Monitoring the Shape of Things to Come in the Security Industry
Multiple and varied technologies and services are available to the monitoring sector of the security industry today. Whether you are providing seniors with personal emergency response (PERS) devices or offering live video streams for homes, the business of monitoring has something for everyone. As 2015 commences, SDM asked members of the industry for their take on four areas of central station monitoring today — PERS and other lifestyle products such as automation, video surveillance, new communications (ASAP-to-PSAP), and the options for end-user interaction.
According the CDC’s 2013 State of Aging and Health in America report, the current growth in the number and proportion of older adults in the United States is unprecedented in the nation’s history. By 2050, it is anticipated that Americans aged 65 or older will number nearly 80 million people, reported the U.S. Census Bureau.
This expansion of seniors may be an indicator of the shape of things (or products) to come in the security industry, such as the importance of personal emergency response systems (PERS) technologies. It is no surprise that this area of monitoring is continuously evolving to meet the demands of the marketplace and makes a smooth transition into security and home automation systems and solutions.
The next generation of PERS is all about mobile technology. The mobile PERS units, called mPERS, are lightweight, tiny, and wearable communicators that contain two-way communication capabilities, and a button that can be pressed in an emergency.
As an example, Securus Inc., a provider of advanced mobile safety and security solutions, was at ISC East in New York City in November showcasing its new eResponder, a next-generation mobile personal emergency response system for seniors.
The device helps seniors get help anytime, anywhere in the United States where there is T-Mobile coverage. It works indoors or outdoors (even in the shower), and it is small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand.
“Our eResponder, eCare+Voice and eZoom mobile security products enable security dealers to expand their product offerings to increase revenue from both device sales and recurring monthly service,” says Tom Collopy, president and CEO of Securus Inc. “The products are a natural fit for security companies that want to improve profits while offering customers a comprehensive security product line.”
And while the use of mobile PERS units is increasingly popular with older adults, it is not just for seniors. Christopher Baskin, chief executive officer for American Two-Way, North Hollywood, Calif., told SDMlast year that we should consider the world “personal” when thinking about PERS. It’s not just about seniors; it’s for anyone experiencing an emergency, he says. Baskin believes these units are designed for a multitude of uses including protecting children, lone workers, and others. “The mPERS market especially is opening a much larger market,” he says.
While the public can be connected to a central station for personal and medical safety reasons, there continues to be end-user interest in purchasing all-in-one connectivity packages that move beyond standard security or medical emergency needs.
Today, the public wants the option to turn off and on lighting systems, unlock doors using a smartphone, and even shut off a water source at home. Lela Mullins, vice president of Monitoring Operations, ADS Security, Nashville, Tenn., says ADS will offer advance services to provide home automation training to its central station operators. “We want our operators to be ready to support customers with all the new services we are offering or will offer in the future, like lighting and thermostat control, and I am very excited about services to assist customers with water control.”
ADS Security is SDM’s 2014 Dealer of the Year award winner (read the story in the December 2014 issue of SDM and at www.SDMmag.com) and is ranked the 25th largest electronic security firm in the nation, according to the annual SDM 100. In fact, ADS has ranked on the SDM 100 for more than 20 consecutive years.
ADS Security recently introduced an automated water valve to complement its suite of automation services. Mullins mentions that it is a Z-Wave-enabled device that can turn on or turn off a water valve (including the main valve) in a business or home using the alarm control panel’s keypad; via a computer, tablet or smartphone; or even manually using the unit. Because water damage can be one of the most expensive items on an insurance claim, this latest offering in home automation is something Mullins, and others at ADS, believe will be an incredibly important product on the market in 2015.
Another shift in the industry is towards the use of the mysterious sounding “Internet of Things (IoT),” which can, among other things, bring multiple services together.
Jim McMullen, president and COO of COPS Monitoring, Williamstown, N.J., believes the Internet of Things is offering opportunities to central stations.
