More to Monitoring Than Meets the Eye

Central station monitoring is the lifeblood of all successful security companies. A security company that does not offer it is like a plumber who only works on copper piping – everywhere he goes, he leaves good money lying on the table.

Running a quality central is not an easy job. A central must be technically ahead of the curve while still offering a full complement of popular services to existing clients, some of which may own older, legacy systems. Centrals must also be prepared to implement new and emerging security technologies before the brunt of their member dealers ask for them.

Security dealers and systems integrators who have experienced the task of searching for a third-party central station know all too well the difficulties. Not every central offers the same products and services, and those that do often focus on specific segments of the pie. An ideal central does it all and does it right.

For these and other reasons, the process of looking for the right central station can be time-consuming, complicated and confusing. This is especially true of dealers new to the industry who do not yet understand the terminology, features, products, long-term concerns and financial issues related to monitoring. Be sure to check out the matrix on page 66 for a summary of the technology and business features being offered by many of today’s leading third-party monitoring centers.

Central Stations Work to Create New and Exciting Services
“It’s not just your old central station anymore,” says Bart Didden, president of USA Central Station Alarm Corp. of Port Chester, N.Y. “Twenty three years ago the central station industry was in as much change as it is today, but the drivers of today’s changes are very different from those in 1982.”

According to Didden, in 1982, the industry centered on communicators and control panels, microprocessors, and user codes and zones that reported to receivers that spit out paper only. Central station operators often worked from a box of index cards.

At the time, many of us were relying on panels that used relays and end-of-line batteries. Many of us were still sending signals to the central over the McCullough and direct-connect circuits. In time, we began to see that there was a newer, better way to do the job. Thus, the industry gradually moved away from the older technologies, electing to use digital communicators and microprocessor-based panels instead.

Today, there are hundreds of third-party central stations in the United States, and all of them want your business. Some of them are working hard to invent practical, functionally attractive products that security companies can sell to their often finicky, but increasingly intelligent clients.

“We are proactive in this regard. We’re willing to put the technology in place before the dealers ask for it,” says Christopher Baskin, president of American Two-Way of North Hollywood, Calif.

Some of the more interesting products designed for residential consumption include remote video monitoring, access to burglar alarm information and arm/disarm functions, remote home control, and more. In terms of commercial, progressive centrals are working to provide remote video monitoring, access control management, GPS-based security and tracking services, enhanced call verification (ECV), Internet monitoring, and more.

Dealers to Increase Use of Remote Video Monitoring
More and more, security clients are moving toward video monitoring solutions. While many central stations have embraced remote video, making it available to their member dealers, others have been slow to act. Some centrals have made an extra effort to enter this potentially lucrative portion of the security market in an assortment of ways, including acquiring other central stations with relatively large footprints.

“The integration of Central One in June of this year makes us the second largest wholesale monitoring provider in the nation,” says Don Maden, executive vice president with C.O.P.S. Monitoring of Williamstown, N.J. “The Central One acquisition also puts us more firmly in the video marketplace. Now we’ll be able to offer expanded coverage in more areas with greater redundancy, which is another important step for us.”

Some subscribers want video because they believe they need the latest and greatest technological innovations available. In a word, they are simply technology minded.

Still, other end users adopt remote video because they believe it will better secure their facility. In some cases, video monitoring enables them to store images on and off premise, providing a higher level of security. On-premises storage is made possible using DVRs and videotape recorders, where off-premises storage can easily be accomplished at the central station.

In other cases, the client is actually forced to implement remote video because of alarm ordinances imposed by negative police reaction to false alarm problems in the local community.

“Law enforcement wants the alarm industry to be absolutely sure of criminal activity before the central station dispatches a police officer, but there are millions of alarm systems out there that are not presently equipped to perform verification of any kind,” says Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) in Frisco, Texas.

Although video verification has its place, SIAC supports the use of ECV, where two calls and not one are made to the subscriber before dispatching the police (see sidebar).

Centrals Become GPS Enabled So Dealers Can Sell Asset Tracking
Another up-and-coming sellable product many central stations now offer is global positioning system (GPS)-based services.

GPS has quickly become a hot button in the security industry during the past 10 years. Asset tracking, as seen in container and port security efforts, is one of the major applications driving this technology. Virtually anything in transit is game for GPS tracking.

GPS provides the client with the ability to tell where their package is at any time as it moves using domestic or global shippers. GPS tracking combined with container security has become a valuable and sellable service into which traditional security dealers can tap.

Because of these agreements, security dealers now have an opportunity to sell GPS tracking to their clients using their traditional central station. Possible applications include expensive works of art; objects of antiquity; motor vehicles; important letter packages shipped globally or domestically; and large shipping containers that travel from one end of the globe to the other.

Another GPS service that some central stations offer allows traditional security companies to track one motor vehicle or an entire fleet. This segment of the GPS market is commonly referred to as fleet management.

Internet Connectivity for Signal Transport and Data Access
The Internet is fast becoming one of the ways dealers, security users and centrals interact on a variety of fronts. For example, central stations are using the Internet to receive alarms, trouble signals, supervisory warnings and other kinds of electronic signals from remote alarm systems. Alarm signals can now travel from one end of the globe to the other and never see the inside of a telephone company switch.

In years gone by, these signals made the trip from a protected premises to the central by way of the public switched telephone net
work (PSTN). This method of communication depends on a dial-up, loop-start telephone circuit. Not only is signal transport relatively slow using this method, but the cost is generally higher than that of the Internet.

“We encourage our dealers to use Internet monitoring using a capture dialer made by Bosch Security,” says Kerry Egan, vice president of business development with Security Partners LLC in Lancaster, Pa. “This module allows for transmission of signal on any brand of panel directly into our central station receivers. We also offer AlarmNet-I monitoring.”

Internet monitoring can quite suddenly become the best option for signal transport when a subscriber has changed from PSTN to DSL/voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).

Central stations are also using the Internet to give dealers and end users access to subscriber information. “We want the customer to be engaged in the process of managing their system. We want them to take ownership of issue and problems,” says Didden.

Didden adds that dealers can sell openings and closings (OC) to their clients by using Internet data access. Now, instead of the central sending an OC report every seven or 30 days, the client is able to see it any time he or she wants.

“Our Subscriber Secure Internet Service allows the dealer to give their customers access to account information,” says Kevin McCarthy, national sales director for Emergency24 of Chicago. “We offer five different levels of access, and dealers decide what level to authorize.”

According to C.O.P.S.’ Maden, “We offer COP-A-LINK Subscriber Access through which subscribers can access their alarm history, proofread their notification lists, go on and off test, and request changes to their account base.” C.O.P.S.’ Internetbased service can be “skinned” to look and feel like the dealer’s Web site, so the client thinks they’re still on that site.

“SAI’s Online Customer Internet Access is a service that provides customers with complete, real-time access to their account information 24 hours a day,” says Jim German, senior vice president of marketing with Security Associates Int’l Inc. of Arlington Heights, Ill. “This is done through the dealer’s Web site, which is linked to SAI.” Security dealers have always been able to access their subscriber data by one means or another. Today, dealers are given direct access to that information in the central’s database via the Internet.

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