Best Practices in Managing the Central Station: Part 1

CSAA award winners share tips on effective central station management

Both Vector and Alarm Detection Systems recognize that a central station's "man trap" is a unique work environment. That's why Raper and Bonifas from Alarm Detection Systems don't hold back.

"Part of the on-site interview is to be brutally honest," says Bonifas. "There are no windows; it's close quarters, and they'll not necessarily be working the daylight hours."

"We have a frank discussion about the job," adds Raper. "The first month is tough; so is the first year. We work at finding people who are well-suited for working at midnight and who can handle emergency situations."

Getting it right every time

While the hiring process is the cornerstone of good people management skills at a central station, it's what happens after employees begin that creates continued excellence in the business.

Here again, our respondents were in concurrence. Alarm Detection Systems' Raper and Bonifas, as well as Vector's Petrow and Stoler all agreed that the sign of a good central station manager wasn't that they made sure people did their jobs. Rather the sign of good management for them was that employees were recognized for doing things right. It may be a subtle difference, but while one approach means going through recorded call logs to find errors, the other approach takes the tactic of going through customer calls to find successes.

At the core of good people management is good people retention, and Vector Security and Alarm Detection Systems both use strong incentive programs to make sure that employees are recognized for doing things right.

With more than 25,000 accounts monitored by the 38-year-old company, Raper and Bonifas note that Alarm Detection Systems sees about one "real" and serious event per calendar day. That presents a challenge, because it means that staff could become complacent. Instead, Alarm Detection Systems tries to turn that complacency on its head and create a spirit of anticipation for that "real" event.

They do that with a number of programs. First is that the operators who handle those calls are often recognized for doing an excellent job in handling a serious alarm situation. The company also names an Operator of the Month, to recognize an employee who has proven him or herself in not only proper alarm handling, but also in their reliability. The company also has a "Way to Go" program that gives tickets to recognize operators, which can be traded for benefits or prizes. A particular event and central station operator also is recognized each month in the company newsletter.

Over at Vector Security, incentive programs are also the linchpin of good morale in the man trap. Petrow and Stoler note that they use "Yes" chips, which are simple recognition awards that the employees can trade in for a bonus. They also award their "Smooth Operators" to recognize those operators who handle situations efficiently. "We try to emphasize things they do every day," says Stoler.

"We also do position bonuses. No tardy days? No sick days? Those employees can earn financial bonuses," explains Petrow. "The biggest risk is that if you sit all day and say, 'Vector Security, what is your code, please?' We have to maintain that high level of attention."

Stoler, Petrow, Bonifas and Raper all stress that they're constantly seeking ways to create incentive programs, so that the programs themselves don't become as repetitive as dialing out to alarm owners to confirm or deny their alarm signals.

Coming next week in our second part: More employee programs, plus finding that elusive "personal touch" in central station management.