New York Times re: security: '[You] oftentimes cannot rely on it'

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05/03/2010
associations So I got my May 3 edition of Ken Kirschenbaum's Alarm - Security Industry Legal Email Newsletter. Ken points to an April 30 article in the New York Times, which calls into question the value of the security industry and may prompt some end users (I assume some end users of security probably read the New York Times) to question the necessity of their security systems. After the Eli Lilly warehouse heist, my editor Sam and I began talking about the mainstream media coverage we saw. Most stories I read mentioned the fact that there was security in place at that warehouse. Our thought was that people (normal end user people, not us industry types who know the value of security) might start to wonder if criminals could get around (either through Hollywood-esque heist know-how or through an accomplice perpetrating an inside job) the security systems in their homes and businesses. We asked ourselves: "Should there be someone from the industry who gets up and does some PR to assure the public that security is good?" I pursued that story and got some interesting points of view from some industry leaders. We'd love to hear what you think. You can have your say on this question at SSN's current newspoll. I mean, BP's come forward and let us all know it's going to do what it has to do to clean up the oil rig leak... Oh, and that oil's still good. It is... Alternative energy sources have their downsides, too. The NYT article opens thusly:
PEOPLE may be surprised to learn that when they most need their security system to protect their house, they oftentimes cannot rely on it. Jackie Ostrander discovered that when a storm knocked out power to her home in Greenwich, Conn., for a week in March—too long for her backup battery to keep going. And it took her security company three weeks to restart her system.
Oh, that's just not pretty... If I made my living off of people's willingness to pay for the systems this article is talking about, I'd be a little antsy. And I'd want someone to stand up with a counterpoint. The NYT article also quotes Stan Martin (somewhat misleadingly, I feel) of SIAC--someone with whom I've spoken at length--as saying police response to alarms is bad because of all the false alarms. What they don't go on to say is what a proponent of proaction and municipality/industry cooperation Stan is. I embarked on a quest to speak with the leaders of the industry's associations on this matter. I did eventually get Mike Miller over at ESA and Ed Bonifas over at CSAA to speak with me on the record for a story. Both of them spoke to the point that with security, it's dangerous to try and spin any loss in a PR machine because to do so is akin to admitting fault. That's understandable, but when the NYT article kind of purports to reveal the "truth" about the much-touted Rutgers study (ie: that a single security system only has value if it's part of a broader, neighborhood-wide security-system blanket), maybe it's time for someone, some security industry guru to stand up in the public eye with a rebuttal? I mean, I grew up being inundated with commercials for dairy, beef and pork. I'm not talking ads for specific products, I'm talking about "Milk: It does the body good," "Got Milk?" "Beef: It's what's for dinner," and "Pork: the other white meat." And I'm a proud meat-eating, milk-drinking consumer today. What does this say? Other than the fact that I watched way too much TV... It says that despite the onslaught of soy milk, yummy flavored tofu and news stories about food-borne illnesses like mad cow disease, E. Coli and salmonella poisoning, the PR worked. The original NYT article also links to another article inviting readers to dish about their security systems, asking them the questions, "So how’s your system working for you? Or have you gotten rid of it after deciding that it was a waste of money?" That seems like a problem to me. Especially given some of the reader comments. Like this one complaining about police response:
How about 45 minutes for police to arrive after calling 911 to report a burglary in progress? Seriously. Not sure alarm performance is the issue, unless the companies can dispatch their own security forces.
Lack of police response is a problem. Remember, however, that police are not required to respond. To anything, really. What's needed is cooperation with police and municipalities, and above all a PROACTIVE approach. Verify your alarms, reach out to your customers. Or this one that seems to say, despite advances in technology, low-tech is more reliable:
1. Get a dog. 2. The name of the game is to not stop a burglary: it's to prevent it from starting. So make your place less inviting than your neighbor's. Have a fence. Have a light on. Don't have visible valuables. 3. Get a dog.
When readers read an article in the NYT that tells them they "oftentimes cannot rely on [their systems]," and then they start telling each other they'd be better off buying a dog and leaving a light on, that's a problem if you make your money selling security systems. This person only sees the value of the fire alarm:
I do have an alarm system, but mostly I think it helps should there be a fire. For burglary, I agree with Colin [the get-a-dog-guy]
and this one:
I agree with Colin (#4). I have an alarm system, but rarely turn it on. I am always concerned that it will go off by accident. There are few break-ins in our area and I've always felt that the sign that I have a protection system is worth as much as the actual system. I also have a dog who (although very small) sounds like a large nasty animal and barks whenever anyone comes close to the house ---and keeps barking!!
Those are just a couple of the reader comments. Shouldn't there be some security industry entity whose job it is to get on TV and talk about how security is supposed to work, what its value is and set everyone's mind at ease? What do you think?

Comments

This is typical of responses that the industry has gotten over the years. There is no excuse for poor service and they rightly pointed this out. Large consolidators are going to screw up just from sheer numbers. As users become wary of poor service, they will not stop using security, they will switch, looking for a better value or better service. It is healthy. I don't believe in this day and age with the economy down and the police cutting back on budgets, people will stop using systems. Our industry will adapt or lose out. It has adapted for years and has gotten much better. One thing I do disagree with is the statement that security systems have not changed much...they have for the better. I am going into my 35th year in the business and started out with a one zone system and a tumbler key to one button arming arming and self diagnosis of systems. Wireless has made significant strides. We don't need pr so much as companies need to provide a better service for the charges....especially the big guys. Three year contracts and large rmr per account with poor service will expose them. The little guys are waiting for the cancellations and will do a much better job than the big guys.

Hey Charlie,

Thanks for the comment. I actually came across very similar comments last year in a news story out of New Jersey. I <a href="http://www.securitysystemsnews.com/blogsm/?p=2243" rel="nofollow">blogged </a>about that story in which a person was quoted as saying that alarm technology was "outdated and sloppy." Clearly, changing technology and the options it brings need to be embraced and offered to end users to increase value.

Again, thanks for the comment.

[...] recent blog post on the May 1 NYT article that I felt could prompt end users to question the value of their security [...]

You will never stop the rogues that frequent our industry and rip off consumers. As Charlie stated, the victims will choose more carefully second time around and likely end up with a local guy who will usually (not always) provide them with a better service.

Makes sense, Steve. The notion of caveat emptor's been around a long time. I've heard others argue, as well, that the customer service aspect of our business is one factor that will keep the small security installer, the mom-and-pop central station around in the face of the march of technology and consolidation by larger firms.

Thanks for your input.

[...] the Value of a Home Security System&#8221; was, at least in some small part, driven by my coverage of the piece in this blog and subsequent tweeting to my legions (Okay, I only have 155, but most of [...]