Watch for Monitoring Fine Print

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Businesses are asking monitoring centres to remotely monitor their CCTV systems. Jim Gannon of Unipart Security Solutions encourages potential first time users to take their time deciding who to award the contract to. He stresses the need to look at any fine print.

Monitoring centres will normally endeavour to persuade clients to enter into two- or three-year service level agreements with built-in increases to cover inflation. There is nothing wrong with this, as monitoring centres need to plan their capacity over the medium to long term. The agreement will almost certainly stipulate that the annual charge entitles the client to a maximum number of activations per month or year. There is also nothing wrong with this. Monitoring centres have to run at a profit and can't do so if they are expected to resource their facilities to cope with an unspecified and potentially unlimited workload.

The Catch

The catch, and it's probably hidden in the small print, is what happens and what the cost is to the client if and when the agreed number of activations is exceeded. I would suggest that there are hundreds of businesses which over the last few years have been shocked by the unexpectedly high levels of their service charges as a result of a higher than expected activity. An important point to make is that the majority of 'activations' are not likely to be genuine alarms representing a threat to your property or assets. This will particularly be the case when CCTV cameras are sited externally and transmission triggered by motion detectors. Changing weather, moving trees, badgers, foxes and rats can all contribute to a high number of activations and ensure that you will be shocked by your service charges. Quite often your CCTV system may be a victim of its own success: if your business is where members of the public have free access such as a car sales forecourt then you must also anticipate a large number of genuine activations. These false alarms can very quickly eat up your monthly or yearly entitlement of activations and beyond that you will be looking at extra charges which you may not have budgeted for. By asking the right questions before you put pen to paper you can obtain all the benefits of remote monitoring without too much damage done to your company's bank balance. A few questions I would recommend you ask:


  1. Does your monthly or annual monitoring fee include all activations?
  2. If not, how many are free of charge?
  3. How has the projected number of activations been estimated?
  4. Is the monitoring contract for more than one year?
  5. If it is for more than one year, will the contract have a break clause allowing you to cancel if the activation charges are excessive?
  6. What expertise does the monitoring centre have to be able to audit your CCTV system, regularly measure the number of activations and make recommendations on how they can be driven down?
  7. Has the monitoring centre conducted a full site survey and do they understand your operational requirements?
  8. Has the monitoring centre produced a service level agreement that is comprehensive, unambiguous and covers key performance indicators (KPIs)?
  9. In the event that something goes wrong and the monitoring centre is to blame, what procedures will be in place for you to claim, without fuss, compensation? This last point is particularly important as one has to bear in mind that when remotely monitoring a site, quite often health and safety issues, as well as security come into play. Imagine a scenario where some children gain access to a site to play. A monitoring centre operator may make a decision that the children are harmless and take no action. A difficulty arises when one of the children has an accident on site. If your insurance company knows that your site is being remotely monitored and no action was taken to get the children to leave, you might find the bill for compensation claimed by the child's parents may not be met by your insurance. So who will pay?


You might have formed an opinion that the writer has a negative or cynical view of the value of remote monitoring centres. Nothing however could be further from the truth. I am convinced that remote visual monitoring can be highly effective particularly for businesses with multiple sites. Monitoring centres if they wish to retain clients long term must strive to deliver value as well as service. At Unipart we apply the Lean principles to all our monitoring contracts. We have processes and procedures which empower our colleagues to look for a continual improvement in all aspects of a contract and a major part of that is the driving down of the number of unwanted activations. A large dose of common sense, in-house expertise and a passion for delivering value equips us to achieve this.

This article first appeared in Professional Security Magazine. Contact us if you are interested in finding out more about Professional Security Magazine or subscribing to it.