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Contracts won by fire marshal's wife raise alarms

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s not what you know but who you know that will help you in the business world, or so the saying goes. A recent Connecticut newspaper report about a town fire marshal and the contracts his wife won for her fire alarm company raises the question of whether their personal relationship played a role.

The story published yesterday by the Post-Chronicle said that Jennifer Badamo won a contract of nearly $170,000 for her company, Pull Stations, to install a fire alarm system in the Hamden, Conn. town library in 2008. Town officials say they didn’t know at the time that Badamo was the wife of town Fire Marshal Brian Badamo, according to the newspaper.

The connection has come to light now as town officials are investigating a complaint about the fire marshal, the story said. A condominium association is claiming that work that Pull Stations did at the condo complex was not needed and instead was “a sham” that Brian Badamo came up with to help his wife’s company, according to the newspaper.

The paper said the association contends Badamo threatened to shut the building down if it didn’t get a new fire alarm system and recommended his wife’s business for the job.

However, the state Department of Public Safety has said the fire marshal acted properly when he found the building violated code by not having a fire alarm system on its first floor, the paper reported.

When it comes to the town library, the town’s mayor in 2008 approved the contract with Pull Stations after the fire marshal and the fire chief said the library was in urgent need of a new system because of a continuous period of false alarms from the library, the newspaper reported.

Pull Stations’ bid of $169,880.95 for the job was lower than the bids of more than $200,000 made by two other alarm companies in late May of 2008, the newspaper said. It’s not clear from the story when Pull Stations submitted its bid. The story says the company turned its contract in to the town in July of 2008, but that the contract was undated. The town’s purchasing agent told the newspaper that proper purchasing procedures were followed.

The town has a code of ethics that says any official or  town employee should file a disclosure form with the town if involved in business involving significant financial or personal interest, the paper said. It said the town clerk has no such letter by Brian Badamo. The newspaper said Badamo has been on injury leave since November and that his wife declined comment.


Home security camera helps solve Christmas crime

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saw this little post-Christmas heart warmer of a story that highlights how a home security camera likely aided in the return of a stolen dog to its family, and thought I’d share.

The Las Cruces Sun-News, a New Mexico newspaper, reported that a 2-year-old German Shepherd was stolen from the fenced yard of Alex Estrada’s family home right before Christmas. Estrada had given “Bruno” to his father as a gift in 2009 and the dog had become a family favorite, particularly with Estrada’s son, who was heartbroken at the loss, the paper said.

Fortunately, though, the family’s video surveillance camera had captured footage of the theft, the paper reported. The camera showed the man who took the dog was driving a two-toned black-and-silver pickup, according to the paper.

Estrada reported the theft to police and also to the Sun-News, which published a report on Christmas Day saying the dog’s theft was caught on camera.

The day after Christmas, Estrada got a phone call from a couple in another community who found the dog wandering loose. The paper said Estrada “believes the thief likely dumped Bruno when he realized the theft had been captured on video.”


Pinnacle employees ‘secure hope’ helping others

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I blogged here this fall about Pinnacle Security’s plans to help people through its new charitable initiative called Pinnacle: Securing Hope. Now here’s an example of that new program at work.

The Utah-based summer model company just announced that 80 employees from Pinnacle’s division in Canada recently got back from two weeks in Honduras, where they performed such philanthropic work as building four homes and providing for residents’ energy needs in other homes by installing solar panels and hooking up electricity. In some cases, it was the residents’ first introduction to electricity.

The volunteers donated a total of $250,000 in time and supplies, according to Pinnacle.

“When we presented our employees with the opportunity to participate in this kind of project, we were overwhelmed with volunteers,” Stuart Dean, Pinnacle’s VP of communications, said in a statement. “That response speaks to the kind of people we have at Pinnacle. We are proud to continue our 'Pinnacle: Securing Hope' program and anticipate many similar endeavors in the near future.”

When Pinnacle announced the program in October, company COO Steve Hafen described it as an extension of the security company's mission of protecting people. He said the philanthropic efforts by the company and its more than 2,000 employees would include raising funds to help the continued recovery of victims of the earthquake in Haiti, and providing hands-on help to the needy in places such as Honduras and Mexico. Pinnacle also recently conducted a holiday food drive in its home state.

Graham Wood, division VP of sales for Pinnacle Security, Canada, called the trip to Honduras “extremely rewarding.”

“We were so pleased to be able to work with the community in such a meaningful way and are glad to be part of an organization that fosters and supports humanitarian opportunities,” he said in a statement.

Next place the group of Pinnacle employees plans to visit next year to provide the same kind of donations and services? Africa.


