What is the role of the electrical contractor in providing contract monitoring services to the end-user? It can be significant if approached properly. National monitoring services help the electrical contractor and electrical engineer extend their service and maintenance by adding supervision and a host of other capabilities to the package they have already sold. It is not only burglar and fire alarm signals that can be monitored by a central station-there is a range of supervision and other remote and automation capabilities to monitor as well.

Signal transmission methods also vary, which gives both the end-user and the electrical contractor latitude in specifying the job. For example, there is traditional telephone line signal transmission over digital communicators, but in addition, cellular, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), radio telemetry, remote video surveillance, two-way audio, fiber optics, and in some cases, direct connections to responding authorities. In the future, video monitoring may replace guards or other personnel previously stationed in a commercial or institutional facility 24 hours a day.

No matter how you want to send or supervise a signal, it is what the end-user wants to accomplish that takes center stage. This is where the electrical contractor can team up with monitoring services to add profitability to the job.

While the end-user may be inclined to have their own proprietary monitoring center, they need to be reminded that running this type of operation can be a costly endeavor. There are others still who do not want the burden of doing in-house monitoring.

Overall, the trend is to take monitoring out of house, said Bart Didden, president of U.S.A. Central Station Alarm Corp., Port Chester, N.Y. Running a central station-or a proprietary one at a commercial location-takes significant start-up costs for equipment, technological upgrades, Underwriters Laboratories' listings and certifications, and other requirements.

Monitoring fire alarm and life safety systems requires expertise and an ongoing knowledge of codes and standards and other nuances of the market, Didden said.

New revenue streams

“There are frequent technological changes and software upgrades and a high level of expertise needed to run a central-monitoring facility properly and with the best interests of the customer in mind,” said Didden. “Electrical contractors should definitely partner with central stations, and they should be involved in this type of ongoing revenue stream. They've already developed a high level of trust with the customer. Once they've established that trust, they can continue to create new revenue streams from monitoring, maintenance and upgrades.”

Central-monitoring facilities charge for service depending on the number of signals, etc. Monitoring costs are $25 a month and up for a customer, but vary depending on the level of supervision, number of alarm points and other transmission solutions specially tailored for the end-user.

Didden said electrical contractors can suggest a number of different monitoring applications for customers including the following:

  • Burglar and fire alarm signals
  • Industrial processes
  • Environmental and temperature monitoring
  • General signal supervision and back up
  • Uninterruptible power supplies, generators and other power requirements at the facility.

“The possibilities are endless; anything that activates a switch can be monitored,” Didden said.

When performed properly, the monitoring operations garnered by an electrical contractor operates as a seamless solution.

National monitoring services pride themselves on the integrity and reliability of their signaling capabilities as well as their ability to serve both the alarm customer and the installing firm.

Monitronics International Inc., which has its headquarters in Dallas, provides a variety of services that extend beyond the monitoring of signals, said Traci Versaggio, manager, Contract Monitoring Services.

“For the electrical contractor, offering monitoring is simply a great way for them to make more money. If they can add two to three customers a month by monitoring, they can increase their revenues,” she said.

“We'll also do the billing and collections, with the contractor's name on the invoice. The contractor benefits by being able to sell the service and maintenance and that helps them stay in front of the customer,” Versaggio said.

The Central Station Alarm Corp. also offers billing and collection services.

One resource for central monitoring firms is the Central Station Alarm Association, Vienna, Va. Visit www.csaaul.org for a listing of professional Underwriters Laboratories' listed facilities.

Another may be your local security contractor or professional alarm installer with their own central station. What is important is the monitoring center you choose fits your business and philosophy and customer service and professionalism reigns over all.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.