The Eighth Annual CSAA International Central Station Excellence Awards were presented at an awards breakfast during ESX in June. The awards are co-sponsored by the Central Station Alarm Association and SDM.
Every year, the awards recognize outstanding central stations and individuals that raise the bar for dedication, innovation and best practices in monitoring. In 2012, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy as well as other major storms had profound effects on areas of high alarm system penetration, facing central stations with grueling days (and weeks) in a state of emergency and even leaving physical damage to some of them — putting disaster preparedness plans to the ultimate test. The companies and people nominated this year showed exemplary ability, determination, commitment and resourcefulness to deal with these unexpected challenges as they did in the everyday central station operations and its more habitual (yet always taxing) challenges.
In the end, dealing with disaster is something all central stations must do in order to stay afloat, but excelling every day is what they must do to thrive.
With a slightly different format than in previous years, three nominees were selected for recognition in each of the four categories: Central Station Manager of the Year, Central Station Operator of the Year, Central Station Support Person of the Year and Central Station of the Year. During the presentation, Laura Stepanek, editor of SDM, introduced each nominee and why the panel of judges found their work so compelling. After all the nominees were recognized, the winners were announced.
The cover story for this month’s issue examines why central stations — and professional monitoring — are at the center of the security universe: continuously evolving to keep the industry relevant. Read more on page 44.
Central Station of the Year
Since it first applied for the Excellence Awards in 2006, CPI has been hard at work to turn an already exemplary central station into an exceptional one.
Central Station of the Year
CPI Security Systems
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
Year Founded: 1991
Number of subscribers: 105,000+
As a CSAA Five Diamond certified and UL listed central station, CPI Security Systems, Charlotte, N.C. has demonstrated to its customers and the industry that it is dedicated to a high standard for monitoring. This dedication and commitment reverberates through all departments in the central station, which the company often sees as the beginning of the customer service experience. With a state-of-the-art facility, a unique customer outreach philosophy, a focus on always moving forward and much more, CPI is the winner of the 2013 Central Station of the Year award.
A sign of an outstanding central station in today’s uncertain natural landscape is the strength of its backup system. The company designed its disaster recovery plan in 1991 when the central station opened and rewrote it in 2001. That plan has been evolving ever since and is currently reviewed monthly. The central station has five mirrored redundant MASterMind servers. Dual signal processors are in place and can be switched in seconds. Should all of this redundant backup fail, “the disaster recovery plan includes documentation for reading receiver logs and operating signals straight from the receiver through a ‘Code Red’ database,” the company shares. “We have a fully functional, hot redundant second site [in Raleigh, N.C.] that can be accessed from multiple locations depending on the emergency,” adds John Shocknesse, director of customer care at CPI.
One of the most inspiring things about this company is the relationships it establishes with its customers. CPI proactively reaches out to customers that show potential of generating frequent false alarms and assesses their needs and provides remedial training if necessary. In cases of accounts with a high rate of false alarms or with customers who experience an actual break in, a Quality Control manager will make a personal visit to their homes to follow up.
Live operators contact customers every 90 days to remind them to test their system. The Quality Assurance department also regularly contacts customers who have not had an alarm event or other interaction with the company to encourage use of the customer’s security system and offer additional educational resources.
According to the company, the arrival of Greg Hurst, a previous Manager of the Year winner, in 2011 was a key development on the way to implementing best practices and “raising the bar.”
“Since Greg started with us, he has worked hard to document and implement some best practices including up-to-the-minute response time and dispatch rate reporting,” Shocknesse says.
Central station performance data is leveraged hourly to improve productivity. Some of the alarm statistics the company measures include response time, number of emergency alarms, number of trouble alarms, reminders to test and total signals. CPI also closely monitors dispatch statistics, reviewing number of emergency authorities dispatched, number of cancelled dispatches and percentage of total dispatched.
Hurst takes a hands-on approach with supervisors and operators, interacting with them daily in a meaningful way. Keeping employees engaged and fulfilled in their work also enables that low attrition and “keeps experienced operators working alarms rather than constantly training new employees,” Shocknesse explains.
Low employee attrition begins at hiring. “We put a lot of effort into the hiring process,” Shocknesse points out. “It starts from the beginning where we have an in-house recruiter who works in the community to establish pipeline candidates for hiring that include local colleges, volunteer organizations and businesses that provide superior customer-facing experiences… Additionally, we have made use of in-house job fairs and an employee referral campaign that pays $500 for a new hire by internal referral.”
