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Monitoring: the New Wave

January 1, 2005
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Although conventional monitoring of burglar and fire alarm signals from digital dialers still is the bread and butter of most central stations, next-generation monitoring applications are gaining increased attention.

How are these services being marketed? What technical and operational challenges are involved in providing them? How big an investment is required to offer these next-generation monitoring services? What business benefits do they provide to the central stations that offer them?

A security operator of Commercial Instrument and Alarm Systems, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., views a video signal from a remote location and at the same time gives law enforcement officials a real-time update of the incident.

IP Alarm Monitoring

As broadband DSL, cable modem or T-1 connectivity becomes more commonplace, some alarm customers are beginning to replace or augment their digital dialers with new transmitters that use the Internet protocol (IP) for communication in a manner similar to that of a computer network.

Some customers take this route when they decide to disconnect their traditional phone lines and rely instead on either their cell phone or a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone. Others want to gain a higher level of security by using a system that can be polled periodically from the central station to help ensure connectivity.

Because IP alarm transmitters run over the customer’s existing broadband data connection, it is more practical to poll the system every few minutes than it would be with a traditional phone line that entails per-minute usage charges.

One central station dealer that recently began to monitor IP alarm transmitters is Vigilante Security Inc., Lathrup Village, Mich. “It’s very fast, very secure because the information is encrypted and it enables us to receive a lot of information in a short period of time,” asserts Ron Ross, Vigilante’s president. “The polling between the subscriber and the central station makes it very appealing.”

Because telephone companies have begun to replace their copper wire infrastructure with fiber-optic cable, earlier high-security alternatives such as derived channel and direct wire have been largely phased out in Vigilante’s service area.

When polling was required, the company’s only viable option until now was radio, Ross explains. Vigilante now proposes Internet monitoring as a less expensive alternative to radio for all new customers requiring extra high security.

Vigilante also suggests the service to new residential customers, explaining that they will need it if they ever want to disconnect their conventional phone line in favor of VoIP or cellular service.

The cost to customers of monitoring IP alarm transmitters is comparable to conventional alarm monitoring, Ross maintains. To support the service, Vigilante made a substantial investment in a new receiver and a new interface for another receiver. The company did not have to increase the bandwidth coming into the central station because it already had a T-1 line.

“If you want to be competitive, you have to be prepared to offer services that will make you a better company,” Ross insists. He adds that Vigilante anticipates gaining customers by providing a service that they cannot get anywhere else.

“The first company to put Internet monitoring in is on the leading edge,” Ross stresses. “I want that edge and need that edge.”

Ron Ross, president of Vigilante Security Inc., Lathrup Village, Mich., suggests monitoring of IP alarm transmitters to new residential customers who someday may want to disconnect their conventional phone lines in favor of VoIP or cellular service.

Video Monitoring & Verification

Now that police departments in various areas of the United States have refused to respond to burglar alarms unless a real emergency has been verified, some central stations have begun to use remote video surveillance for verification.

Fueling this trend is the growing popularity of DSL or cable modem connections that offer sufficient bandwidth to support transmission of video images from customers’ premises to the central station.

Although video signals can be transmitted over a traditional phone line, some central station dealers are reluctant to monitor such signals. Commercial Instrument and Alarm Systems, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., evaluated low-bandwidth video but found the refresh rate too slow, reports John Lombardi, president.

The company instead opted to support only DSL, cable modem or other broadband links. “There is so much more that can be learned when you can get on quickly and have quick refreshes,” Lombardi notes.

Although non-response has not been an issue with the police in Commercial Instrument’s upstate New York service area, the company has been able to sell the service based on other benefits. One is the company’s ability to burn a disk for a customer that can be used as evidence in a trial. This is an important feature if a perpetrator destroys the on-site digital video recorder.

Commercial Instrument also has had success in selling the service based on its ability to provide better information to police. “When we do have positive ID, now law enforcement will send not one car, but all its units,” Lombardi points out.

If a store employee were to push a silent alarm button but the video images from the store revealed an empty room, central station operators would be able to inform police of a potential hostage situation.

In determining a price for the service, Lombardi found that the industry had not yet established a benchmark, so he opted to keep it low. Rather than viewing the service purely as a revenue generator, he finds that adding the remote video monitoring has had other business benefits.

“The client will perceive you as a much more sophisticated company,” he stresses. “Everyone is intrigued by networking.” He adds that if remote video monitoring is part of a potential customer’s bid request, it can narrow the field of potential bidders substantially, sometimes weeding out the lowest-cost competitors. The net result is that Lombardi often can get the level of recurring revenue that he needs to make on the job.

