COPS Monitoring, a provider of wholesale professional alarm services, continued providing monitoring services without interruption despite the loss of both power and communications at its Tennessee monitoring center as a result of the Nashville tornado.
In the early morning hours of March 3, powerful storms ripped through Middle Tennessee, spawning tornadoes, killing at least 25 people and knocking out power and communications to an estimated 45,000 Nashville business and residents.
"The hearts and prayers of all COPS employees go out to the families impacted by the Nashville tornado," said COPS President Jim McMullen. “This tragedy is a painful reminder that a catastrophe can strike anywhere, at any time and without warning."
Barely a mile outside the path of destruction carved by the tornado, COPS Monitoring's UL-listed monitoring center in Nashville was spared any physical damage. The site lost electricity and continued to operate on its own generator power, and lost all three carrier-diverse redundant communication paths and the ability to respond to alarms for approximately nine hours.
But because COPS operates a network of six monitoring locations consisting of multiple layers of redundant technology and diversified staffing, its ability to provide monitoring services to alarms continued without interruption.
"During the unexpected temporary loss of our Tennessee site, alarms and calls continued to be handled by our other five sites," McMullen said. "Furthermore, our overall active staff was impacted by less than 16 percent. We were able to absorb the staffing reduction and increased alarm traffic resulting from the violent weather in the short-term by altering break schedules of people already on shift at our other monitoring centers. In the longer term, we compensated by overstaffing our other sites with additional team members."
COPS Monitoring began its preparation for redundant monitoring nearly two decades ago in the wake of 9/11 — not just for possibilities like the Tennessee tornado, but also for the countless localized conditions that can compromise a central station's ability to monitor alarms such as earthquakes, flooding, fires, blizzards, hurricanes, a fiber cut, civil unrest and even outbreaks such as the coronavirus COVID-19.
“Opening a redundant site was a very small initial step in the right direction," McMullen said. "It certainly solved some technological challenges by giving us more than a single place to deliver calls and alarms in the event of a site failure. Unfortunately, operating just two sites did not solve the staffing redundancy needed to maintain quality during a site outage. It's simple math, really; 50 percent of your staff can't handle 100 percent of your alarm traffic, let alone the additional traffic usually created by extreme circumstances. The fact is, no matter how advanced your technology is, there isn't any place on the planet to build a monitoring station that isn't vulnerable to some sort of natural or manmade influences, which is precisely why we mitigate potential outages with redundant technology and by diversifying our staffing across all six of our locations."
Though the storm is over, the work helping those affected has just begun. If you would like to donate through the Red Cross, you can text Red Cross to 90999 and make a $10 donation. You can also donate online at https://www.redcross.org/local/tennessee/ways-to-donate.html.