The CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards have been formally recognizing top-notch professionals in the industry for more than a decade. Now in its 11th year, competition for the awards — which is hosted by Central Station Alarm Association International (CSAA) and co-sponsored by SDM — is stiff. The awards were first introduced to recognize those exceptional personnel in the industry, as well as the most outstanding central stations (CSAA members and non-members) that are certified by any CSAA-approved Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), such as UL, FM Global and Intertek/ETL.

The goal of the competition is to find those organizations and people in the industry that perform to the highest standards and make a significant contribution to the alarm monitoring industry and profession, while demonstrating extraordinary service to their customers and community.

“Our finalists are to be congratulated for being recognized as the best of the best,” says Elizabeth Lasko, vice president of marketing and communications, CSAA International. “Our judges related the extremely difficult time they had choosing not only the winners, but just the finalists from all the nominations. There were some amazing stories of customer relations, innovation and corporate culture.”

The 2016 CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards were announced at a breakfast honoring the recipients at this year’s Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in June in Fort Worth, Texas. SDM Editor Laura Stepanek described each of the finalists and announced the winners, while CSAA Executive Director Jay Hauhn and CSAA President Pamela Petrow presented each recipient with a trophy to commemorate the achievement.

“The companies and individuals nominated and chosen as finalists and winners are shining examples of how seriously the monitoring industry takes its responsibility to protect life and property,” Lasko adds.

Read on to learn more about this year’s award winners and finalists.

Central Station of the Year

Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc. is constantly innovating new ways to better serve customers, streamline operations and take the company into the future.


Central Station of the Year

Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc. focuses on employees, training and technology to ensure it meets the needs of its dealer customers and subscribers.

Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc., Syracuse, N.Y.

Russell R. MacDonnell, chairman, and Jeffrey Atkins, president, founded Rapid Response Monitoring Services in 1992, and in 2004 the company opened its central New York headquarters.

Number of subscribers: 1,250,000
(as of publication, commercial subscribers: 455,000 and residential subscribers: 795,000)

Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc. (Rapid) was founded in 1992 by two industry veterans, Russell R. MacDonnell and Jeffrey Atkins, who combined their more than 50 years of industry experience in the growth, management and operation of alarm and security companies. Since then, the 100 percent wholesale monitoring company has grown to 2,000 dealers, more than one million subscribers and 525 full-time staff, with no acquisitions.

This 2016 Central Station of the Year recipient is a company with foresight that adapts to the ever-changing industry. The company is constantly monitoring its performance, its progress, its customer service, and its technologies and offerings. Rapid tracks hundreds of business metrics called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of which it measures hourly, weekly, monthly or yearly to make sure the company is delivering, as well as to identify and remedy problems or issues as quickly as possible. Many call center KPIs, such as speed to access alarms and average event duration are measured hourly and given to management three times a day.

“From day one, our philosophy has been, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” shares Morgan Hertel, vice president of technology and innovation at the company.


People & Training

Rapid likens its business focus to that of a three-legged stool. The three legs are: people, training and technology. On that first leg are all the people that Rapid has hired to represent its central station — a distinction that only three to four percent of job applicants are awarded. The company has an entire recruiting team working full time to hire only the most qualified employees. College degrees or military experience is required to work at Rapid, and the company also uses several different tests to evaluate applicants, including tests for predictive analysis, cognitive skills, typing skills and others.

“This kind of work, handling emergencies all day long, is not for everybody. Not everybody can do it,” Hertel describes. “A lot of our hiring process is built around making sure potential employees can do the job, but more importantly will like doing the job.”

Hiring top-tier central station employees isn’t the only thing that makes Rapid stand out in the industry, however. It is the way they train them and retain them, too — and that comprises the second leg of the virtual stool. Counting more than five million signals per week between their two locations (New York and California), extensive training is a must. In addition to several weeks of formal classroom training and floor training with trainers and supervisory staff, advanced skill-set training continues throughout the employee’s tenure. Rapid has 25 full-time corporate and floor trainers to help ensure success. Many of the trainers have master’s degrees in education.

Expecting your employees to work at a high level at all times requires incentives, a welcoming work environment and opportunities. Rapid’s leadership development program allows employees to work in every department of the business throughout a one-year period, whereby at the end, the company tries to find participants a management spot where they can continue advancing.

