Excellence is is often defined by some variation of “the very best.” It exists at the intersection of education, experience, effort and — often times — empathy. The culmination of these qualities can propel an individual or organization to the forefront of their industry.
Annually, The Monitoring Association (TMA) must define what excellence means in the world of central station monitoring. TMA achieves this with its Monitoring Center Excellence Awards, which recognizes the companies and individuals who provide exemplary service in central station monitoring.
The TMA Excellence Awards, sponsored by SDM, recognize any FM Approved, Intertek/ETL or UL‐listed monitoring center (TMA members) and outstanding personnel who perform in the highest professional manner, thereby making a significant contribution to the betterment of the alarm industry and the alarm profession while demonstrating exceptional service to their customers and community.
The Excellence Awards were established to promote the inherent value of monitoring center services; to honor those who have made the most significant contributions to the service; and to recognize the distinct level of professionalism attained by NRTL-approved monitoring centers.
A distinguished panel of monitoring professionals reviews and scores all entrants, and those receiving the three highest numerical ratings advance to the finals.
Final awards are presented in each of the following four categories:
- Monitoring Center of the Year
- SMB (up to 40,000 accounts)
- Enterprise (40,001 or more accounts)
- Monitoring Center Manager of the Year
- Monitoring Center Operator of the Year
- Monitoring Center Support Person of the Year
To learn more about the TMA Excellence Awards program and past recipients, visit sdmmag.com/TMA-Monitoring-Center-Excellence-Awards or tma.us.
► Monitoring Center of the Year – Enterprise
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Founded in 1991 with 10 employees and 300 customers, CPI Security is now one of the nation’s largest security providers with 13 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Over the past 31 years, the company has become known for its central station’s real-time response. Operators utilize audio and video verification to confirm an emergency and alert first responders in real time. CPI’s two-way voice capabilities allow for operators to speak directly to intruders, often deterring them from the monitored area. In the event of a medical or fire alarm, CPI’s operators use real-time response to get customers to safety and to help them remain calm until help arrives. CPI was able to finish 2022 with a response time of 33 seconds.
“The old adage that the customer is always right still rings true, especially in the age of social media,” says Ken Gill, CEO and founder of CPI Security. “My dad always told me to take care of your people, and they will take care of your customers. Words to live by.”
But excellence begins before the response with employee training. CPI has implemented a 10-step new hire process that ensures a foundational understating of the products and services the company offers. CPI’s trainers also receive initial and ongoing professional development training to keep them up-to-date with industry learning and training standards set by organizations like Association for Talent Development (ATD), Development Dimensions International (DDI) and the Dale Carnegie Institute.
The methodology of CPI’s training involves a building block approach. Each alarm discipline is taught to an operator, beginning with burglary alarms. CPI then adds alarms with increasing priority until all alarm disciplines have been mastered. Before observing any work, the trainee reviews the procedures for the specific alarm discipline with their supervisor or the monitoring manager. A member of management confirms understanding of the terminology and actions required in the standard operating procedure before the trainee observes alarms in a production environment. After classroom training on procedures, the new hire partners with a mentor operator in the monitoring center.
Gill says CPI can attribute CPI’s success to its people. “CPI wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the people who work here. They are dedicated, passionate, and caring for our customers. If you onboard the right customers, install their technology correctly, service them timely and correctly, monitor them correctly and bill them correctly, your odds of success are much greater.”
Starting in 2021 and continuing in 2022, CPI made a multi-million-dollar investment in customer panel and radio technology to upgrade alarm systems to LTE alarm communications, as 3G networks retired in 2022. This investment involved upgrading alarm systems for tens of thousands of CPI customers over nearly two years. Almost every CPI department was involved with the 3G overhaul to ensure customers didn’t experience any service disruption. With these updates, CPI retired older IP receiver technology no longer needed to support legacy technologies.
CPI invested in and upgraded Honeywell IP receiver technology, as well. NAPCO released its virtual receiver, which CPI is testing to address the projected sunset of telco communications and beginning efforts to convert or upgrade remaining telco solutions to IP or cellular in the coming year.