Guard replacement with two-way audio and video, and personal health and emergency monitoring are popular services offered by Guardian Alarm, Southfield, Mich.

Replacing Guards

Commercial Instrument and other central station dealers also are beginning to take video monitoring a step further by offering services that can replace or augment what traditionally would be provided by security guards.

Alarm verification technology also can be used for remote guard tours in which customers’ locations are checked at scheduled times each day. Such services can provide an excellent opportunity to upgrade business customers that already are buying alarm monitoring or other services.

The most sophisticated guard replacement services involve enhancing remote video monitoring with two-way audio and sometimes two-way video. One central station that has begun to offer such sophisticated services is Guardian Alarm, Southfield, Mich.

The company has found the two-way offering to be popular with shopping malls, car dealers, schools and large industrial sites. A key benefit is that the service provides the appearance that a guard is on-site, points out Karen Majeske, Guardian’s general manager.

For example, a Guardian central station operator might replace a guard at an entry gate for a large industrial site. The operator would have the roster of deliveries expected each day, would communicate with each driver through a two-way audio and video link and would be able to control the gate through a remote connection. “To the truck driver, it appears that the central station operator is inside the building,” Majeske insists.

Central station operators also can have detailed floor plans of a customer’s location to help guide through a site police responding to an emergency by following them from one camera to another. Unlike on-site guards, Guardian operators can move easily from one location to another at a site. “Employees feel safer knowing someone is right there,” Majeske emphasizes.

Because a single central station operator simultaneously can provide guard replacement services for several customers, costs can be reduced substantially. Guardian has a dedicated area within its central station for guard replacement services where several specially trained operators back up each other.

Potential customers frequently are invited to see guard replacement in action, and when they do, they begin to think of creative ways to use the service for their own particular needs, Majeske relates.

Guard replacement services appeal to specific industries, so Guardian has focused its marketing efforts on them. By doing so, it has gained some new customers.

Health and Emergency Monitoring

Guardian also uses its remote video surveillance and two-way audio capability to support personal health and emergency monitoring, which Majeske reports has “really taken off.”

This type of monitoring is popular with families who have an ill or elderly family member, as well as with nursing agencies. Customers can tailor the service to their needs.

For example, Guardian might monitor the home of an Alzheimer’s patient during the night, looking in via video if the patient gets out of bed and triggers a floor mat alarm. Other customers might just want two-way audio capability, which central station operators would use if someone in the home were to press an emergency response button.

Guardian also can help ensure that patients take their medicine and can help in monitoring their blood pressure. The company offers a dialer connection into a multisection pillbox that can be pre-loaded by a nurse. It also can provide a pre-recorded audio reminder to patients each day to take their pills.

If the patient does not press a button to dispense his or her pills for that day within a preset time, the system dials the central station. There an operator follows customer-specified instructions, such as calling a neighbor or a family member.

The blood pressure device also has a built-in dialer, which sends a customer’s daily readings to the central station, where they are logged into a database and periodically e-mailed to the patient’s doctor.

The system also can be programmed to alert a designated person if the patient’s blood pressure exceeds a certain level. Both the pill-dispensing and blood-pressure-monitoring capabilities are popular with nursing agencies, because they can minimize the number of days that the agencies have to send a visiting nurse to a patient’s home.

Guardian developed its own software to support its medical and emergency monitoring service. The company markets the service through ads in targeted media, such as medical booklets and journals and in hospitals.

Sidebar 1
GPS Monitoring Next?

Could 2005 be the year that attention turns toward monitoring of global positioning systems?

Commercial Instrument and Alarm Systems, a central station based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is looking into the possibility of monitoring fleets of vehicles using GPS.

To support the offering, each vehicle in a fleet would be equipped with a wireless transmitter that communicates with the central station using a satellite or cellular system. This could determine a vehicle’s exact latitude and longitude at any point in time.

“Customers will contract for how often they want the system interrogated,” explains John Lombardi, president of Commercial Instrument and Alarm. “Every 15 minutes or so, we’ll get a report to indicate if the vehicle is on or off the road, where it is, if it’s speeding or if it has been idle too long.”

Lombardi anticipates that customers will pay between $48 and $65 monthly per vehicle for the service. Commercial Instrument currently is evaluating equipment for use with any GPS service the company might offer.

Sidebar 2

Coming Soon in SDM

Watch this May for SDM's Field Guide to Monitoring. This special issue is dedicated to new monitoring technologies and issues, including the latest offerings from contract central station services serving independent dealers.

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