THE SUPERSTARS OF CENTRAL STATIONS
The security industry boasts many companies and employees marked by eminence and distinction. These are the companies that refuse to settle for the status quo, that constantly strive to improve operations and perform above standards.
In an effort to recognize the exceptional companies and employees that make up the alarm industry, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Board of Directors developed the CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards.
â€œThe idea behind the Excellence Awards is that our industry should be recognizing those companies and individuals who have truly made the sacrifices that are so necessary to continue to help our industry grow and prosper,â€ says Steve Doyle, executive vice president of CSAA.
CSAA plans to continue recognizing the excellence of companies and employees that make up the alarm industryâ€™s central stations for years to come. â€œ[We] hope that in the future the application process for the awards will serve as a guide to central stations, central station managers, and central station operators as to what constitutes â€˜excellence,â€™â€ Doyle says.
Read on to learn about the recipients of the 2006 Central Station Excellence Awards.
CENTRAL STATION OPERATOR OF THE YEAR
Christine Mudrak, quality control supervisor at ADS Security, Nashville, has a perfect attendance record. The Central Station Operator of the Year recipient will even come in on a day off to cover for a coworker if necessary.
Central Station Operator of the Year, Christine Mudrak of ADS Security, demonstrates dedication, loyalty and a passion for the industry.
â€œIf a coworker wants to do something badly, Christine will give her day off to help them,â€ says Lela Mullins, central station manager at ADS Security. â€œIf someone is sick and calls Christine at 3 a.m., she comes in. That says a lot about the loyalty she has with her teammates that she would be willing to do that.â€
Before joining ADS Security as a central station operator in September 1992, Mudrak worked for a small alarm company in Vincentown, N.J., Signal Dispatch Inc. â€œActually, the opportunity punched me in the face,â€ Mudrak says. â€œIt was a mom-and-pop shop with a small number of accounts.â€ It was this job, along with the owner of the company, Don Songhurst, that instilled in her a deep passion for the security industry, Mudrak reveals.
DedicationMudrakâ€™s dedication is clear today. After four years as an operator at ADS Security, she was promoted to quality control supervisor. She was the first person at ADS Security to fill the role of quality control supervisor â€” a role that the company created in 1996 to help ensure conformity with operations standards.
Her responsibilities include tracking central station statistics and training both new and existing employees, but her favorite part of the day is when she works as an operator, Mudrak concedes. And that is how she begins her work day.
She typically gets to work at 6 a.m. Throughout the day, Mudrak will handle calls, create and compile reports, and help customers who have issues that need addressing. If ADS Security has any newly hired operators, Mudrak will train them. She is CSAA CSO Level I certified and has been a SIA CSO Instructor since 1995. Mudrak also ensures that all ADS Security central station operators remain current in their training and certification.
â€œChristine has not lost her enthusiasm after 14 years [working for ADS Security]. She mentors colleagues and coworkers, and she gives employees recurrent training to build on what they already have,â€ says Angeline Burns, corporate services CustomerCare Deparment at ADS Security.
Mudrak makes it a point to attend industry conferences and meetings including Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) meetings. She says that over the past decade, she has seen the industry change. â€œThere is much more focus on life safety and a huge focus on reducing false dispatches. Better technology has taken off, especially in terms of reducing false alarms with software and hardware,â€ Mudrak says.
According to Mudrak, reducing false dispatches, taking care of customers and taking care of coworkers are the most important aspects of her position. In fact, she was involved in the development of CSAAâ€™s False Alarm Reduction online training course.
Mudrakâ€™s coworkers attest to her leadership skills and quiet authority. â€œShe doesnâ€™t talk much, but gets everything done and keeps everybody else on task. She is very gentle about bringing up mistakes to an employee and very tactful in making it stick with them,â€ Mullins says.
Her commitment to following through with customers and focusing on the importance of customer safety is not lost on Mudrakâ€™s peers. â€œChristine has never lost a sense of urgency when she dispatches. She focuses on life safety and is never complacent. She keeps that sense of urgency and thatâ€™s a plus,â€ Burns maintains.
