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Jeff Zwirn's warning to alarm industry for allowing central station operators to work from home
August 9, 2022
Jeff Zwirn's warning to alarm industry for allowing central station operators to work from home 
            The July 2022 issue of Security Sales and Installation magazine has an explosive article by industry expert Jeff Zwirn [page 77 of the magazine]. BTW, if you don't get the magazine sign up now; it's important reading:   The article discusses central stations allowing their operators to work from home rather than in the confines of the central station.  Jeff concludes, for several reasons, that home monitoring is not as good as monitoring conducted at the central station; more distraction and less supervision.  He also suggests that home monitoring is taking place because central stations are saving money, on labor presumably, and that UL has endorsed the practice, something he didn't and doesn't agree with.  He contends that home monitoring "has the potential to create unheralded liability".
            Least you think that it's the central station's problem, not yours, Jeff reminds you that all alarm dealers agree to indemnify their central station, even for mistakes made by the central station. 
            If indemnity isn't enough to worry about, consider that it's you, the dealer, that has contracted to provide monitoring services to your customers.  Only a few hold-out [foolish] dealers use only a monitoring contract provided by their central station, so most of you are [wisely] contracting directly with the customer for the monitoring service using Standard Form Agreements..
            Jeff goes on to contend that alarm dealers not only don't discuss this home monitoring issue, but they are concealing it from their customers, which also concludes [perhaps correctly] that customers would object or at least not prefer operator home monitoring.
            Jeff notes that UL [UL-827] has approved operator home monitoring, over Jeff's objection.  Finally, Jeff makes a legal conclusion [which he is often apt to offer] that:
            "Anytime an alarm company makes fundamental changes in the services contracted for, it needs to be disclosed to each subscriber so that they can make informed choices. Failure to disclose any change in services, let alone ones that do not provide consumers with more security, is a recipe for disaster that many in the central station industry are the architects of."
            Let's see what you are agreeing to when it comes to monitoring services.  This excerpt is from the Residential All in One:
            "MONITORING CENTER SERVICES:   Upon receipt of an alarm signal, video or audio transmission, from Subscriber’s security and/or fire alarm system, ALARM COMPANY or its designee Monitoring Center shall make every reasonable effort to notify Subscriber and the appropriate municipal police or fire department [First Responders] depending upon the type of signal received.  Fire alarms are reported to the fire department unless operator believes no fire condition exists at the premises.
            .... Subscriber may obtain a written response policy from ALARM COMPANY. No response shall be required for supervisory, loss of communication pathway, trouble or low battery signals.
            If the equipment contains video or listening devices permitting Monitoring Center to monitor video or sound then upon receipt of an alarm signal Monitoring Center shall monitor video or sound for so long as Monitoring Center in its sole discretion deems appropriate to confirm an alarm or emergency condition."
            Unless you described the workings of the central station, specifically where it's located and how it monitors accounts, there seems to be no reason to differentiate between in-house or in-home operator monitoring.   But that doesn't end this discussion.  Jeff is a well-known and well-respected [in most quarters] alarm expert.  His observations and conclusions are sought in many legal forums [yes, by both alarm companies and those suing alarm companies]; his opinion on alarm operations matters.  Does it overshadow UL?  Does it overshadow operational standards established by leading central stations?  Probably not, but it sure gives moment for pause. 
            Most alarm customers have signed a proper alarm contract.  If you don't use a proper contract, then that's your problem.  Even if you do use a proper contract the contractual provisions are not going to protect you against claims of gross negligence; not if they can be proven.  Gross negligence is not easy to prove; you need an alarm expert to support the claim.  Jeff doesn't mention "gross negligence" but it's not a long walk from what he did write. 
            I don't know enough about operator home-monitoring.  I am told that the largest central station permits it; that other reputable central stations permit it, and not just for some but most of their operators.  I am also told that other reputable central stations employ 100% at office operators; they come to the central station like the good old days. 
            I agree that supervision over central station operators is important; essential.  I'm not prepared to suggest that permitting operators to work from home is tantamount to deception, dereliction of duty, gross negligence or even negligence.  The debate needs to tone down and address the facts and technology.  As of now UL and professional central stations are endorsing the practice and generally industry norms and standards, when followed, will negate findings of liability.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301