Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” The security industry, like many businesses in the U.S. and the world, has certainly seen some adversity this year. In the video monitoring part of the security industry, however, a situation that started as chaos quickly shifted to unique opportunities to help both existing and new customers.
“Video monitoring has always been a focus of slow adoption, up against the guarding world,” says Chris Brown, CEO of Immix, a Tampa Fla.-based monitoring software automation provider. “With this situation you couldn’t be on-site … People left their businesses unprepared to shut down.”
The first few weeks of the pandemic were an adjustment period, says Steven Paley, president and CEO, Rapid Security Solutions, Sarasota, Fla., an integrator that provides video monitoring to clients using a third-party monitoring center. “I think most of my colleagues would agree that people became a little paralyzed. There were not a lot of new projects.”
Randall Renfroe, president, Allstate Security Industries Inc., Amarillo, Texas, also noticed a lull before the wave of new business, but that quickly changed. “After the initial adjustment, businesses soon realized that they had multiple premises that would be vacant for undefined periods of time and quickly began reaching out to us for additional security measures. Video monitoring and verification became instrumental to keeping their assets secure.”
This was a common experience from video monitoring service providers, whether they were a wholesale monitoring center, security dealer or integrator with or without their own monitoring center.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on our monitoring business,” says Brandon Niles, director of operations, Acadian Monitoring Services, a third-party monitoring company based in Lafayette, La. “While our traditional alarm monitoring services have remained flat, if not taken a small step backwards during this time period, our video monitoring business has doubled from the three prior months and is on track to significantly outperform its 2019 growth rate. A lot of reasons can be attributed to this, but I’d say the most significant reason had to do with the ease in which these services were able to be activated remotely.
“Many of our dealer partners used these past couple months to promote these services to their existing client base and then handled all the analytic setup work and testing remotely from their offices or homes. As a result they were able to increase their RMR without having to put a tech inside a home or business,” Niles says.
Another factor that helped video monitoring was the increase in crime that comes with economic downturns, in combination with the unusual scenario of many empty buildings.
“Our business has actually accelerated during this pandemic,” says Jeremy White, founder, Pro-Vigil Surveillance, a video-solutions-as-a-service company in San Antonio. “The combination of increased crime resulting from the economic downturn and unstaffed and vacant businesses due to shelter-in-place mandates has created a heightened demand for the ability to secure properties with the scalability and efficacy that remote video monitoring provides.”
Woodie Andrawos, president, National Monitoring Center (NMC), Lake Forest, Calif., agrees. “Since the virus was elevated to pandemic status in March, we’ve found that demand for intelligent security systems has surged amid a steady rise in commercial property crime. Over the past two months we’ve acquired a record number of subscribers to our [video monitoring] service through our channel partners and we’re forecasting a similarly strong showing for the upcoming months as well. Seeing [this] … has reinforced what our data has been revealing: that crime in fact is on the rise and businesses are in need of enhanced security and surveillance measures now more than ever.”
This has also been the case for Interface Security Systems, a managed services provider based in Earth City, Mo. that offers video monitoring as well as managed network and business intelligence solutions. “Our business has been strong and the demand for our interactive monitoring services has grown through this pandemic,” says Brent Duncan, chief revenue officer, Interface Security Systems. “In fact, we have customers who are expanding the use of these systems for new applications such as social distance monitoring, lone employee safety and food safety compliance. However the primary application for Interface video monitoring services has continued to be to increase safety. In speaking with customers in the retail, restaurant, C-Store, hospitality and financial markets … there has definitely been an uptick in certain types of crimes. .”
Markus Scott, CEO of EyeQ Monitoring, a dealer-owned central station in Marietta Ga., says coronavirus both hindered and helped business. “It hindered it in that growth will be impacted temporarily and some customers are hurting financially; but it helped in that it has forced us to refine our business in ways that will help us scale in the future and it has given us the opportunity to serve our partners and strengthen our relationship with them.”
