Personal response system is attracting a lot of attention
- By Mark Fischer
- Jan 01, 2015
Mobile Personal Emergency Response
Systems (mPERS) is attracting
a lot of attention in the
security industry these days, and
for good reason. There are several reasons for
the enormous interest. Current personal emergency
response system (PERS) technology has not
changed significantly in more than 30 years. The
market typically serves a female customer base of
75 years old and older, and the average subscriber
cycle is under 40 months. In contrast, the potential
customer base for mPERS solutions could start as
young as 16 and continue for the life of the user.
mPERS extends emergency monitoring out of the
home to social workers, college students, self-employed
and lone workers, housewives, concerned
parents as well as those with medical conditions.
Frankly, it serves almost anyone with a smartphone,
and the technology is currently evolving in
There are major differences between PERS
and mPERS. Functionally speaking, PERS devices
work by relaying an alarm from a pendant to
a base station located within the users residence.
The base station provides the transmission method
to either the monitoring center or directly to a
caregiver in the case of self-monitoring. Typically,
the pendant works within a fixed radius—usually
200 feet—of the base. On the monitoring center
side, an account is activated much as it would be
for a standard alarm system, with the installer or
user providing the address of the subscriber, contact
number for local authorities to be notified,
medical history and notification list.
The mPERS solution breaks the base station
tie. Instead of relaying communications through
the base unit, the device contains its own method
of communications. Because the system is mobile,
a user could be anywhere, at any time. To ensure
that the monitoring facility knows where an emergency
signal is originating from, these devices also
typically make use of GPS and Wi-Fi to provide
location information. When activated, the location
of the device is sent to the monitoring facility
along with an emergency signal. Since the device
is mobile, knowing the numbers for the first responders
at the users residence would not be of
value when the subscriber is away from home. To
address this, the central station needs to have access
to a Public Service Answering Point (PSAP)
database that provides the backdoor information
into the appropriate 911 center.
mPERS solutions come in a variety of forms,
each encompassing its owns set of advantages and
disadvantages. One commonality is that the technology
is in its early stages. Offerings within the
mPERs sector will continue to evolve based upon
innovation, market acceptance, and success of
various platforms and feature combinations. Currently,
mPERS devices are broken into three basic
groups, each of which can be self-monitored or
done through a professional service or central station.
Self-monitoring is often chosen as an option to
save money and avoid recurring monthly charges.
But, self-monitoring may offer a false sense of security.
What caregiver can be available 24/7 on a
moment’s notice? The simple act of taking a shower,
sleeping, or a dead cell phone battery could delay
needed response. In the case of mPERS solutions,
self-monitoring poses additional and unique
challenges. First is the temptation of the person
notified to respond to the emergency, possibly putting
him or herself in danger. Other complications
include delaying professional response and the inability inability
to contact the proper authorities when the monitored individual is in
another PSAP jurisdiction.
While subscriber devices come in a variety of configurations, hardware
devices come in three. The first of these are dedicated devices that serve only
as an emergency alert system. These devices are best described as a dedicated
cell phone with buttons pre-programmed to call the monitoring center and
send location information via data transmission. These devices require their
own cellular connection and as such, have an associated fee that is paid to the
cellular carrier either by the service provider, central station or the dealer.
The cost of the mobile connection is passed along to the subscriber but can
eat into the profits of the dealer and central station. These single use devices
work well for individuals that may have an immediate urgent need, or have
dexterity problems. The next of these devices are multi-function hardware
solutions that may be described as a cell phone with emergency buttons allowing
a single device to be used as a cell phone as well.
Finally, there are dedicated devices that communicate through the 911
system. This class of device comes in two varieties. First, there are units that
simply call directly to 911 with no triage from an outside source such as a
central station. The second group of devices start by communicating directly
to the central station monitoring center. If the operator determines that first
responders are necessary, the call is transferred to the appropriate 911 center
that specific device is currently in. The 911 center can locate the user through
U-TDOA—uplink time difference of arrival—even if the subscriber is unable
to communicate. While helpful in certain circumstances such hardware solutions
have a few disadvantages. These devices have to be recharged separately
and carried in addition to any other devices the user may own. Younger users
tend not to want to carry multiple devices.
Relatively new offerings focus on software solutions or apps loaded onto
Smartphones, and they consist of a wide variety of features. Using a subscriber’s
existing device as the platform provides several advantages. There are no
additional cellular charges to be passed along and encroach on the dealer’s
RMR. If the device is lost or damaged, the subscriber deals directly with their
carrier for a replacement. This eliminates the customer threatening to cancel
service to get a free replacement device.
