Pandemic Highlights Central Station Dependability and Value
While Internet providers and even 911 centers experience occasional outages, central stations have become virtually indestructible thanks to their strong foundations.
Editor’s Note: This article originally was featured in our sister publication, Security Sales & Integration. We are running it because third-party central stations are an excellent option for schools, institutions of higher education and healthcare facilities that need reliable communications/dispatch centers. This is especially true right now with Internet providers and 911 centers experiencing an increase in outages. – Robin Hattersley
This year has brought about many societal changing events including COVID-19, civil unrest, work from home initiatives and the shutdown of parts of America. I think we can all agree that the country as a whole has seen an immense amount of challenges and change this year.
Some of these changes are incredibly positive and will become the norm moving forward, but while change and evolution is unavoidable, I firmly believe that it’s equally important to not forget our core industry’s roots.
Since the first central station was built, the facilities and their systems, processes and connections have had greater redundancies built into them than just about any other type of business or even a 911 center.
For well over a century, guidance from the industry, insurance companies, Underwriters Laboratories and local authorities have jurisdiction (AHJs) have helped ensure that these centers have been kept virtually indestructible.
Some of the requirements include two generators, two uninterruptible power supply (UPS) platforms, building physical security requirements, multiple telephony/Internet carriers and more. All of which, the alarm industry has relied on to make sure our mission of protecting life and property is completed every day, 365 days a year.
We never stop, we never go home. Very few businesses have the industry uptime that our industry does. It is quite remarkable when you step back and examine what we have collectively accomplished.
We all know these facets of our history, but I bring them up now as an illustration and reminder that the regulations and standards that are often complained about, sometimes lobbied against or pushed to be changed have actually worked very well compared to other service industries or even 911 centers and the systems that support them.
According to a Sept. 28 article by The Verge, 911 center outages should now be accepted as a fact of life. The most recent nationwide outage was the day before the article was published, and it impacted a significant number of 911 centers (14 states) causing calls and texts messages from individuals, systems and devices dialing “9-1-1” not to route.
Callers received fast busy tones instead of the help they needed. One of the larger organizations that is responsible for routing mobile calls to the correct 911 center experienced an outage that impacted all of the downstream 911 centers. This failure lasted up to 90 minutes for some centers and was just one of many over the past several years that the article mentions.
Since central stations do not rely on the traditional 911 network to communicate with PSAPs or for location services, outages like the one The Verge article highlighted did not impact a central station’s ability to request a dispatch. Even though 911 centers could not take calls to “9-1-1” or get location information from the public at large or from direct signaling systems/devices, customers such as those with mPERS devices connected to a central station remained fully monitored.
Central stations maintained the ability to respond to alarms and request an emergency dispatch by calling over 10-digit voice lines or by electronically transmitting alarm events via ASAP-to-PSAP to connected PSAPs.
Unrelated to the 911 outages on Sept. 27, there was a simultaneous nationwide outage on Microsoft’s authentication services. This stopped many organizations’ authentication systems across the world and inhibited users from accessing hosted email and other Microsoft Office 365 platforms.
Cellular and Internet providers experience outages regularly. Regional downtime occurs just about every day. Visit downdetector.com for a quick snapshot of current outages. This site allows you to easily monitor or at least confirm what you think is an outage.
What does this all mean? While the rest of the world has become so reliant on outsourced platforms and services, central stations for the most part have collectively maintained independence or have employed proven, industry-specific solutions. Our strong foundations are the reason our industry is so resilient and reliable.
This reliability though comes at a significant cost that is measured in the expenses related not only to products, equipment and technologies, but in the staffing it takes to keep them running.
Whether you are a small full-service company monitoring your own customers, a large third-party monitoring center or a national player like ADT, the cost to provide the high level of service our industry is known for is going to increase. If the industry wants to maintain our strength, reliability and incredible uptimes, then we collectively need to prepare to pay for it either in the form of consolidation, efficiencies or with cash and rates.
Additionally, we need to educate customers. They need to understand how our central stations work and how they are designed to continually operate. We need to explain that even if their local 911 center experiences an outage, we are still here for them 24/7 and can help them.
We need to help them understand the combined services they are receiving from their alarm company and central station. Most importantly, they need to know that we are built for reliability, maximum uptime and to be there to get them help from a 911 center or first responders when they need it most.
Morgan Hertel is Vice President of Technology and Innovation for Rapid Response Monitoring. This article, which originally appeared in Security Sales & Integration, has been edited.
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