This store in Houston is just one of approximately 280 Sports Authority stores Steve Walker is responsible for the monitoring of as director of HSM’s ProtectionNet customer service centers in Plymouth, Minn., and Santa Ana, Calif.


My thoughts were that there was definitely somebody or something in the building,” reveals Toni Brask, a monitoring specialist for the national accounts monitoring team of HSM Electronic Protection Services Inc., Lisle, Ill.

Last Sept. 8, Brask, who works in HSM’s ProtectionNet customer service center in Plymouth, Minn., received an alarm from a Sports Authority store in Houston, nearly half a continent away. The alarm was from motion detectors inside the store.

Brask was to be one of three monitoring specialists from national accounts who responded to calls from The Sports Authority that evening. At this moment, however, Brask did not know how many more alarms would be received, or that this incident would earn HSM the First Line of Defense Award, which is co-sponsored by SDM Magazine and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Irving, Texas, of which HSM is a member.

“At 10:36 p.m., I acknowledged the alarm,” Brask relates. She was able to access the customer’s name and location using a single keystroke entered into the monitoring database.

“At that point, I called the location to make sure there was no authorized key holder on-site, no managers,” she says. “There was no answer at the location, so I dispatched the police.”

Gregg Oxfeld (left), HSM’s senior national accounts manager, and Terry Hodges, vice president of asset protection for The Sports Authority, inspect a keypad at the Houston store.

Brask’s log indicated that the store had been closed at 9:45 p.m. “That’s The Sports Authority’s procedure at this location,” she declares. “We dispatch [police] first, and then call the call list.”

Steve Walker, director of HSM’s ProtectionNet customer service centers in Plymouth, Minn., and Santa Ana, Calif., explains a typical burglary action plan.

“After a police dispatch, the monitoring specialist proceeds to the call list to notify individuals designated by the customer,” he describes. “In this situation, Toni worked her way progressively down The Sports Authority’s call list to make the necessary notifications.”

Nine minutes after the first alarm, additional alarms were being received, and Sports Authority employees were being called with updates.

“The alarms are very specific, especially for The Sports Authority,” Brask explains. “Through our automation system, you can see exactly what areas of the building, like the fishing or hunting department [for example], are going into alarm. They have a whole separate area for the cash office and firearms, too.”

Adds Walker, “If we receive an additional alarm on an account, that information becomes very visible to the operator as they review their logs. The additional alarm is presented in a different color on their screens to grab their attention so they know there is additional information to review and report.” So the Houston police were called again.

“We made the second call to the police department to notify them of the additional activity and proceeded down the call list,” Walker narrates from the log.

One of the national accounts monitoring specialists taking calls at the ProtectionNet customer service center in Plymouth, Minn., for the incident in Houston was Richard Page.

ALARMS A-POPPIN’

From 10:58 p.m. until 11:14 p.m., a barrage of alarms from the store’s interior was received, and the police were called again. But at 11 p.m., the police had cleared the site as a false alarm because they found no evidence of forced entry.

Jed McComber, HSM’s manager of monitoring at Plymouth, clarifies typical police procedure. “In the event the police arrive before the key holder, they generally don’t go in unless they have a key holder on-site,” he notes. “They check the perimeter, and if they don’t see any activity, they clear it as a false.”

Steve McClain, senior vice president for asset protection, The Sports Authority Inc., Englewood, Colo., details the police response of this incident further. “The first responder to the location did a circle around the location, and not seeing any activity at the perimeter that had been entered, they released it on the assumption it was a false alarm,” McClain explains.

But Brask insists, “There was a lot of activity — I suspected there was something going on in there.” An admittedly determined person, Brask redispatched police.

“Brask, who was handling initial dispatch on these alarms, was absolutely following procedure when making the dispatch,” Walker notes. “As you might imagine, the operators take more of a personal interest as they see this kind of activity. They know something is going on, so there’s an additional sense of responsibility they feel to make sure the authorities are fully aware of what’s happening.”

For national accounts, calls are received at HSM’s central station by the next available monitoring specialist. An inbound call from the store manager, who said he was on his way to the store, came to Richard Page. Another call from the store manager 12 minutes later provided an update to another operator, Lisa Bowman. With this procedure, control of the alarm is handed off among representatives the way that team members pass a game ball.

Toni Brask (left) and Lisa Bowman, both national accounts monitoring specialists for HSM in Plymouth, Minn., persisted with Houston police to solve a break-in without an apparent sign of forced entry.