“The Internet of Things may give monitoring companies the opportunity to offer more convenience or concierge services for subscribers and perhaps more technical support services in addition to fire, security, medical, and other emergency monitoring,” he says.
“The Internet of Things allows a company or individual consumers to create a network or platform to which they can add and interconnect products and services. I think alarm dealers should have an open mind when it comes to new products and services because the technology is available to everyone,” McMullen shares. “If alarm dealers are willing to embrace a new ‘solutions provider’ mentality, it could open them up to a whole line of new products that meet the already high and growing demand thanks to some of the larger industry players.”
The glory days of a single mounted camera producing a fuzzy video screen in black and white have faded away with high-end cameras with multiple features and systems that allow for real-time monitoring, night and day visibility, and other options.
Cale Dowell, regional director, THRIVE Intelligence, Dallas, tells SDM that THRIVE’s monitoring and response center was specifically designed for an integrated solution, “starting with remote video monitoring using video analytics and tying in a full suite of applications such as access control, intrusion alarm monitoring, and others,” he says. “End users are looking for viable third-party solutions that can act as their security operations centers to provide force multipliers to their manned security officers and increase response time. This combined offering is what sets us apart from the competition.”
THRIVE Intelligence provides real time, event-based video monitoring using edge-based analytics. “The biggest challenge for the industry is accurately describing and educating the marketplace on how video analytics work and what they can accomplish in terms of increased intelligence and potential reduced costs,” says Dowell. “Our goal is to look at a customer’s needs holistically, focusing on how we can leverage the full suite of our services to build an integrated solution. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”
While some end users think self-monitoring or do-it-yourself cameras are effective — and they may be in some cases — the monitoring provided by central stations is crucial in what can be life-saving interventions.
At ADS, Mullins says that the accuracy and speed, coupled with experienced call center operators who know how to act in a crisis, cannot be replaced. “Video verification using the IP cloud-based storage solutions will be introduced second-quarter 2015 at ADS. We see it as an important step to continuing our efforts to reduce false dispatches, and provide more details for dispatch.” She notes that customers want access to video and cameras, and video verification will be an enhancement to the work done by central stations.
Donald Young, chief information and operating officer at Protection 1, Romeoville, Ill., says he is observing several new trends in video monitoring. “New trends we are seeing emerge in terms of unique monitoring applications are in the video space. Call center video has historically been limited to guard tours and other forms of live video surveillance. This has largely remained a separate team within the call center operations, which makes it less efficient and often more costly to operate.
Protection 1 invested heavily over the past three years to refine the solution and applications, Young reports. “We’ve trained our people, improved our processes, identified and addressed what we considered to be holes in the technology. At Protection 1, we match the video with the alarm event simultaneously in one platform. This enables us to have all of our call center agents manage video alarms, and brings the alarm and the video into one event, making response highly efficient and fast.
“It also enables us to make use of video in different ways than in the past; we can now actually explain to the customer what caused the alarm,” Young continues. “Not only is this important to the customer, but is increasingly becoming a must for law enforcement and is a frequent topic of conversation in the industry as it relates to alarm verification.”
One of the newer technologies being embraced by central stations is ASAP-to-PSAP, which is short for Automated Secure Alarm Protocol to Public Safety Answering Point. ASAP is the American National Standard (from American National Standards Institute or ANSI) for computer-to-computer-aided dispatch system data exchange created by the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
Why is it important? Because it is a crucial link between alarm stations and emergency dispatch centers. Many in the industry say it the “next generation” for this type of processing. The ASAP/PSAP protocol reduces the telephone-based relay currently in place by allowing a computer at an emergency dispatch center (the PSAP) to process data in seconds, instead of minutes, which can make a huge difference during a crime.
The protocol was developed through the joint partnership of APCO, CSAA and Nlets; the latter is a non-profit organization founded by U.S. law enforcement agencies. The ASAP program also helps reduce false alarms, saving the PSAPs and emergency services potentially millions of dollars.
