“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” That was the catchphrase of a famous commercial from medical alarm company LifeCall in the late 1980s and remains the image that most people conjure up when they think of Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS).
“When people use the term PERS, they’re generally speaking of a medical alert device whereby a customer wears a button or pendant, and in the case of an emergency, they would press the button and it would activate a transmission to a central monitoring station,” said Wayne Wahrsager, CEO of Nationwide Digital Monitoring and a veteran of the PERS business for over 15 years.
The truth, however, is that there is much more involved with PERS monitoring than simply having a central station operator who sits around and waits for an elderly customer to have an accident. PERS monitoring involves in-depth training for operators and the utilization of various technologies to deliver an appropriate response depending upon the situation.
Though the PERS market is healthy, Wahrsager said that many alarm dealers are afraid to enter it because they either don’t understand the nuances of the business or they are not insured for it.
“There is a tremendous sense of inquisitiveness (about PERS) on behalf of the alarm industry because traditional alarm sales for the most part are down in this economy. The Baby Boomers are aging out and people are living much longer,” he said. “And with the cost of home healthcare, assisted living and nursing homes, more and more people are staying home or living with a loved one. That loved one is generally away from home for most of the day because they are working… and this is a natural adjunct to protecting them. The button serves many purposes; it’s there to give them a sense of peace of mind that even though their relative may live in another state, they can be in contact with them. They don’t have to dial a phone; all they have to do is push a button.”
Equipment and Operator Training
For those dealers that think PERS looks like the source of a good RMR stream during these lean economic times, Wahrsager says that there are several factors that they need to take into consideration.
According to Wahrsager, unlike a traditional residential alarm system in which the customer buys the necessary equipment up front, a PERS dealer typically provides the customer with the medical alert device, which is usually a wireless button worn either around the neck or on the arm, as well as a receiver box which contains a digital transmitter with two-way voice communication box. Among the most prominent medical alert devices or “panic buttons” as they are sometimes referred to on the market are manufactured by Visonic and Linear, Wahrsager added. Cheaper devices from overseas manufacturers are also available.
Another consideration for dealers thinking about getting into PERS is how it differs from traditional “burg and fire” monitoring.
“Traditional burglar and fire monitoring is more reactive to the electronics of the system, whether it’s a burglar alarm or fire alarm, you’re waiting for a sensor of some type to go off, be it a door contact or a motion sensor,” he said. “[With PERS monitoring] the sensing device is the subscriber themselves. The best similarity is to a hold-up button or panic button [for a traditional alarm system]; PERS is an extension of a panic button.”
Though some alarm systems are capable of integrating with a PERS unit, most of them operate separate from a residential alarm system.
“Most often, the traditional PERS monitoring system is generally a separate unit from a burglar alarm system. It is not an adjunct to a burglar alarm system,” he said. “It stands alone, it stands by itself, it is more user friendly and has a different set of controls to it.”
PERS signals are also processed somewhat differently in comparison with a burglar or fire alarm system. When the customer presses the button on their worn device or the transmitter, a digital signal is sent to the central station over phone lines that are specifically set aside for PERS monitoring. The signal then goes through the station’s automation equipment and decodes it in a matter of seconds, at which point the transmitter turns into a two-way voice receiver and the operator, who has all of the customer’s information in front of him, can then communicate with the victim.