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7.28.22 – SSI – Jeff Zwirn

Distracted operators? Increased alarm contractor liability exposure? Forensic alarm expert Jeff Zwirn pokes holes in UL-827’s pandemic-induced standard exception.

In a world where peace of mind is mission-critical, in-home monitoring is nothing short of dangerous. Does it provide more safety and security to subscribers? No. Does it provide the central station operators with more redundant monitoring capabilities? No. Does it provide a better environment for no distractions to the operator? No. So what’s the rationale? You decide.  

It is unclear, but in part, it’s to allow central stations to increase profitability by walking away from the core foundation of what the alarm industry has relied on since the 1800s — being The Central Station.

What happened to life-safety and security? UL-827’s adoption of allowing central station operators to monitor from their own apartments and homes is a decision that has the potential to create unheralded liability.  

In the meantime, alarm contractors have already agreed to indemnify central stations when their subscribers use their services. Does the indemnification apply to the advent of in-home monitoring? Central stations will take the position it does. How many alarm contracting companies have thought about this new legal exposure?  

In other words, if the central station operator is working from their own apartment or home and they receive signal(s), but no action is taken and/or if there is a delay in retransmission by the operator to the police or fire department and/or if there are other causes of action made by the plaintiff against the central station, soon thereafter, the alarm contractor will receive a demand and notice from the central station’s legal counsel/insurance carrier seeking indemnification in accordance with the dealer agreement you entered into with the central station.   

Why would an alarm contractor want to increase their indemnification obligations as a result of in-home monitoring? What part of in-home monitoring provides more reliability to the alarm dealer and its subscribers than from within the four walls of a central station?

Yet with “the approval” through UL-827 (I was the only standard technical panel member on UL-827 who voted no) to allow central station operators to monitor homes and businesses from their own personal apartments and homes, a dynamic has been created that instantly changes the duties of alarm contractors forever.  

At the same time, it significantly increases alarm contractor liability exposure as a result of knowingly or unknowingly adopting this practice. In fact, many alarm contractors using subcontracted central stations have still not been made aware of this change. In alignment with this concealment is that there are no plans to disclose in-home monitoring to millions and millions of subscribers. Why? 

Because central stations know that consumers are not going to want their alarm systems monitored from an operator’s apartment or home, compared to keeping operators where they belong, within the protected, redundant, supervised and no-distraction zone of the four walls of the central station.  

Do consumers and business owners have a right to make informed choices? Where in your contract does it state that you have the right to provide in-home monitoring services instead of central station monitoring? When you sell alarm systems to consumers, how do you describe alarm system monitoring?

Do consumers have a right to rely on your representations? If you were to call each one of your subscribers and tell them that from now on, their systems will be monitored outside of the four walls of the central station and into the personal apartments and homes of central station operators, what would you think they’ll do, embrace this change?

From my interviews with subscribers, this is not the feedback that I received. On the contrary, the subscribers told me that they would cancel their service and/or they would switch to an alarm company that would not provide in-home monitoring, or just as troubling, they wanted the alarm contractor to lower their central station recurring charges. 

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.

In other words, when you put profitability over the safety and security of your subscribers while touting that you provide peace of mind for them and their family’s life safety and security, is not something that can be attained or sustained because the weakest link is the one that been distinctly created here through parties that decided the reward in their profits is worth the increased risks to their subscriber.  

Notwithstanding, there is no reliable way to supervise operators working out of their apartments or homes remotely, there is no reliable way to remotely stop operators from being distracted on their cell phones or social media while “on duty,” and there is surely no way to solve the problem of losing connectivity and/or communications between the operator’s apartment or home and the central station.