â€œThroughout my career, I have never seen anyone with the level of competency, tools and skills that Christine has; they are exceptional and second to none. No one could be more deserving for the [Central Station Operator of the Year Award] than Christine,â€ Mullins says.
Leading by ExampleA testament to her achievements, Mudrak was invited to and attended ADS Securityâ€™s annual Presidentâ€™s Club in Nashville for the past 13 years. Held over a weekend in February, the Presidentâ€™s Club brings together high-achieving employees for a banquet, meetings and seminars to facilitate the exchange of ideas.
Mudrak not only demonstrates her leadership skills on-the-job, but off-the-job as well. At the first ADS Chili Cook-off in November 2005, Mudrak won $100 for first prize. Mudrak used her prize money to purchase two winter coats for a Hurricane Katrina coat drive.
â€œI have been in the [security] industry for quite some time, and itâ€™s rare you find someone like Christine. She is such a modest person,â€ Burns says. â€œShe comes in and does her work. She has such a passion for what she does.â€
When asked about her career path, Mudrak fondly recalls her first job as a central station operator for Signal Dispatch Inc. After four years on the job, Mudrak says she knew she wanted to stay in the security industry, but was apprehensive about working for a larger company.
â€œWhen I first started working as a central station operator, [the owner] Don gave me a passion for the industry. It was such a small company. I remember when he was able to get us health insurance. He was so excited, you would have thought he won the lottery,â€ Mudrak recalls. â€œWhen I left there I was nervous about coming to ADS, because I was afraid I would get lost in a larger company. That didnâ€™t happen. [Everyone] here gets so excited about doing things for the employees and thatâ€™s really nice.â€
As for receiving recognition as Central Station Operator of the Year, Mudrak says modestly, â€œI see that I am dedicated to ADS and my coworkers â€” I am. But so many people are.â€ She adds, â€œMy job is a lot of fun. I have the best coworkers anybody could possibly ask for.â€
CENTRAL STATION MANAGER OF THE YEAR
â€œIt was a complete surprise,â€ admits Rick Raper about receiving the Central Station Manager of the Year award. â€œI didnâ€™t even think I was in the running,â€ adds Raper, who is the central station manager at Alarm Detection Systems Inc., Aurora, Ill.
Central Station Manager of the Year, Rick Raper of Alarm Detection Systems Inc., showcases exceptional leadership and dedication.
Raper is humble about his nearly two decades of experience in the security industry â€”18 years with Alarm Detection Systems and eight of those as central station manager.
His career in the security industry began with the desire to take a chance and seize an opportunity. When Raper was about 17, he worked for a screw-making company. â€œIt was a small operation, and I got to the point where I wasnâ€™t making enough money and I went to work at my dadâ€™s manufacturing company where I could make more,â€ he recalls. Eventually, Raper heard news that the screw company had been built up and was a very successful operation. Raper felt he had missed an opportunity.
So when a friend of his was starting an alarm business and asked Raper if he wanted some side-work, Raper jumped at the chance. â€œEventually he told me to come work for him and that he would pay me more than I was making,â€ he says. â€œI gave up a very secure, long-lasting job and took a chance building up a company. I didnâ€™t want to look back again at a missed opportunity.â€
A few years later, Alarm Detection Systems bought out the two-man security company, and Raper took a position with Alarm Detection Systems. He worked as a technician for five years, until an accident on a ladder left him unable to work in a position that involved standing. â€œWe had a technical support job open. It was a sit-down job and I took it,â€ he recalls. Another five years went by and the central station manager position at Alarm Detection Systems opened up. â€œI put my hat in the ring and I didnâ€™t really have any background in the central station part of it, but my service and technical knowledge made that part of being a manager easy for me. It took time to learn the â€˜peopleâ€™ part of it,â€ Raper says.
Raper credits much of his education and knowledge of the industry to attending CSAA central station manager meetings twice a year. â€œIâ€™ve never missed one since I started,â€ he reports. Many of Raperâ€™s ideas for updating training programs or improving employee morale at Alarm Detection Systems come from exchanging ideas with others in the industry. Raper is CSAA certified and SIA certified as a trainer/operator.
