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Options for monitoring stations faced with work-from-home scenarios


March 20, 2020
By Alanna Fairey

The spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has evolved on a daily basis, resulting in many companies being forced to make the decision to either close down or ask their employees to work from home.

Independent product safety testing, certification and inspection organization Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) has recently faced questions about how health risk mitigation techniques might impact Alarm Service Certifications, especially those that involve quarantine, social distancing or work from home policies.

“UL is working with industry to develop reasonable guidelines and alternative operating methods for scenarios such as the current COVID-19 outbreak,” the company said in a prepared statement.

“At this time, we encourage monitoring stations to make contingency plans for operating in environments where operators are not able to physically come together to monitor signals in a central station operating room.”

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With the requirement that remote operators remain self-motivated and work well with minimal direction, the guidelines to working in a virtual environment from home can include:

• Virtual workplace operators should be provided with a computer. Home/personal computers shall not be used
• Connections between virtual workplace computers and central station automation systems shall be made through a encrypted virtual private network (VPN)
• Multifactor authentication should be required every 24 hours
• When not on shift, computers should be in shutdown and put in a secure place to prevent any damage of theft of the computer
• When processing alarms, the computer should be setup as not to allow others to view the monitoring screen or any other information
• If temporarily stepping away from computer while on shift lock the screen so others cannot gain access to the monitoring window

To accommodate virtual monitoring during the time of COVID-19, Bay City, Mich.-based DICE Corporation is helping central stations so that their staff may work remotely during this time by providing them with their PBX (Private Branch Exchange) modules along with providing connectivity to the automation system they are currently using.

Avi Lupo, DICE Corp.

“In the monitoring security industry, we’re talking about the many millions of customers that are getting the services that need response in real-time,” Avi Lupo, DICE executive vice-president, said in a recent interview with SP&T News.

According to Lupo, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a plethora of challenges to the security industry, with liability being the main concern.

“Traditionally, when people would look at disaster situations – like a terror situation, hurricane, or earthquake – many people typically say, ‘this is not going to happen to me,’ and many people would push that thought away,” Lupo explained.

“Part of the way that we believe things need to be done and our understanding of the way that we’re doing things on the disaster recovery.

“It’s not only the monitoring –– it is everything that has to do with the company, including service and the inventory.”

With a number of Canadian clients, DICE had been helping central stations get alarm signals into their network, as more and more people were already moving their information to the Cloud, but did not have the PBX automation platform set up in their centres.

With the COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront of people’s minds, services such as PBX have been in high demand from operators prior to the virus, according to DICE president and CEO, Clifford Dice.

“More and more companies were already pushing for the services that we offer, but now the phones are ringing off the hook and people want to monitor remotely from their house,” Dice said.

“They want their operators at home and they don’t want them in one building because of the pandemic.”

Clifford Dice, DICE Corp.

For operators to take advantage of the PBX module from home, it is an easy process. Offered as a web application, operators at home are able to log in to their work computers, have PBX in their web application and then they can plug in in their headset.

“They can take phone calls, they can make phone calls, and they can get the alarm signal,” Dice explained.

“People are really seeing the benefits of not only cutting costs more efficiently, but also allowing their operators to stay home and get their work done in all departments, alarm centre, service, installation, sales and accounting.”

From a security standpoint, operators do not need to worry about their sensitive data being compromised from their remote workstations. According to Dice, the system requires a multi-factor authentication that, in addition to encryption, makes it a secure and resilient system.

“We’ve always been known for our disaster recovery services, which has been getting better and better for the last 20 years,” Dice extolled. “As technology changes, it really has allowed us to do a lot more.”