The 10th annual Central Station Excellence Awards — hosted by the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Int’l and co-sponsored by SDM — were presented at an elegant breakfast ceremony during ESX, which was held in Baltimore in late June.
The prestigious awards recognize outstanding central stations that are certified by any CSAA-approved Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), such as FM Global, Intertek/ETL and UL. They also recognize outstanding personnel in these companies, who perform to the highest professional manner and make a significant contribution to the betterment of the alarm monitoring industry and the alarm profession, while demonstrating exceptional service to their customers and community.
The awards are offered in four categories: Central Station of the Year, Central Station Manager of the Year, Central Station Operator of the Year, and Central Station Support Person of the Year. On hand to present the awards were CSAA Executive Director Jay Hauhn, CSAA President, Pamela Petrow, and Laura Stepanek, SDM editor, who shared a bit about each of the finalists before she announced the winners to the enthusiastic audience.
“The electronic security industry has so many companies and individuals providing superior service to those who count on our protection; our Excellence Awards recognize those that particularly stood out this year. We congratulate our nominees, finalists and winners on their accomplishments, which are a testament to the quality of our industry every day,” Hauhn says.
Guardian Protection Services redesigned two key areas within its central station that involve the customer experience and employee engagement.
Guardian, founded in 1950, created its first central station in 1986, and the winning station was constructed in 2006, at its present location in Warrendale, Pa.
Number of subscribers: 329,472
(as of May 2015: 30,641 commercial and 298,831 residential subscribers)
As a CSAA Five Diamond certified and FM Global and UL listed central station, Guardian Protection Services, Warrendale, Pa., is raising the bar — on itself.
The company believes that the depth and breadth to which it incorporates and utilizes performance metrics that not only ensure outstanding central station service, but motivate and inspire each and every central station employee to deliver those services is notable. Incentive programs play a significant part in building a framework of success in motivating and retaining qualified employees. Guardian couples this with building a culture of employee engagement that has led to a community within the central station where employees have an average tenure of six years. One example is a central station operator who has served customers loyally for the past 30 years and continues to do so to this day as a member of the “front line” in the central monitoring station. In addition, Guardian’s training program for new hires was completely redesigned in 2015, covering a broad array of content over a four-week period.
In March 2014, the company began a systematic redesign of two key focus areas within its central station operation that involve the customer experience and employee engagement. Why? In order to better communicate performance results to its frontline central station teams and build a multi-faceted employee engagement program.
Guardian implemented a four-part approach in the sharing of key metrics with varying degrees of simplicity/complexity garnered from reports on occurrences during shifts, daily snapshots, and weekly and monthly reviews. “These initiatives have been highly instrumental in raising the bar and taking Guardian’s central station operation to the next level,” shares Mike Overby, vice president, Customer Care. “A positive byproduct of the initiative is that it has created a new level of ownership by every employee.”
Guardian hires only the best candidates and then works hard to keep them. “The culture within our central station operation is based on a philosophy whereby the positions are career-oriented. This philosophy requires investing in our employees to ensure they have the training, support and a level of income for long-term success,” shares Joe Colosimo, Guardian president.
Guardian’s corporate campus comprises a wide range of training facilities including a 40-seat dedicated classroom with video conference and multi-media capabilities and various breakout spaces located throughout for formal and informal sessions. To support its core ideology, the training program for new hires was completely redesigned in 2015 and deploys a variety of methodologies, including the utilization of experienced monitoring station experts to serve as classroom facilitators, Colosimo describes.
“There are many ‘moving parts’ in a central station. In addition, having the right people in the right place at the right time is necessary to carry out the mission efficiently,” Overby says.
The company doesn’t skimp on its staff, especially those with strong technology skills. Guardian has 70 full-time IT professionals who work shifts 24 hours a day. It also has approximately 50 operators working shifts to ensure the customers’ concerns are addressed. Guardian’s subscriber-to-operator ratio is maintained at optimum levels to ensure outstanding alarm response times, the company reports. Guardian’s alarm response times averaged less than 20 seconds in 2014.
The company’s workflow processes are designed such that the only function of the central station is to respond to alarm signals. This means that the central station operation is not dual-purposed as an answering service or a backup support function for areas that handle billing or other types of general inquiries. “This specificity of purpose accelerates our ability to respond to alarms and mitigates unnecessary police, fire or EMS dispatches while facilitating keen focus on the important metrics that drive outstanding performance and results,”
As for the CSAA Excellence Award honor? Colosimo shares, “I consider this one of the most important awards our company has ever received. I am quite honored to have Guardian among some of the greatest monitoring stations in the country who have won this award in prior years.”
Winner: Randy Ambrus
Company: Cooperative Response Center (CRC), Austin, Minn.
Title: Central Station Manager
Tenure at company: Five years (in October 2015)
A certified CSAA Five Diamond operator (Level II), Randy Ambrus has nearly 30 years of experience in the alarm industry. He started as a central station operator and worked his way up. “For the past five years I’ve been with CRC as its central station manager. I try to divide my time, so that I am out on the floor as much as possible. I find that managing people can be hard, but the trick is to listen and have patience.”
