CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards: Aiming the Spotlight
This year, CSAA and SDM, the awards sponsor, announced the winners of the CSAA awards at a breakfast during the 2008 Electronic Security Expo (ESX) conference in Nashville, Tenn.
The awards are designed to recognize any UL-listed central station, and applicants are not required to be CSAA members. The purpose of the awards is to promote the value of central station services, honor those who have made significant contributions to the industry and promote the level of professionalism of UL-listed central stations.
There are three subcategories: Central Station Operator of the Year, Central Station Manager of the Year, and Central Station of the Year. A separate, anonymous judging panel appointed by CSAA’s Awards Subcommittee of the Education Committee judged the applicants. The judging panel pointed out that this year’s entrants were the strongest ever, making the final selection difficult.
“The submissions for the awards continue to be very strong, making the work of our judges very challenging,” said Steve Doyle, executive vice president of CSAA. “The judges do an amazing job of reading the pages and pages of information, and I would like to thank them for all their hard work.”
The winners chosen by the judges are nothing short of outstanding, exhibiting professional excellence and demonstrating exceptional service to their customers and community.
“I have always been aware of the fantastic job and the high standards that Alarm Detection Systems Inc. follows, so I am happy to see them publicly recognized,” said Bud Wulforst, president of CSAA. “They and the winner of the Manager of the Year, Anita Ostrowski of Vector Security, and the Central Station Operator of the Year, Mary Ann Ivy of Monitronics, truly represent the best-of-the best in our industry,” added Wulforst.
In the following pages, you’ll get a glimpse of what makes the central station industry special, as the spotlight cast by the CSAA awards reveals the “best-of-the-best.”
Central Station Manager of the YearAnita Ostrowski values education â€” both for herself and her employees.
When Anita Ostrowski, this year’s Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Central Station Manager of the Year, applied to be a midnight shift operator at Vector Security, Pittsburgh, in 1985, she almost didn’t get the job. As a double major with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, she was considered overqualified for the position. More than 22 years later, Vector Security is glad it took a chance on Anita. More importantly, her background in computer science is one of the reasons she is so outstanding at her job.
“When I applied for the midnight operator position, one of the questions I was asked was, ‘Why are you applying for a midnight operator position when you are qualified to work in the IT department?’” Ostrowski points out. “I said the IT department wasn’t giving me the opportunities I wanted at the moment, and the position was a way of fulfilling the obligations and bills I had after graduating. Vector was willing to take a risk on me, and I guess it paid off.
“My education in computer science and mathematics definitely aids me on a daily basis,” Ostrowski adds. “Actually, it tremendously helps me, whether I am analyzing reports for the computer automation system or writing reports. It also gives me the technical mind to understand the industry I am in.”
Ostrowski definitely understands the industry, and it shows in her quick rise up the ranks at Vector. Two years after joining Vector, she was promoted to daytime shift operator, which was followed by a promotion to central station manager in 1991. Besides her responsibility for all aspects of the department, Ostrowski assisted on more than 40 acquisitions and conversions, and served as Vector’s liaison with the IT department before she was promoted to assistant vice president in 2004.
Following that promotion, she became Vector’s project manager for a large-scale monitoring software conversion undertaken by Vector in 2005. She also acts as a clearinghouse for all changes to public agency information and works closely with Vector’s false alarm program manager to provide feedback for Vector’s false alarm reduction initiative.
Ostrowski participates in numerous training opportunities to keep her own knowledge base current, but she also highly promotes the education of her operators. She carefully monitors the company’s training program, approving changes and additions; she developed a 12-month training program for shift supervisors; and she conducts quarterly communication day meetings for her entire staff that look at timely, relevant topics.
Her biggest training hurdle came during Vector’s monitoring software conversion in 2005. Her careful planning and training led to a smooth switchover.
The commitment and effort Ostrowski puts in to achieve frequent successes like that are one of the many reasons she stands out in the industry and is an incredible asset to Vector. Ostrowski brings 100 percent to her job, making Vector proud to call her its own.
“We are just overjoyed that Anita won the award,” says Dave Merrick, vice president of Marketing at Vector. “We were lucky to capture Central Station of the Year in 2006. This year, we captured one more spotlight, and we are extremely pleased about it.”
Central Station Operator of the YearMary Ann Ivy of Monitronics loves her job, and it shows in her perfect attendance.
Mary Ann Ivy, this year’s Central Station Alarm Association Operator of the Year, is one of those people you want to speak with if you really have to call a central station. Her voice radiates calm, a command of the situation and genuine concern.
“Mary absolutely is that person you want to have on the other end of the line,” says Mary Jensby, central station manager for Monitronics, Dallas. “So many customers take the time to call us back and thank us for her quick response, her attention to detail, her concern and her ability to keep the situation under control.
“For example, Mary called a homeowner after a receiving a fire alarm,” Jensby recalls. “Even though the homeowner thought the signal was a false alarm, she encouraged him to check it out. Her thoroughness potentially saved the homeowner’s grandson’s life, because there really was a fire. She has so many stories like that.”
Ivy modestly credits her competence to the training she’s received and a confidence in the system she knows is in place.