In 2005, to serve a growing customer and dealer base whose first language is Spanish, Rapid began offering an elective corporate Spanish language program. The program has offset the difficulty of finding qualified Spanish-speaking staff and has allowed the company to improve service standards. Many staff complete the program with a high level of fluency, especially in terminology particular to the industry, Hertel says. Rapid is planning to roll out other language courses to coincide with the company’s expansion and in response to demographic changes, including Canadian French and Asian dialects.

“When you try to grow in this business, it’s nice to have a good, solid base and the right people from which to choose,” Hertel explains.



The third leg that keeps Rapid’s stool upright is technology. The company invests millions of dollars annually into its own software development and new hardware, resulting in dozens of new features and services each year.

“This is the most fly-by-wire company you will ever see,” Hertel says. “We have written all the integration so that everything is integrated with everything.” That means scheduling, data change requests and more are all paperless and electronically integrated. Employee break requests and shift changes are electronic and granted through one platform.

In 2013, the company was one of the early adopters of the ASAP to PSAP program, which allows verified alarm signals to automatically be dispatched to participating 911 centers. Rapid also offers two-way voice monitoring, video services, remote monitoring and mobile services, and email and text message alerts.

Much of the technology that Rapid develops and implements helps the central station in reducing false alarms and false dispatches. In addition to enhanced call verification (ECV), which it rolled out company-wide eight years ago and filters over 87 percent of the burglar alarms the company receives, additional automation setups look for previous dispatches and push different instructions out to the operators for processing, helping reduce multiple false dispatches.

A “First Call” platform was introduced about six years ago by the company for a number of applications, including to help deal with false alarms. The natural language IVR (interactive voice response) can call a home alarm in less than 10 seconds to get a password from a subscriber. The platform also is used for simple, automated testing and customer interaction, without having to take up the time of a highly trained operator. Because of its scalability, it was also used during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to call subscribers on issues that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to handle, Hertel explains.

“[What sets us apart] is the constant, unrelenting drive to be the best at whatever it is we want to do, whether training or putting together a brochure. It’s our attention to detail and desire not to just be OK. We have a drive and we are going to build [the business] the old-fashioned way. We will continue to work hard and earn that business and not buy our way through,” Hertel says.


Learn About the Finalists

ADT Security Services and Vector Security Inc. were honored as finalists in the Central Station of the Year category.

ADT Security Services is a powerhouse central station with more than seven million subscribers. The company was an adopter of enhanced call verification at a national level before it was a requirement in any authority having jurisdiction, and more recently rolled out its ASAP program to dispatch and receive reports electronically from participating 911 dispatchers. One of ADT’s most significant contributions to the industry is the work it has done and continues to do at the government level to help advocate for the industry. For example, the governor of Florida recently signed legislation supported by ADT that preemptively bans municipalities from billing alarm companies for their customers’ false alarms.

Vector Security Inc. was certified as a CSAA Five Diamond Company in 2003. The company’s West Central Station believes in the importance of training its supervisors with the skills, tools and concepts needed to successfully lead, and therefore, partnered with Development Dimensions International for which it sends supervisors and managers to attend leadership training. The central station constantly looks at ways to improve operations and procedures. Two recent implementations include a “go green policy” where electronic forms are now used for all data change requests, and the roll-out of its Central Station SharePoint, which has a homepage that allows operators to access the tools they need in one place, including procedure manuals, panel operating instructions, company announcements, and temporary procedures during special events such as emergencies and severe weather.


Central Station Manager of the Year

Michelle Lindus consistently innovates and improves the customer experience.

Central Station Manager of the Year

Winner: Michelle Lindus

Company: Vivint Smart Home, Provo, Utah

Title: Central Station Manager

Tenure at the company: 12 years

In an anonymous leadership survey at Vivint Smart Home, one co-worker said Michelle Lindus’ “leadership is strong and felt in a positive way.” Another employee noted, “She is a wonderful manager and always goes the extra mile in everything that she does. It has been a joy to work with her and I look forward to working with her for years to come.”

As demonstrated by the feedback from her peers, Michelle Lindus truly leads by example, just like the time Lindus came in on the third shift of New Year’s Eve when there is historically high call volume to make sure there would be an extra person working alarms if needed. She rang in the New Year with her team and stayed until 3 a.m.

Lindus started working at Vivint Smart Home 12 years ago as a representative and has since then held every position that now reports to her as central station manager. She has a large number of responsibilities, leading a team of 140 people, including monitoring representatives, monitoring leadership, admins, and the false alarm reduction team out of the company’s Utah location.

“I’d say my biggest responsibility and most important to me is taking care of our customers — their safety, their lives and their property. I believe that if I keep that as the number 1 priority, then the rest falls into place,” Lindus tells SDM.

