The Ninth Annual CSAA International Central Station Excellence Awards, co-sponsored by SDM and the Central Station Alarm Association, were presented at an awards breakfast during ESX held in Nashville, Tenn., in late June. Annually, these awards recognize outstanding central stations and individuals that raise the bar for dedication, innovation and best practices in monitoring. On hand to present the awards were CSAA president and chief technology officer for Tyco Integrated Security, Jay Hauhn; Steve Doyle, CSAA executive director; Monique Brent, CSAA executive office assistant administrator; and Laura Stepanek, editor of SDM.
Inclement weather the previous winter was on record for being brutal, and the spring brought tornados and other damaging high winds, among other emergencies, that had central stations busy in the past year. Throughout it all, the central stations and individuals nominated for these awards showed incredible dedication, resourcefulness, talent and security awareness during day-to-day (and night-to-night) operations around North America. 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.
The three nominees were selected for recognition in each of four categories: Central Station Support Person of the Year, Central Station Operator of the Year, Central Station Manager of the Year, and Central Station of the Year. Stepanek introduced each nominee and described why the panel of judges found their performance so compelling. After all of the nominees were recognized, the winner in each category was announced. Their stories are presented on the following pages.
Central Station of the Year
COPS Monitoring calls itself a ‘hometown’ central station. It has been serving independent alarm dealers since 1978.
As a CSAA Five Diamond certified station, COPS Monitoring, Williamstown, N.J., has five hot redundant and load-sharing UL-listed central stations: in New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas. The sixth central station in Maryland is UL 2050 certified and currently operates autonomously, making COPS Monitoring one of the largest independently owned wholesale alarm companies in the United States. COPS is also an IQ-certified central station and supports ECV (enhanced call verification) up to four numbers before dispatching authorities.
Central Station of the Year
Company: COPS Monitoring
Location: Williamstown, N.J.
Year Founded: 1978
Number of subscribers: Services more than 3,500 alarm dealers nationwide, with 1 million monitored wholesale accounts for independent alarm dealers
The focus on customer experience and helping to ensure clients are more successful, by offering what it describes as the best alarm monitoring and value-added service, shows how COPS Monitoring manages to retain “hometown” service in a larger pool of alarm dealers across the country. COPS is the winner of the 2014 Central Station of the Year award. In an industry active with monitoring options, COPS stands out for its excellent customer service and dedication to its clients, remarks one of the anonymous judges on the CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards panel.
The company’s strategic growth did not escape the judges’ notice. In two short years, COPS Monitoring has become one of the largest wholesale companies within the industry. From six central stations, the company monitors nearly 1.1 million subscribers through 3,500 alarm companies across the country.
COPS makes it a point to hire locally and learn about the region, its dealers and associations in the area. This doesn’t mean it isn’t looking at the big picture — its large dealer and customer base spans North America, Canada, and the Caribbean. The company’s five load-sharing centers are strategically located in order to provide fast, efficient and professional monitoring, even under the worst conditions. Operating multiple centers in geo-diverse locations gives COPS’ dealers backup in the event of unlikely equipment failures. It also decreases the probability that local conditions (such as blizzards, hurricanes and floods) could affect more than one of its central stations at a time. In addition to its three redundant mainframes that monitor its dealers’ accounts in its New Jersey headquarters, COPS has two more redundant mainframes in one of the world’s largest and most reliable data centers (the SuperNAP) in Las Vegas.
As inclement weather systems continue to plague the United States, the strength of COPS’ backup system should not be overlooked. Because downtime in the industry can be catastrophic, its disaster plan goes beyond recovery. The company strives to meet its clients’ needs before disaster strikes. COPS designed its multi-site redundancy plan when it opened its second location in 2004. If local disasters or inclement weather keep dispatchers from arriving at their posts, the networked central stations can pick up the workload through active load-sharing capabilities. COPS utilizes several IP/telephone carriers, telecom facilities, and diverse routes (both under and above ground fed by different telephone carriers) to its facilities. Its geo-diverse central stations allow it to redirect signal traffic to another location to overcome any local outages impacting a facility.The company can do this for IP and telephone traffic, a receive outage, a telephone-switch failure, a network failure, or a major automation system failure.