Standing OutWhen Raper took over the management position, the central station was understaffed, he says. Raper took away all the other duties that the operators were doing and had them focus more specifically on their jobs. Raper is the first level of contact for a customer if there is any type of problem, as well as the first level of contact with responding authorities.
â€œRick is a great human being. He makes up one of our top management team. We have a seasoned group [of managers] and theyâ€™ve all been around a long time. It is that type of seasoned leadership that makes our company great,â€ says Bob Bonifas, president and CEO of Alarm Detection Systems.
Raper makes sure he is on top of the goings-on at Alarm Detection Systems. He is involved in interviewing each potential new hire at the central station. â€œI have to make sure they are on the same page as I am,â€ Raper admits. His No. 1 priority is making sure that Alarm Detection Systemsâ€™ customers are taken care of. To ensure that Alarm Detection Systems employs people who can help accomplish the companyâ€™s goals, would-be employees go through an extensive interview and training process.
About five years ago, Raper changed Alarm Detection Systemsâ€™ training practice. Operators use the CSAA online training program. â€œNow that we do everything online,â€ he says, â€œsome of that hands-on was missing, so we said letâ€™s get them out there to see what is really going on.â€ Operators go into the field with a technician and learn about false alarm difficulties, and trail an installer to witness the workings of that job. â€œIt gives them a better understanding of what the company does,â€ Raper says.
Raising MoraleRaper, and other Alarm Detection Systemsâ€™ management, helps keep morale high at the central station by implementing employee recognition programs. Alarm Detection Systems presents its own Operator of the Year award annually. A recent employee program, Raper says, is the â€œWay To Goâ€ program â€” an idea he discovered from another company. Operators get coupons for going above and beyond what their job calls for. Then at different times throughout the year, employees blindly pick a prize, ranging from a pen, to a $100 gift certificate, to a meal of hot dogs and hamburgers personally flipped by Raper. â€œThere is also a prize where I have to wash the winnerâ€™s vehicle. That was one of my ideas, but nobody has picked that yet.â€
To encourage communication with employees, Raper has an open-door policy. Employees can come to him at anytime with questions or concerns. In fact, Raper says, the whole company has an open-door policy. Raper also carries a cell phone with him when he is not in the office, allowing employees to reach him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. â€œIâ€™d rather answer a dumb question than not answer a serious one,â€ he relates.
With Raper onboard, Alarm Detection Systems began implementing enhanced call verification (ECV) several years ago, before a majority of central stations had even heard of it, he says. ECV is a method of two-call verification, which can help reduce false dispatches. â€œWe did a lot of testing before it was known to a lot of other people and we saw that we could have a 50 percent reduction [in false alarm dispatches],â€ Raper maintains.
Acting to reduce false alarm dispatches is one thing that Raper says he has seen change in the industry as a whole over the years. â€œSecurity companies see that we canâ€™t just dump this on the police anymore. As an industry, we have to do something about the false alarm problem. Thatâ€™s one of the biggest challenges we face, because if police stop responding, what will we do?â€ he asks.
Another way the industry has changed, Raper says, is that security companies are more communicative than they used to be. â€œAll the companies used to be secretive. If we knew something, we werenâ€™t going to tell another company. Now, I think that a line has been drawn and you say, â€˜we are all in this together,â€™â€ he says. â€œThe industry is much more open. I have people calling me up looking for advice and I will call people and ask them for the same thing.â€
Raper has a lot of good advice to give after more than 18 years dedicated to the security industry and he credits the company and the people around him for his success. Keeping a high morale at the office means surrounding yourself with the right people, he says. â€œItâ€™s not me. Iâ€™m not magic. Itâ€™s them.â€
CENTRAL STATION OF THE YEAR
â€œItâ€™s like winning a Super Bowl or something,â€ says Ted Stoler, assistant vice president, central station manager at Vector Securityâ€™s East central station location, on receiving the Central Station of the Year award. â€œThere are so many top-notch organizations out there and you donâ€™t think you are in that league. We work so hard at what we do and to get that acknowledgement is so satisfying.â€
Central Station of the Year recipient, Vector Security Inc.â€™s East central station, aims to improve the lives of its employees both professionally and personally.