“When you know you have an actual alarm, it could be petrifying, I suppose,” Ivy says. “But I am comfortable when I get a person on the line, because I know I’ve been trained what to do, there are guidelines I will follow and there is a beautiful system in place. When I say, ‘Help is on the way,’ I truly believe that it is and can say it with confidence.”
Ivy, a senior dispatch operator for Monitronics, is a VIP, high-profile, two-way, dealer support, and national accounts operator who also finds time to mentor new training employees, serve as a member of the central station’s policy and procedures team, and assist the leadership team.
“As the director of central stations at Monitronics, I am lucky to have this person who not only is deeply caring, but who is also completely dedicated to the success of the central station and to the customers,” Jensby says.
Ivy’s dedication shows in her perfect attendance record. “Anybody that can go over seven years without ever missing a day absolutely loves their job and truly likes what they are doing,” Jensby insists.
Ivy never set out to have perfect attendance, but now that she has it, she’s proud of it!
“How lucky have I been to be able to go to work every day I was scheduled for eight years,” Ivy says. “I never had anything unexpected come up, and my health has been good. Now that I have it, I am just inspired to keep going with it.
“That record is one of my proudest,” she emphasizes. “It really feels like a great accomplishment to have perfect attendance, and it is nice to have Monitronics recognize that.”
Helping people is what gives her the most satisfaction at the end of the day.
“When I leave work, I always feel some satisfaction about what I’ve been able to do,” Ivy says. “Even if it is not an actual alarm, maybe just an older person who is petrified that the alarm’s gone off and I am able to calm them down, no matter what it is, I always get to walk away feeling I have helped somebody, even if I don’t know them, and that is a really good feeling. That makes it really easy to go into work.”
Central Station of the YearADS never stops trying to improve, whether by reducing false alarms or improving response time.
Moments after accepting the 2008 Central Station of the Year Award, Ed Bonifas, vice president of sales and marketing at Alarm Detection Systems Inc. (ADS), Aurora, Ill., sat down with his father, ADS president Bob Bonifas, and used his Blackberry to e-mail every single employee at ADS the good news: they were all winners!
“Our employees knew we’d won five minutes after it happened,” Bob Bonifas says. “Awards like this come from everybody, so everybody should get to celebrate right away. Our employees make us who we are, and we need them to know their effort is one of the reasons why we won.”
ADS is familiar with winning CSAA awards. Rick Raper won Central Station Manager of the Year in 2006 and Rick Cahill won Central Station Operator of the Year in 2007.
“I was very surprised when I won Manager of the Year in 2006, as you can imagine,” says Rick Raper, ADS’s central station manager. “That year, when I saw Vector win Central Station of the Year, I said, ‘That is the one we want.’ To actually win Central Station of the Year this year is a great honor, and it says a lot about my people and this company. The fact we’ve won all three awards presented by the CSAA is fantastic.”
Bonifas credits the win to ADS’ continuous efforts to get better at everything it does, an ongoing process that has resulted in many improvements and awards.
The company won the national Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) award this year as a result of its concentrated efforts to reduce false alarms. The PDQ award recognizes the security company that best demonstrates a proactive and cooperative effort to reduce unnecessary alarm dispatches.
“We have a false alarm reduction team here,” Bonifas says. “The team leader has been working on false alarms for 12 years, and we have been working on this project since 1992. We have staff dedicated to it. There are people that only handle problem accounts. It gets tracked monthly. There is no one in this industry who does more to reduce false alarms than we do, and we’re only going to keep trying to get better.”
The company scrutinizes everything from panels to the coding habits of customers, looking for ways to avoid problems in installations and panels that lead to more false alarms.
The customer is the center of everything ADS does. The company’s philosophy, “Customer Service is Our No. 1 Goal,” isn’t just a catch phrase; it is ingrained in every facet of how the company operates.
To ensure the best possible interaction among operators and customers, ADS brought in an outside source, Face to Face, to evaluate the operators’ etiquette and suggest improvements.
Operators are also cross-trained to avoid the attitude that a problem is that of a different department. Any call coming into the ADS main number is answered by one of the company’s 23 operators 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
This year every employee achieved Level II certification in the CSAA Central Station Operators online training course, making ADS the only company in the nation to attain 100 percent Level II certification. Quality training leads to quality service. Quality is also reflected in the company’s certifications. ADS is Five-Diamond certified, UL-listed and FM-approved.
Beyond that, ADS is innovative. It consistently tracks response times and looks for ways to improve them. For example, 18 months ago, when ADS programmed the automation system to trigger a red strobe light when a fire signal hits the queue, the average response time plummeted from 41 seconds to 9 seconds. A similar green light indicates panic, elevator and medical alarms. Each of these changes contributes to ADS’ pursuit of perfection.
“We’re dedicated to always improving and always reaching a higher standard,” Bonifas says. “Our pursuit of that led to us getting all our operators Level II-certified and winning the PDQ award, which are two prestigious reasons why we ultimately managed to outshine a lot of companies that were almost equally as good.
“These awards are really motivational for the industry,” he points out. “Everybody would like to stand up on the stage in the spotlight and accept the award. It is an honor that this year it was us.”