Ambrus is responsible for a team of 13 operators, one coordinator and three team leaders. Colleagues call him “calm and kind” and he has built a reputation for being persistent when it comes to tackling problems, especially technical ones. In fact, Mark Colton, business development manager, says Ambrus is a “driving force for improving the technology used at CRC.”
Case in point: the company has Ambrus to thank for having DNIS delivered to its receivers and automation software. In the fall of 2014, after the IT department had been stumped by what Ambrus calls “the DNIS problem,” and the service provider and phone system vendor couldn’t agree on why DNIS wouldn’t work, Ambrus figured it out. After running countless internal tests, he realized that the problem was a combination of PBX settings and network settings that had to be altered for DNIS to work.
“I was thrilled when we were able to set it up. I consider it one of my greatest successes here,” Ambrus shares.
CRC was thrilled, too, as DNIS is key to a central station running smoothly. “This problem likely would not have been solved without Randy’s unflinching dedication and persistence,” Colton says.
Ambrus continues to improve the company’s offerings by automating several alarm events through technology, including an mPERS offering, while also fulfilling his daily managerial duties that go alongside his technical responsibilities. The hours are long, but Ambrus says he doesn’t mind. “I love my job and I was honored to be recognized for my work, but the award also belongs to all of us.”
His employer describes, “Randy is a champion of progress. He comes to work every day with a positive attitude that is infectious, He is committed to excellence, and works with good humor, cheer and loads of humility. The invaluable wealth of information that resides within Randy has turned CRC’s operation into a much more proactive business unit that continuously looks for ways to enhance operations, save money, and create additional efficiencies, while putting the staff’s needs first. The environment and culture Randy has nurtured is healthy and promotes accountability, learning and self-confidence,” notes CRC.
Name: Susan Farris
Company: Security Central Inc., Centennial, Colo.
Title: Quick-C.A.R.E Responder
Tenure at company: Eight years
Susan Farris knows what it is like to work under pressure, especially when life-threatening emergencies occur. Her supervisor, David Somerville, praises Farris’s dependability. “She is the type of worker who can be depended upon to take full responsibility for her actions without needing to have a supervisor micro-manage her. Susan is someone whom I feel I can trust and be careless with,” he shares. “By careless, I mean that Susan performs her tasks so well and has proven herself trustworthy such that I can focus on the myriad responsibilities that I need to tend to without feeling as though I need to watch over her.”
As a Quick-C.A.R.E. Responder, her responsibilities include, but are not limited to, responding to signals received in 30 seconds or less, answering in-bound phone calls within three rings, updating contact and access information for customers, and troubleshooting issues with customers concerning the security, fire, CCTV or hosted access systems.
“Sue is the epitome of what our industry stands for. She quietly works day in and day out, or night in and night out, to care for our customers’ personal safety and peace of mind,” says Jordan Jackson, president of Security Central Inc. “She is dependable, trustworthy, steadfast and calm under pressure. As an eight-year veteran on our Quick-C.A.R.E. Response team, she leads the always busy, sometimes chaotic, swing shift.”
Johnson shares the story of a night when Farris’ “experience, expertise and calm professionalism” were exactly what was needed in a time of crisis. Last September 1, 2014, a subscriber named Kathy experienced a destructive home invasion by a serial rapist, who had assaulted two other women in the same neighborhood. “It was Sue’s super-fast response (nine seconds) and instantaneous assessment of the situation that enabled her to realize what was happening even before our client, Kathy, did,” says Johnson. “Sue immediately took control of the situation, instructing the female client to call 911, while Sue contacted the police as well. Thanks to Sue’s quick actions, Kathy was in a strong defensive posture when the knife-wielding intruder barged through her bedroom door. Kathy shudders at the thought of what would have happened to her if she hadn’t had her alarm system on that night and Sue hadn’t responded so quickly.”
When asked about this, Farris responds, “All that matters is that the alarm and monitoring procedures worked, and I am very grateful that the client was all right.”
Farris, who holds both basic and advanced CSAA central station operator certifications, says the things she loves the most about her job are “the people I work with,” and “I like that it is rarely dull and always busy, and of course, I love helping our customers.” She says she was stunned when her name was called out as the winner during the ceremony. “I honestly believe the award belongs to the whole company. We are a team and I did not do anything different than each and every one at my station.”
Name: Kyle Johnson
Company: DMC Security, Midlothian, Ill.
Title: Systems Manager
Tenure at company: 16 years
When Kyle Johnson came onboard with DMC Security, Midlothian, Ill., in 1995, he was hired to do a temporary job and didn’t plan to stay long. “I owned my own computer business and I didn’t have plans to stay,” he says. “But I am glad I did.”
Johnson has been the company’s systems manager for 16 years. “The best thing about my job is that I get to do a bit of everything,” says Johnson, who was unable to attend the awards breakfast. “I have been in the industry a long time and a lot of what I’ve learned is self-taught. I would have never been able to do so many different things if I were in a big company. I would not have had the opportunities that presented themselves to me over the years at DMC, anywhere else.”