Additional advantages include the fact that software upgrades can be
pushed out to the subscriber as new features or fixes are introduced. The
phone will be the only device that needs to be upgraded and when it comes to
power needs, only the phone will require charging, a task currently embraced
by all age groups.
Apps can offer a wider variety of features, leveraging the Smartphone’s
graphical interface. Some applications include options such as social monitoring
of family members allowing mom and dad to keep track of children
that may not be mature enough for a professionally monitored app. The ability
to offer a greater variety of services is truly an advantage to the dealer since
the more an app is used the easier it is to justify the monthly service charge.
One disadvantage of the Smartphone app is the need to unlock the phone in
order to activate the app. Of course, this could be a concern in a fast developing
emergency situation. To address this issue, some apps have options to activate
the app through a button press sequence or external accessory devices on a
locked phone. The use of a Bluetooth hands-free device to activate the app, allows
verbal communications with the central station even when a locked phone
is out of arms reach and adds significant value to the app and overall service. If
the Bluetooth device is waterproof, and provides two-way voice capability, the
app can serve as a mini PERS system adding even more value.
Another attraction for the end user, and the dealer, is cost. There is a paradox
with mPERS. In general, the cost is less than a standard PERS system.
mPERS solutions have been trending in the $10 to $20 range while most PERS
solutions are in the $25 to $30 range. In the case of the apps, there is no installation
or setup charge and no cost for the app itself. There’s typically just a
monthly service charge. Couple these lower costs with the mobility factor and
it’s easy to see what makes mPERS very attractive.
All things being equal, and despite a great sales pitch about why a prospect
should choose your alarm, a large part of the decision process comes down
to perceived value. By offering mPERS as a part of your security offering, it’s
easier to justify a higher monthly fee. If a family member works late, works
alone, carries cash, stays out particularly late or lives away from the home, the
value should be apparent. Of course, by offering something your competition
doesn’t, you’re creating a true point of difference that makes your company
stand out, that usually results in more sales and lower attrition.
mPERS should be viewed as more than simply an add on to a sale. It is also
a stand-alone product and service that opens the door to new opportunities.
If your sales force does any door-to-door sales, commercial or residential,
mPERS is a door opener. Walk into a jewelry store, check casher, gold buying
store, real estate office, it doesn’t matter if there is an existing system, you can
still offer them mPERS service and generate RMR.
So what’s the sales challenge? “Why not just dial 911, its free?” The answer
is, first, if the user is able to convey vital information in an emergency,
a direct call to 911 should absolutely be made. But, what if you are leaving
work late and need to cross a deserted parking lot? You can’t just call 911
because you’re nervous. mPers systems offered by central stations often offer
virtual escort services to address this situation. Once the emergency button is
pushed, the central station mPERS provider will have an accurate description
of the user/subscriber, perhaps including a digital image and pertinent personal
information. Variations of this service can be offered to check cashers,
doctors, pharmacists and others that may feel vulnerable when opening or
closing their place of business each day. For users with known medical issues,
the monitoring station can maintain the users medical background possibly
saving significant response time by dispatching the correct type of response
team to an emergency even when the subscriber may not be able to speak and
convey a specific condition. mPERS offers enhanced notification protocols
depending on the situation so family and care givers are notified in a more
timely manner that there is a developing situation.
To ensure system integrity mPERS systems should provide positive verification
to the central station that the app or device is alive and well. Similar
to other life safety systems, a test time with verification that location services
are running allows automated notification to the subscriber via email or SMS
that there may be an issue. This is a condition that may occur if a user forgets
to charge the device or does an upgrade and neglects to activate the app on a
new phone. Notification of any issues serves also to remind the user that the
central station is looking after him and promote added value.
mPERS services will continue to evolve and offer integration with sensors
to monitor such vitals as pulse, glucose and oxygen levels and more. While
central stations do not have the expertise to evaluate a person’s medical condition,
it could act as a data gathering hub and provide critical information
to caregivers and first responders. The system could be offered as a self-help
mechanism offering record keeping services as another value added service
for family members.
The security industry as we know it today is rapidly changing. The traditional
customer base is changing its buying habits as well. DIY installations
are becoming much more prevalent, as is self-monitoring. The independent
dealer is under attack by phone companies, cable providers, big box stores,
Internet sites and providers. In order for dealers to continue to prosper, they
have to embrace new technologies that create the RMR which creates the basic
value of any security business.
This article originally appeared in the issue of .
Mark Fischer is a consultant at SmartTek Systems Inc.