A Blue Sky Outlook
Q: What will the central station of the future look like and what services will it provide? Will it even exist?
A: With today's amazing communications abilities, some may think that the central station industry is becoming obsolete. On a purely technical level, it could be. Certainly technology exists to monitor and remotely control certain functions at a premises from as simple a device as a cell phone. This includes virtually live video.
If you wanted to stay online or be alerted by a premises system on a computer or cell phone, you could have a "special purpose remote" central station. To close the loop, you could just call the appropriate response, police, fire or ambulance, from the same cell phone. Possible, yes...but is it practical? The fact is that such an arrangement wouldn't work for long--users would quickly get weary of the responsibility.
The central station of the future will continue to have at least all the same functions it has today: the monitoring and dispatch of burglar and fire alarms, attendance functions, emergency signals, process monitoring of unique alerts and access control database functions.
Surveys indicate that central station operators are trusted almost as much as firefighters. Therefore they will continue to be called upon.
Video verification is the next service many customers will be asking for. This function can easily be automated with tomorrow's faster computers and software operating video data on a pixel level. This ability is available today and will only get better.
GPS with concierge-type services should also be on the list of new central station services that you can offer clients. An aging population, a myriad of high tech appliances, electronics and computers, the convergence of high bandwidth data channels and the need for full time monitoring will evolve even more new services.
An aging population will require remote medical attention beyond what is now call PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems). The systems of the future will perform rather complex diagnostics on a patient and route this data through the central station. "Trip points" will alert the appropriate personnel when parameters are off normal.
On a less critical path are all the appliances and electronics now in the home and the additional, more complex ones yet to follow. They will break down, require service and require software updates.
According to an individual from a major chain store, his operation can remotely tell when equipment in any of his stores is not operating properly and will need service before those in the field recognize any anomaly for themselves. This is accomplished by the prudent placement of sensors in the equipment, a communications path back to a central station, unique software at the central station and well-trained operators.
With sensors monitoring all critical functions over the same communications path that an alarm uses, this diagnostic information would be invaluable to the continued performance of these appliances. Very often, a small anomaly caught early can offset a major expense later. The central station, equipped with proper software can work as a "clearing house" for such data. Central stations have been monitoring go/no-go type process control for years. The above example is an analog, more intelligent version. Why not extend this service to vehicles also?
The point is that a company that would benefit from all this data and need not have a 24 by 7 monitoring facility if it can contract with one already in existence and functioning well. The two entities, the central station company and the appliance entity, can share customer lists, perhaps even service personnel and vehicles.
Another change that's needed is the "receiver-less" central station. NFPA 72 and, in turn, UL, require that a receiver be used to "receive" signals from remote panels and pass them through to a central station computer. It allows manual operation in the event of a computer malfunction.
Many in the industry argue that truly manual operation, in a disaster situation, is rather impractical. This. of course, is true for the larger central station. It becomes more practical if the signals being forwarded to central station are routed through a number of subsidiary stations. These subsidiary stations are there to collect signals on a regional level and pass the derived data onto the central station. With a smaller load, should either the central station or one of the communications paths go down, signals could be processed at the subsidiary station. This is still a tall order, but somewhat more palatable.
Since yet another change will be the mass usage of IP, Internet Protocol, for all transmission, it will allow alternate paths for data from the monitored premises and should remove the need for a front-end receiver altogether. Closely coupled to this change is the fact that a central station of the future will, of necessity, be distributed. That is to say that the database, the processing and dispatch function will be accomplished from any number of locations seamlessly.
Louis T. Fiore is a consultant from Sparta, NJ. He is Past President of CSAA (1997- 1999) and President of L.T. Fiore, Inc. His practice includes the use of wireless and the Internet for alarm monitoring as well as regulatory issues for security systems in general. He also serves as Chairman of Central Station Alarm Association's (CSAA) Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) and Standards Committee. He is the current chairman of the SIA's Security Industry Standards Council (SISC) and a long- time member of the Supervising Station Committee of NFPA 72. Send your questions to Lou.Fiore@secdealer.com.