As thorough as CPI is in finding the right kind of employee to bring on-board, its commitment to talent development is an even higher priority, Shocknesse says, and highly accountable for the company’s staff attrition rate of less than three percent. Even after the on-boarding and training process that includes cross training and ride-alongs with sales, installers, service technicians, field quality control managers, customer care, and technical support among others, and passing the CSAA Central Station Operator Level 1 test for operators, training is ongoing. Employees continue to learn from side-by-side observation and by attending classes taught by quality control supervisors and designated trainers.
The company’s focus on commitment doesn’t end at the door with its staff and internal processes. CPI is strongly invested in improving alarm management for its community and the alarm industry by participating in legislative efforts in its home region.
In North Carolina, Ric Gibbley, operations director at CPI Security, serves as the current president of the North Carolina Alarm Association. The association is investigating the possibility of amending the General Statute that would allow for making enhanced call verification state law.
In South Carolina, the South Carolina Chiefs of Police subcommittee for Alarm Management, of which Shocknesse serves on, is working with state legislature to propose a law requiring enhanced call verification.
CPI central station employees are also involved in UL, SIAC, CSAA, ESA, IQ, SIA, and NFPA.
The company boasts a 0.38 dispatch rate, which has been steadily declining due to its strong relationships with responding authority groups and ordinance committees as well as a proactive focus on customer training and follow-up, a commitment to enhanced verification and more recently, the use of video verification. Shocknesse comments, “Video is without a doubt the next big thing within the alarm industry. It allows us to provide a significantly improved service rather than simply reporting on a signal sent from an alarm device.”
“At CPI Security, we take great pride in our central station,” Shocknesse says. “As the cornerstone of our business, having a high-functioning, fast-responding center is critical. We have spent millions of dollars and many years putting together the technology, infrastructure and team to make what we feel is a World Class station. Winning CSAA Central Station of the Year, the premier award within the monitoring community, represents validation within the industry of our accomplishments. We are very appreciative of receiving such a distinct honor.”
The company continues to invest in its central station and new capabilities all the time. Shocknesse shares that one of the latest developments was beginning the standard practice of unlocking doors in cases of medical and fire emergencies for customers with remote locks. “We see this as a great benefit to the customer as we can help the authorities gain access quickly without damaging entryways,” he says. According to the company, 24 percent of its customers use smartphones and Internet interfaces for total home automation.
In the future, the company is looking to develop new and exciting services using cloud-based, geo-positioning, cellular, video and home automation technologies.
Central Station Manager of the Year
Ted Stoler’s mix of accountability and community has a deep effect on the central station staff.
Central Station Manager of the Year
Name: Ted Stoler
Company: Vector Security, Warrendale, Pa.
Title: East Central Station manager and assistant vice president
Tenure at company: 19 years
The Manager of the Year award went to Ted Stoler, Vector Security’s East Central Station manager and assistant vice president. With 35 years of security experience under his belt, 19 of which have been spent at Vector, Stoler enables growth and advancement for the central station all the while developing an effective and loyal central station staff.
The heart of Stoler’s management style is in his conviction to lead by example and project an unwavering sense of responsibility. This earned him tremendous respect among central station staff as well as the company’s management.
Anita Ostrowski, president of central stations at Vector, to whom Stoler reports directly, notes that he is a relentless problem solver. In this past year, the company endeavored to switch its phone system after 21 years. The task required meticulous work and testing to enable two-way voice for 57,000 customers with this new system. Stoler worked with vendors, telephone carriers, technicians and customers to get it right with no room for trial and error once the system was implemented. A total of 170,000 accounts depend on it.
Ostrowski adds that Stoler holds himself to the same — or possibly higher — standard that he holds the central station employees to, and never asks anything of them that he is not willing to do himself.
“He really charges his staff with the responsibility of doing the job well,” Ostrowski says.
Stoler works hard during the hiring process to find the right kind of person for the job and training is one of the most important parts of his job. But Stoler builds a sense of duty within employees by assigning each person a task that is uniquely theirs in the maintenance of the central station, an open door policy and strong positive reinforcement.
Customer service is one of Stoler’s biggest priorities, though certainly not the easiest. “I think [the biggest challenge of the job] is delivering the customer service in a way that exceeds their expectations. [Especially as] individual wants and needs differ from person to person,” he believes. However uniquely challenging, he says that being a part of a central station that can at all times project positive energy and customer service is tremendously rewarding.