Fire regulation: What Toronto may giveth, it may taketh away

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An interesting development has been reported regarding a zero-tolerance false fire alarm regulation in the city of Toronto—a bit of a puzzling one given public outcry about the tough rule.

I wrote recently about the new regulation because residents of that Canadian city were reportedly disconnecting their fire alarms to avoid the high fines it imposes. The cost for a false alarm is $350 per truck and three trucks routinely respond to each alarm, bringing the total fine to $1,050.

But now those fines could climb even higher, according to a story in the Toronto Sun newspaper this week. The paper reported that a newly proposed budget item calls for boosting the rate from $350 to $410 per hour per vehicle dispatched.

The fee hike is being proposed at the same time a city councillor is leading an effort to relax the city's regulation to allow residents one free false alarm per year.  Hmm ... is Toronto trying to help solve the problem or fan the flames?

The City Council passed the zero tolerance law earlier this year, and it reportedly has been a boon to city revenues. But Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby has told me that councillors didn’t realize at the time how hard it would hit city residents. She knows of four or five in her ward who’ve unplugged their alarms out of fear they’d face the hefty fines.

Luby has been working recently to persuade the City Council to go back to a previous regulation passed in 2006 that would allow residents one free false alarm per year. “That way I think we do away with all the issues,” Luby told me this week.

The good news, Luby said, is that the Council unanimously agreed earlier this month to send her motion on to a standing committee she sits on. That committee will review the proposal in January and it should go to the full council in February for consideration, she said.

Luby told me she hadn’t seen a proposal to increase the fee for false alarms so couldn’t comment on it. She said any such plan would also be part of her committee’s review.

On its face, it appears that the higher fee could be at odds with the city’s efforts to ensure that its false alarm ordinance isn’t so onerous that it causes residents to disconnect their fire alarms. Even if they get one false alarm free, that accidental second one could cost as much as $1,230 under the new proposal (presuming three trucks routinely go out)—still a scary thought for many homeowners.

This is how Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, put it in an email to me this week when I asked him his thoughts on Toronto’s fee hike proposal:

“I believe Toronto will realize, like other cities that have tried to squeeze unreasonable fees and fines from citizens, that the effort will not yield the desirable results (of increased revenue)... citizens will either stop using devices that generate those signals or they will resist, delay, complain or just not pay ...  leaving the city with large uncollected balances on the books and unhappy citizens—a loss-loss.”


More holiday good-heartedness... plus, Deion Sanders!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So, I've been doing a lot of writing about Monitronics, lately. I wrote about two recognitions they got from market research company Frost & Sullivan in the last couple weeks. And then on Friday, the announcement came out that they had been acquired by holding company Ascent Media for $1.2 billion. That's a lot of cash... And a lot of due diligence looking into a company that, according to Ascent CEO William Fitzgerald, "has grown revenues and EBITDA organically for 16 consecutive years." Nice work guys.

I first started writing about the possibility Monitronics would soon sell back in August and at the time, Jennifer Holloway predicted the company's sale before the end of the year. Spot on, Jennifer. Spot on.

Now just today, I received a press release that Monitronics has been pitching in on the charity front. That's another favorite blog topic of mine: taking a look at what security companies are doing to help those in need.

Deion Sanders’ nonprofit, PTA (Prime Time Association) hosted its annual Christmas party in Fort Worth to deliver donated gifts to 7,000 children and their families on Saturday, Dec. 18. Monitronics was represented by Lakesha Moore, and Travis Prater. During the event, needy children were provided with toys and clothing.

From the Monitronics release:

"We are less than a week away from Christmas, but Santa came early for many children on the 'nice list' Saturday. Monitronics and Deion Sanders’ nonprofit, PTA (Prime Time Association) joined forces, once again, to deliver smiles to local children."

Good work guys. Again, from the release:

"'PTA believes that one of the most lasting experiences in childhood is Christmas—each and every child deserves to have that experience,' said Sanders. “With the help of companies like Monitronics, we are able to reach more and more local children every year.'”

Prime Time Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Deion Sanders in 2008. Their mission is to serve communities by reaching and teaching youth through sports and education. They promote positive self images and invest in the mental, spiritual, physical, financial, and overall well­being to build stronger kids by reinforcing education.

UPDATE on: Pinnacle sued again

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pinnacle Security got back to me with a response regarding a new lawsuit filed against the company that I wrote about this morning, so I wanted to include Pinnacle's side here.

