Security Watch

Feb. 4, 2011
New York licensing proposal draws criticism; concerns over fire protection districts getting into the monitoring business

Proposed New York Licensing Draws Criticism, Concern
By Deborah L. O'Mara

A draft state licensing bill proposed by a committee of the New York Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NYBFAA) and the Long Island Alarm Association has drawn criticism and concern from the central station industry.

The legislation seeks separate licensing of central station monitoring companies. Currently, only alarm companies selling, installing and servicing alarms are licensed (Article 6D,1992). Article 6E "Business of Alarm Monitoring," raised concern from wholesale monitoring companies and brick and mortar central stations, who question its necessity, the impact it will have on revenues and whether it can be effectively enforced in the state, which is currently in budget crisis and financial disarray.

Backers cite more professional monitoring services

According to John Lombardi, president of Commercial Instruments & Alarm Systems Inc., Fishkill, N.Y., a member of the committee proposing the legislation and a second vice president of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), the legislation's focus is on consumer protection through background checks and fingerprinting, as well as Homeland Security (circumventing offshore monitoring companies from entering the industry).

"Despite what others in the industry have said, this was not just written by 'alarm guys,'" said Lombardi. "Our committee was responding to a proposed bill drafted in 2009 by former New York State Senator Brian X. Foley from Long Island." (Foley no longer holds office but his committee continues development of the model ordinance.) Lombardi said opponents voiced it would ultimately be too expensive and in general is unnecessary.

"It's not too expensive," Lombardi said. "What if every jurisdiction in New York required fingerprinting? That's when it would get expensive. Here, one law would cover it and it would be one flat fee for the year for example, about $200. There's value to legislation if it's good and we believe it is."

Lombardi said the NYBFAA committee wants to protect the industry. "The goal is to raise the bar for the security industry profession and do it at a price point that's economically safe and in which everybody will benefit."

Ed Bonifas, president of CSAA and vice president of Alarm Detection Systems, Aurora, Ill., said CSAA "continues to monitor the issue closely and is acutely aware of the conflicting positions regarding it." Coincidently, CSAA had its Long Range Planning session scheduled for the end of January and will examine this. "Our position, if there is consensus, will be developed at that time," he said. Bonifas added the committee will also discuss national reciprocity [a federal bill] citing that, "the issue seems to have legs at this time."

What opponents are saying

Russell R. MacDonnell, chairman and chief executive officer of Rapid Response Monitoring Services, Fairfield, Conn., said he and other wholesale and brick and mortar monitoring companies have examined the draft and don't see the need for it. "What troubles me is that legislators are not pushing for this and consumers are not crying out either," he said. MacDonnell attended the Regional Alarm Systems Integrator Association (RASIA) meeting in Elmsford, N.Y., where Lombardi presented the committee's draft. RASIA is a sub-chapter of NYBFAA.

MacDonnell said that from Rapid Responses' perspective, the company already goes above and beyond what the bill proposes. "Our central station operators are fingerprinted and DOD cleared," he stated. "I do not think that on balance this legislation will do anything material that is not already being done in the industry to protect consumers or businesses. We are not prepared to let the state of New York finalize the details of what it takes to be qualified, what test will be administered, what the final fee structure will be and how it will all be enforced."

According to MacDonnell, "with regards to liabilities for the conduct of operators the fact that the 'principals' of out of state companies will be held liable for operator's conduct will undoubtedly be a significant problem for owners of companies who are normally shielded from such liabilities by their corporations. I do not think this part of the proposed legislation was well thought out and opens the door to a state starved for revenue."

The ordinance is, however, favorable to alarm companies with regards to false alarms since it mandates fees be paid by subscribers rather than the monitoring company. He added that the organization opened its mid-February meeting to a discussion of the legislation, which MacDonnell will attend on behalf of Rapid Response.

According to Morgan Hertel, vice president and general manager of MACE CS in Anaheim, Calif., adding more bureaucracy is not a panacea. "From a contract monitoring perspective, we operate in numerous states, which results in hundreds of background checks and it's incredibly time consuming and expensive," said Hertel, also a member of the CSAA Contract Monitoring Council, which discussed the legislation's impact recently.

"Our biggest concern is the state won't be able to enforce it and the only people this will affect will be the good guys 'behind the seats' [central station operators]; the bad guys will never get licensed," he said. "Why put rules in place that will be ineffective? Let's take the time and money that would otherwise be used to fight this and do it right at the federal level, with a federal central station employee license," he said. "At the federal level, central station employees would be cleared under the same criteria. Few of the folks on the NYBFAA committee monitor across state lines. Wholesale and brick and mortar companies will fight this tooth and nail," Hertel said.

The Fight of Our Lives
The industry needs to act fast against municipal monitoring
By Natalia Kosk

More than 100 central station owners and representatives, dealers, security distributors and industry professionals gathered late last month to attend the Illinois Electronic Security Association's (IESA) quarterly meeting. Quite a turnout and rightly so, considering the main topic of discussion at the meeting hosted at EMERgency24 headquarters in Des Plaines, Ill.,: fire protection districts getting into the alarm monitoring business.

The main and heated topic of discussion was legislation opposed by the IESA, Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Electronic Security Association (ESA); legislation that fire protection districts are working to pass that would allow them to operate their own central monitoring stations.

"Fire chiefs are in a particularly powerful position to compete against you," explained Nick Bonifas, business development, Alarm Detection Systems, Aurora, Ill.

Chet Donati, IESA president and founder, DMC Security Services, Midlothian, Ill., agreed, addressing the attendees that "competition is good for all of us here" within the alarm industry, but not with the fire districts.