At this point, the energy among the national accounts team usually grows, McComber reports. “People around them are picking up on the energy of the call, making notes in the log as Richard and Lisa did, and seeing other prior notes,” McComber explains. “They’re getting into the action.”

Adds Walker, “We typically have about 50 actual burglar alarms confirmed each day by our customers — alarms that capture an actual burglary in progress. Many more are not reported to us by customers because they don’t know they are ‘actuals’ until after our communication with them is complete. So on a given shift, when an operator handles an actual alarm, it’s always a big deal.”

Continues McClain, “When the police came back, they discovered there were people on the roof who, on the first response, you wouldn’t see.”

Using the alarm log, McComber sets 11:17 p.m. as the time that police likely apprehended three suspects who, store merchandise in hand, were coming through a roof opening of The Sports Authority store. Because the suspects were found on the roof, a police helicopter was dispatched to assist with securing the area.

Joe Hernandez, HSM technician, adjusts a motion detector at the Houston Sports Authority store.

“Captures are more exciting because they don’t happen as frequently,” McComber points out. “Police don’t always get there in time to capture the burglars. When a monitoring specialist is involved in this type of situation, it makes it a little more exciting.”

By 3:13 a.m., the store’s security system was armed, back on duty and the store was closed.

The three suspects listed by the Houston police as being charged are juveniles. Further information about them is withheld from public records because of their age. All the merchandise they removed from the store was recovered.

“It was footwear, licensed apparel, football jerseys, paintball markers — things young juveniles would select for their needs,” McClain says. To gain entry into the store, the intruders had opened an old vent system and dropped in, using a ladder which they lowered into the vent and onto the sales floor. Motion detection sensors had picked them up.

The building previously had housed a grocery store, and the air handling vents had been used for cooling systems, McClain explains. Vent openings in the roof had been covered, but were pried open to gain access directly to the store’s sales floor below. The vent openings have since been blocked off and steel-reinforced to prevent such incidents in the future, McClain notes.

Gregg Oxfeld, senior national accounts manager for HSM Electronic Protection Services Inc., Lisle, Ill., demonstrates operation of the security system at the Houston Sports Authority store.

Allan Watters, director of asset protection operations for The Sports Authority, is pleased with the incident’s outcome. “Both HSM’s response time and attention to detail were outstanding,” Watters asserts. “Their dispatcher went above and beyond the call of duty by maintaining contact with both the Houston Police Department and our store personnel. Seconds count when it comes to a proper dispatch — with this incident, HSM’s dispatchers’ sense of urgency was critical in apprehending the suspects.”

Apprehensions with this much drama do not happen every day, Walker maintains. When he met with HSM’s three monitoring specialists four months after the event to review it with them, he was surprised at how vivid their recollections were despite all the alarms they had answered in the interim.

“They all remembered this particular alarm — I didn’t even have to refresh their memories,” he marvels.

Sidebar1

The First Line of Defense award recognizes and publicizes the effectiveness of electronic security and life safety systems. In its ninth year, the award honors dealers, central stations and emergency authorities that have demonstrated outstanding performance in deterring, detecting or preventing crime and/or loss through the effective design, use and response to security and fire alarm systems. The award is co-sponsored by SDM magazine and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Irving, Texas.

Sidebar2: How the Customer Service Center Works

Alarms transmitted to the ProtectionNet customer service centers in Plymouth, Minn., or Santa Ana, Calif., of HSM Electronic Protection Services Inc., Lisle, Ill., are distributed to teams serving customers with similar requirements. Monitoring specialists are assigned to these teams and trained to meet the specific needs of these different groups of customers.

The largest team is the general monitoring group. Other teams include UL monitoring, a New York City Fire Department group, a Department of Defense team and the national accounts group.

“The national account team represents the top of the career path within the central station,” maintains Steve Walker, director of HSM’s ProtectionNet customer service centers in Plymouth and Santa Ana.

“All the operators that work in the national account team have had to earn their stripes in all the other teams by demonstrating their proficiency in the other areas before they apply for the national account team,” he explains. “Once selected as a member of that particular team, they go through an additional week of training, which exposes them to each of the different large national accounts and their specific requirements.”

More than 175 monitoring specialists handle alarm activity between HSM’s two monitoring locations. Approximately 30 of those operators handle national account customers.

“This is the collection of accounts that typically have multiple locations and are managed by a loss prevention director for a large corporation,” Walker relates. “They typically have very specific requirements on how we handle their alarms.

“For example, they may want to make sure that we notify someone at both the store level as well as the corporate security level,” he notes.

