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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ShotSpotter, produced by a company that bills itself as the “world leader in gunshot detection,” added to its media credits this week with an article in The New York Times. But while many police departments are singing the praises of the acoustic monitoring technology, it continues to raise concerns about how far law enforcement can go to do its job.

The system, developed by SST Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., pinpoints the location of gunshots by triangulating the sound via sensors mounted on utility poles, buildings and other structures. It produces alerts that detail the number and exact time of the rounds fired, the position of the shooter (or shooters), and their speed and direction of travel if they are moving.

Cities can buy the equipment from SST and monitor the alerts themselves, or they can contract with the company to do it for them. Technicians at SST assess each alert to determine its accuracy, then send it to the appropriate PSAP “within seconds,” the company says. SST claims a 99 percent accuracy rate in differentiating gunfire from other loud noises like fireworks or cars backfiring.

Proponents say ShotSpotter speeds the response of police officers to the scene of a shooting, bolstering arrest rates, deterring additional crimes and saving the lives of victims who otherwise might have died. “Now when we pull up on a scene, we have 100 percent knowledge if there was actually a shot,” says a Springfield, Mass., police sergeant quoted on the company’s website. “It makes your approach different.”

One problem, critics say, is that the system also can record other sounds of the city—doors slamming, cars honking, people arguing—while it records the gunshots. The Times said a ShotSpotter recording of a street argument in New Bedford, Mass., in December is likely to play a role in the case of two men charged with murder.

A defense attorney in the case said the recording could constitute a privacy violation and that the technology is “opening up a whole can of worms. If police are utilizing these conversations, then the issue is where does it stop?”

The company says that voices do not trigger ShotSpotter sensors, “which are placed in elevated locations in order to enhance their capability as well as ensure citizen privacy.” James Beldock, a company VP, told the Times that the system was not intended to record anything except gunfire and that cases like New Bedford’s were extremely rare.

The issue could end up playing out in the courts, but in the meantime, it’s likely that law enforcement will continue to turn to ShotSpotter and other gunfire detection systems as police budgets are trimmed and hosted subscription services become more available. It’s a monitoring trend worth watching.

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by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mary Jensby, a well-known contributor to the alarm industry who served as central station and data entry director for Monitronics, is no longer with the company.

In a LinkedIn update posted on Monday, Jensby expressed thanks to all of her professional contacts for their "friendship and kindness… (I) appreciate all of your support in the loss of my job. … It has been my pleasure working with many of you through the ASAP project, FARA, TBFAA, NTTA and CSAA."

Jensby came aboard at Monitronics in June 2007. She previously worked for T-Mobile and MCI WorldCom, according to her LinkedIn profile. In March, she was named the recipient of the 2012 Humanitarian Award from Mission 500 for her volunteer work in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She received the award during a presentation at ISC West in Las Vegas.

Megan Weadock, communications specialist for Monitronics, said that Jensby's departure was announced on May 8. Weadock said the company was looking for a replacement "both internally and externally." No other details were announced.

Melissa Courville, head of marketing and communications for Dice Corp., served as co-chairwoman with Jensby on the CSAA's ASAP Outreach Committee. Monitronics is one of three alarm companies currently participating in the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol, along with Vector Security and UCC. Courville said the CSAA is evaluating who will fill Jensby's seat on the panel.

"Mary did a professional job of delegation where she was very organized and kept her information together, beyond being a sheer joy to work with," Courville said.

Ed Bonifas, co-chairman of the ASAP Program Committee, said Jensby "has been a great contributor to the ASAP Outreach Committee as well as a participant in the beta phase of the program. … (She) will undoubtedly land in another central station, carrying her knowledge to another participant."

Jensby could not be reached for comment, but said on her LinkedIn post that she hoped to be able to find another position in the security industry.

