“HS Tech Group proves that implementing a successful, false alarm management program does not require an especially large staff or internally generated monitoring services. What it does require is a well-coordinated plan, outstanding communication, follow-through and a commitment to achieving results. All of which HS Tech Group demonstrated in spades in capturing the 7th annual Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award”, says Scott Goldfine, editor of Security Sales and Integration Magazine.

Too many installing security companies and monitoring providers resign themselves to merely accepting as the fact that false alarms are a necessary evil that comes with the territory. Even providers that are more conscientious commonly make the mistake of addressing false alarms as isolated incidents or as a problem separate and apart from other aspects of the business. A shining exception to such pitfalls is HS Tech Group, whose comprehensive alarm management practices and procedures have been validated with the 7th annual Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award.

“HS Tech Group has taken on the false dispatch issue as a company-wide effort. From sales and administration to the technical side of the company, they have confronted the issues with a ‘we can fix it’ approach,” says Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). “It is obvious by HS Tech Group’s realistic advertising literature, fully trained sales personnel, installation standards and monitoring company requirements that everything is geared toward proactive false alarm reduction through working closely with customers and law enforcement,” adds Gerry Miller, a past president of the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA).

Launched in 2005 by SIAC, FARA and SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION, and now also officially endorsed by the Installation Quality (IQ) program, the PDQ program raises industry-wide awareness, motivates alarm companies to be proactive and provides workable models. The PDQ Award annually recognizes the security company that best demonstrates an enthusiastic, cooperative and successful effort in false alarm reduction strategies. Four judges grade applications that address 14 categories.

This year, HS Tech Group nudged out finalists Monitronics and Vector Security for the trophy, which was presented at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in Nashville, Tenn. In its winning 78-page submission, HS Tech Group listed a 2011 police dispatch rate of .18 within the Baltimore County area where it is based. That rate was verified in a letter of support from the manager of the false alarm reduction unit. The achievement was accomplished in collaboration with HS Tech Group’s third-party wholesale monitoring provider, Lydia Security Monitoring (d.b.a. COPS Monitoring) of Williamstown, N.J.

“There were two main reasons for initiating our false alarm reduction campaign,” says HS Tech Group President Stuart Forchheimer. “The first was our ongoing commitment to our customers. We’re continually introducing new programs that add value to our services and contribute to the safety of the families we protect. The second reason was as treasurer for the Maryland Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and involvement with FARA’s ‘train the trainer’ program, I felt a sense of responsibility and wanted to motivate other members to get involved. Minimizing false alarms is proven in helping law enforcement better address actual threats.”

A journey inside HS Tech Group reveals how effectively managing alarms, minimizing false dispatches and partnering with law enforcement have become operational pillars at the core of the company’s daily business activities. Plus, Monitronics’ and Vector’s programs are spotlighted. Together these methodologies offer other providers inspiration to produce similar results and successful tactics to emulate.

Homegrown Firm Hits Home Run

Having worked on and off for his father’s general contracting company for more than 15 years, in 1993 Forchheimer leveraged his computer/IT experience and fascination for technology to form HS Tech Group. Since then, the firm has continuously reinvented itself from being one of the nation’s leading authorized ADT dealers to its present status as an independent, diversified technology solutions provider with commercial, residential, new construction, electrical and design divisions.

“HS Tech Group will be celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2013,” notes Forchheimer. “From the beginning, we have grown from a modest alarm company to one of the region’s most respected and awarded full-service technology integrators. Simply put, what truly makes us different is our people and how we go about assisting our clients day to day.”