“We believe our network of hot-redundant and 24/7 active load-sharing central stations and additional offsite servers certainly set us apart,” says Jim McMullen COPS president and COO. “We work together to help ensure the highest levels of reliability and help reduce the impact of regional issues like severe storms. However, even though we’re a large company, our unique organizational structure and regional central station approach has permitted us to retain a personable ‘hometown’ level of professional service.” The disaster recovery plan is reviewed monthly and continues to evolve as business needs shift and change.
COPS senior staff takes the education of its dealers very seriously by offering video training, and bi-annual seminars at each of its six locations to teach them about new equipment, changing regulations, software enhancements, and other issues.
The COPS dispatchers are screened and trained to respond swiftly and effectively in the face of an emergency. “We believe that the rubber meets the road at two in the morning, when an end user subscriber’s alarm is activated,” the company shares. To find the right fit, applicants are screened with a proprietary personality profile and, once hired, receive 120 hours of off-line training, followed by hours of tandem training with an experienced dispatcher. According to the company, it takes a minimum of 18 months (and five levels of training) on the job to achieve what is called a “level-six expert” status.
“We believe that qualifying someone as the ‘right person’ to be a successful dispatcher is determined by more than education, experience and attitude; our dispatchers must have the perfect blend of professionalism, personality attributes, ability and a sense of duty,” McMullen adds.
The company has built its reputation on its satisfied clients. One of its slogans is, “Your foundation to growth,” which means that its focus is to make dealers more successful. “COPS will stay the course and continue striving to be the industry leader by providing the highest quality alarm monitoring services through caring professionals supported by the leading edge of technology,” says McMullen. “We will also continue to be a ‘foundation for growth,’ which means that we make it a core focus to help our dealers be more successful.”
Central Station Manager of the Year
Chris Newhook’s straightforward supervising style ensures his staff has everything they need to get the job done.
The Central Station Manager of the Year Award went to Chris Newhook, with 20 years of experience in the alarm industry. Newhook joined American Alarm & Communications Inc. in 2009. He started as an assistant manager of the central station and was promoted to manager in 2012. His experience helps him manage his immediate staff of 17 operators, including three central station supervisors. He also co-owns along with the company’s technical support manager, Keith Hunt, much of American Alarm & Communications’ telecommunications both as it relates to receiver traffic as well as most of the company’s day-to-day telephone needs. He holds CSAA Level 1 and Level 2 Advanced certification, is ESNT certified, and has successfully completed a host of management courses over the years.
Newhook’s management style and approach to training is fluid; he prefers to take a one-on-one approach when necessary. Newhook is responsible for the initial first week of training, orientation and oversight of any and all aspects of an employee’s development. His attention to detail and intimate knowledge of central stations makes him the perfect advisor for new employees. He is generous with his time and talent.
“Chris Newhook is dedicated, hardworking, loyal and supportive — and he has brought so much to the central station since he started at American Alarm,” Maria Moretti, American Alarm & Communications’ command center manager, says. “Chris will take on any task or project given. He has developed the brightest, strongest central station staff we have ever seen.”
Co-workers say Newhook leads by his belief in establishing and driving the developmental path for his team. He has created several protocols during his time at American Alarm for training; these include video aids, and an audiovisual presentation for new hires and employees to help them better understand the facilities.
“We’ve been working a long time to establish a strong and consistent team. You can’t manage what you can’t measure and our commitment to key metrics, knowledgebase development in conjunction with a continual emphasis on training and testing and relentless quality control allows us to set expectations for our operators and exceed the expectations of our customers,” Newhook says. “Response from our central station operators through our employee feedback analysis truly supports this measurable approach. Our people love the work.”
Central Station Operator of the Year
Tracey Crews is natural leader with multitasking skills and unrivaled, contagious enthusiasm for her job.
Tracey Crews, central station lead operator at the Austin Center, Cooperative Response Center (CRC) was named Central Station Operator of the Year. CRC is a nationwide, cooperatively owned and operated, 24/7 call center and central station founded in 1992, with offices in Austin, Minn., Dunlap, Tenn., and Abilene, Texas. It represents more than 32 members and associate members in 41 states, totaling 4.9 million customers.
Central Station Operator of the Year
Name: Tracey Crews
Company: Cooperative Response Center, Austin, Minn.
Title: Central Station Lead Operator
Tenure at company: 14.5 years
During her 14 years with CRC, Crews has climbed through the ranks, beginning with working at the call center for seven years, then as a central station operator, and in her current position of central station lead operator. During this time, Crews became known for her leadership abilities and for tackling the toughest tasks and most difficult customers with a smile. She has been a proactive learner of anything related to the automation system and alarm processing, and she shares everything she learns. Generous to a fault, co-workers of Crews say her enthusiasm for her job is “contagious.”
