Security Watch: Municipal Monitoring Battle Rages in Illinois

March 20, 2012
Illinois municipal monitoring battle

Over the past several months, numerous municipalities across the state of Illinois have either discussed or enacted legislation that dictates the type of fire alarm monitoring equipment that business owners should be using, as well as how monitoring of those systems should be conducted.

While specific laws vary, the common argument for passing these proposed ordinances from local fire officials is that they create reliable, direct connections to the local public safety answering point or PSAP and that alarm system owners would end up paying less in monitoring fees in the long run.

New initiatives surface

A similar rationale was used recently in the Village of Mount Prospect, which approved a measure requiring commercial fire alarm systems be connected to the local dispatch center via a radio monitoring signal beginning March 1, 2012. Those with existing systems will not be required to switch to the new radio monitoring system

In an internal fire department memo provided to, Mount Prospect Fire Marshal Bryan Loomis wrote: "The time it takes for a fire alarm signal to reach a central station, which can be located anywhere in the United States, can extend up to five and even ten minutes," the memo stated. This delay in transmission time can translate into a significant delay in dispatching the fire department."

Under the ordinance, business owners will be charged $90 per month in monitoring fees, which according to the memo is "significantly less than businesses and organizations currently pay in monthly phone line and monitoring fees." The memo stated that $45 of this fee would split between ADT and NWCD for monitoring. Another $40 would go to ADT for radio leasing and there would also be a $5 per month radio maintenance fee.

"We're not involved in the monitoring fees or anything, we're just allowing wireless radio alarms," said Mount Prospect Fire Chief John Malcolm when reached for comment. "Basically, the change was that our current code did not allow radio and we've had a lot of customers asking for it, so we changed the code to allow radio networks and the only piece is that it has to go back to our 911 center."

Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association and the public relations manager for EMERgency 24 in Des Plaines, Ill., said the Mount Prospect ordinance and others like it are merely a way for municipalities to enter the fire alarm monitoring business. The IESA has been at the forefront of this issue, rallying local business leaders and alarm dealers to voice their opposition when proposed ordinances are being discussed in cites across the state.

Lehan said that business owners can find just as reliable, if not better equipment than that mandated in these laws, as well as much more competitive monitoring rates in the private sector.

"The private sector and the free enterprise system will always deliver superior service and competitive price,” Lehan said. “When there is only one game in town, there is no price pressure. There is no price correction. When the government is selecting the winners and losers and in this case they have, it is going to be the end-user that is ultimately the loser and that's a shame."

Lehan lays the majority of the blame for the introduction of these ordinances at the feet of the local subject matter experts rather than city council members or village trustees. At one time, Lehan said that cities were looking to get into burglar alarm monitoring as well, but they have since shifted their focus to fire alarms citing that it’s a “life safety issue.”

“We’ve demonstrated repeatedly it’s not a life safety issue. (The private sector) offers superior technology at a much lower cost,” Lehan explained. “But whenever you have the supposed subject matter experts telling the people who are voting on (these ordinances)… they rely on staff recommendations because those council folks aren’t experts on this technology and they can’t be expected to be.”

Though some municipalities have moved forward with adopting these ordinances, alarm dealers and business owners in other Illinois communities have been successful in getting similar measures taken off the table.

Following an outcry of opposition to a proposed ordinance requiring new businesses and multi-family condos and apartment complexes to install wireless fire alarm systems in Elk Grove Village, Ill., in January, the city council recently decided to pull the ordinance.

According to Lehan, more than 40 business people and security industry leaders were in attendance at a council meeting to voice their concerns about the ordinance, which would have also required that these systems be connected directly with Northwest Central Dispatch.

Although the ordinance was intended to reduce the number of false alarms responded to by firefighters, Lehan said it would have put the private security industry at a disadvantage. Despite successes like these in Elk Grove Village, the issue of municipal monitoring is not going away anytime soon in Illinois as there are similar efforts currently underway in other jurisdictions throughout the state.

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