Stoler also played an important part in moving the West central station to its facility. As the person responsible for Vector’s disaster recovery program, he helped implement part of that protocol that allowed the company to use the receivers in the East central station and route all of the calls back to the West central station operators while the West receivers were being moved. The receiver moving process took 12 hours, during which not one signal was lost and the East central station operators did not have to take on added traffic.
The disaster recovery plan was again tested during Hurricane Sandy. Stoler notes that one of the proudest moments he had in the past year was seeing 24 out of 35 operators stay overnight at the central station to “help Vector in its hour of need.” Stoler relates, “It was such a sacrifice for other people and proved they had such belief in me.”
Central Station Support Person of the Year
Angie Montgomery’s calming presence, effective communication skills, and willingness to help others make her an inspiration to the ADS team.
Central Station Support Person of the Year
Name: Angie Montgomery
Company: ADS Security, Nashville, Tenn.
Title: Data Entry Supervisor
Tenure at company: 20 years
In 1992, Angie Montgomery began her career at ADS Security, Nashville, Tenn., as a central station operator. Three years later, she moved to the data entry department where she found a home away from home. She is now responsible for two data entry operators and some central station personnel who are cross-trained in data entry and is CSAA’s Support Person of the Year.
Montgomery’s dedication is tested during events such as an acquisition, such as one ADS had last year, that brings in loads of data at once that needs to be converted. To ensure the smoothest transition possible, Montgomery and her team worked tirelessly and intelligently.
Described by central station dispatchers as “amazingly knowledgeable and invaluable” and “the nicest and most helpful person you will find at ADS,” Montgomery approaches her job with a calm yet positive attitude, always cognizant of the key role a clean database plays in handling every single alarm received.
Reliability is the name of the game when it comes to data entry and Montgomery is keenly aware of that, but she also excels at coming up with new procedures to improve data entry processes. “Angie will try a new procedure, create a manual signal and run out to the dispatch area to ensure the information is being received exactly how she intended,” the company says. “She gets excited about new software capabilities, and that will deter any resistance to change.”
Montgomery’s co-workers are used to seeing her stay beyond her office hours as needed. She will often work late to advance on a project. She is also known for taking time out of a busy schedule to cross-train dispatchers and then stay until her work is completed. But what her team most admires Montgomery for is her determination to keep working on a problem until she has found the best solution to prevent it from arising again.
Promoting a relaxed and friendly work environment, Montgomery works hard to make sure she is communicating properly by taking different personalities into consideration as she interacts with her peers. ADS also noted than whenever a mistake needs to be corrected, it is always done in private and with a mind to get to the bottom of the issue, rather than put anybody down.
Montgomery’s daily dedication has been recognized internally by ADS. She has attended President’s Club, an annual celebration of ADS employees’ achievements, for 18 consecutive years.
Central Station Operator of the Year
Crystal McLemore stands out for her determination to make a difference and going beyond the call of duty.
Central Station Operator of the Year
Name: Crystal McLemore
Company: CPI Security Systems, Charlotte, N.C.
Title: Central Station Operator
Tenure at company: 4 years
Crystal McLemore from CPI Security Systems was named Operator of the Year. In the four years she spent at CPI McLemore never missed a day of work, even when personal hardships may have excused her. In that time, she has become one of the most knowledgeable operators at the company and continues to educate herself through industry publications and completing in-house training.
Because of her outstanding performance in her operator duties, McLemore is given priority in alarm queues and is offered all inbound calls from customers and responding agencies. She also takes part in the training process for new employees, becoming a valuable resource to them and becoming their mentor for the eight-week training process. She achieved the internal promotion to Central Station trainer just two years after joining the company. Even after initial training, other operators see her as the go-to-person due to her extensive knowledge.
Last year, while handling a recent alarm that originated from a medical pendant, McLemore remained on the line with an elderly female while she waited for paramedics after a bad fall in her kitchen. After the company followed up with that customer after the incident, they learned that McLemore’s voice over the customer’s intercom helped keep her calm and secure while she waited. This kind of feedback is typical of McLemore’s alarm handling.
And though the customer is the priority, McLemore also places a lot of importance in doing all she can to help law enforcement. While handling a video alarm, she was able to quickly give a very detailed description of a burglary suspect to police dispatchers. Using that information, police were able to take a suspect into custody. Using a video still that McLemore sent to the officer’s cell phone, police were able to make the arrest.
