Monitoring companies called to action at NFPA meeting

Code’s language could create a ‘monopoly,’ shut out professional monitoring companies
Monday, June 15, 2015

CHICAGO—Alarm monitoring organizations, including CSAA and IESA, are rallying the industry to vote on two motions at the NFPA’s annual meeting, scheduled to take place June 25.

“What’s happening in Chicago is that some of these communities are operating their own monitoring centers. … This [motion would change the NFPA code and] enable that community to have an effective monopoly on alarm monitoring,” Kevin Lehan, executive director for the Illinois Electronic Security Association and EMERgency24’s manager of public relations.

“The big problem is: This [NFPA meeting] is happening in Illinois, and it’s being challenged by the Illinois fire inspectors,” Ed Bonifas, executive VP of Alarm Detection Systems, told SSN.

Proponents of the motion “can come out in force, because it [the NFPA meeting] happens to be here,” Bonifas explained.

The two motions that Bonifas, Lehan and others are concerned about are part of NFPA 72 Nation Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, which, in the current 2016 edition draft, states that listed central stations can be used for fire alarm monitoring. The two motions, if approved, would give local municipalities the authority to deny professional central stations the ability to monitor fire alarms.

Lehan said it’s important to remember that the NFPA code is a national code. “This is a nationwide problem. If this can happen in Illinois … it could happen in [any community].”

Jay Hauhn, CSAA's executive director, agreed, saying that if either of the motions passed, “other municipalities may see it as a revenue opportunity and also seek to prohibit the use of non-government monitoring centers.”

To further complicate the matter for alarm industry advocates: To vote at the NFPA meeting, voters must meet certain specific criteria. For example, voters had to be members of NFPA before Dec. 25, 2014, and also need to attend the NFPA conference in person to vote.

“Right now the language that is in place … for the revised 2016 edition states that the AHJ shall allow central stations to provide this service,” Lehan said.

The first motion, 72-8, seeks to revert the language to how it appeared in the 2013, edition, the AHJ the ability to disallow independent central stations as an option for fire alarm monitoring. The motion would insert the prefix: "When permitted by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.”

The second motion, 72-9, would strike the line referring to central stations,, from the code. CSAA, as well as others in the industry, want to defeat both motions.

“If either one of those motions passes, customers will not necessarily … have the ability to use UL-listed monitoring centers for their [fire monitoring],” Hauhn said.

“The alarm industry here in Illinois has been struggling with the fire service that wants to monitor alarms and prevent alarm companies from doing the same,” Bonifas said.

Lehan also noted that this has been an issue before, referencing a previous incident where the court ruled against this type of wording.

“It’s my contention that there’s a huge conflict of interest when the authority—the fire department—is participating in the business, and then is able to be the one to decide who else can participate,” he said.

A negative vote on both motions would not have excluded municipalities from providing monitoring, but instead, ensure that listed central stations are an option.

“All the monitoring industry is trying to do is level the playing field so that government run monitoring centers must meet the same high standards that commercially operated monitoring centers adhere to,” Hauhn said.

“The 2016 draft of the code that’s being considered right now has new language in it that says that listed central stations can monitor alarms. … That sets up a competitive landscape; government can monitor alarms, and private companies can if they follow the code,” Bonifas said. “Competition is good for the consumer because it creates better pricing, but it also creates better service."