Alarm Industry Copes Well With Blackout

NORTHEAST – On Aug. 14, the largest blackout in North American history affected millions of people and crippled many businesses for up to two days. While much of the power was restored in major metropolitan areas by the end of the weekend, the effects on some electronic security systems lasted for days following complete power restoration.
Throughout the region, thousands of alarms occurred in homes and businesses, but not all structures failed. Many had sophisticated enough back-up batteries and generators to keep operations running smoothly throughout the power outage.

“Since the entire area here on Long
Island was out, we probably had 30 systems that were affected, at least 20 of which had only a simple UPS battery backup,” says Glenn Gianino, president of TekSafe Technologies.  At Secutronics in Rochester, N.Y., not many problems arose despite the widespread blackout. “We didn’t have very many service calls,” says Executive Vice President Terry Rivet. “We had some typical things where we didn’t have a battery backup, but everything else kicked into a backup. We were pretty much unaffected, quite honestly.”

Although eight states and two Canadian provinces were affected by the same power failure, to Rivet, the problems that occurred were characteristic of any blackout, such as those that occur with ice storms. Additionally, many dealers were prepared because they do drills yearly to prevent such incidents from taking them by surprise.

The number of signals received at central stations across the country was anything but normal, however. According to Security Associates Int’l Inc. (SAI), the company’s central stations handled 6,634 high-priority alarm signals and 16,543 trouble type signals.

To accommodate the unexpected high volume of traffic, some employees volunteered extra hours by either extending their current shifts or returning to the stations after just arriving home.

AlarmNet also maintained uninterrupted operations during the dark days. The company fielded more than 400 calls on the initial day of the outage.

The biggest problem for Affiliated Central Inc., a central station located in Brooklyn, N.Y., was not handling the swarms of signals, but finding food for the operators handling them.”We brought a lot of people in because of the increased call volume,” says Affiliated’s Mike Zydor. “Because most places were closed or had problems, probably the biggest issue was trying to get some food in here.”

When the lights finally blinked back to life nearly a day later, along with it came power surges, which caused other system issues to occur, such as power overload. But with the immediate crises of having whistling alarms that would not turn off, customers became more patient with waiting for systems to be repowered and reset. Business was seemingly back to normal.

“If anything changes, we’re going to sell a lot of batteries,” says Rivet. “We found out that people’s batteries weren’t strong enough to keep them alive when the power was out.”

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