SMS: The path to reducing work for central stations

End users can now get fewer calls, acknowledging low-priority alarms with a text
Monday, April 4, 2016

YARMOUTH, Maine—Monitoring centers can reduce their workload through alerting users by SMS text messages; more central station automation platforms are expanding this offering.

Security Systems News spoke to two central station automation providers, Dice and MKS, as well as full service alarm company Per Mar Security Services about the benefits of texting alarm users.

MKS previewed its new SMS module for low-priority alarms at its users conference, held in Orlando, Fla., in March, MKS president Victoria Ferro told SSN. She said that this capability will “revolutionize the way our central stations are able to process … low priority signals.”

What qualifies as a low-priority alarm? Ferro said a low-battery signal is a good example. “Instead of going into a queue to be handled by an operator … the signal will go directly to the end user via text message,” she said. The end user then has several response options, such as speaking to an operator, dispatching police or indicating that they received the signal and will address it.

Dice has had an SMS gateway available for a couple of years that provides users with notifications about the status of their alarms, company president and CEO Cliff Dice told SSN. “This is really an addition to that service, where now the SMS coming in can have a link and you can interact with the software … that’s new, that’s the SMS CRM,” Dice said. The company started beta testing the service in February.

“By adding these links, these various communication paths that the alarm company has to do, you’re really reducing the human effort … we’re automating the company even further,” Dice said.

Dice’s SMS CRM gateway, which also offers a similar alarm-signal texting service, reduces the workload for monitoring centers in part by taking the place of enhanced call verification, Dice said.

“A lot of jurisdictions make the alarm centers do two-call verification, but, if you’re doing [that with] SMS, you don’t have to make the calls. Then, it doesn’t give the alarm to an operator because [the system] sends it out automatically,” Dice said. “Even in the case of someone not responding, it saves you two calls as an operator.”

Per Mar Security Services, a full-service alarm company based in Davenport, Iowa, sees many benefits in utilizing text messages for low-priority alarms. The company started offering the service earlier this year.

Brian Ciasnocha, Per Mar’s director of sales-electronic security, said that the offering can underline the urgency of a call from the company. The end users can acknowledge low-priority signals with a text and “when Per Mar does call, it’s an alarm or real emergency.”

Per Mar’s Alarm Communication Text service—or ACT—is done through Bold’s Manitou platform. “ACT is offered on all new systems and it can be used by our existing customers as well, they just need to enroll,” Ciasnocha said. After sending the text message there is a 10-minute delay before the central station follows up on the signal by calling the designated call list.

“Per Mar only offers it for power failure, low battery, trouble/sensor trouble, communication failure and late to test. We do not offer it on burglar, fire, or holdup/panic alarms zones or on commercial panels with fire,” Ciasnocha said.

Dice’s SMS CRM can work with other central station automation platforms, Dice said, including MAS and Bold. “Because our APIs are available, other automation systems can write to it as well. … We didn’t build it to be just a Dice product, and shut everyone else out.”

MKS’ Ferro said that this will have a “great” impact on central stations. “A lot of our central stations are barraged with having to handle low-priority signals, and this is going to streamline the impact to the dispatchers.”

Dice said the company will feature its SMS CRM at the ISC West show. “We released it to beta in February/March, and we just recently released it to some of the general public. At ISC, it’ll be a big debut,” he said.

Dice said email notifications sometimes get caught in spam filters, which isn’t a problem for SMS messages. Using cell phones also keeps all records in one place for users, Dice said.

“Customers definitely like the convenience of that; knowing that there’s an issue but then being able to acknowledge it quickly,” said Per Mar’s Ciasnocha.

Dice is working on using SMS messages for more than alarms, Dice said, including billing, updating expiring credit card info, and service appointment reminders. “There’ll be many links—10 to 12 different links—over the course of the next year or two that we’ll add to this,” he said.

Dice can provide the SMS gateway service at a high level of service and lower cost through being linked to its telecom business,, according to Dice.