Employees & Operations
While many video monitoring providers found themselves in a position to ramp up offerings as a result of the virus situation, at the same time they were themselves businesses that were or could be affected by the virus. Therefore, the first consideration was to make sure their employees were safe and placed in the best working environment to both continue to offer the level of services needed and maintain their own health and that of their loved ones.
“Our challenge was in the reorganization of the department to provide social distance and procedures to limit the risk of infection spread and reorganizing our teams to lower interruption to operations in the event someone does get sick” Scott says. “All non-emergency response staff were also required to work remotely and had to adapt to the use of technology and new processes to limit interruption to our operations.”
Duncan adds, “Since we are a critical security and life safety business, our 24/7 central command centers had to be kept open and have been busier than ever. We had to deploy extra safety protocols for our employees in the command center with daily deep-cleaning procedures, social distancing policies and expanding their areas of work to allow for proper spacing, deploying mandatory mask policies, etc. We also installed two high-end temperature monitoring units outside each of our command centers to ensure that employees who have a temperature get flagged and are asked to work from home. All our non-critical employees were transitioned to work from home.”
Rapid Response Monitoring, Syracuse, N.Y., also employed thermal monitoring for employees. “We have installed thermal cameras designed to detect elevated body temperature to screen staff members at both of our monitoring centers,” says Morgan Hertel, vice president of technology and innovation for the third-party professional monitoring center. “This has proven effective in identifying staff members with fevers, even if all the staff member has is normal flu symptoms, and helps keep our teams safe.” (For more on thermal camera monitoring see sidebar on page 12.)
Acadian Monitoring Services sent many of its employees home, even before the mandated order, Niles says. “We are very lucky in that our parent company, Acadian Ambulance Service Inc., is one of the largest privately owned ambulance companies in the world. While we couldn’t have predicted that a pandemic would take place, using the background and expertise of our parent company’s medical team, we were able to mobilize and implement the proper emergency plan.”
This resulted in a large number of staff working from home before the stay-at-home order and being able to get the majority of staff fully set up at home within three days of the official order, he says. “We were able to get 75 percent of our staff set up with new workstations so they could work from home. From there, we were able to spread out the remaining 25 percent who could not work from home across multiple floors of our building so they could maintain more than the recommended social distance recommendations of our state.”
Security Central, Statesville, N.C., was able to accommodate putting essential employees in individual offices to keep them socially distanced, says Caroline Brown, president of the third-party monitoring center. “We are family at Security Central, so to ensure the safety of our team we have pretty much overhauled our policies to make sure those on campus are comfortable and any risk is minimized.”
As a national event, this situation also provided a real test of many facilities’ backup and redundancy plans. The traditional idea that having two or more distantly located central stations to account for natural disasters didn’t apply here.
“Nothing like a good crisis to review and update your emergency preparedness plan with, huh?” Renfroe quips. “Like multiple businesses, we have adapted some operating procedures to compensate for the changes that we all now face … This pandemic has brought some insight into how we will address the next [crisis] from an operational perspective.”
“This event certainly forced us to think of business continuity from a different perspective, since we’ve always looked at it in terms of our two monitoring center locations,” Andrawos says.
Duncan says it was a wake-up call of contingency planning for his company. “Thankfully we didn’t get to the point where we had an outbreak but we did go through the process of planning for it and took a hard look at our operations and ability to be resilient in a situation like this.”
Pro-Vigil’s White says his company’s plan worked as hoped for, even in this type of global event. “We had a very robust disaster recovery and business continuity plan already in place. As soon as the idea of shutdowns became a very real possibility, we executed our work-from-home strategy, which is an important part of our plan. Today, every member of our global staff is working remotely. We have been able to utilize tools and technology to keep employees connected, integrated and the business running. For example, we use online chats to set up specific channels for dispatchers and other employees to stay in touch and leverage each other’s communal knowledge of certain accounts or business activities.”
Duncan says being nimble was the key to weathering this crisis. “Although this pandemic is of unprecedented scale, with a long history of being in business for close to 25 years, we have faced other emergency events such as hurricanes, 9/11, etc., and have always come out strong. Having an emergency plan with constant communication and personnel and system redundancy is key.”
Flexibility was the key to NMC’s response as well. “We were quick to form an internal critical response team to handle the crisis,” Andrawos says. “We assemble daily to review and brief each other on the latest COVID-19-related news and government-mandated ordinances in order to make immediate and appropriate adjustments … There’s no doubt this will not be the last crisis our industry faces and the additional measures we’ve put in place will better prepare us for emergencies in the future.”
New Customers & Business Opportunities
Most video monitoring providers found their business offerings in higher demand as a result of the stay-at-home orders, or business shifts for those deemed essential. Many reported new customers, along with new types of video monitoring or new ways of using existing technology to adapt to changing business models.
Renfroe explains, “This boost in opportunity, in our opinion, stems from the simple fact that during these unprecedented times it led many clients, including businesses and homeowners, to have uncertainty when they might return to business operations and they had to do everything in their power to protect their livelihoods and futures.”
Paley, too, has seen an uptick in requests from customers. “They are not necessarily asking for video monitoring. They are saying, ‘I need to monitor this; how can I do it?’ It is up to us to figure out the hardware/solution set that supports that client’s need.” Video monitoring as a tool to accomplish this is a logical choice, he adds. But even then, it might take some creativity to solve unique problems. “As policies and procedures and security and insurance needs change, these technology solutions will be asked to do things they haven’t before. Luckily for us we are in the tech business and always have something to sell.”
Duncan says new types of applications for video monitoring have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis. “There has been growth around safety and procedures as well as social distancing,” he says. “With our core retail and hospitality customers we are seeing an increase of requests to deter crime, but also to enforce policies around the new normal. If a restaurant is offering curbside pickup they want to be sure employees are able to move in and out safely.”
Big box stores that were allowed to stay open are requesting video monitoring to enforce social distancing policies, he adds. “Many open businesses are relying on voice-down services to remind customers and employees about social distancing and/or proper food safety protocols.” (See www.SDMmag.com/COVID-19-video-monitoring-use-cases.com for some more examples of how video monitoring was used during the crisis.)
For some, the events surrounding COVID-19 led to a new source of clients. Allied Universal Technology Services, which operates its own monitoring centers and GSOC platforms and includes video monitoring in its suite of services, found that there was equal interest from existing clients expanding the use of the service and new clients approaching the company, says Sherman Brawner, general manager of the Santa Ana, Calif.-based company. “As some of our clients had to close or limit their business, they required additional video monitoring — many moving to 24/7 — to ensure their security goals were met. We also have seen inquiries from enterprises who want to add video monitoring. Both clients and prospects recognized that COVID-19 created additional vulnerabilities and risk and they understood the value of video monitoring.”
Not all opportunities were commercial. “People quarantined at home are thinking more about being connected to their loved ones, their businesses and other things,” says Jim McMullen, president, COPS Monitoring, a wholesale monitoring provider based in Williamstown, N.J. “There has also been an uptick in PERS and the use of video to allow customers to check in on mom and dad.”
White describes the coronavirus as a “force function” that led to the acceleration of business opportunities. “I think in many cases a lot of customers were looking to transition to a new service, potentially replacing things like guards or fencing, and the coronavirus just accelerated their timeline,” he says. “These companies may have already realized the need for digital transformation. It not only provides greater security coverage, actionable intelligence, higher accuracy and scalability, but is significantly more cost-effective, which is especially helpful at a time when they are looking to reduce operational costs.”
White says he has seen more customers look to use video monitoring for things like compliance monitoring, remote management and remote inspections, in addition to the traditional security uses.
Miami-based Prosegur Security Monitoring (formerly Viewpoint) monitors both internal and integrator/reseller video monitoring accounts, and not only noted an increase in demand for video monitoring, but also its mobile units, says Bradley Gordon, senior vice president, USA. “We have a mobile rapidly deployable analytic camera system, which has been in high demand as a temporary security solution,” he says. “Quite honestly the demand has been so high that we can’t build them fast enough and have opened a second manufacturing facility in New York to meet demand.”
Another challenge, particularly for third-party or wholesale central stations, was how to get new security dealers up to speed on video monitoring in a time when they couldn’t do traditional training.
Nicola Oakie, vice president of sales, Netwatch Proactive Video Monitoring, NMC, describes a situation they had with an integrator that reached out to them to help with a customer — a Texas private school left vacant that was asking for protection right away. “Our training program normally takes four weeks to complete” she says. “In this instance we were able to fully train the integrator within five days, which allowed us to meet the end user’s immediate need. Not only that, we did it all virtually ... All of this was possible because of our expedited efforts to protect businesses during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Acadian Monitoring, too, stepped up to help its dealer partners, whose clients were now requesting 24/7 video monitoring, Niles says. “We actually had one dealer partner (with 60 sites spread throughout the U.S. and U.K.) implement this on a site-by-site basis as different geographical areas went into mandatory quarantine for varying lengths of time.”
Video Monitoring & the New Normal
The big question in all of this is whether these business opportunities seen by the video monitoring industry are temporary blips or will substantially change the way customers approach their security needs going forward. Most are optimistic the increased interest level is here to stay — and that new technologies and solutions will soon follow to support it.
“The ‘new normal’ in video monitoring will be that more companies than ever before will consider how to leverage video surveillance systems to prop up a business that cannot operate normally,” Brawner says.
For businesses that have had their first taste of video monitoring as a result of this situation, Brown says past experience with video monitoring adoption would suggest that the momentum will continue. “I think it is a permanent thing. I have been doing this for about 18 years; and through that entire time I have never seen a customer who adopted video monitoring for their businesses move backwards … Once people realize the impact of video they will never go back. I think we will see people move forward quicker than expected and see the suite of services expand.”
Niles agrees. “With the increased presence of A.I. in the video monitoring space, we have seen a remarkable improvement in the quality of security analytics and retail analytics available to customers.
“Prior to the pandemic, there really was not much of a market for this, but in a post-pandemic world, especially the three to five years preceding it, I can see video monitoring services expanding to encompass services like contact tracing, temperature scanning, occupancy limitation and ensuring social distancing is maintained.”
Renfroe is excited to see what the future holds. “The new normal? We are looking forward to seeing what that might actually look like. Our expectation is that video monitoring will play a considerable part in our new security landscape,” he says.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way businesses view video monitoring,” White adds. “A lot of companies have been resisting digital transformation and adoption of digital technologies, such as remote video monitoring tools, because they’ve been in the groove of their business operations for so many years. Now, people are forced to act immediately. From a security perspective, it’s no longer just about recording video on a DVR and looking at it later. The need for advanced layers of analysis that can provide much more insight, actionable intelligence … and instant response to demand, at a much lower cost, is more important than ever. So I think this will cause a lot of companies to take the next step to integrate remote video monitoring services into their business portfolio and day-to-day-operations sooner than later.”
This is true for dealers and security integrators looking to expand their services as well, Hertel says, and will likely spur technology advances. “One thing for sure is that the new normal will be different. Dealers are looking to bring more value to subscribers and video is one way to do it. Ultimately there are a lot of really good applications for video. In its current state it’s not easily scalable because it’s too labor intensive compared to traditional monitoring. However, as technology improves and customer engagement increases, video components of security, medical and fire alarm systems will also increase.”
Andrawos believes the future of monitoring lies in video monitoring, and the crisis has only accelerated that. “Whether it is to verify an active crime in progress or detect and deter crime before it happens, dealers and integrators must incorporate video into their core service offerings. We’ve recently seen continued growth in video monitoring, but this crisis has catapulted the growth, especially in many commercial applications, being that it can augment or reduce the need for physical guards, which lowers the total cost for security.”
For those already offering these services, it’s a great time to be in business, Paley says. “I think we will see an uptick in activity thanks to the pandemic and it will bring new protocols and processes. And luckily for us, we are in the right spot at the right time to deliver those solutions.”