Staffing levels are determined by the volume of work, Walker explains. “We don’t staff according to shift — we staff on the hour and half-hour through the center, so in the course of a day we have people coming and going,” he says. “This ensures we have the flexibility necessary to achieve peak staffing in the center at the times of peak activity.” A pass-down book is reviewed by arriving monitoring specialists before their shift to update them on account activity and customer requests that are entered in the book by preceding specialists — ensuring that incoming employees benefit from events and instructions given earlier in the day.

“The alarm activity levels received in the central station are very predictable hour-by-hour based on historical activity levels,” Walker asserts. “We know which hours of the day will have peak activity, so we are sure to have the maximum number of monitoring specialists at that time. The one wild card in our activity levels is the weather. The weather is the one thing that can substantially influence alarm activity for customers across large areas.”

Opening and closing times for businesses across four time zones are the busiest, so the center is staffed at peak levels during those four- to five-hour periods. Inbound customer phone calls with questions about their accounts represent a significant part of daily activity in the center, Walker maintains. “There are very few inbound calls from customers from midnight to 5 a.m., so it’s a slower time of day,” he notes.

Sidebar3: Security in All Sizes

HSM Electronic Protection Services Inc., Lisle, Ill., acquired The Sports Authority account when it purchased National Alarm Pro, Trumbull, Conn., in 2005. Gregg Oxfeld was instrumental in obtaining the sports store security business along with his partner Ray Esposito, HSM’s director of application engineering, while Oxfeld was president of National Alarm Pro.

Oxfeld, who now is HSM’s senior national accounts manager, estimates HSM handles security for approximately 280 stores of The Sports Authority, which is approximately 70 percent of its locations.

“The Sports Authority is one of our top five national accounts in the entire company,” notes Tony Byerly, HSM’s senior vice president of sales and national accounts. He adds that company-wide HSM’s national accounts were up 40 percent in 2006 over 2005. HSM is to be acquired by The Stanley Works, New Britain, Conn., in early 2007.

Steve McClain, senior vice president for asset protection, The Sports Authority Inc., Englewood, Colo., explains how his company selects companies with which it works.

“One of the things we look for is a company that provides services where you come together and design the model that fits your company’s needs, not just a one-size-fits-all application,” McClain declares. “HSM as well as (back then) National Alarm Pro had a very strong customer service orientation. If there wasn’t something on the shelf that was readily available for us in our needs to protect different things, we would work together as a team and create a design or product.

“We have specifications we have designed and utilized for all our stores, and a philosophy that surrounds it that protection systems should be designed to detect possible intruders early in the stages of an event,” he notes. “So we designed specifications that have layers of protection basically to give us an early heads-up.

“That’s done with motion detectors and contacts and CCTV equipment,” McClain notes. “We have some stores that have stronger integration capabilities than others. We do a risk assessment for stores based on the areas they’re placed in and the types of merchandise they handle. An example would be a facility that would sell guns, where we would have different protection capabilities.”

Adds Oxfeld, “The stronghold of any alarm company whether local or national would be their focus on customer service. You can talk about equipment all day. It’s available to a multitude of other companies as well.

“There’s a lot of talented people out there,” Oxfeld concedes. “The customer service aspect of follow-up and making sure that you provide your best job and to exceed the expectations of what you do in any facet of your life is the key to success.”

Sidebar4: You Can Earn the First Line of Defense Award

Has your security dealership averted a dramatic loss through use of systems it installed? Tell us about it and qualify for next year’s First Line of Defense award, which is co-sponsored by SDM magazine and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Irving, Texas.

Established in 1999, this award recognizes the tangible values and rewards security and fire systems bring to communities and the nation. It honors the teamwork among security installing companies, central stations and emergency authorities in protecting customers and communities.

Entries are judged by percentage ratings in five areas:
  • The impact of the event on the company’s customer, such as the lives saved or property damage averted;
  • The quality of the applicant’s essay;
  • Press coverage of the event at the time it occurred (local, national or both);
  • Back-up documentation submitted with the essay, including testimonials from responding police, fire or medical agencies; and
  • Whether a representative from the award-winning company is able to attend the award presentation at ISC West.
Winning companies must be NBFAA members in good standing. To apply for membership in the NBFAA, visit the Web site www.alarm.org or call (888) 447-1689.

HOW TO ENTER

SDM magazine and the NBFAA now are accepting entries for next year’s First Line of Defense award. Eligibility of an event is from Oct. 1, 2006, to Oct. 31, 2007.

To obtain an entry form, visit www.sdmmag.com or www.alarm.org. You also can call the NBFAA at (888) 447-1689.