Taking a Load Off
Central station operators help take the burden off first responders by verifying alarm calls
- By Felix Gonzalez
- Jul 01, 2006
TO those responsible for security in this information age, the complexity of providing proper protection of people and property has never been greater. As security vendors evolve to meet the challenge, HSM Electronic Protection Services Inc. has a greater focus on ensuring that clients get the most out of their investments in electronic security solutions.
No longer is it sufficient to simply offer a national alarm monitoring network. Today's security directors and loss prevention officers expect no less than a total commitment to processes, people and technology.
"At the heart of those solutions is the central monitoring station, which by definition involves high levels of customer contact," said Steve Walker, director of HSM ProtectionNetTM customer service center. "We speak to more than 100,000 clients and agencies per week. Our responsiveness, competency, energy and our empathy all paint a picture in the customer's mind about the level of care we provide."
Welcome to business in the new global marketplace where local customers increasingly expect world-class services.
"There are five basic areas of interaction with our customers that define their experience and perception of our business; interactions we call touch points: account management, service, installation, monitoring and billing," said Tony Byerly, HMS senior vice president of sales and national accounts. "Excellence in these five areas is the basis for maintaining a long-term, successful company."
Central Station Activity
HSM's main central station, known as the HSM ProtectionNet customer service center, processes approximately 1.7 million alarm signals and 100,000 inbound and outbound phone calls each week in dispatching to authorities, notifying and following up with customers and providing customer service. What's more, clients can access all of that information as it pertains to their accounts on a 24/7 real-time basis.
Ed Walsh, senior director of restaurant and corporate security of Buffets Inc., in Eagan, Minn., is a case in point. On a daily basis, Walsh and his staff use HSM data to manage the discipline of restaurant employees in opening and closing their stores nationally.
"Through the use of the HSM eDataManager tool, we have become more effective in managing our false alarm activity, as we are able to quickly identify locations with excessive police and fire agency dispatches. We can drill down and see the root causes of our agency dispatches, further helping us to develop corrective actions," Walsh said.
HSM's central station and 50-plus company offices comprise a nationwide monitoring and service network. The customer service center is based in Minneapolis, with a satellite operation, referred to as ProtectionNet West, based in Santa Ana, Calif. The center serves as the headquarters for HSM centralized services, including monitoring, data entry, order entry, service dispatch and information technology services. The central station holds Underwriters Laboratories and Factory Mutual listings, as well as Department of Defense listings for DOD-certified monitoring and the city of New York Fire Department.
The ProtectionNet center is the technologically sophisticated hub of the company's monitoring and service network, which provides centralized monitoring of alarms, as well as customer service to customers throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
The HSM eDataManagerTM service is a Web-based tool that enables customers to manage their security objectives more efficiently through real-time access to building security system data. eDataManager capabilities include real time access to alarm history, providing specific times, dates and actions associated with alarm signals received by the ProtectionNet center.
eDataManager offers a wide range of reporting capabilities that help the customer summarize key information about their account over time, including opening and closing history, fire inspection activities and service history, to name a few.
Customers have the ability to directly change contact lists, phone numbers and pass card holders, while also requesting additional account changes or a service call online.
According to Don Young, HSM CIO, the ongoing development of software-based technology is bringing customers sophisticated security operations and management capabilities in access control, intrusion detection, video badging, ID verification, CCTV surveillance, alarm monitoring and systems integration. But the new technologies also bring new challenges. And, the foremost challenge may be making sure a system functions at an optimal level initially and as users need change.
"The business model has shifted quickly and the IT infrastructure to support the new demands of the security business is critical," Young said.
While monitoring is a core service, Walker emphasizes people and processes, as well.
"We have a highly tenured staff and committed leadership team, and we manage performance levels for all the touch points, especially alarm response, account management and service management. We operate at the highest levels of the industry," Walker said.
The Business Model
Every aspect of a business model should reflect the monitoring priority. From marketing to sales, HSM seizes every opportunity to educate its customers -- current and future -- on the strengths and advantages of its central station operation.
"Monitoring is still a key differentiator in the security industry, but it is also just one of the key services offered through the ProtectionNet center as outlined in our HSM services portfolio," Byerly said.
Experience and tenure can make a life-changing difference in the lives of customers. Over the past 12 years, the ProtectionNet center has responded to millions of alarm events. On any given week, HSM responds to more than 40,000 alarm events, representing 1,000-plus fire alarms and 20,000-plus burglar alarms.
"Each of these alarms represents a possible life-threatening situation for our customers and our team knows the actions we take are important," Young said. "Both physically and emotionally, how we act during a moment of crisis is very important. We know our customers at that moment may be powerless to act on their own behalf. Often, we are their only hope."
In March, HSM received a hold-up alarm from the R&R Ginsberg Jewelers in Wauwatosa, Wis. Two men were robbing the store and had tied up the employees. The alarm was acknowledged, police were dispatched in under 10 seconds, and both suspects were arrested with no further threat to employees.
"The store owner was immensely grateful," Young said.
Other stresses are routinely overcome by HSM account teams. Carolyn Horn Davis, director of store planning and development for retailer Harry & David of Medford, Ore., saw the difference three years ago when she was searching for a vendor to provide on-going service at a higher level.
"HSM's account team made the conversion very easy," Davis said. "Not only was the project completed on time, but we did not receive any complaints from the field."
The team assigned to Davis ensured that all of these processes -- monitoring, service, customer data management, technology and sales order processing -- work together to deliver monitoring services to its customers.
Just as clients are investing resources in hardware and equipment, HSM has invested heavily in developing new services in the central station. In the past year, HSM through the ProtectionNet center has rolled out new video monitoring services to help customers improve security and reduce false alarms.
Its eVideoManagerTM offers a suite of services to meet the rapidly changing environment of video security monitoring. In addition, the ProtectionNet technology team has developed enhancements in its online eDataManager service. HSM has made significant investments to upgrade the alarm processing infrastructure each year.
"We are an open book," Walker said. "Our customers have unfettered access to every detail of our monitoring performance."
The Customer's Response
National account customers not only view the raw data but also receive summarized reports -- a national account performance scorecard of HSM's own monitoring performance as it relates to their account. This one-of-a-kind report card service provided to HSM national accounts includes data on all five touchpoints and an opportunity for the customer to rate HSM's performance in each of the five customer interactions.
"We are very pleased with the professionalism, cooperation and responsiveness," said Monica McCafferty, director of purchasing for Discovery Channel retail in Berkley, Calif.
This kind of performance is no accident. During the first 10 weeks of employment, new monitoring operators spend three weeks in the training classroom and two weeks monitoring in a controlled environment under the direct supervision of a trainer. This initial training certifies operators to handle alarm dispatch activities and make the associated outbound phone calls to customers and responding agencies.
According to Walker, false alarms continue to be one of the primary concerns in the industry. In response to calls from fire and police agencies to decrease unnecessary dispatches, HSM has added additional training courses for its most proficient operators.
It offers training on specialty alarms, such as UL, DOD and New York City fire, and other specialty training on the most commonly supported panels in the central station is on-going. This technical assistance training serves as the foundation for technical assistance employees in the central station.
"All of this is necessary to remain a world-class provider," Walker said.