Johnson’s colleagues say that he is known for studying up on new products at night in order to provide intelligent feedback and assistance to dealers, customers, employees and vendors. Johnson holds certifications in access control, DMP, fire alarms, Bold Manitou, Theos and Silent Knight, and he has a special certification as a certified electronics technician in the U.S. Army’s Green Beret division and is a certified locksmith.
On the job, he handles all of the company’s IT conversions, updates and issues while maintaining the software for the station. Johnson also serves as the telecommunications programmer, prepares the CAD designs for future customers, and is in charge of the high-voltage electric installation. Added to this impressive list is that Johnson also provides the identification access cards for the police, who patrol in the suburbs of Chicago.
Johnson is known for his dedication to his job. The company reports he puts in both days and nights, and assisted in the overhaul and remodel of the central station last September. His work ethic and good nature make him admired by all at DMC.
Mary Jensby, the call center manager, an eight-year veteran of the industry, has worked at DMC for just 18 months. “I have had the opportunity to work closely with many professional support team members over the years, but Kyle’s knowledge, expertise, and his dedication to the business, the security industry, the customers, and the employees clearly set him apart from the others.” She adds, “Kyle selflessly gives of his time and prefers to be the man behind the scenes, wanting no recognition for his accomplishments. He deserves it though, and I am extremely pleased that he was chosen for this award.”
F.E. Moran Security Solutions and Protection 1 were honored as finalists in the Central Station of the Year category.
F.E. Moran’s team of dedicated central station workers has endured 15 company acquisitions over the past 12 years, but remains strong, reports the company. This CSAA Five Diamond certified central station was built in 2010 and serves 15,753 commercial and 12,889 residential subscribers. The central station team has been instrumental in training other company members in the important functions of alarm monitoring signals, programming, and data entry activities. This collaborative process further strengthens the company bonds.
Protection 1’s central station, built in 1998, proudly sports an A+ BBB rating for 2014, and maintains a 97.3 percent customer satisfaction rate, due to its focus on customer service. The company’s best practices include same-day service, no central station voice trees, all installations and service calls surveyed, no missed installation completion dates, and keeps all installation pictures on file. Protection 1’s CSAA Five Diamond certified central station was remodeled in 2008 and serves 412,344 customers, to date.
Christine Jones, Ackerman Security Systems, and Bob Boland, Custom Alarm, were honored as finalists in the Central Station Manager of the Year category.
Jones started as a central station operator in October 2010 with Ackerman. After her superiors recognized her innate ability to grasp industry knowledge and demonstrate leadership, she quickly rose up the ranks from operator to assistant supervisor, then central station supervisor, and central station manager in March 2013. She is noted for her excellent communication and leadership skills. In addition, she developed a revamp of Ackerman’s automation software, proving her technological skills in the workplace.
Boland celebrated five years with Custom Alarm in May, and he serves as both the customer service manager and operational manager for the company’s monitoring response center. Boland proved early on to be a quick study and obtained his CSAA Level II certification after just six months on the job. His colleagues describe him as “reliable, flexible and accurate,” and “always makes time for his staff” who respect him in many ways, one of which is his open door policy toward his colleagues.
Alex Doll, Amherst Alarm Inc., and Tiffany Miller, Cooperative Response Center (CRC) Inc., were honored as finalists in the Central Station Operator of the Year category.
Amherst says the company would like to clone Doll, due to his ability to juggle multiple responsibilities and tasks, while maintaining a positive attitude. His duty roster is full: Doll supervises staff, is a data entry trainer, assists in the hiring process, and does quality control on dispatchers and data entry, among other assignments. Doll’s dedication means he comes in on weekends, follows up with clients, will fill in for others, and is on call in high-demand weather conditions.
As team lead, Miller is responsible for managing the floor. In that capacity she monitors operators and offers assistance, guidance and training when needed. She also does the final proofing of all data entry and performs miscellaneous functions as needed. Miller’s ability to multitask while offering assistance to others, without complaint, makes her a valuable employee. CRC reports that her positive attitude is contagious and her desire to face problems head-on means she is able to improve operations on a daily basis.
Mike Saxer, Amherst Alarm Inc., and Jesse T. Hall, COPS Monitoring, were honored as finalists in the Central Station Support Person of the Year category.
As the technical support person for Amherst Alarm’s central station, Saxer designed and configured the current arrangement of receivers, phone circuits, radio network and PCs for the company. His superiors report that he has been instrumental in several major projects, including several data conversions for acquisitions, updating computer networks, upgrading servers, replacing the phone system, and managing a new platform for monitoring automation. His colleagues praise his dedication to his job and report that he is known for coming up with plans and solutions to problems before they occur.
For more than six and a half years, Hall has worked in COPS’ technical service department where he fields calls from dealers; programs, maintains and installs alarm receiving equipment; and handles the physical maintenance of network, telecommunications, and peripheral computer equipment. He holds a Florida Alarm Contract I license, and has been serving central stations in southern Florida for more than 20 years. Hall is known for his dedication to his work, no matter what the demands or time constraints of the job are.