In addition to capturing the PDQ accolade, those facets of HS Tech Group’s business collectively garnered it finalist recognition for SSI’s 2012 Installer of the Year in the small to midsize company category (fewer than 150 employees). Some of the virtues that make HS Tech Group unique include:

    • Investing in efficiency technologies, making for a pleasant working environment and happier customers (e.g. Sagequest integration with Sedona Office to dispatch closest field tech and provide customer’s history)
    • Phones answered by live operator with minimal transfers
    • Ongoing training for techs and other staff
    • Flexibility to customize and integrate technologies quickly as they change
    • Interactive showroom featuring products and services
    • Product/services tested internally before deployment to ensure ease of use and identify potential future service calls
    • Provide manufacturers product feedback to act as partner in development process
    • Installers passionate about helping others, with minimum ten years’ industry experience
    • Focus on solutions and thinking “outside the box” rather than selling a product
    • Customers for Life preferred service loyalty plan
    • In-house master electrician to handle electrical and generator division
    • Associates motivated with internal events, as well as charitable initiatives
    • Active with many industry groups

“We have a top-down commitment to excellence in all aspects of our operation,” says Commercial Sales Manager Brian Shrake, one of HS Tech Group’s 25 associates. “Starting with excellent, engaged personnel at every level committed to providing the finest products and services to our customers and then following that up with a tremendously effective customer service program. Every individual in the company takes personal responsibility to ensure our customers receive the attention and support to remain happy and loyal.”

HS Tech Group proudly displays its newly won Police Dispatch Quality Award in the reception area of its Baltimore headquarters.

That approach has been carried through to HS Tech Group’s alarm management practices, which function so well because they have been interwoven into the fabric of the entire enterprise. The program includes emphasizing installer/user training, implementing Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) and GSM cellular technology on new installations, tracking and following up on all false alarms, ongoing customer communications and reminders, and establishing and maintaining a strong relationship with responding law enforcement.

Program Points and Benefits

The planning of HS Tech Group’s false alarm program took several months over the course of a year. The company had regular monthly meetings to discuss what each team member would be responsible for and developed an outline with a timeframe for implementation. Toward the end of the process, weekly meetings were held to fine tune the process.

Highlights of the program include: advertising, sales literature and contract give a realistic expectation of the response that will be made when an alarm occurs; salespeople explain how alarm permitting, and fines work; information provided on false alarm prevention and the false dispatch issue; customers instructed about verification and call lists; ongoing customer communications on false alarm prevention; detailed training of alarm users including how to cancel a dispatch request; and use of other devices like checklists, postcards, fliers, etc.

“Most people hesitate and feel the need to question change, especially when it requires additional work or responsibilities,” says Forchheimer. “We asked our staff to view these changes as if they were our customer and how it would positively affect their experience. Since implementing the new procedures, our staff takes pride in knowing our customers will get the proper education from a company that truly cares. Once we began to receive good suggestions we knew they were embracing the program.”

Additional technical and procedural aspects of the program include: installing SIA CP01-compliant control panels; employing ECV (two-call verification) on all intrusion alarm signals, and installers certified as National Training School (NTS) Level I or II, or equivalent as well as additional training. As Forchheimer details, while these elements can be costly the payoff is well worth it.

“CP01, ECV, and additional training are all beneficial and should be incorporated into any successful alarm management program,” he says. “Yet there are tremendous costs associated with updating legacy panels, educating customers on why they need to be updated, the cost to convert a subscriber base to ECV, as well as the additional costs associated with the time for the training of the staff and technicians. However, the investment brings reducing of false alarms and our customers receiving improved support and a lower dispatch rate.”

Indeed, the return on investment (ROI) regarding results is quite measurable. According to Forchheimer, it includes the amount of time spent working central station reports being lessened because they become smaller. Plus, systems are in place to handle repeat offenders, and customers’ municipal fines have dropped dramatically.

3rd-Party Reliance & Client Care

One of the trickiest aspects of implementing a comprehensive false alarm reduction program can be when the installing company does not handle the alarm monitoring itself, but rather must coordinate with and rely upon a third-party provider. As it turns out, there are pros and cons to both scenarios. But in either case, the bottom line is it is entirely manageable and no less essential.

“The biggest challenge we faced was asking them to participate in helping us manage our program,” says Forchheimer. “They are an independent third-party central station, and most of what we asked for was never discussed when we signed up. But working with a third-party central brings a lot of benefits to the table as well. They can help us model our program with ‘what has worked’ for some of their other dealers.”