One of Lindus’ strongest attributes as a leader is her drive to continue learning, as well as her ability to share knowledge and mentor others. She is always reading leadership books, such as “Leadership and Self-Deception,” and “Have a Nice Conflict.” Within the last few years, she began leveraging SDI (strength, development, inventory) training and was able to get a Vivint employee certified to teach the practice. SDI involves helping understand how motives drive behaviors and how to develop an understanding of the motive-driven behaviors of others. “We’ve been able to put all of our leadership through that training,” Lindus says.

Not one to get too comfortable in her position, Lindus is not only a leader by example, but she constantly innovates and brainstorms ways to do things better. Plus, she’s not afraid of change, according to her employer.

Lindus has implemented new ways of using the outbound IVR (interactive voice response) and email-to-text features to improve operator response during emergencies. She spearheaded a project transitioning from spreadsheets for staff modeling and real-time tracking to the company’s Workforce IEX platform. In addition, she introduced a cancel signal procedure, which has decreased false alarm volume by 26 percent, as well as implemented enhanced call verification for reduced false dispatches and revamped operator scripts to improve customer interaction.

“The qualities I admire most about her are the personal connections she makes with her team members and how she truly leads, not just manages,” says Amy Becht, director of central stations at Vivint.


Learn About the Finalists

Ernie Cole and Thomas Tardiff were honored as finalists in the Central Station Manager of the Year category.

Ernie Cole, director of operations at Doyle Security Systems Inc., has dedicated more than 21 years to the company. He takes his job very seriously, such as the time he had to leave a family member’s wedding to get a DMP receiver back online after other technicians were not able to rectify the problem. Cole is an early adopter of new technology, and helps the company move forward. He has run contests encouraging team members to convert accounts to receive text on alarms, and works with software vendors to test new products.

Thomas Tardiff, operations center director at Kastle Systems, has made a number of changes since he came onboard a few years ago, including helping his team create the software requirements for development of an informational screen that accompanies every active signal and shows operators information pertinent to the customer and situation. Tardiff also worked with Kastle developers to create a Web-based interface for inbound call automation. The tool allows management to load-balance staffing between inbound calls and alarm signals dynamically without operators having to change workstations.


Central Station Operator of the Year

Amy Cerney’s love of helping people shines brightly through her interaction with others.

Central Station Operator of the Year

Name: Amy Cerney         

Company: Vivint Smart Home, Provo, Utah

Title: Monitoring Representative

Tenure at the company: 10 years   

Despite working for Vivint Smart Home as a monitoring representative for an entire decade, Amy Cerney has chosen to remain in her role as an operator on the front lines because she loves directly helping customers. Staying in her position for so many years has made Cerney anything but complacent, however. During her tenure with Vivint, she has seen many changes in alarm procedures, equipment and the company’s alarm monitoring platform, yet she quickly adapts and has evolved right along with the position.

Amy Becht, director of central stations at Vivint, says that Cerney genuinely cares about other people and about her work. “If there is a problem, [she] will run toward the proverbial fire and find a solution. I don’t think you can teach that,” Becht adds.

Cerney’s productivity and quality scores for graded customer interaction are regularly above department goals. She is always seeking out performance feedback and embraces the spirit of constant improvement. According to her application, Cerney looks forward to coaching sessions in her one-on-one meetings with her supervisor so they can discuss ways for her to improve. She also serves as a strong example and mentor to peers.

“Amy has a great perspective and gives advice that can only be gained by experience. She is generous with that and shares her knowledge with new people coming in,” Becht describes.

Cerney has had her calls featured multiple times in a company-wide report as an exceptional example of how to take care of customers. During her tenure at Vivint, she has handled many actual emergencies, obtaining vital information while being a voice of comfort to her customers and saving lives in the process.

“I really like helping people, whether it’s something minor with an account or an actual emergency situation,” Cerney shares. “I’ve learned how to keep calm and get them through the situation.”

There is, of course, one story that perfectly illustrates Cerney’s true love of helping people — a trait that cannot be feigned or faked. A co-worker of Cerney’s with whom she had a typical pleasant co-worker relationship, but no relationship outside of work, was diagnosed with a genetic disease that causes kidney failure. As his condition deteriorated, he was in need of a transplant. Cerney felt moved to get tested and see if she was a match. She in fact was an exact match to her coworker and in February 2016, Cerney helped save his life by giving him her kidney.