CPI’s central station uses panel-tampering technology to support CPI’s Customer for Life (CFL) department, which addresses attrition. The central station will notify the CFL team when panel tampers occur without a necessary alarm response or when customers tell the central station that a new service provider is in the home. The CFL team has successfully reduced attrition rates when reaching out to customers after a panel tamper notification, ensuring they understand their options, rights and obligations as a customer.
CPI continues to see expanded customer use of alarm in-app “Cancel” and “Verify” buttons released in 2020 to reduce false alarms and escalate response as needed. Since the cancel/verify release, CPI has reduced false alarms dispatches by 23 percent.
Finally, excellence can be defined by how the company gets involved in its community. CPI gives back to a variety of local nonprofits each year, but focuses on organizations that support underserved communities, first responders and community safety initiatives. Each quarter, CPI Security provides in-house volunteer opportunities for employees by bringing local nonprofits to its headquarters during lunch hours to ensure its staff can volunteer on-site during a time that works for their shift schedules. For example, CPI team members assembled bundles for Baby Bundles, a nonprofit that provides baby essentials to families in financial need.
All employees participate in three company-wide giving initiatives each year: the company’s Back-to School Supply Drives, its Food Drives, and its Holiday Toy Drives that CPI executes in tandem with its law enforcement agencies in each market. In 2022, CPI employees donated more than 5,100 school supplies to local students across the Southeast, thousands of pounds of food, and hundreds of toys to more than 1,200 children.
In addition to making more than 90 donations worth $1.15 million in charitable contributions in 2022, CPI offers a charitable contribution match of up to $250 and offers Volunteer Time Off (VTO), so that employees can practice civic and community engagement in activities that are meaningful to them.
“I am most proud of our people and the growth that they've had here in contributing to CPI and serving our communities,” Gill says. “I’m proud of the fact that we got into the business to make our communities safer and hold bad actors accountable, and we’re still doing that nearly 32 years later. Not only are we protecting our customers from burglars, fire and carbon monoxide threats, but CPI, as an organization, is also holding others in the industry accountable to ensure the consumer is always protected.”
► Monitoring Center of the Year – SMB
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Statewide Central Station is a TMA Five–Diamond Certified and UL Certified central station monitoring all emergency conditions throughout the United States. The company is an active member of several industry associations, including The Monitoring Association (TMA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), New York Fire Alarm Association (NYFAA), Alarm Association of Florida (AAF), New Jersey Electronic Life Safety Security Association (NJELSA), and Women in Security. Through these memberships, Statewide is committed to staying current with industry trends, best practices and regulations. Pamela Columbia, co-president, actively participates in these associations and Steven Coppola, co-president, is actively involved in the TMA and is a member of the TMA Technology Committee and the TMA Surveillance and Video Verification (SVV) Committee.
“Our company philosophy is centered around providing exceptional service, fostering strong partnerships and staying at the forefront of technological advancements in the monitoring industry,” says Pamela Columbia. “We believe in delivering customized solutions that meet the unique needs of our customers. We understand that each client is different, and we strive to tailor our services to their specific requirements, ensuring their complete satisfaction.”
Statewide Central Station places a high priority on reducing false dispatches, as they can waste valuable resources, including time and money, and can also have a negative impact on the reputation of a company. To address this issue, Statewide follows strict standard alarm procedures and use technology to minimize the number of false dispatches. Statewide’s monitoring center adheres to ABUS standards and implements best practices recommended by the TMA.
The company uses advanced technology to detect and filter out false alarms, including sophisticated algorithms and systems that analyze signals from alarm systems and verify their validity. This helps Statewide to quickly identify genuine alarms and prioritize the dispatch of emergency services to the appropriate location.
“We leverage cutting-edge technology to enhance our monitoring capabilities and provide innovative solutions to our customers,” says Steven Coppola. “By staying at the forefront of technological advancements, we can offer efficient and effective monitoring services, ensuring the safety and security of our customers' assets.”