I’ve just been writing recently about Pinnacle's efforts to fight the negative image that came with an “F” rating that the Utah-based summer model company received from the Better Business Bureau in 2009. Pinnacle contends it is being "unfairly tainted" by the rating now because it has transformed its corporate culture this year to address such issues as “rogue” sales staff using deceptive sales tactics and the state licensing problems that earned it the low ratings. The company now is going around the country saying any problems dated back to a time of explosive growth in 2009, and that the company changed in 2010.

But I had just learned about a lawsuit against Pinnacle filed last week by the Ohio attorney general that makes the same old charges of deceptive practices by Pinnacle's door-to-door sales staff. It seemed at odds with Pinnacle's new image makeover.

However, Stuart Dean, vice president of corporate communications, told me early this afternoon that the claims in the lawsuit appear to predate the changes at Pinnacle.

The company just learned of the lawsuit late last Friday and has not had a chance to review it and can't respond in detail, Dean said. However, he said, "Our understanding is that many of the claims are going back to issues raised in 2009 or earlier."

It's not clear from the filing when the Ohio AG is alleging the violations by Pinnacle took place. I've called the AG's office to find out more and am awaiting a response.

In the lawsuit, filed Dec. 17, Attorney General Richard Cordray accuses Pinnacle “of installing security systems in Ohioans’ homes based on misrepresentations and then failing to honor rights to cancellation.” Cordray says that is among other violations Pinnacle allegedly committed against Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.

“Through door-to-door sales, this company encouraged consumers to sign contracts and then installed home security systems on the spot,” Cordray said in a statement. “My office received more than 50 complaints, many from consumers who bought the systems based on misrepresentations of the product or its prices. Pinnacle often refused to allow consumers to cancel and continued to bill them for the systems that they did not want. Through today’s lawsuit we are asking the court to issue a permanent injunction to end these sales practices and to order Pinnacle to pay restitution to Ohio consumers.”

Ohio isn’t the only state to have taken action against Pinnacle. The company this year agreed to settle lawsuits filed in 2009 by Illinois and also New York, both of which accused the company of misleading sales practices.

And security giant ADT this November also filed suit  against Pinnacle, alleging it used deceptive sales tactics to steal ADT’s customers. Pinnacle denies that claim, saying the Florida-based ADT is just threatened by Pinnacle’s growing success in the home security market.



Samsung and GVI part ways

Friday, December 17, 2010

Samsung Techwin America announced this morning that it is parting ways with its master distributor GVI. Its distributors and integrators will now be served though its headquarers in Ridgefield Park, N.J.

The company said the move is a realignment to enable them to work more closely with the channel. In a prepared statement, Samsung senior VP sales and marketing Frank De Fina, said: “We want to earn the business by investing resources at the channel level to drive sales to distributors and systems integrators.”

I’ve got a call with Frank De Fina this morning, so will have more info later today.

Low-tech icon of past still useful in modern age

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I recently saw a newspaper story about a New York community considering the removal of its 75 fire alarm call boxes.

What surprised me about the Albany Times Union story was not so much that Rensselaer, N.Y. was thinking about taking its old-fashioned fire boxes down off telephone poles because they’d outlived their usefulness, but that those red-and-white icons first invented nearly 160 years ago still exist in 2010—and in relatively large numbers in that city.

The boxes were a common sight when I was a kid growing up in Michigan, but so were squat black rotary phones in every household then. I thought the world had moved on.


This Albany Times Union photo depicts a firebox in New York.


But then I talked to Ken Willette, manager of the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Division, and found out that other communities around the nation still use call boxes. The NFPA doesn’t keep track of the numbers of fireboxes out there, but Willette, a former fire chief in Massachusetts, said he knows from experience that they’re still a part of firefighting.


And Willette said that’s because while the boxes have their drawbacks—they can be a cause of prank false alarms by kids—they also can have benefits, even in the 21st century.


For example, he said, they still can be “a lifeline” in poor neighborhoods where residents may not be able to afford the cell phones that people typically now use to alert the fire department of an emergency.

Also, Willette said, when he was fire chief in Concord, Mass. from 2003-2008, the fire department installed one at a skate park so youngsters could call for help in the event of an injury. In three years, he said, “we had maybe two or three times the call box was utilized by teenagers to call for an ambulance … I feel really good about that.”

Fireboxes were introduced in 1852, according to the Times Union. And the paper said the Rensselaer boxes were made by The Gamewell Co.—still doing business today as Gamewell-FCI, a division of Honeywell.

The boxes were in use in hundreds of cities nationwide by 1890, the article said.

