Hot Developments in Remote Monitoring

Modern technology makes it possible that whatever is detected can be electronically reported, and whatever is reported can be remotely monitored, and whatever is remotely monitored can be remotely controlled. Just ask the scientists who are gleaning new information from Mars, Saturn, Venus or other outlying planets from seemingly miraculous remote-controlled space probes. Many electrical contractors may be asked to wire security systems or install some energy control or monitoring hardware without understanding the complete system. Some are content to leave it at that, but if you want to keep up with this trend or even want to consider getting started in remote security and energy controls, perhaps this information could help. First, we begin with a summary of present trends in remote monitoring, and then profile two rising companies that could be important partners for any electrical contractors wanting to learn more.

The Security Industry Association ( formed an alarm-monitoring group to advance this technology. It lists 107 member companies, and here is what they respond to frequently asked questions.

What is alarm monitoring?

Modern alarm communications can transmit digital, audio and video data to a central station thousands of miles away that receives and processes this vital information. Just as there are various communications media to choose from-e.g., telephone, radio, cellular, etc.-there are also unlimited options as to who monitors and where monitoring takes place.

What is proprietary and contract monitoring?

Proprietary monitoring involves a business that maintains a monitoring station on its protected premises, such as a college campus, factory, apartment complex, etc., or performs those functions for its own properties off-premises. Some alarm companies monitor the alarm systems they install by maintaining their own central monitoring stations, but the majority of alarm companies contract with third-party central stations to provide professional monitoring services to their clients.

How does it work?

An alarm control instructs a communications device to deliver a message to the central station for action. The control element can be a closed circuit television system or an access or sensor alarm device. A cellular device, pager system, radio or digital communicator can send signals over the telephone network, Ethernet or Internet. In some cases, the central station may initiate video or audio surveillance, but in most instances, the central station decodes and processes the data it receives and acts according to predetermined instructions. Within seconds, help is on the way. Activity reports are instantaneous and status summaries are routine.

What significant changes have occurred in electronic security monitoring?

Electronic monitoring began well over one hundred years ago when Edwin Holmes draped cotton-coated wires across Boston directly to the first central station in America. Various dedicated wire technologies dominated the industry until the invention of the “tape dialer” some 30 years ago. On alarm activation, the alarm would access the user's standard telephone line and play a recorded message indicating to the police or fire department that assistance was needed.

In the early 1970s, digital communications created major changes. That was about the time Xerox was announcing the first version of its Ethernet wiring protocol. It was followed by IEEE Standard 802.3, which is still the basic standard for wired information networks. By 1975, the first third party contract monitoring service was founded to provide alarm companies and their clients with nationwide coverage. This development led to the formation of the contract central stations that prevail today. There are now millions of alarm systems using digital communicators that are monitored by central stations throughout the country.

Who are the subscribers of the third-party contract monitoring services?

Subscribers of contract monitoring services include homeowners, commercial and retail firms, schools, telecom and electric utilities, airports, factories, hospitals, and more. Affordable alarms and alarm monitoring make electronic systems a modern necessity for homeland security.

What types of conditions are monitored by third-party contract monitoring services?

From the most common access entry to the most unusual emergency conditions, central stations monitor them all: burglar alarms, fire alarms, emergency medical conditions, panic alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, energy management, etc. If a sensor can detect a change in circumstance, the contracted central station can monitor it. Home automation and commercial/industrial energy control monitoring are growing segments of this market. Personal emergency response systems (PERS) exhibit strong growth and play an active role in controlling health care cost.

Some new growth companies

When you think of security and energy controls perhaps well-known names like Honeywell, Johnson Controls, ADT, SentryNet, and Brinks come to mind. But, here is a profile of two newcomers that are getting some rave reviews in the trade press. They represent Internet protocol (IP) Web-hosted technology at the incipient stage that could fire the remote monitoring growth of tomorrow. These systems can be managed over the Internet from Web-enabled personal computers anywhere. Perhaps getting better acquainted with them and their peers could be helpful to your own bottom line.