Simon moves on to Brink's: In another shift of industry personnel, David Simon has stepped down as SIAC's public relations chairman after being named the marketing communications manager at Brink's Inc. Simon said he will continue to contribute to SIAC, "blogging, posting to the website and Twittering, along with occasional other writing." Simon also served as the industry/law enforcement liaison for SIAC.

Opinions wanted: It's not too late to let the CSAA know where you stand on the future of the industry. The group is asking members to take a few minutes to fill out the "Emerging Trends in Security Monitoring" survey, which aims to determine where the industry is heading in areas including video monitoring and PERS. To participate, go to www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22EUM64F659. The deadline is Friday, May 25. Those who respond will receive an executive summary of the report.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The CSAA has taken the next step toward bringing more participants into the fold with the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol by going "live" with a computerized message broker in Arizona.

The server at the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets) in Phoenix serves as a scrubber for transmissions being forwarded from monitoring companies to public safety answering points. It checks for errors and ensures that the information is properly formatted before sending it to the appropriate state control point and PSAP.

The Central Station Alarm Association reported that Vector Security and the 911 center for the city of Richmond, Va., switched to the message broker in mid-April. The move was seamless for the end users at Vector and at Richmond's PSAP, according to Bill Hobgood, project manager for the city's Public Safety Team.

Anita Ostrowski, Vector's VP for central stations, told the CSAA that operators at Vector required only very brief, informal training before the move was made to the server at Nlets.

Vector, UCC and Monitronics are the three alarm companies currently participating in ASAP, which speeds alarm notifications by providing information to 911 centers via computer instead of a phone call. Three municipalities are involved in the pilot program: Richmond, Houston, and York County, Va.

Ed Bonifas, vice president of Alarm Detection Systems and co-chairman of the CSAA's ASAP Steering Committee, told an audience at ISC West that Tempe, Ariz., was the next city signed up for the protocol. And there is plenty of industry interest: The CSAA had 75 companies waiting to adopt ASAP at the beginning of 2012.

With the message broker fully operational, one more hurdle has been cleared.

"This sets the stage for the future participation of additional alarm monitoring companies," Bonifas said. "Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available."

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

ESX attendees who want to get an inside look at a CSAA Five Diamond central station will get their chance on June 26 when ADS Security hosts a tour of its monitoring facility in Nashville.

A motor coach will take tour participants from the Nashville Convention Center to ADS headquarters, where the company's latest monitoring technology will be on display. After the tour, ADS will host a cocktail reception to meet company staff and discuss operations at the central.

ADS serves more than 70,000 commercial and residential customers throughout the Southeast, providing burglar, fire alarm, video surveillance and access control systems. Each central station operator at ADS is Five Diamond certified.

The tour, sponsored by Honeywell Security Group, runs from 4-6:30 p.m. Space is limited. The cost is $75 if registration is received by June 1 and $100 thereafter. For more information, go to www.esxweb.com.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What may have seemed like a pipe dream to many a few years ago—getting the alarm industry, the law enforcement community and the insurance industry on the same page—is now reality with the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response.

The new public/private partnership brings together all of the stakeholders in property crime to reduce losses and increase arrests through the use of video intrusion alarms. Among the participants are the National Sheriffs Association and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, with Don Young of Protection 1 and Steve Walker of Stanley Convergent Security Solutions representing the alarm industry on the PPVAR board.

"We are beginning to have credible data with encouraging results of arrest rates hundreds of times what is found with traditional alarms," said Keith Jentoft, coordinator for the partnership and president of RSI Video Technologies. "We have been working with many alarm companies, law enforcement and PSAPs, as well as insurers who ultimately pay the bill for property crime. This partnership will help gather real-world examples of what is working best for all the stakeholders."

Jentoft said large third-party monitoring companies have also gotten on board, including CMS, UCC and Rapid Response. On the law enforcement side, the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department—the second-largest police organization in the country—has joined and has designated a representative.

"If you ask people, nobody has ever heard of an organization that has brought together all of the stakeholders, so we're pretty excited about it," Jentoft said.