Protection 1 was the first national company to roll out ASAP to all currently participating PSAPs, and Young praises the protocol. “This is another industry advancement that will bring speed and accuracy to our industry. The ability to have an operator who is handling an alarm simply make one keystroke to transmit all pertinent information electronically right into the PSAPs’ Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) system to dispatch first responders will gain efficiencies and ensure better quality of information between the alarm company and law enforcement.”
Young estimates that, “just in our Houston branch, we estimate this will save more than 8,000 manual dispatches a year. An added benefit to the speed and accuracy is the tracking that we now receive back from the authorities. We no longer have to wonder if it was a false alarm or actual alarm, because now the PSAP sends the disposition of the alarm right back into our system.” Young told SDMthat Protection 1 is now using this information to send out “our ‘Alarm Tracker’ email to the customer confirming the police disposition.”
Others are following the implementation of the protocol with success, as well. In the summer of 2014, Guardian Protection Services, Warrendale, Pa., achieved the successful implementation of ASAP-to-PSAP processing protocol for the communication of alarm information to the city of Richmond, Va., reports Jason Bradley, Guardian’s central station director.
“The protocol went live after successful data transmissions between Guardian’s U.L. certified CSAA Five Diamond monitoring center and the city of Richmond’s 9-1-1 center. Operationally, our IT, data entry and central station personnel worked together to create, analyze and verify Guardian’s customer database. It was required that our customer data be formatted in compliance with ASAP standards; this is important in completing the emergency dispatch process successfully.”
Bradley explains that it also required them to complete the upgrade of Guardian’s MAStermind monitoring platform to MAS 6.3. “Once we had this in place our next step was to configure MAS for the protocol. It was extremely important MAS be notified that we were preparing to activate this module in our monitoring platform and that the configuration comply with MAS and ASAP requirements.
“Throughout the process, we prepared central station staff and developed methods and procedures to support the deployment of the ASAP-to-PSAP protocol. Now that we have seen and witnessed the ease of use and benefits to all parties, especially our customers, we will certainly be promoting it and working to implement ASAP-to-PSAP in other areas where it is available,” he shares.
Guardian Protection Services was one of the founding members of the constituency established by the CSAA to help fund the concept; thus, the costs were significant, says Bradley. “However, we saw the value of ASAP-to-PSAP specifically with regard to the future as it is adopted on a widespread basis,” he says. “We expect that the benefits of ASAP-to-PSAP will outweigh the costs because it is a highly efficient, faster method of transmission. I might liken it to the difference between mailing a letter and sending an email. Of equal benefit is its level of accuracy with regard to data transmission. It greatly reduces, if not eliminates, human error at multiple points in the communication process.”
These days it seems almost everyone has a smartphone in the pocket or purse, and in fact, almost everyone does. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 58 percent of American adults own a smartphone device, as of January 2014. With so much information at the public’s fingertips, the security industry has been quick to catch on to the customers’ desire to control its home, car, and even personal security with just a few swipes on the phone.
THRIVE’s Dowell, says his company is continually focused to keep current with customer interaction via mobile applications. “All of our video monitoring is examined by our trained security intervention specialists. We can push events and live video directly to our end users through the use of mobile applications,” he says. “End users don’t want to be bothered with verifying their own alarms; however, they want transparency and accountability from the company that is managing their video surveillance.”
The company has implemented an audit trail of every monitored event that is viewable by the end user 24/7, reports Dowell. “We are consistently seeing requests for education on how users might reduce their dependency on labor through integrated systems.”
McMullen suggests that while connected homes and lifestyle apps give end users the ability to closely monitor and control the things that are most important to them, the information an app gives a customer is sometimes only part of the equation.
