Your livelihood is at stake

Most of the systems integrators and dealers I know are focused on the day to day activities of running a business. Many are smaller companies, with 1-10 employees and yes, these companies actually make up the majority of the alarm systems installing industry. And busy as you all are, there are things in the industry that deserve your attention and the attention of all your personnel.

Now, there are people who will disagree with me when I say: “Let them in” it comes to competition--because we have to learn to deal with it and it’s what makes us work harder and smarter. So when Comcast, AT&T and Verizon want to come into the market I say: Let them. Here’s the caveat: Let them also abide by the rules and regulations the industry and any existing licensing has painstakingly created in an effort to make our stomping grounds more professional and safer for our subscribers, especially when it comes to home security.

In Michigan, AT&T seems to want to change the rules, or make new ones by the recent proposed legislation (see: In essence, AT&T is trying to say that IP-enabled security systems are different than traditional alarm systems. Swiftly moved through the state Senate, bills 1291 and 1292, the “Internet Protocol-Enabled Premises Security, Monitoring and Control Act” and Amendments to “Private Security Business and Security Alarm Act,” in essence create a separate licensing scheme with a new definition of security as “an IP-enabled security system,” primarily because it communicates using the Internet to send signals. Well, we all know that most security systems are IP-enabled so why this tact?

Here’s what Dean Belisle president of the Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan (BFAAM) and also president of ACT NOW Alarm Services Inc. in Clinton Township, Mich., shared with me in a letter written on behalf of the organization and the Electronic Security Association (ESA) to state representative Jase Bolger regarding Senate bill 1291 and 1292.

  • “We are greatly concerned that the proponents of this legislation have ignored a state and federal criminal background check requirement, which is contained in the present statute (Private Security Business and Security Alarm Act, Section 338.1052-1092) for the industry. It is simply outrageous that the legislature would consider or pass a bill that would provide merely for a “registrant” of these IP-enabled premises security systems to conduct their own background checks. ESA is presently urging the U.S. Congress to pass a law permitting over 27 states to access the FBI’s Criminal Federal Background Check Database, so as to prevent employees with criminal records to access people’s homes and places of business.
  • The ESA supports the BFAAM in its opposition to this legislation, and the proponents of the bill should instead update the definitions of a security alarm company or system contained in the present statutes, rather than creating a new and burdensome licensing scheme.
  • Senate bill 1291 creates a maze of duplication in permitting thousands of cities and towns across the state of Michigan to pass local ordinances if IP-enabled premises security, monitoring and control services directly notifies emergency dispatch of fire or police department personnel, as well as to discourage false alarm dispatches. It would also require users or owners of protected premises to register, pay fees to local government and other criteria.
  • ESA supports state licensing of life safety and electronic security businesses and we are concerned that the supporters of Senate bill 1291 and 1292 are seeking to circumvent the requirements contained in the Michigan statutes. It is extremely important that employees and companies engaged in providing life safety and electronic security protection adhere to minimum qualifications, such as licensure, certification, training, federal background checks and compliance with other provisions of this statute. To protect citizens’ lives and property from unprofessional or criminal activity, licensing is an important facet of public safety, which we believe legislatures and governments should encourage.”

Of course when BFAAM learned of the pending legislation, they stepped in and were invited to a workshop on the topic. Here’s what Belisle said about that: “We were invited to this Workshop the following Monday, September 24, 2012 to review this matter.  It was obvious that the participants were well-acquainted with each other that the Security Industry was a ‘late’ invite to the table.  Representatives from the Senator’s office, Michigan Municipalities, LARA (governing / license department), Comcast and AT&T were all present for this one-hour review of the bills as proposed.  BFAAM expressed the security industry’s concerns during this brief meeting.  Following the Workshop, BFAAM contacted the Senator’s office and worked relentlessly for the next three days to try and accommodate AT&T’s specific needs in conjunction with the security industry’s concerns over Consumer Protection.  On the third day, a modified bill was sent to the Senate Floor, voted on and passed with very little change from the original bill submitted by AT&T.”

John Chwat, ESA’s Director of Government Relations, also shared with me that it could be possible that AT&T, operating in Michigan, would extend its IP-enabled security systems crusade to surrounding states, like Indiana and Ohio, where they don’t have licensing. And this of course is not the first example of this kind of activity, he said. Verizon in Pennsylvania is seeking to deregulate itself from state legislation. “I’m convinced that AT&T and Verizon and others will come back and expand their efforts,” he said.

Here’s what you can do as a broad brushstroke: Get to know your state legislators and offer to sit down with them and just have a friendly discussion about the industry. There’s a chance that once they get to know you and what you represent that they will remember you if legislation comes about that may affect the industry. Offer to help them in their efforts that may be similar to those of the industry in some senses—there are many causes but things I can think of are no texting and driving; Mothers Against Drunk Drivers; etc. Help your employees know who your state representatives are. All you have to do is Google: “Who Represents Me in the Senate and the House of Representatives” and you will get the information you need. Pass this along to your employees. Maybe they want to start some outreach, and there are some superb letter-writers among us. Become active in your community so you are remembered when it really counts.

Michigan is just one example of how we have to stay vigilant and everyone in the industry can get involved by helping the organization. In Illinois, Executive Director Kevin Lehan and the members of the association rode herd on municipalities and their efforts to monitor fire alarms—and they have so far been successful. Arizona recently had alarm industry licensing passed as well.

It’s all up to you. It’s your industry and your livelihood—and it all starts with a phone call or a letter or some type of outreach.