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Are you meeting the monitoring station training challenge?

Monitoring stations are often classified as call centres, but how many call centres make potential life and death decisions 24 hours a day, every day of the year? Yes, the monitoring station is a call centre, but it is a call centre with a difference! The potential impact of a wrong decision can literally have life or death consequences. So how do you prepare your station and your staff to handle this?

July 3, 2008  By Scott Adamson

The answer is preparation, and preparation means training and
standards. When faced with a life or death decision and time is of the
essence, there are only two ways to make a quality decision. The first
is to have experienced that situation over and over so that the
decision is almost automatic. The second is to have thought about and
planned for that situation and developed policies and procedures that
are clear and unequivocal, so that the response is pre-determined and
there really is no decision to be made. In other words, a monitoring
station needs to be governed by clear standards and operators need to
be trained to those standards to the point where their responses to
critical situations are automatic.

External standards
Because of the life or death impact of decisions in a monitoring
station, standards are critical not only to ensure high quality
decisions, but also to protect against liability. This is why top
stations are typically “ULC Listed.” ULC is the Underwriters
Laboratories of Canada and they are an independent organization who
test and certify that equipment, systems and procedures meet with a
specific standard. This not only gives the consumer and the Liability
Insurance Carriers a level of comfort, but they also provide some
protection for the station against liability. If an operator has
followed a pre-described procedure for handling an emergency that has
been tested and approved by a standards council, such as the ULC, it is
difficult for an individual to later sue the monitoring company for
following that standard, because they are now challenging not just a
decision by an individual operator, but a decision of the ruling
standards body, which is much more difficult.

Internal standards
The monitoring station needs to adhere to strict internal standards as
well. All operators need to be on the same page at all times. Training
must ensure uniformity and consistency among all operators in every
circumstance. This in turn leads to high quality alarm response for all
customers, while at the same time minimizing the potential for

The “cry wolf” syndrome
A large battle to overcome in a monitoring station, is the “cry wolf”
syndrome. Statistics show that 92 per cent of all dispatches are false.
I would suggest that the number is actually higher, because before a
dispatch has been made there are a number of verification protocols
that have been followed to try and determine whether the call is real
or not. So, it is critical to ensure that the Operator never becomes
jaded or de-sensitized to any alarm signal.


Despite the fact that the vast majority of signals are false the
operator MUST respond to every alarm as though it were an actual life
and death situation. This can be stressed during training, but it is
difficult to maintain that focus over a long period of time. One way
that this can be accomplished is by sharing and reinforcing the actual
“life or death” calls that happen.

We recently had an incident in our station where we received a carbon
monoxide alarm and were able to successfully get the family out of the
house while the fire department was dispatched. There was a faulty
furnace and the levels of CO in the house were 80 times the normal
levels. The fire department confirmed that the family would not have
survived much longer had they not gotten out when they did. This type
of story needs to be shared with all staff. Give recognition to the
staff involved and reinforce that “this is why we do what we do!”

Training needs to be multi-faceted
There are so many facets to the training required that it is a daunting
task and one that takes a long time with constant follow-up. Areas that
need to be considered are as follows.

• Thorough understanding and working knowledge of the telephone system hardware and software
• “Soft” skills such as the proper choice of words and maintaining a
balance between providing “service with a smile” and recognizing the
gravity of the situation and the emotional impact on the person on the
other end of the call.

Operating software:
• Thorough understanding of the signals being received, what they mean,
any abbreviations or codes that are used, where information is found
and recorded, etc.

Database management:
• Appropriate use of comments (anything entered by an operator in the handling of an alarm becomes a permanent record).

Equipment knowledge:
• Operators need to have a basic understanding of how alarm systems
work. This can be quite involved considering the number of different
systems and services that are provided (burglar, fire, supervisory,
environmental, etc.)

Emergency protocol:
• Standards and procedures
• Emergency responding agencies and their protocols
• Regulatory requirements

Customer service skills:
•The interaction with a customer in an emergency situation will do more
to shape that customer’s perception of your service than any other

This is just a very brief outline of some of the skills required. It
can take three to six months to get a new hire to just a basic level of
competency. Training is an ongoing challenge in the monitoring station.
Learning styles need to be considered as well. Some people learn by
just listening, some by reading, some by hands-on. Effective training
needs to employ a mix of all three styles – a combination of theory,
role-playing, job shadowing, and hands-on training will produce the
best results.

Because of the complexities involved, many stations use a combination
of internal and external training. Internal training is obviously
required for company telephone systems and monitoring software as well
as equipment/technical knowledge and any specific company policies and
procedures. External training and certification is available through
organizations such as the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and
the Security Industry Association (SIA). The CSAA provides a Level One
Operator Course that is available through on-line resources. Monitoring
Stations can also work towards achieving the CSAA Five Diamond
Certification when all operators have attained a certain minimum
competency level. And soft skills such as customer service skills can
be either provided internally or externally.

Ongoing coaching and training
The initial training is really just the beginning. The training
challenge in a monitoring station is constant and ongoing. Team leaders
and shift supervisors are valuable assets in real-time coaching for
operators and most stations employ call centre software that allows for
real-time “listening-in” on calls as well as the taping of all calls
for use as a coaching tool after the fact. Measurement metrics such as
speed of answer, length of time per call, the amount of “aux” time
(where an operator is logged out of the system to enter comments or
perform other after call work) and various quality measures are also
employed to help supervisors to coach monitoring station operators to
peak performance.

So, in this “call centre with a difference,” training is essential to
meet the challenge of providing consistent, high quality service while
making life and death decisions. Effective standards and training also
minimize the risk of liability. The complexities involved mean that the
training job is never finished. Ongoing coaching is an essential
element in your training plan.

– With files from Jeff Momney

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