The security week that was: 10/28/11 (Municipal fire alarm monitoring)

Why municipal monitoring doesn't make sense

Visit Lombard, Ill., in spring and you might stumble across a 16-day festival that celebrates the blooming of the lilacs in this 42,000-person suburb of Chicago. It’s a town that’s financially well-off. Less than 4% of the population sits below the poverty line, in dramatic comparison the 15.1% national average. Look up photos of Lombard and you find pictures of church steeples, the lilac blooms, and well-kept suburban homes.

Behind that graceful suburban façade, it’s also home of a real issue in the security industry. There’s an effort underway specifically in the village of Lombard (but we’ve also seen it in other Illinois villages) to undercut the alarm and monitoring industry by making commercial fire system monitoring a city service.

Yes, in this age of a troubled economy, when governments can’t add teachers, are short on police officers, and struggle to fund social services, a town is preparing to lay out the money to take business away from private industry. The situation in Lombard is that the city wants to buy a Keltron radio network and have all commercial fire systems in the city move to this network – away from the alarm firms that currently service these companies.

The Fire Marshal for Lombard, Chuck Riforgiate, is on board with the proposal (a request for interview was not returned in time for this column) and apparently some of the commercial fire system owners are as well. Members of the Lombard Chamber of Commerce said that they generally were in favor of turning fire alarm monitoring over to the city – at least according to an Oct. 18 memo from Fire Marshal Riforgiate. (The number that Riforgiate reports is 80% support from the selected Chamber of Commerce members, but the memo that sources the 80% number doesn’t qualify how many businesses were actually interviewed or even what number of the town’s businesses were also chamber members.)

I don’t know how the city doing its own monitoring would improve the fire fighting process or be any better for those 80%, but it is what they believe. What I find interesting is that we see this kind of movement in a town like Lombard, even when nationally we see municipalities moving many services to private companies, including concessions in parks, meter reading, parking management, and more. In Lombard, the city hasn’t taken over the electricity grid and doesn’t sell natural gas to homeowners, so why does the city want to take over the commercial fire alarm grid? Maybe it’s pride. Maybe Keltron hooked the fire marshal with a sales pitch. Maybe the marshal doesn’t like alarm monitoring firms. Maybe the city thinks this could make money for its coffers. The reason may not even matter because the fire service’s direction is set: “Move forward with our objectives as they relate to the installation and operation of the Lombard Radio Alarm Network as soon as possible.”

But whether the fire marshal and some of the chamber members think it’s good or not, the real issues in this city’s proposal are as follows:

  1. Commercial fire system owners would lose choice of who they do business with
  2. Commercial fire system owners would lose choice of technology
  3. Some fire systems owners would have to buy equipment to become compatible with the proposed system
  4. The village of Lombard would be making a concerted effort to take revenues away from private industry
  5. Commercial fire monitoring and service are typically offered together, but the city only wants to take care of the monitoring business
  6. It’s likely that system owners would be looking at an increase in price, when comparing city monitoring vs. currently available commercial monitoring rates

The capitalism system works because of consumer choice and it works best when there are many choices. Our industry works well for its customers because there is so much competition, meaning a number of alarm providers competing for the customer’s contract. What Lombard is doing is challenging that working system. I’ve seen it in many towns where the town eventually folds up its alarm monitoring shop, realizing that the commercial, competitive business environment is a better solution. We can only hope that Lombard realizes this before the town’s leaders are convinced to drive over a technology cliff.

If you’re doing business in the Chicago suburbs, get in touch with the Illinois Electronic Security Association (www.iesa.net) to see how this might affect your business. The IESA has an effort underway to fight the monitoring take-over. SIW interviewed IESA’s executive director Kevin Lehan, and you can find the IESA’s perspective shared extensively in that article.

In other news:
UTC restructuring, PSA Leadership Institute, Guardian buys NEOSAT's accounts

UTC Fire & Security is restructuring its product group and the management of those groups. ... PSA Security Network launched its “leadership institute”. ... Mace has sold off its industrial vision solutions business. ... ShotSpotter has renamed and rebranded itself. ... Guardian Security Systems bought the accounts of NEOSAT.

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