To prevent false alarms from occurring in the first place, Statewide provides training to its employees, end users and other key stakeholders on the proper use of alarm systems and the importance of following standard alarm procedures. This training covers topics such as correct code entry and proper maintenance of alarm systems, among others.
In the event that a false alarm does occur, Statewide takes a proactive approach to identifying the offender and implementing appropriate remediation measures. This may include working with the end user to resolve technical issues, providing additional training on proper alarm use, or imposing penalties for repeat offenders.
“We take pride in our ability to provide solutions to challenges and address customer needs effectively,” Steven Coppola says. “Our focus on problem-solving, paired with our willingness to go the extra mile for our customers, has earned us a reputation for exceptional service and customer satisfaction.”
Statewide is committed to reducing the number of false dispatches and ensuring the efficient and effective deployment of emergency services. The company’s use of technology and adherence to industry best practices helps it to achieve this goal, while its training programs helps to educate and empower its employees, end users and other key stakeholders to be responsible and proactive in their use of alarm systems.
Statewide uses a comprehensive LMS (Learning Management System) to track and monitor its monitoring operations. This system provides real-time data and insights into its performance, allowing the company to continuously optimize its processes and improve its overall service. The company’s LMS system also provides access to a variety of online resources and training materials, allowing Statewide’s employees to learn at their own pace and stay up-to-date with industry developments.
New hires go through a comprehensive onboarding process that includes both basic online and offline training on the DICE/Matrix platform and a phone etiquette training program custom-designed in-house to complement the line of work. Trainees start with low-priority signals and gradually progress to high priorities as they become more confident with the system. They then move on to TMA training which provides a basic understanding of the alarm industry and how to communicate with all parties involved, including PSAP. The TMA training helps to ensure that all operators understand industry standards and best practices, and provides a solid foundation for their role in the monitoring center.
Pamela Columbia is highly qualified in this area with a Master's degree in education and a certification as an operator instructor from the Central Station Alarm Association (now known as the Monitoring Association (TMA)). With her education and experience, Columbia is instrumental in training Statewide’s operators and ensuring they have the necessary skills to perform their jobs effectively. In addition to in-house training led by Columbia, Statewide also provides FDNY and NFPA training to its staff to ensure they are up-to-date on industry standards and regulations. Additionally, many of its staff is NICET certified, demonstrating their commitment to continued learning and professional development.
“The training philosophy we have implemented at Statewide is to have patience and to bring out the best in every single employee,” said Columbia. “Some may be excellent on the phone; others may be better at efficient data entry … the key is to find the employees’ strengths and to develop them further while building their confidence to ensure we can provide the best service possible.”
The trainers themselves are qualified professionals with extensive experience in the alarm industry. The company has implemented internal communication systems to ensure new protocols and communication between locations are effectively disseminated. The company also allocates resources towards training programs and continuously evaluates the effectiveness of its training methods through ongoing analysis and testing.
► Manager of the Year
WINNER: Fiore Ayala
COMPANY: Rapid Response Monitoring Services, Syracuse, N.Y.
TITLE: Director of Operations
TENURE AT THE COMPANY: 9 years
Fiore Ayala always tries to put himself in other’s shoes.
As Rapid Response Monitoring Services reflected on Fiore Ayala’s tenure with the company, it is very clear that it would surely not be where it is today without his great contributions. Ayala is a fully invested and dedicated individual who, in a matter of eight years, has worked his way up to the leadership role of director of operations at Rapid Response. He began his career by training at the company’s headquarters in Syracuse, N.Y., and then returned to California to help establish and grow Rapid Response’s team at the then newly established redundant center in Corona. That location and team thrived under his management and last year, Ayala’s drive allowed Rapid Response to establish its third facility in Henderson, Nev. As that new facility continues to take shape, Ayala’s skills in systems development and team leadership remain critical to the company’s success.
Ayala has been an integral member of the monitoring center team, steering the implementation of advanced tools, resources and strategy in order to meet exceptional service levels and to provide an outstanding customer experience. Most notably, Ayala assumed his duties during a period of intense expansion within the company and has developed and adapted his leadership skills to accomplish the many adjustments required, and has successfully developed his team’s efforts in an entirely new monitoring facility. He has proven instrumental to Rapid Response’s growth and to his team’s effectiveness.
Ayala was hired as a control center specialist at Rapid Response’s fully redundant monitoring center in Corona in 2014, and was soon promoted to operations supervisor. In early 2017, he was promoted to operations manager and, in 2019, to director of operations in Corona. When Rapid Response’s Customer Care Center in Henderson opened in early 2022, he relocated to Henderson and accepted the opportunity to lead the launch of the new location as director of operations.
Ayala always encourages his supervisory team to look for the positives, acknowledging how easy it is to focus on areas for improvement that can be quickly spotted in a fast-paced, critical monitoring environment.
“By looking for the good, interacting with these good people with good intentions, and trying to develop and work with the team … that just automatically feeds into the retention side of things,” Ayala says. “The team members feel that we care; they feel the support; and, to be honest, they are given reason to trust us, and we are better able to reward their efforts.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was, without doubt, the most difficult situation Ayala has faced, largely because the challenges were external as well as from within and for a duration of nearly two years. Employees faced problems at home, particularly if they or their dependents had contracted COVID, and these problems had an impact on staffing levels in the monitoring center. Ayala worked hand-in-hand with his team to manage work schedules and staffing to maintain quality service despite the challenges. Rapid Response continued to exclusively provide monitoring services only from within its facilities and never from employees’ homes, which led to Ayala’s development of a more focused cleaning regimen at his center. This ensured employees felt comfortable in the monitoring center as well as when they returned home. Throughout this challenging period, Ayala closely monitored service level statistics and made any adjustments possible to accommodate the needs of staff, while ensuring Rapid Response’s dealers’ and their customers’ lives and property continued to be protected.
Ayala’s approach is to always put himself in the others’ shoes. He focuses on listening carefully to customers’ needs and makes himself available to support them in any way possible. Even if a concern arises that is not directly in his purview, Ayala makes sure to fully understand the situation and work diligently to resolve it as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Ayala dedicates time to meet with dealers at Rapid Response’s facility, at tradeshows like ISC West, and via virtual meetings and calls. Above all, Ayala feels it is his responsibility to communicate closely with Rapid Response’s customers and he takes it personally if there is ever a time where they are not meeting their expectations.
“Depending on the issue, I either assure them of a solution that I have already in place or that I have taken the issue as my personal responsibility and will make the improvements necessary so that it doesn’t happen again,” Ayala says.
Ayala is currently heavily involved in the development of the Henderson monitoring center. Prior to the move, Ayala enjoyed working with local organizations near Rapid Response’s Corona facility on joint activities with #TeamRapid. These programs supported local food banks, habitat for humanity, adopt a highway and more. He is looking forward to becoming involved in the Henderson area are things progress with Rapid Response’s new facility.
► Operator of the Year
WINNER: Samantha Marzili
COMPANY: COPS Monitoring, Williamstown, N.J.
TITLE: Advanced Level 6 Operator/Dispatcher (Now Dealer Support)
TENURE AT THE COMPANY: 5.5 years
The word “no” is not in Samantha Marzili’s vocabulary.
At the time of the event that prompted COPS Monitoring to nominate her, Samantha Marzili was a dispatcher. Marzili now works in the company’s dealer support department, where she applies her skills, knowledge and work ethic to build positive working relationships with COPS’ dealers while helping them with all types of scenarios. Marzili has been nominated multiple times for COPS’ Chairman’s Award for Excellence, the company’s highest honor, for continually going above and beyond. During her performance reviews, Marzili has consistently received high scores for her customer service and ability to assist COPS’ customers/dealers at a high level, ultimately leading to her promotion to her current position.
In addition to being TMA Certified, Marzili successfully mastered COPS’ rigorous 6 Level Gradation training program, which consists of continual training and testing for her first 18 months of employment. Thereafter, Marzili has received quarterly training on customer service, SOP procedures, disaster preparedness and other required skills to ensure she can deliver the highest quality services when it matters most.
And the event that led to Marzili’s nomination? Just an hour into Marzili’s shift one morning, she received an incoming call from a customer COPS’ referred to as Hollis. Hollis quietly told Marzili that he wished to change his password as he no longer wanted his current partner, Landry, to be able to cancel alarms. Hollis explained he wanted to change his code because he was concerned for his safety. Without hesitation, Marzili asked Hollis if she could dispatch the police so they could assist with his situation. After pausing for a few seconds, Hollis stated, “No, I should be okay… as long as he doesn't kill me by the morning.” Hollis told Marzili that he would take steps to change his code himself, thanked Marzili, and then hung up.
Marzili was on high alert. As she was getting the attention of her manager, she received another call. It was Hollis’ partner, Landry, calling to make sure police weren’t being sent to their address. She advised that there was an alarm earlier that day, but it was canceled because we received a proper code. After ending the call with Landry, Marzili decided to dispatch the police to conduct a wellness check on Hollis and provided the details of Hollis’ concerns and the follow-up call with Landry.
A follow-up call with the police revealed that they had responded to the address to perform a wellness check, but no one was home. Marzili investigated the account after police stated no one was at home and realized a duress alarm had been activated at the property and was canceled because of a proper code. Though canceling the alarm was proper procedure, Marzili made a follow-up call to the police asking for another wellness check because of her overwhelming concern for Hollis’ safety. A short time later, Marzili followed up with the police and learned that not only had the police re-dispatched a unit, but they Hollis was indeed in duress and was in immediate need of police assistance as Landry had returned to the property in an agitated state. The officers removed made their report, and even helped Hollis get the assistance he needed to change the locks on his home.
► Support Person of the Year
WINNER: Brian DeCarlo
COMPANY: Rapid Response Monitoring Services, Syracuse, N.Y.
TITLE: Director of Dealer Support Services
TENURE AT THE COMPANY: 25 years
In regards to his team members, Brian DeCarlo says, “Without them, I am nothing.”
Brian DeCarlo is an industry expert with more than 25 years of experience with Rapid Response Monitoring Services. De Carlo constantly looks after the best interest of the customers, the employees and the company. Many Rapid Response employees currently in positions of high responsibility once worked on DeCarlo’s team and benefited from his mentorship and guidance, which helped propel them forward in their careers.
As a result of his leadership/management, Rapid Response says his department, and the company as a whole are staffed with more highly skilled and effective employees. His technical and procedural knowledge and experience is a cornerstone of Rapid Response’s development. His innovations in providing services have greatly assisted Rapid Response in fulfilling its mission of protecting homes and businesses in a more efficient and effective manner.
“My willingness to evolve, to allow change and to accept change have allowed me to grow, and, more importantly, support our team in their growth,” DeCarlo says.
DeCarlo builds lasting relationships because, quite simply, that’s the kind of person he is. In his role as director, he goes out of his way to maintain those relationships not only by reaching out to team members but also to those only met through internal interviews or those who have moved to a new department. He enjoys congratulating them on their special days but especially on their achievements; and he takes pride in thanking team members for their service since they’re the most important parts of Rapid Response’s business. In his words, “Without them, I am nothing.”
DeCarlo holds Rapid Response Monitoring licenses for monitoring in several states, as well as for FDNY. He graduated from Niagara University with a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
DeCarlo first began his career as a control center specialist in the operations department, then was promoted to a data entry processor in the data entry and dealer support department. He continued to work hard and received various promotions throughout the years — from account executive to supervisor to manager — ultimately leading to his current position of director of dealer support.
Underlying his extensive accomplishments is a selfless character that is strongly evident both professionally and in his community. Among other activities, and in spite of the long hours he devotes to the company, DeCarlo has been tremendously active in Code Enforcement in his town and in developing baseball and basketball sports programs for young people in his community, not only coaching teams, but in administering league affairs as president (during his tenure the league grew from 60 to over 200 kids). Most notably, working with local business people, he was instrumental in acquiring a 9,000 sq. ft. facility for indoor sports and training.