Vector Security Inc., Pittsburgh, is a privately owned, regional electronic security provider, with offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Ohio. This yearâ€™s award goes to Vectorâ€™s East central station location in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Combined, the companyâ€™s central station locations serve more than 159,000 customers, though Vector East serves the largest number of subscribers â€“ more than 67,200. Vector has four central station locations. One of those, in Richmond, Va., is only open during peak open and close hours.
SET APARTFinding loyal and dedicated employees, rewarding those employees, and encouraging growth and ongoing education are goals that Vector strives to meet every day. What sets Vector East and the company as a whole apart from other central stations is a combination of many small things, says Pam Petrow, executive vice president of Vector Security.
Vectorâ€™s East central station employs four supervisors, and 26 operators on three 12-hour shifts. The central station handles burglary, fire, medical, environmental, supervisory, holdup, supervised opens and closes, and two-way voice signals.
To keep abreast of changes in technology, Vectorâ€™s New Product Committee has representatives throughout the company, including from the central stations that evaluate new products and technology. â€œWe talk about what technologies we are going to embrace and how that would fit into the companyâ€™s future,â€ Petrow says.
Technology improvements and additions are not the only updates on which Vector places importance. Stoler says that renovations and improvements to the central station, inside and out, keep employee morale high and project the consistent, professional image that Vector wants to represent. Vector Eastâ€™s central station was remodeled in 1993 and then again in 1996. In 2005, the central station underwent repainting and replacement of operation-station computers and operator partitions. â€œWe make sure all our technologies are state-of-the-art. Small updates allow us to have the right tools to do that. From chairs to desks, it lets our employees know we are committed to having a professional, comfortable place,â€ Stoler says.
â€œOur commitment to customer service, our treatment of employees and our exceptional management team set us apart. Every aspect of [the central station] is analyzed and constantly improved,â€ Petrow maintains. â€œI think a lot of central stations establish policies and thatâ€™s what they follow. That sets us apart because we are constantly looking to improve our operations and enhance our working environment for employees.â€
All of Vectorâ€™s central station locations, including Vector East, have been Five Diamond Certified since 2003, a status that the company uses in advertisements, company materials, its Web site and presentations.
â€œ[Five Diamond Certification] is a differentiating factor for us,â€ Petrow asserts. The certification makes Vector and other central stations stand out because it shows a strong commitment to training and customer service, she says.
â€œOver the past number of years central station services have become regarded by some as pure commodities; and that has to change. I am proud that Vector has taken a stand in renewing the viability of central stations, by linking the value of our existing and newer offerings directly to the role and actions of our central stations,â€ says John A. Murphy, president of Vector Security.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT HIREFinding quality people is one of the most important issues Vector East deals with. Running a successful central station starts with hiring and keeping the right employee for the job.
â€œWe struggle like everyone finding the right people with the right attitude and work ethic. [Being an operator] is a difficult job and itâ€™s tedious. Maintaining that level of urgency is very difficult,â€ Petrow says. â€œComplacency is something we work on every day.â€
Since August 2003, all new hires at Vector must pass the CSAA Central Station Operators training course before moving on to Vectorâ€™s training program.
New hires spend time in a classroom with dedicated Vector trainers, as well as on the monitoring floor. â€œIt is a practical application to the knowledge that they learn in the classroom,â€ Stoler notes.
Management encourages cross-training for all Vector employees, not just central station operators. Data entry, administrative support staff, training managers and assistant managers are cross-trained as operators.
The initial operator training program, which is regularly updated, is a three-month process. All Vector operators rotate job responsibilities within their shift and also are given the opportunity to work with other departments, including service and installation.
Cross-training allows operators to get a much better understanding of how the company works and what role other departments play in the security business, Stoler says.
On-the-job education doesnâ€™t stop after three months, however. Continuing education is highly encouraged at Vector. â€œOur hope is to develop our employees both personally and professionally,â€ Petrow acknowledges.