Having access to this information, according to Forchheimer, along with HS Tech Group sharing what is working on its end, helps Lydia Security Monitoring (COPS) become a better third-party station as well, and provides added benefits to other dealers seeking to cut down on false alarms. Lydia has offered to provide HS Tech Group with mailing services, customized E-mail and text message alerts, customized bill stuffers and more. “The real key is in working with us to reduce our overall signal traffic as well as developing a platform for us to manage our E-mail and text message alerts for our clients.”

One of the most critical considerations for a successful, false alarm reduction program is contacting customers after every alarm. The objective is to determine what took place, identify the cause of any false activations and implement corrective measures to curb future issues. In cases of repeat offenders or “problem” accounts, more serious action could entail discontinuing service. HS Tech Group continues to fine-tune these procedures.

“Throughout the process, we had different opinions on which central station reports to work and how much time we should direct to frequent abusers,” says Forchheimer. “We are still focusing efforts on the automation part of the process. The idea is to have messages with a link in the E-mail for the customer to click on and generate a service request for a courtesy visit at no charge to resolve the problem. We want it to be very easy.”

The pain of implementing a comprehensive alarm management plan is eased by positive customer feedback. Just because you think you know what is best for them does not mean customers appreciate it. Many resist any change. Fortunately for HS Tech Group, most clients have given the proverbial thumbs up. It helps to have engendered trust based on a history of personalized care.

“We make it a point from the very beginning to let every customer know they have a support system and if they should have a problem, we’re here to help,” says Customer Service Rep Tina Ray. “We are with them every step of the way, and we ensure our clients understand the operation of their system by the time the installation is complete. Because we build a close relationship from the beginning, they are more attuned to listening and understanding the importance of being a responsible alarm owner.”

Final Piece Is Peace With Police

Equally vital to cultivating a bond with your employees, monitoring provider and clients is reaching out to responding law enforcement agencies. Out of the four cornerstones of this equation, this is the area that requires the most proactivity and often the most care and sensitivity.

As Baltimore County’s Alarm Reduction Unit manager’s endorsement letter illustrates, HS Tech Group excels in this area: It is a pleasure to report Homesafe’s false alarm dispatch rate in 2011 was 0.18. This means customers on average experience a false alarm less than once every five years. Homesafe’s low dispatch rate prompted me to pull its rate for each of the last three years. Homesafe’s false alarm dispatch rate never exceeded 0.19. Homesafe’s sustained commitment to false alarm reduction is to be commended.

Besides extending itself to build rapport with law enforcement, HS Tech Group also pursues other avenues to further the cause. The firm is active in FARA — with Forschheimer recently being presented with that organization’s W. Rex Bell Award for his contributions — and the local alarm association.

“My involvement in the two associations and my willingness to work on these challenges probably converted any possible skeptics,” says Forchheimer. “Our low false alarm rate speaks for itself, and our positive working relationship with law enforcement is an added benefit. Our company is continually improving our methods of operation, and we have been active in supporting changes to the laws that will reduce false alarms.”

Still, he laments the limitations of being just one company in the grand scheme of reducing false alarms. Many states do not require ECV or much training, have limited resources due to the economy and are unable to enforce what they do require. At the same time, Forchheimer empathizes with some companies’ struggles to generate the resources for such a program. Nevertheless, he believes a relatively minimal effort can make a significant dent in this critical industry challenge.

“Minimally, every company should be able to identify signal traffic at their central station on a regular basis,” he says. “This information should be prioritized, ranking dispatches highest, communication problems second and any ‘troubles’ third. They should also be able to get corresponding info from local authorities that have tracking software in place for false alarms. This will identify how big a problem a company has and the major offenders. Such a program can reduce attrition and generate more referrals.”

By Scott Goldfine, Editor-in-Cheif, Security Sales and Integration Magazine