“For instance, in the security space, the apps for connected systems can notify a customer that their alarm went off, but it can’t tell the customer what actions the central station took, or what happened at their protected location. When this happens, instead of providing peace of mind, the missing information can actually cause unnecessary concern,” he says.
“With our smartphone access called MPower Me, customers not only see that their alarm went off, but they can also see whether we called the premises, spoke with someone and received a valid code, or dispatched the authorities. By providing this extra bit of important information, customers get the peace of mind they demand,” adds McMullen.
At the end of the day or night, central stations provide a multitude of services to customers and with the growth of technologies the offerings will no doubt become more expansive. Monitoring today isn’t just about catching a criminal; it is about watching over homes, businesses and even individuals with precision and care for the task at hand. The important factor in all of the services is underneath all of the technology that allows us to shut off the flow of water, adjust a thermostat, locate a lost a child (yes, there is an app for that), identify a thief, and lock a garage door — the real reason the industry does what it does — is to protect and help the public during times of need, great or small.
In Less Than 2 Years, the Sun Sets on 2G
As 2015 begins, the sun is sliding towards the horizon for 2G networks, which will need to be upgraded to 3G by the end of 2016. SDM asked Guardian Protection Services how it is planning for the transition.
Steve Schwartz, director of new technology:
“Late in 2012, we began the phased process of removing from inventory all 2G radios and shortly after, we implemented a policy requiring that our techs install a 3G radio or CDMA [Verizon’s communication platform] in lieu of 2G. In August 2013, we began to leverage existing service calls as an additional opportunity to change out 2G radios, upgrading them to 3G or CDMA. This process led to the development of weekly reporting which provided us with data to project what it would yield and, equally important, to develop an all-encompassing strategy to convert each and every one of our 2G customers. As part of this strategy we have hired additional field personnel to perform the radio replacements throughout the U.S. and we have developed a customer awareness program.
“With all of this, I see two critical elements that will impact our success positively or negatively: 1) the ability of our third-party providers to communicate closely with AT&T [the cellular company with which the vast majority of the 2G platform is associated] to determine the timing under which various large geographic areas will be affected and to accurately and rapidly communicate that information to us, and 2) our ability to communicate as well in advance as possible with our manufacturing supply chain so that they are able to deliver 3G equipment as needed.”
Randy Tecza, vice president of operations:
“We have a very comprehensive plan in place that involves a concerted effort from multiple areas within the company ranging from the service and installation division to IT, sales, marketing and customer care. We are also viewing this challenge as a prime customer retention opportunity and an opportunity to upgrade our customers to interactive services, which has been a strategic initiative for us for the past three years. We are taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded to us by the 2G sunset.
“We are making our customers aware of the 2G sunset and simultaneously harvesting the opportunity to build new long-term loyalty with these customers through an intensive, multi-faceted effort.
“We have segmented the affected customer database geographically and have developed a series of messages and offers that will be systematically deployed, tested and continuously evaluated. The most successful outcomes will lead to further refinement of our messaging.
• We are utilizing an in-house predictive dialer to perform outbound calling to these customers; special scripts have been developed, tested and tweaked for success.
• In addition to outbound calling, we are leveraging direct mail (both standard and certified) and e-mail blasts to communicate with these customers.
• We have flagged all affected accounts so that in the event the customer calls in with a question of any type, from billing to service needs, our customer service representatives will automatically be presented with a notification message to discuss the need for the 2G-to-3G upgrade.
“Of note is that we are investing a lot of money and time into a process as a result of a technology sunset and we will likely see similar sunsets in the future. It is incumbent upon us as an industry to encourage our manufacturers to develop replacement equipment that can be self-installed and self-tested by our customer; equipment that we can automatically ship with video and written instructions.
“Not only is this more cost- effective and efficient, but it is what our customers are going to expect of us as the use of technology proliferates in our customers’ homes and businesses. [Our customers] will greatly prefer this method over the idea of allocating time on their schedules for us to come into their homes or businesses to perform the work.”