“Amy is a shining example of what it means to go above and beyond and truly embrace the values of Vivint and the security industry as a whole to save lives and step up to protect those in need,” Becht says. “In addition, she really just adds to a very enjoyable workplace; she goes out of her way to make this a great place to work.”


Learn About the Finalists

Morgan Dieterle and Hollie Smith were honored as finalists in the Central Station Operator of the Year category.

Though Morgan Dieterle’s tenure as an event analyst in Fifth Third Bank’s proprietary central station is short, she is a true team player, always willing to step up when needed, says her employer, Tyco. In December 2015, Dieterle fielded an ATM vestibule motion alarm. She tuned in to see an individual making withdrawals using several debit cards. Later, a motion alarm was received from another ATM involving similar activity with the same individual. Dieterle was instrumental in reacting to the alarms, as well as implementing the proper procedures and taking the extra steps to analyze the situation, which led to the apprehension of the suspect and eventual arrest of 12 other individuals. 

Hollie Smith, access control specialist at Universal Atlantic Systems (UAS) began her career at the company less than two years ago, and excelled quickly, becoming the first dispatcher to advance within four months of her start date. During the 2015 holiday season, after a large national retail customer experienced a number of break-ins in a particular region, technicians were dispatched to upgrade the systems in a two-day period. After Smith finished her shift as a dispatcher, she stayed extra hours to ensure technicians in the field had the support they needed, including updating account information and helping with testing.


Central Station Support Person of the Year

David Carter goes the extra mile to ensure that operators can do their job.

Central Station Support Person of the Year

Name: David W. Carter    

Company: Vector Security Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa.

Title: East Central StationTech Support Leader

Tenure at the company: 18 years

Close to two decades ago, David W. Carter began working for Vector Security Inc. At first, he started in the data entry department as an operator, though he always had his sights on a technical support position, he tells SDM. From there, he progressed to central station operator, and then assistant supervisor. During that time, his aptitude for technology made management give him the opportunity to become tech support assistant and expand his knowledge and skills. Later, when the opportunity arose once again, Carter became tech support leader for the company’s East Central Station. He’s been an indispensable leader in this position for the last eight years.

“David is always willing to help both within his job description and in other areas. He is constantly working to make sure equipment is doing its job and he is the primary person for our disaster recovery plan,” says Anita C. Ostrowski, vice president of central station services at Vector Security. In fact, twice monthly, Carter spends time running simulated disasters with staff to make sure everyone is prepared for any type of emergency.

In 2015, Carter clocked 257 hours in overtime to help the central station with a variety of issues, including covering the floor as an operator in the event of staffing or weather issues, responding to equipment issues, new equipment installations, actual disasters and other extended projects.

“He knows the importance of his job and he’s literally available 24/7/365,” Ostrowski says. “David is willing to step up and get the job done. He has a very good work ethic.”

One of Carter’s unique attributes is his propensity to learn. Instead of remaining stagnant, he continually looks for opportunities to improve his performance, including being one of three certified Cisco Phone Switch Administrators at Vector Security. For example, when the company’s Cisco Phone Switch was installed, not only did Carter receive training from the vendor upon installation, but he made every effort to learn as much programming as needed in advance to reduce the likelihood of having to call the vendor in the middle of the night, thus incurring additional costs.

“I love to learn. I’m always looking to learn new things, new training, new experiences,” Carter shares.

Another contribution Carter has made to the Vector Security team includes being a key member in helping implement plans for two-way activity, enabling operators to communicate with customers directly through the panel. While the East Central Station had implemented two-way activity previously, two years ago, Carter helped the West Central Station do the same.

It took Carter a few days after receiving his award for Central Station Support Person of the Year for it all to sink in, he says. “I feel honored having this award. Vector Security has done a lot for me and I like to think I do my job the best I can,” he says. ­­


Learn About the Finalists

Dave Mann, director of IT at Kings III Emergency Communications, maintains a high standard in the delivery of his work. One recent project Mann took on was the upgrade of the company’s core network and server infrastructure. The end result was a solution that provides real-time recovery through the built-in redundancy for power and computing capabilities. The improved reliability of the IT solution has virtually eliminated service interruptions, allowing Kings III operators to focus on servicing customers.

William Sims, corporate trainer and dean of operations training for Kastle University at Kastle Systems, has worked for the company in various capacities for 32 years, beginning as a part-time operator. Over the years, Sims has cross-trained himself to understand the functions and job requirements of every operations role within Kastle. He has participated in or conducted more than 1,500 training sessions and seminars, and yet he goes above and beyond his position title.


CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards