Thousands of Marginal Central Stations -- Putting Us at Great Risk!
From a business continuity perspective the reliability of the central station monitoring service for your security and life safety systems is extremely important. After your alarm system is installed – assuming it is installed expertly with quality parts, it should be trouble free for decades. There are only a few parts that need periodic replacement; e.g. batteries, carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors expire in time. Maintenance aside, over the long haul it is your central station monitoring company that you depend on each and every day. Most of the over two thousand in the US are poor choices, let’s look at why:
Central stations are the dispatching and notification link when an alarm occurs. The best choice in my thinking is an independent one not associated with an alarm company. Central station operations are a very complex business unto themselves. The key is facility and program resilience, together with proximity to a large pool of well educated workers. Most security and fire alarm systems depend on the central station monitoring link to relay alarm signals to the appropriate emergency response services (police, fire and EMT) as well as performing notification to persons responsible who represent the business interests of the location with the alarm condition. As such, timeliness, reliability, and proper execution under extreme conditions could not be more important. Adequate staffing, standard requisite facility certifications, and the education, training and supervision of the dispatching personnel are keys.
Few end users ask the right questions about the central station services which they depend on. The typical question I hear is “where is your central station located” it shows the client has some concern, but that they lack critical perspective (unless it’s so they can check the central station’s all-important physical location on FEMA’s flood plain mapping system – most just want it to be physically close to their location, which does not really matter!). This is a risky proposition because most central stations fall far short of well-established standards let alone the ability to function flawlessly under emergency times of great demand. As an example many East Coast central alarm monitoring stations were out of service during and after hurricane Sandy – some for many days. During that time; phone lines were out of service, flood waters prevented road access, and employees of those central stations understandably placed their family’s needs over that of their jobs.
Any central station which lacks the back-up infrastructure to operate regardless of the state of a single location is a less than optimal choice. A large number of single location central station alarm monitoring companies fall into this category. Let’s look at some important questions and answers:
Adequate staffing, education and training: People make all the difference, and better central stations have well over 100 employees (the one I use has over 300 employees). Critical is; a deeply experience staff, highly involved management, and a long and excellent track record. An important indicator is required minimum education levels at the dispatcher level because the job requires excellent communication skills under pressure.
Facility: There are a many important features associated with the facility or facilities. Physical security, location to extensive transportation infrastructure, diverse utility services from multiple sources, triple redundancy of all technology based systems, back-up power, and very extensive business continuity plans and programs to name some of the most important features. Certain states and municipalities require licensure of monitoring firms.
Critical Certifications; with links to more information:
Central Station Alarm Association- top certification Five Diamond Certification (very few have this), UL 827 Standard for Central – Station Alarm Services, and NYC Approved Central Station. These certifications insure that the monitoring center has all the critical features, programs and standards making them a better choice to protect your business.
Of particular note are the terms and conditions which accompany monitoring services. Most central stations are wholly indemnified by these contracts from all liability including acts of total negligence on their part. Keep in mind that security and fire alarm systems and their associated monitoring services are not insurance against any unwanted events or outcomes. They are only a mitigation strategy and need to be in support of a complete business continuity plan and program which includes insurance policies.
In conclusion I would recommend careful review of the central station alarm monitoring service which you depend on. When emergencies turn into crisis, disasters and heaven forbid catastrophes it’s your central station that can be what saves your business and family.
I welcome your comments!