Dealers Needed - Personal response system is attracting a lot of attention

Dealers Needed

Personal response system is attracting a lot of attention

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 several directions.

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 .

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