Marking your territory

Monday, September 1, 2003

Managing Editor, Security Systems News

Many industries have a common goal. For some, it's raising the industry’s recognition in the eyes of the end-user, while for others, its ensuring that new regulations don’t stifle business or eliminate a market.

In the security industry, there are a couple of common goals, most notably the reduction of false alarms, inroads into which can be accomplished by setting guidelines as to how security systems should be installed and serviced.

Due out this month are just those type of standards, in a proposed version, from the National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA develops its standards through a consensus process, which means that through a structured but open process, all opinions are heard and addressed. Public comment can be made by anyone who cares to make it, but the actual vote of whether or not the issue becomes a standard is up to NFPA’s members.

So what happens when two groups are striving toward the same end result, albeit through slightly different methods, but with the same goal in mind?

Members of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association have said that they too are working toward the development of an industry-wide standard for security installers.

While certainly well qualified to determine the content of such a standard - one could argue that they are the most qualified to develop that type of document - they still lack some essential things. One is manpower, in the form of volunteers, a situation which has affected many organizations in many industries over the past couple of years, as people are forced to hunker down and devote more time to their own businesses. The other is accreditation from the American National Standards Institute, a body that regulates the process of how standards are developed and instituted. The NBFAA is now pursuing that accreditation, however.

NFPA, on the other hand, makes its business by creating and setting codes. It’s entire organizational structure is based on making that happen. It’s also not an inexpensive process, but it relies on the service of many volunteers to make it happen.

The committee that developed the new security standards is made up of a cross section of different industries who would be affected by these standards, insurance, real estate, hotel/lodging, and others, but there are concerns that using the input of other industries might influence the process to the detriment of the standards. For example, the real estate or hotel industry might advocate items that are not as high-end to keep its own costs down.

So can the industry band together to reach a common goal? Imagine the pooling of resources, both financial, intellectual, and the combined years of experience such a partnership would create. You could almost compare this to the days of the movement for a single trade association to serve all sectors of the market. That drive, before my tenure here at Security Systems News, seemed to make a lot of sense, with regard to the division of labor, number of volunteers and all those other things that makes a successful trade association work.

Are the needs of manufacturers that much different than the needs of the installing dealer? And the needs of dealers with central stations that different from systems integrators or those that work primarily in the fire alarm market? When considered on a more global scale, aren’t they really the same?

Lobbyists from the Security Industry Association on Capitol Hill weren’t fighting for just the needs of manufacturers when they were gunning for H.R. 1259, the Public Safety and Protection Investment Act of 2003, a bill to allow businesses to expense 100 percent of most security equipment, were they? An initiative such as that would no doubt benefit the entire industry.

Is it all just a turf war? I hope not, for the good of everyone involved. Division and fighting for territory are not what forms a strong, cohesive industry that looks out for the good of all of its members.