I'll have more soon on the partnership in the online and print editions of SSN.

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Talk about overages.

Stranded on a remote island in the South Atlantic with more than 70 other travelers, Bob Bonifas had the distinction of being the only person with a satellite phone. That meant using a lot of minutes: about 1,500 as of Wednesday, with five or six more days of dialing ahead until the group finally gets back to the mainland.

Bonifas, president and CEO of Aurora, Ill.-based Alarm Detection Systems, is among 73 passengers who were diverted to South Georgia Island last week aboard Plancius, a 293-foot polar cruise ship. The vessel was en route from Argentina to Ascension Island on a 31-day sightseeing tour, but engine problems brought the trip to an early end. That resulted in nine-day stay on South Georgia, a desolate former whaling outpost near Antarctica that doesn’t have much to offer beyond gulls and grass.

The layover wasn't easy for Bonifas.

“He’s not a guy who sits around a lot,” said Connie Busby, Bonifas' daughter, who told Security Systems News on Tuesday that she had talked to her father every day of his layover via his satellite phone. “On the nice days like yesterday—he said it was 45 and sunny—they did get out and do some hiking. There’s a chapel on the island that’s not inhabited, and they went to that on Sunday and just kind of hung out for awhile.”

A chartered relief ship picked up Bonifas and his fellow passengers Wednesday and is bringing them to Uruguay. They are expected to arrive on April 24.

Bonifas isn’t a stranger to spending time in remote places. He is ranked No. 3 on MostTraveledPeople.com, a website that tracks adventurers trying to become the first to visit 872 global destinations. South Georgia Island was the 800th destination for Bonifas, but his quest is on hold while he bides his time and tacks on phone minutes.

“When you’re an extreme world traveler, I guess sooner or later it kind of catches up to you, and I guess it did this time,” Busby said.  

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social networking is a double-edged sword. It can be a boon to communication, but an ill-advised post can rebound to haunt you—and maybe your central—even if it’s quickly deleted.

So how do you manage the use of these sites and actually get them to help your business?

A CSAA webinar, “Social Media in the Central Station,” will take on the topic from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, April 18. The session will be presented by Annie Roderick, monitoring center manager for Wayne Alarm Systems of Lynn, Mass., and Melissa Courville, a marketing executive with DICE Corp. and chairwoman of the CSAA Social Media Committee.

“Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter … give way to fast blurb results that can be easily found over the Internet at any time, sometimes linking to your business,” Courville said. “Not only are these social media outlets quick and easy to use, but they offer both helpful and hurtful connotations to business reputations.”

The webinar, adapted from material shared at the 2011 CSAA Fall Operations Management Seminar, will teach attendees how to harness the power of networking sites and how to address central station staff about their use. Case studies will be shared to illustrate the do’s and don’ts.

Space for the session is limited. To reserve a seat, go to the CSAA registration site.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

American Public Media’s “Marketplace” weighed in on false alarms this week, with the featured guest delivering a decidedly unfavorable verdict for the security industry: Alarm customers might be better off relying on a dog.

Program host Kai Ryssdal interviewed Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics.com, who cited a litany of figures and study results that don’t reflect well on alarm companies. Here’s a bit of what Dubner had to say on the show, which aired on National Public Radio:

—“We talked to Simon Hakim, an economist at Temple who’s been studying this issue for a long time. He says that in a given year, U.S. police respond to more than 35 million alarm activations. … Something like 95 percent of them are false alarms and the cost is about $2 billion.”

—“Financial analysts say that industry leader ADT ... has an operating margin of about 25 percent on roughly $3 billion [in] annual revenues. So these false alarms pose what economists call a negative externality. That is, the provider charges you for the service, but then they pass along a big part of their costs to someone else. In this case, the police departments and the taxpayers who support them.”

