Building owners and facilities managers need fast and reliable solutions for running their networks and operations without incurring additional monthly costs. Meanwhile, fire and life safety companies are faced with the challenges of an ever-changing communications landscape – keeping pace with new technology in the marketplace and changing customers behaviors, including the DIY trend, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, the need for mobile centricity, and constant cyber threats. With so much market research and media coverage out there, it can be daunting and overwhelming even for seasoned monitoring industry professionals.
In order to gain a competitive advantage, today’s business owners must be proactive and adopt some recommended best practices for their alarm installers and field technicians. If the goal is creating RMR, network stability, reducing operating expenses and creating Return on Investment (ROI), here are 8 tips:
1. Start with a Plan
Preparation is everything. It is important to understand the basic infrastructural components of a network in order to successfully assess a potential installation site. Proper network planning for an installation and performing a site survey beforehand will improve deployment, save time, boost productivity and ease operations. This step is critical for you to properly estimate the cost of installation.
Useful data to gather beforehand should include:
- Building construction information (whether the building is wood, concrete, metal, etc.);
- Information about the distance from the Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP), mounting location, etc. – which will help to estimate the right amount of cabling, conduit and wiring that will be necessary to complete a proper installation;
- NetCon reading at the site – meaning where in the building peak performance can be achieved; and
- Making sure product manuals and quick start guides are readily available to save time wasted on calls back to the office or having to open a technical support case.
Before dispatching to the site, the technician should prepare a checklist of all supplies needed in their toolbox. By investing the time to plan a network properly, you will not only build a network that meets your needs today, but also for network expansion in the future. Poor planning can result in obstacles maintaining and growing your network.
2. Map the Location
Just like with real estate, “location, location, location” is key for building a high-quality network. In order to have a healthy and successful network, installers should test all potential mounting locations before finalizing the installation. This approach saves installation time by avoiding the need to relocate a unit after it has already been mounted. The task of relocating alone could result in several hours of additional time.
3. Create a Maintenance Calendar
Preventative Maintenance (PM) is an essential part of managing any network. By following a PM schedule, you can help your customers maintain a healthy network, avoiding costly repairs due to neglect. Maintaining the health of a network is crucial to success in quickly delivering alarm messages for years to come, not just short-term. It is important to be proactive in performing regularly scheduled maintenance on the network:
- Check all cable terminations and connectors for corrosion and wear;
- Verify all connectors are secured in place and not loose;
- Verify the integrity of all external antennas, structurally and mechanically;
- Test antenna and cable performance using a Watt meter; and
- Perform failover testing on receivers to ensure proper failover functions.
The plan should also address how to replace batteries once they have failed or met their expected life capacity. An easy way to manage all this is by creating a calendar with scheduled tasks. An example:
- Daily: Review logs for error messages.
- Weekly: Confirm connectivity and LCD display function.
- Monthly: Perform rollover from primary to secondary receiver.
- Quarterly: Reboot each receiver separately.
- Annually: Verify that the latest version of software is loaded.
4. Cable and Antenna Selection
Special care should be given when it comes to cutting, stripping, crimping and weatherproofing cable exposed to the elements. Cut and terminate cable to proper lengths to prevent signal loss and avoid reflected energy associated with coiled cable and tight bends. Cable should be kept as straight as possible at installation. Quality connections should be done by an experienced technician to make sure wiring routed through knockouts is protected. Use appropriate conduit, correct cable protection, and an approved transformer enclosure. Poor connections can have a much worse effect on signal loss, resulting in reflected energy and lost power.
When choosing an antenna, use the smallest dB gain antenna that will get a strong Radio Frequency (RF) connection – bigger is not always better. Always mount the antenna in a vertically plumb position to ensure optimum RF performance, and never mount them near metal obstructions.
Take time to test and assess the network’s performance. When in doubt, field technicians should seek advice from the manufacturer.
5. Network Management
Help your customers drive down overall network management costs by optimizing performance and running daily operations as efficiently as possible. Recommend they invest in network management software that helps oversee, troubleshoot, and maintain the quality of the network. Real-time data can quickly identify faults or system events requiring attention.
6. Be Future Ready
It all started back in 2008 when the FCC established a sunset clause for AMPS Cellular (1G) – followed by the shutdown of AlarmNet A (900 MHz) in 2015 and 2G Cellular (GPRS) in 2016 –which all greatly affected alarm operations, companies and their customers. Avoid the same painful process over and over again by avoiding soon-obsoleting technologies.
The sunset of 3G, 4G, and 5G are on the horizon. Networks shared by the public are vulnerable, posing a security risk. Public service providers charge recurring monthly fees and packets get dropped – all taking away from your bottom line. More and more instances of power and cellular outages have been widely reported with increased frequency over the past couple of years.
Alarm dealers, installers and central stations are being forced to take a good hard look at the facts: Copper lines are disappearing and fiber conversions are a known issue for signal transmission and call completion; and landlines are simply not reliable for life safety and security systems.
As recently as June 2017, a large telecommunications company decommissioned its business landline, causing trouble for alarm monitoring companies with little advance notice. This impacted a large number of accounts that were completely failing to communicate. These types of incidents result in having to quickly find a replacement solution.
Some field technicians may believe cellular is the way to go when onsite at a customer location; however, it is a shortcut and temporary solution that will become costly. With monthly fees and multiple service calls, running daily operations on a cellular network can be very expensive due to obsolescence issues and the cost of truck rolls.
The process to upgrade, replace and repeat is a vicious circle; thus, it may be time to consider an alternative communication technology – for example, owner-operated and controlled private wireless networks provide high RMR with a low Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
7. Vet the Manufacturer
When investing in alarm communications equipment for critical event signals, it is important to ask the manufacturer key questions that will enable you to consider the value proposition for each and thus compare your options. Do they offer product and technical training? Do they have a maintenance program? Do they offer tools, services, and accessories for one stop convenience? How comprehensive is their technical support and customer service? Can they assist with network planning and site certification? Will they support you every step of the way to ensure successful installation and accelerated deployment?
8. Stay in the Know
Add trade publications to your newsfeed/social media and stay up to date on news and articles about the latest trends in fire and life safety products. Follow suppliers and support industry associations on social media. Have your field technicians attend product training and ensure they are familiar with a glossary of technical terms. Take advantage of webinars and online training videos.
Additionally, make sure your team is equipped with the latest industry codes and standards – especially UL listings and NFPA rules for compliance. This critical information can help inform your financial decisions.
Lee Dubé (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Director of Technical Support at AES Corporation. To request more info about AES, please visit www.securityinfowatch.com/10212714.