Because of her high-quality work, Crews was promoted to lead operator in 2012. She is responsible for managing the floor, where she monitors other operators with kindness, always offering words of support, guidance, and assistance when needed. In addition, she does the final proofing of data entry to ensure nothing is amiss, as well as verifies authorities, audits billings, runs reports, and other tasks.
“Tracey is no ordinary operator,” says Chris Holt, CRC president and CEO. “She is the complete package when it comes to working in a central station. She is one of the few people that can multi-task several alarms, stay calm in times of crisis, all while maintaining a positive attitude to our customers and her co-workers. These are not skills that can be taught.”
In December 2013, Crews was selected as CRC’s Employee of the Month due to her special leadership abilities and the impact she makes on her coworkers. She is SIA certified, plus holds CSAA Level 1 and Level 2 certification.
“Tracey consistently makes a positive impact on her co-workers each and every day,” Randy Ambrus, CRC’s central station manager, says.
This was the second time Crews received the Employee of the Month recognition. In August 2013, she was recognized due in part to a fellow central station co-worker, who noted that a caller wanted to thank her for help during an emergency. The woman was one of CRC’s 9,000 two-way PERS customers, who was having trouble breathing when Crews intercepted the call. Her quick yet calm actions ensured that the outcome for the client was positive. In fact, the caller said she believed she would have died if it hadn’t been for Crews assistance. Crews said humbly that she just did her job. “When you are an operator, the best thing you can do is be calm, and let everyone know it’s going to be alright.”
Central Station Support Person of the Year
Mark Simpson’s initiative and self-starting personality has led him to success.
Simpson’s career at RFI Communications & Security Systems began 27 years ago, when he was working as a night shift operator trainee, and attending college during the day. His interest in how to service alarm panels and system installations, as well as in other technologies, coupled with what his employer describes as his high intelligence and thirst for knowledge, helped Simpson secure a managerial position in less than a decade.
Central Station Support Person of the Year
Name: Mark Simpson
Company: RFI Communications & Security Systems, San Jose, Calif.
Title: Manager Central Station Services
Tenure at company: 27 years
For the past 21 years, Simpson has held the position of manager Central Station Services. He is CSAA’s Central Station Support Person of the Year for 2014. His love of learning was apparent from the start. He used to read alarm panel user guides during his downtime to provide better support to RFI’s customers, and once armed with this knowledge began to study the documentation manuals for the receivers. His quest for knowledge helped him improve the way that RFI processed alarms to increase efficiency. His strengths and keen interest in technology are essential to keeping the company moving forward, report co-workers.
Over the years, Simpson remained steadfast in his dedication to his profession and industry. Last year he was voted president of the Silicon Valley Alarm Association, and has helped revive the association.
Simpson has never strayed from his love for learning and improving his skill set. He recently went back to school to obtain an IT certificate. He continues to be proactive in his approach to learning about new technology in the industry. Simpson has earned the following certifications: SIA Certified Trainer; Oregon Certified/Licensed Instructor; ExacqVision Certified Technician; GE Access Control Certification; and CSAA Levels 1 and 2. On the job, he handles MASterMind Automation Support; alarm receiver support; video services implementation and support; and in-house and remote hosted access control and video management. Plus, he handles all central station technical support issues.
Simpson is described by his fellow colleagues as “kind, calm and patient, with a wonderful sense of humor,”— all important qualities when working in the life safety industry and supporting a hectic central station. As manger he wears many hats; he works closely with sales, installers and service teams and accompanies them to client sites. “I can honestly say our central station would not be what it is today without the vital input Mark has provided for the past 27 years,” says Brad Wilson, RFI president and COO.
Learn More About the Nominees
Also nominated in the Central Station of the Year Award category were Monitronics and Acadian Monitoring Services.
Monitronics is a CSAA Five Diamond Certified Central Station with UL certification, offering authorized dealers the opportunity to use these qualifications to help sell monitoring services to potential customers. The training of emergency dispatch operators includes 80 hours of monitoring operator classroom training, 40 hours of hands-on training with a mentor, and 16 hours of classroom and group environment training.