But in the 1970s, when false fire alarms caused by “malicious activation” of the fireboxes became big news, a number of them began to be eliminated, according to an NFPA report this fall on false alarm activity in the nation. Today, the report said, the biggest problem with false alarms is no longer call boxes but “nuisance activation of automatic detection systems.”

Despite being thinned out, fireboxes still are around and one reason is that their old-fashioned simplicity makes them useful in emergencies, according to Willette.

“One thing I’ll tell you about the telegraph fire alarm box system is it’s low-tech,” he said. “ … The boxes themselves are mechanical so they’re able to remain in service. There are boxes operating today that are nearly 100 years old, so they’re withstood the test of technology.”

He continued: “They’re low-tech, they’re durable and they don’t depend on electricity. They use electricity with a battery backup … and the attractiveness from an emergency management point of view is that, if the Internet goes down, if you lose electrical power, if the cell towers go down, that system still operates.”

To deal with prank alarm issues, Willette said, a lot of communities have taken such steps as moving the call boxes into areas less prone to such activity or even into buildings, and they’ve added other features, such as a voice feature where you have to pick up a handset and talk to dispatcher.

Also, he said, “they do have alarm boxes now where you don’t have to connect with a wire, and you send a radio signal and those are very robust, very secure and they tend to have few false activations … so some communities have gone to that.”

In the end, Willette said, it’s up to individual towns and cities to decide if fireboxes are still useful to them in this modern age.

“A community has to balance the risks and the costs against the benefit in their specific community,” he said.


Can millions of European "football" fans be wrong? Maybe... But maybe they can also keep your home safe...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So I was scouring my inbox this morning and came across a Google Alert that claimed to link to the most annoying alarm in the world... Obviously, I had to check it out.

The alarm project is from the U.K.'s Alarm Monitoring Company and consists of a home alarm rigged together with a gaggle of vuvuzelas... you know those annoying airhorn thingies Europeans like using at soccer games?

I have to admit it's pretty dang funny... and effective... When I played the YouTube video, half my office evecuated.

I really like the dry erase board in the video. Reminds me of my first day here at SSN when former editor Sam Pfeifle broke out a bevy of dry erase markers, sat me down in the conference room and illustrated the security industry for me and all the different spokes and verticals in all it's wacky, interconnected glory... I still don't really understand the whole picture, but I'm getting closer every day.

Hurray for innovative new alarms. And hurry for companies that put a little humor into something they obviously love doing--protecting lives and property. I've blogged about security videos before. It's a fun way to bring some light into the industry. I also blogged a while back about, Nasuni, a cloud storage company that was putting a little humor into it's industry through video. I tried to embed the video below, but our new CMS wouldn't let me. Well, click on the link to the vid on YouTube above. Enjoy! With your computer turned way, way up!

Security steps up (or pedals across?) to help those in need.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I got a press release from Iverify today. A select group of Iverify employees and family members are coming together to help out a good cause.

From the release:

"Team Iverify, the cycling team sponsored by Iverify.US Inc, the Charlotte NC based video monitoring company,  is pleased to announce it has delivered a donation in the amount of $31,250.00 to the Pan Mass Challenge.  The donation will support   cancer research at the Dana Faber Cancer Center and help support the costs of families with children being treated for cancer.

"The Pan Mass Challenge is the oldest extreme fund raising event in the country. Over 5000 bicycle riders cycle 192 miles in two days starting in the Western Massachusetts town of Sturbridge and ending on the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown. This year the PMC riders raised and donated $33 Million to the Dana Faber Cancer Institute."

That's pretty cool, I have to say. Security Systems News started the Security 5K--a 5k road race that raises money for Mission 500--at ISC West and expects the race to be even bigger this year than last.

It's nice to see security companies pulling together and helping out those in need. I've done some writing about such initiatives before.

Again from the Iverify release:

"In their fourth year Team Iverify and its riders, Beckie and John Beaupre, Kristan and Will Ash, Eric and Kim Kohler and Iverify CEO Mike May and his wife Tricia, trained for several months in anticipation of the ride.

I interviewed Mike May recently for a story I did after Mike selflessly intervened in an altercation to save the life of a stabbing victim. Pretty intense stuff.

“We are very proud to be able to join thousands of other riders and great organizations like the Jimmy Fund and the Boston Red Sox Foundation in support of the research funding for the defeat this terrible disease," Mike said in the release. "Nothing touches us more and inspires us to make that long ride than the smile on the face of our 17 year old Pedal Partner, Jennat Mustafa, a survivor of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. We would like to thank the hundreds of folks who worked with us and donated to Team Iverify. You make the difference and deliver the results for our team.”

Good luck in the race guys!