When compared with the team, McLemore’s productivity is consistently above average, often by a high margin. What the metrics don’t show — yet her peers and managers notice — is that McLemore strives not only to be productive, but to go above and beyond to meet customer expectations and make sure she has done all she can to ensure their safety.
Always eager to learn more, McLemore recently engaged in cross-training in the customer service department. The same work ethic she applies to her work as an operator and trainer showed through with the customer service team.
As noted earlier, McLemore dealt with great personal hardship recently as her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. Through it all, she remained professional and dedicated to both her family and her work. According to CPI, her husband made a full recovery.
Learn More About the Nominees
Also nominated were Vector Security’s West Central Station in Pittsburgh, and Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill.
Vector’s West Central Station services all of the company’s National Accounts customers as well as branch-level commercial customers. The complexity of its device backup, hiring, training, compliance, performance reporting, false alarm prevention, and retention procedures are vital to allowing the West central station to operate in harmony with the company’s other three stations.
During the 2012 facility move of the West central station, Vector’s intricate redundancy system allowed it to offer uninterrupted service without using any of the other central stations’ staff, providing the ultimate test for its well-thought out disaster plan.
Vector is committed to the betterment of the alarm industry through its involvements in several CSAA committees, UL standards committee as well as its pioneering efforts with the ASAP –to-PSAP program.
For Walgreens, a national retailer with more than 8,000 stores, building a proprietary monitoring station required a significant investment and resulted in a considerable shift in its business model. But it was also a profitable move that made the Fortune 50 company stand out and want to be emulated by companies such as Best Buy, Target, Aon and others.
Learn More About the Nominees
Also nominated in this category were Jacqueline Grimm, vice president of monitoring operations at Diebold Security, North Canton, Ohio, and Jeremy Wyble, general manager at Alarm Central LLC, Kansas City, Mo.
Grimm recently lobbied for strategic investments in the central station, such as the addition of managed access control solutions, network IP services, enhancements to the station’s call switchboard, and the development of an online customer portal. She also helped implement an automated call escalation tracking and response system and helped establish and refine the monitoring station’s emergency protocol.
During Wyble’s 10 years as general manager, he has helped accomplish several improvements to the central station, which included upgrading the automation system, adding video monitoring, moving from POTs lines to a redundant fiber network, adding a mobile app for dealers, adding various IP receivers and more. He also wrote a training procedure manual, establishing a scheduling concept that allows operators to have a set work schedule.
Learn More About the Nominees
The other two nominees were David Carter, East Central Station tech support leader at Vector Security and Mark Simpson, manager of central station tech services at RFI, San Jose, Calif.
Carter has been with Vector Security Inc. for 15 years and been promoted three times. He is currently the East Central Station Tech Support Leader in charge of installation and maintenance, providing technical training to staff, overseeing the equipment and customer support teams and providing branch and field tech support to both residential and commercial customer panels. Carter’s dedication can be seen through his work ethic. He responded to a 6:00 a.m. call on a holiday weekend and was in the car before his supervisor could finish explaining the problem. Carter not only fixes the issues that arise, but creates a solution so the problem, if not resolved, is easier to fix the next time around.
Simpson started as a part-time employee of RFI 26 years ago. He is currently manager of Central Station Tech Services in charge of MAS automation and alarm receiver support, and all other central station technical support issues. Simpson would read the user guides and manuals during his spare time and has become a vital source of information, often educating the company, dealers and other departments about how things work. With three promotions, he has since turned that job into a full-time career and offers career path meetings to his co-workers to help them achieve their goals as well.
Learn More About the Nominees
Also nominated in this category were Joe Ferari of ADS and Nick Hernandez of RFI.
Ferari has been an operator with ADS for 12 years and a shift supervisor for three. He is a solution-minded person, who works hard to ensure proper staffing and weather preparedness. He is a source of inspiration to peers through his work ethic and his daily email including a motivational quote. In the past year alone, he has come in more than 20 times to work during a non-scheduled period.
Ferari is admired for his ability to handle any situation with calm, providing a reassuring example for both co-workers and customers.
Hernandez, a former 911 dispatcher, has been with RFI for two years with perfect attendance. In addition to being senior dispatcher, he is in charge of training new hires. He has rewritten, created, and implemented a training program after identifying the need to help reduce attrition among new hires. Hernandez is described as an honest and ethical employee who promotes team work and gives exceptional customer service.
Check out video interviews with the winners at www.sdmmag.com/video.
And for more from the Central Station of the Year check out this blog: www.sdmmag.com/CPIblog.