Monitronics is committed to offering its life-saving services to customers. Monitronics stays active in the alarm industry on a national level and is highly active in FARA. It became IQ Certified in 2013, showing its commitment to ensuring proper installation and customer training. Monitronics holds memberships in ESA, CSAA, SIAC, and CEDIA in order to stay involved in all levels of the alarm industry.
Acadian Monitoring Services is a UL listed and CSSA Five Diamond certified center that emphasizes its certification in all three of its fully redundant central stations. Training is highly specialized for each job description and department, although all employees take part in a two- to five-day corporate orientation class, and continuing education in job training is encouraged.
In-house programs such as Acadian Fall Leadership training and Acadian University offer comprehensive education for success. The programs include offerings such as computer software training, management training, and how to cope with personality types. In addition, all alarm operators are emergency medical dispatcher trained, and CPR training is required of almost all of its alarm operators.
Acadian says it was instrumental in bringing to the market the first UL-listed remote video monitoring platform. It continues to focus on the development and use of technology for its customers. Acadian encourages its employees to be very active on both the local and national level. Among the associations it is active in are CSAA, ESA, LLSSA, IESA, YSP and MAMA, among others.
Learn More About the Nominees
Also nominated in the Central Station Manager of the Year Award category were Kayla Urioste, central station operational manager at Matson Alarm, and Randy Ambrus, central station manager at Cooperative Response Center (CRC).
Urioste began her career at Matson six years ago as a receptionist with no experience in the security industry. She was promoted to dispatcher and then to central station operational manager, within three years. This quick rise in the company was due to her work ethic, willingness to learn and positive attitude, according Matson. She is well regarded for her focus on teamwork and excellent managing skills.
Ambrus has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, and has been with CRC for the past three-and-a-half years working as the central station manager. He is CSSA Operator Level 2 trained, and is well-versed on multiple alarm monitoring software systems. He holds a two-year computer programming/MIS certificate. He is responsible for overseeing all areas of the central station operation and manages a 15-member staff. His expertise goes beyond his job description, and his great knowledge of technology and network systems make him an asset in the workplace.
Also nominated in the Central Station Operator of the Year Award category were Keith A. Simmons, Vector Security Inc., and Lisa LeBlanc, American Alarm & Communications Inc.
Vector Security personnel knew Simmons was a good fit for the company many years ago when Simmons, then 20 years old, worked as a central station operator. His supervisors noticed his talent and were sorry to see him leave after two years on the job. When he returned to the area, he reapplied to Vector and was hired back as a day shift supervisor — nearly 16 years later. Today, he has served four years in his current position, and he continues to excel at his job. Among other industry-specific credentials held by Simmons, he is a Level 1 certified CSAA Central Station Operator; and he has successfully completed Vector’s in-house operator and supervisor training courses. Simmons is dedicated to the job and accumulated 360 hours of overtime in 2013.
LeBlanc, a first shift supervisor, has worked for 17 years at American Alarm & Communications Inc. She holds CSAA Level 1 and Level 2 Advanced, plus AIM certification for supervisory skills development and Ultra guard customer service training. One security consultant told LeBlanc’s supervisors, “In my 20 years in this industry, I have never dealt with a more pleasant, professional and qualified central station employee.”
Also nominated in the Central Station Operator of the Year Award category were Kyle Johnson, DMC Security and David Carter, Vector Security Inc.
Carter has been with Vector Security for 16 years, and is currently the East Central Station Tech Support Leader. He has held this position for six years. Carter holds CSAA Level 1 and 2 certifications, and is a Cisco UCUCM and UAC certified administrator. He is constantly offering support to his home base office, and other offices — traveling outside his home for extended periods of time to assist in technical projects, or office or central station moves. He will take calls in the middle of the night and responds to all emergencies with a calm energy.
Johnson started working for DMC as a part-time employee in 1995, and has been a systems manager for past 15 years. He is known for his dedication to furthering his education by studying at night on any new product that becomes available in the industry — and then applying that self-knowledge to the job. He holds certifications in access control, DMP, fire alarms, Bold Manitou, Theos, Silent Knight, and is a certified locksmith. On the job he is responsible for all IT issues, plus updates and conversions, and maintains all the software for the central station. He also programs alarm systems, and prepares the CAD designs for future customers. He works on the business and residence sites and handles the high-voltage electric installation. Johnson is known as the “lifeline” for his central station staff and has been known to work 10 hours a day, and then get up at 2 a.m. to answer a service call. In the past 19 years, he’s only missed work two times, both due to family illness.