—“Well, it’s probably a good idea to make the alarm companies more accountable in some fashion, including having them make alarms that don’t fail so often. … As for me, I think I’m just going to ditch my new alarm that seems to go off every five minutes.”

Dubner then referred to his new deterrent—growling can be heard in the background—and told Ryssdal, “Go ahead. Make my dog’s day.”

On the positive side, Dubner quoted Hakim as saying that alarm systems deter burglars to some degree, citing “the sign in the yard and the threat of the alarm and the police.” He also quoted Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, who said false alarms are SIAC’s “No. 1 priority. This is the one issue that we have decided has to be addressed.”

The incidence of user error was briefly mentioned, along with the move toward more video monitoring to verify whether an alarm call is legit. But that was about it for the bouquets, which points to the long-standing need to better educate customers and improve relationships with law enforcement to reduce false dispatches.

It’s either that or the doghouse.  

by: Rich Miller - Monday, April 2, 2012

ISC West 2012 is in the books.

As expected, Day Three was a bit quieter than the opening two acts, but there was still plenty of action for those who chose to stay for the duration. Here are a few details from my stops on the final day:

— Don Maden, executive VP for COPS Monitoring, said the company is putting the final cosmetic touches on its new central station in Dallas, with an anticipated opening sometime in May. COPS has also rebranded its COP-A-Link online management tool for dealers as MPower and has added "a whole series of technical improvements to make the customer experience more seamless."

— Uplink VP Michael Gregory provided a rundown of new offerings from his company, including the Uplink 5100 universal broadband alarm communicator. The device is the company's "first broadband solution," enabling a dial-up alarm system to transmit signals and two-way voice over an Internet connection.

— Micro Key Solutions President Victoria Ferro detailed the company's new WebTech app, which gives technicians access to accounts in the field with any Web-enabled device. "It gives techs remote access to tickets, Google directions, signature capture and credit card payments," she said. "It's green, reduces the costs of paper, and provides better customer service by putting information at [techs'] fingertips."

— Wayne Alter, chairman of the board for Dynamark Monitoring, was still meeting-and-greeting during the final two hours of ISC West. Alter, who was joined by Tom Piston, VP of sales and marketing, and Michael Hutcher, VP of product services, said it had been "a great show" for the Hagerstown, Md.-based company.

That sentiment seemed to be echoed across the expanse of the Sands Expo, with many exhibitors predicting better days ahead for the industry as the economy continues to rebound. As the show ended and the booths were broken down, thoughts turned to the next big event on the calendar. For the monitoring industry, that means ESX.

See you in Nashville ...

by: Rich Miller - Friday, March 30, 2012

ISC West kept up a strong head of steam on Day Two.

It started at 7:30 a.m. with the Security 5K to benefit Mission 500, a nonprofit group that aids impoverished children. An impressive turnout of runners raised an equally impressive funding total, according to race organizers, and the group later said it had topped its goal of 500 children sponsored.

Then it was on to the show floor for another day of networking and discussion among the thousands, with no letup from Day One’s brisk pace. Here are a few details from my stops along the way:

— Secure Global Solutions announced a May 1 launch for a new app, Stages Metrix, that will give users tablet access to key central station performance figures.
— Keith Jentoft of Videofied provided an update of the growing alliance between insurers, law enforcement and central stations to increase arrests and reduce false dispatches with the use of video alarms.
— Cliff Dice of Dice Corp. detailed his company’s Matrix software, which brings video into a browser environment and opens the door to continuous RMR for integrators.
— Morgan Hertel, the new VP of operations for Rapid Response, disclosed that the company is planning to build a new central station in the West sometime in the next year.
— Gordon Hope of AlarmNet at Honeywell talked about the move to 4G and the June 1 release of the LYNX Touch 5100 wireless control panel with Wi-Fi communications module, which finds the best signal—2G, 3G or 4G—in the user’s area.

Like Day One, there was obviously much more, but I’ll put it to bed for now and gear up for tomorrow’s finale. See you there …  

 

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