First is Brivo, Inc. (, with its headquarters in Bethesda, Md., and a sprout from the Chamberlain Group that markets products under trademarks including Sentex, Liftmaster, and Elite. The Brivo Access Control System (ACS) enables businesses to control, over the Internet, physical access to offices, warehouses, remote/unmanned buildings, or sensitive areas such as computer rooms or fuel tank farms, where real-time control and accountability of entry are important. The company's Web-hosted solutions are based on proprietary technology that connects dispersed facilities to the Internet using secure, wide-area communications. It maintains its hosting data center in Northern Virginia with backup in Elmhurst, Ill.

CEO, Carter Griffen said, “The key differentiator of Brivo ACS is our hosted platform ... that acts like a central nervous system managing the security of critical customer assets across multiple doors, facilities, cities and states.”

It is available in both wireless and Ethernet versions. Scott Morton, VP Marketing said, “Wireless can bring access control to those hard-to-reach places and do it cost effectively.”

Brivo, Inc. markets through value-added resellers, one of which is WBE, Inc. an electrical contractor in Novato, Calif. Michael Nann, Security Division manager provided this update. “Our organization is led by Leslie Murphy (CEO), and she has had a vision of diversification for some time. We built our security division from a typical electrical contractor model, meaning we were operationally driven rather than sales oriented. Now, we have technically based project managers who act as account executives and estimate and manage their own projects. We partnered recently with Brivo Systems and are using their Web-hosted solution on smaller, lower-profile projects. The wireless and networkable solutions they offer give end-users a reliable access-control system, and administration is performed from any computer with Internet access. The price point that Brivo sets also allows us to enter a market that previously would have been lost due to excessive cost.”

Another upstart in remote monitoring, Electric City, Inc. ( uses its remote technology for energy management. ECI's marketing program, called Virtual “Negawatt” Power Plan (VNPP), will allow utilities to remotely control commercial, industrial and government lighting systems over a managed and secure IP network. ECI recently announced a 50 megawatt power curtailment system for a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing site of Heinz foods in Northbrook, Ill. Heinz will receive free steady-state energy savings and remote control over its lighting systems, while helping to improve the environment and assisting the local electric utility, ComEd, on peak-demand days. ECI also inked a deal with Bimba Manufacturing covering up to four large facilities with the initial site to include their 485,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Monee, Ill. Bimba is a leading producer of stainless steel cylinders used throughout industry. John Mitola, CEO of Electric City said, “We continue to experience a very solid sign-up rate for our program, allowing us to aggregate customer load in Chicago and across North America. We have been signing up many national accounts [like The Home Depot] for Chicago and beyond. This allows national customers to start their experience with us throughout Chicagoland and then consider participation in other regions in North America. This allows us to 'preaggregate' curtailment load. In this way, electric utilities and independent system operators know we are for real-we have the technology and the customers in their market.”

Electric City will guarantee the delivery of peak power reduction through its EnergySaver/GlobalCommander system and will dispatch the system at the direction of a utility. In exchange for hosting the system and allowing remote control over peak demand, customers will receive free steady-state energy savings.

The cost of the system is borne by third-party lenders, supported through a long-term agreement with ComEd. Electric City is working toward the development of similar systems in higher-cost electricity areas across the United States and recently announced a second system for utility, Xcel Energy in the Denver area and a third system with Enersouce in Ontario, Canadaa. Electric City's new system will allow utilities to remotely control a wide range of commercial, industrial and government lighting systems over a managed and secure IP network. Any participating utility will be able to reduce electric capacity requirements during periods of peak demand, providing instantaneous control, measurement and verification of load reduction.

What's in it for electrical contractors? The 50MW VNPP system in Chicago represents one of the largest deployments of demand-control technology in the nation and is expected to incorporate roughly 1,200 to 1,500 EnergySaver systems. It seems there will be greater opportunities for electrical contractors to enter this market in the coming years. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or


About the Author

Lewis Tagliaferre

Freelance Writer
Lewis Tagliaferre is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or .

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