “Dangers of In-Home Monitoring: Why Central Station Operators Working From Home Is Risky Business”

  1. Howard Wulforst says:

    I think this is a great conversation to have and I am interested in hearing more from both the Central Station Community and Dealers that use their services. Outside of eliminating the Central Station completely, it is difficult for me to see how this is an economic equation vs. a labor issue. We know that labor resources have been tight and requirements for quarantining employees who test positive for covid must have impacted some of this decision making. Is it that the Central Stations prefer’s this model or is this a stop gap to address issues?

  2. Howard, I wear two hats these days but in this case i am only speaking with my Rapid Response Monitoring hat on and not my TMA hat.

    For some background working from home started as an industry initiative when COVID hit, at the time we were not officially defined as a necessary industry so in order to provide continuity this was put in place. Now fast forward to now and with the strain on hiring and the high cost of labor and real estate many organizations wanted to continue the use of Work From Home staff vs in office staff on a permanent go forward basis.

    While there has been work on UL 827 to address the security and networking concerns you cannot possibly compare Working From Home as identical as Work From the Office, just think how many times on a zoom call does someone have a problem with connectivity or has a barking dog or screaming kid in the background.

    Rapid Response has driven its stake in the ground and is committed to maintaining a Work From the Office model and have no plans in the foreseeable future nor have we in the past utilized monitoring operations staff working from home, we believe the potential risks and poor customer experiences outweigh the potential advantages and cost savings of Work From Home.

    Other organizations have made the decision for them to have some or all of their staff working from home and are comfortable in doing it this way and that certainly a decision they can make for themselves .

    For the wholesale industry the dealers that are using wholesale centers are also going to have to be aligned with the monitoring centers choices. Jeff Zwirn talks about notifications to stakeholders that accounts are being monitored from home and to me that certainly makes sense so if you are a dealer using a wholesale center you need to decide what works for you and your customer base. It is America and we all have choices here but whatever your choice is make sure you understand all the options and facts.

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