For example, employees at Vector East may choose to participate in the 5/6 Club, which has six levels, each with specific requirements to pass onto the next level. The first three levels are required for employees within six months of employment, Stoler says, and serve as a general perspective of the industry and business. As the levels progress, participants learn about management skills, life skills and working as a team member.
â€œWe try to integrate not only what we expect people here to do within their job responsibilities, but also as a person with life skills,â€ Stoler says. â€œWe develop the attitude that teamwork, pride and plain old understanding of our business is very important, and that business includes them.â€
Vector management continually measures the performance and quality of the central stations and looks for areas in which to improve. Operators receive monthly reviews and are monitored by a training manager twice per month and also by supervisors at least twice per month, Stoler says.
EMPLOYEE RECOGNITIONVector implements a number of incentive and employee recognition programs to keep morale high and retain valued employees. Operators can receive financial incentives for each quarter and year that they have missed zero days of work. In addition, operators receive quarterly and annual incentives for timeliness. Vector recognizes an Employee of the Quarter and Employee of the Year, for which the recipients receive financial rewards, plaques and banners.
Another incentive for operators at Vector is the YES! Chip Program. Operators can earn Youâ€™re Extra Special (YES) chips for performing above and beyond their normal job duties. Operators can cash in their chips for gift certificates, other merchandise or paid time off.
â€œIt is easy to yell and correct employees in a central station every time they make a mistake. It is really hard to change your focus and reward behavior,â€ Petrow admits. â€œInstead of punitive responses to behavior, we want to reward people who are doing a good job.â€
In addition to holiday parties and other events, monthly event days are themed days for which employees dress up and Vector management provides food and prizes.
Past event days at Vector East have been carnival, pajama, toga party and western themed. A recent â€œcrazy hat dayâ€ at Vector East had Stoler wearing his daughterâ€™s Jester hat. â€œSomebody else had a hat made of pineapples,â€ he laughs.
Other events at Vector East include car washes from the managers and Stoler cooking steaks for the central station employees. â€œWe have a combination of fun days, some small and some large, and they give an opportunity for people to have fun in the workplace,â€ he says.
PRACTICES TO REDUCE FALSE ALARMSAn active member of the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), Vector has made reducing false alarm dispatches a focus on the forefront since 2003. In addition to adopting enhanced call verification or two-call verification across all central stations, Vector created â€œFalse Alarm Adminstratorsâ€ within the company to work with the central stations and review reports on a regular basis, identify problem accounts, and contact each problem account personally.
â€œWe developed an entire campaign, implementing steps across salespeople, service technicians, installation and also through the central stations,â€ Petrow explains. Vector implemented false alarm reduction plans far beyond ECV. Communication and brochures about reducing false alarms are given to customers and are available in both English and Spanish. Vector has trained its entire employee base, from data entry personnel to central station operators to managers and salespeople on reducing false alarm dispatches and the role each person needs to play. Vector also offers false alarm reduction classes to accounts with an excessive history of false alarms.
â€œWeâ€™ve had tremendous results implementing the program,â€ says Petrow of Vectorâ€™s false alarm initiatives. Since 2003, Vector has reduced its false dispatch rate to police from 1.36 in 2003 to 0.67 in 2006.
LOOKING AHEADâ€œWe are constantly evaluating the services our customers are asking for and we are looking closely at how we can better serve them,â€ Petrow says. â€œWe are not standing still.â€
Vectorâ€™s success in the future seems to lie in its philosophy, which remains the same as it was a decade ago, according to Petrow. â€œWe have changed in terms of number of accounts, but our philosophy is still the same,â€ she says.
â€œWe continue to maintain smaller regional central stations. We make sure we are closest to our customers, and give them the feeling of receiving local service,â€ Petrow claims.
That sense of commitment to superb customer service, coupled with Vector managementâ€™s focus on finding loyal, dedicated employees, are a testament to the companyâ€™s excellence. While only one of Vectorâ€™s central stations was awarded the Central Station of the Year award, the company as a whole takes tremendous pride in the recognition.
â€œA lot of our success is a team effort. The East [central station] is very deserving, but everyone works together to make our stations great,â€ Petrow says.