"I'm not saying that the fireman is not your friend-he is," Donati continued. "But neither one of us is going to win against the fire department. Their 'eminent domain' in the name of public safety is going to take our accounts away."

According to Kevin Lehan, executive director, IESA, and public relations manager for EMERgency24, a NFPA 72 technical committee member who worked as a consultant to a Public Safety Answering Point(s) (PSAP) claimed central stations take too long to respond to an alarm-up to 15 minutes. PSAP leaders plan to communicate this to municipal leaders, who will proceed to argue this case alongside a bill IESA believes will be presented by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) in Springfield.

Lehan confirmed that this is false and a clear misrepresentation of information, citing that NFPA 72 requires a maximum of 90 seconds to respond to a signal and transmit that signal to 911 emergency dispatch.

The bill, if passed, would potentially allow municipalities to take subscribers from private monitoring companies.

"The only option we have here is to go to the politicians," explained Patrick Devereaux, senior vice president, EMERgency24. "They may understand it better than anyone else."

Small wins push the battle on

"By Illinois law, the fire department district is not allowed to enter the private alarm monitoring business," continued Donati. And despite actions of fire districts to present this bill in Springfield, recent findings indicate fire districts face a tough road to passage.

Citing the recent events that occurred with Tri-Com's decision to stay out of the alarm monitoring business, (which the IESA was asked to help with last August), Lehan stated he was uncertain what caused the St. Charles, Ill.-based PSAP for Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles, Ill., to "opt out" and "change their mind about taking central station accounts."

According to the Kane County Chronicle, Tri-Com said it had fewer accounts than it thought and that it was not "economically feasible." Nonetheless, the IESA and CSAA see the turn of events as a step forward in their grassroots fight against proposed fire district legislation.

"Their [fire districts] business plan is starting to erode," said Lehan. "We're going to go after this in every single community. When the government is trying to creep into your business, we will be there for you."

Multiple security monitoring firms (including lead plaintiff ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla.) countered a proposed ordinance initiated by the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District, which resulted in the court issuing a preliminary injunction ordering the District to cease its fire alarm monitoring program. IESA believes that the proposed legislation will be written to fill certain gaps pointed out by the judge in this case, including: the District Act contains no authority to engage in the fire alarm monitoring business; and the District act bars the district from charging a fee to its residents for any services.

According to Dick Lockhart, IESA's lobbyist, the IESA will work to overpower the bill municipalities are proposing before it gets to the Senate.

The IESA plans to send out a fact sheet to all security industry associates (in addition to the 600+ licensed alarm contractors in Illinois) regarding onerous legislation it opposes. The IESA fact sheet will be e-mailed after the bill is introduced and IESA's attorneys and lobbyists have reviewed the language to identify the areas that would negatively impact our industry the most. Once recipients have a copy of the IESA fact sheet, they are asked to contact their elected state officials to explain how this bill would hurt their business.

Inside Look at Municipal Alarm Monitoring

The crux of the meeting hit those in attendance hard after Nick Bonifas, business development, Alarm Detection Systems, Aurora, Ill., showed a video clip of a taped meeting in which city and fire district officials discussed costs associated with accounts that would be taken over by municipalities from private alarm monitoring companies. Bonifas said the video clip, collected through extensive research under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was proof positive municipalities and fire districts are after accounts and business, need money, are misrepresenting central monitoring stations and continue to spread their message.

Wireless: Ready for Commercial Prime-Time

Visonic Ltd., Tel-Aviv, Israel, unveiled new wireless intrusion detection technology called PowerG(tm) that opens the door to more robust residential signaling and new applications in commercial markets.

Patent-pending, it addresses many of the challenges faced by wireless deployments: penetration through thick walls and ceilings and other infrastructures considered common in the commercial protected premises. It provides higher reliability and signal strength, near that of hardwired systems.

"This is a rare event, to announce new technology, so it's a real celebration for Visonic Ltd.," said Avi Barir, Visonic president and CEO. "It's something that comes around once in a decade. This innovation gives us the ability to further penetrate existing markets and to enter new ones." All the applications and products built around PowerG will have the installer and the end-user in mind. They will be user-friendly and allow for remote or local settings at the premises, the central station, cell phone or at home. For the installer it will also offer full diagnostics available from the cell phone or the monitoring station with usage statistics, 'state' of the device, etc. Barir said PowerG will allow four to five times more distance of communications, with higher security.

The PowerG network uses Two-Way Low-Power Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology-similar to military communication systems. The network hops between multiple frequencies spread over the entire assigned frequency band, ensuring transmissions arrive uninterrupted. Frequency hopping is achieved using a unique encrypted pseudo-random sequence known only to the devices enrolled in the alarm panel.

Similar to the GSM cellular network, PowerG employs full two-way synchronized Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) communication technology: each device in the PowerG network is allocated unique timeslots for full two-way data transmission with the panel, streamlining communication and increasing channel efficiency.

PowerG employs advanced radio and diversity antenna technologies that, when combined with FHSS and synchronized TDMA communication, result in a transmission range of over 2000m (6,000 ft.) line of sight and uses AES encryption.

Reed Sensors: Old Dog with New Tricks and More Security!

Founders of Magnasphere(r) Corp., Waukesha, Wis., have taken decades-old Reed switch detection technology for security contacts to new heights. Originally developed by Bell Labs in the late 1930s, Reed switches had three weaknesses: easy potential defeat with magnets; permanent contact weld failure from lightening and power surges; and fragile glass construction. Concealed and surface-mount sensors with Magnasphere's magnet ball contact technology are resistant to these weaknesses, making it a higher security application product.