With 2007 now reportedly the first year in which U.S. households spent more money on cellular phone than land line services, it is becoming increasingly apparent how communications are changing in this country. And it's not just cellular networks. With the interoperability and open standards available with Internet protocol (IP), the World Wide Web is also being tapped for more uses, including relaying alarm signals and the monitoring of security systems. As such, central stations are offering their dealers and end users more options to monitor and manage their own accounts via the Web, which can make for better security and customer service.
Kevin C. McCarthy, national sales manager for EMERgency 24 in Chicago said his company is offering Web-based monitoring services to both dealers and end users via sites secured by the same encryption used for financial transactions. The company's clients, using computers or PDA's connected to the Web, are able to securely access a wide variety of information related to their alarm systems.
“Dealers are now able to set up accounts, customize reports, place accounts on test and view history among other things,” explained McCarthy. “An auxiliary service EMERgency 24 offers is the ability to send e-mail notifications of signals. This is done on an account-by-account basis, per dealers' instructions submitted via our Dealer Secured Services Web site. Dealers also can print personalized Party Call List letters for their customers too—this is a popular tool.”
“EMERgency24 has also opened up its online account tools to the subscriber so they can actively manage their home or business security,” continued McCarthy. “Our Subscriber Secure Internet Services Web site allows end users to place accounts on test and make changes, temporary or permanent, to party information. They can also view the history of signals their system has sent, view account data and request changes from their alarm dealer. For end-users' and dealers' records, we generate an e-mail to confirm the action has taken place. This Web site is set up so each dealer can offer each of their subscribers different levels of access. When the end-user logs in, they will only have the capabilities their dealer wants them to have.”
Nationwide Digital, Freeport , N.Y. , offers three different Web-based services to its dealers and end users: E-Reports, MASweb and Nationwide Live. Mark S. Fischer, chief technology officer, Nationwide Digital, said the E-Reports service allows dealers and end users to receive immediate alarm notifications on just about any text-enabled device, such as cell phones, PDA's, computers, fax machines, etc. MASweb gives both dealers and end users a Web-based account management service enabling them to run reports, make data entry changes and more; and the Nationwide Live software allows dealers to view their alarm traffic in real-time from any PC.
Ready and up to date
“Nationwide Live is our response to inquiries from our dealers for a method of displaying and tracking alarm information in an online format,” said Fischer. “ The display screen is always up-to-date without having to run reports, refresh screens or wait for e-mail. Up-to-date information is available at a glance.”
Another central station offering their dealers and end users Web-based access to information is SAI Inc., Arlington Heights, Ill. “SAI developed a proprietary system called WebNet , our account management tool that allows our dealers to bring all the functions and data of our central stations right to their fingertips,” said Steve Rubin, senior vice president, SAI. Rubin also noted that subscribers are increasingly asking for the ability to access their account information online. “As subscribers become more knowledgeable,” he added, “they too are requesting access to their account information as well as the ability to maintain the accuracy of some of their account data via the Web. SAI's Customer Internet Access (CIA) tool offers the subscriber a fast, efficient and effective way to view the details of their security system including updating security information, accessing and viewing security reports, performing system tests and much more.”
While the sources interviewed for this story are upbeat about the prospects of Web-based monitoring for alarm accounts, they acknowledge that there are still obstacles in the process. For one, the Internet itself can be unreliable at times, so accessing a Web site could be impossible if it's down. Also, a company firewall could prove difficult to troubleshoot in some cases where there is a problem accessing the Web site. However, on the whole, Web-based monitoring should keep customers better informed and, perhaps more important, happy.
Sidebar: Monitoring for Emergency Responders
It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of AirVisual Inc., New York , N.Y. , this statement certainly rings true. The company's founder and CEO, Tom Hansen, unexpectedly found himself helping with the emergency medical response for the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Due to all of the communication problems that he witnessed firsthand on the ground amongst the responders, he decided that there had to be a better way. Later in 2001, he got to work on creating communications solutions for emergency first responders—that's how AirVisual was born.
The company's first product was RoadViewer , which sends real-time traffic video to commuters and emergency responders, enabling people to choose the best routes based on the current road conditions. Over the years, AirVisual has built upon RoadViewer with other products such as the IntelliViewer , which is a mobile command system software enabling PC's , PDA's, laptops etc. to have the same visual intelligence as a command center, and the TransViewer , which is a mobile recording server that enables users to track cargo. AirVisual products are capable of transmitting over multiple network types and have “intelligent information routing features” based on rules administered by the end users.
“Our solutions are designed to help users leverage their existing infrastructure and to manage critical information,” said Hansen. “They can leverage the available video or alarm information and make it available both in the field and at traditional command centers,” he said. “Additionally, our products streamline the response procedures so that the integrated technology, and how it is applied, work in concert with one another. The content that we manage consists of video, audio, GIS/GPS, biometrics and state/local crime data information.”
Aside from intelligently routing video and other information to mobile devices, AirVisual is also helping to secure emergency response situations by determining who is a legitimate responder and who isn't.
“We have now integrated biometric readers from multiple manufacturers. We also have the capability to manage and identify the good from the bad or to muster large groups of individuals to assist with catastrophic situations,” explained Hansen. “In addition, we have added more analytic partners to our list of third party integrations in order to make our alarm systems more adaptable to all kinds of unique demands and situations for remote monitoring.”