External alarm receiving centres (ARC) are employed by many organizations to monitor their alarms around the clock, or after hours when few or no staff are physically on site. But are they always the best way for businesses to effectively manage their alarms and keep employees safe? Klaus Allion gives his view...
When alarms go to an ARC it is often understood that all alarms are managed and handled for them. This is not always the case and many alarms are escalated back to internal staff to manage to ensure their lone workers are safe.
Unsurprisingly, companies are often ill equipped to manage alarms that they receive second hand and don’t have the processes or tools in place to ensure staff are safe, which not only puts lives at risk but causes a lot of unnecessary internal work.
For example, in a manufacturing plant, there are many potential hazards including slips and falls, or trapping a limb in machinery. In these scenarios, if the injured lone worker is able to press an alarm, does it really make sense to send that alarm information to an organization that are positioned over 200 miles away, when the best placed people to deal with the incident are working in the room or building next door?
Unlike a colleague, an ARC operator can’t simply walk into the next room to switch off the machinery to free their trapped arm. And if an incident warrants an ambulance, will the paramedic know exactly where to go and how to find the injured person on an unfamiliar manufacturing plant – all co-ordinated by an ARC operator? Probably not! Which begs the question, if local staff are the best placed team to respond and manage the emergency, why send the alarm information to an ARC? Why not cut them out of the loop and alert local teams directly?
In many cases the attraction for using ARCs is that all critical alarms are dealt with by emergency services, but this is not always the case. The fact is that ARC operators can only contact the police or an ambulance if they have proof that the lone worker’s life is in danger, which can only be established when they listen-in to the voice call, when the lone worker alert is triggered. If, for example, the lone worker has been rendered unconscious – you then have a very serious and life-threatening issue that you’re unable to manage through your designed critical alarm process. In this situation the ARC operator can only ring through designated internal contacts to make them aware that a tilt alarm has been triggered. All of a sudden, an internal response team that has been set up to manage non-critical alarms, must respond and find the lone worker quickly when they’re unprepared to do so. They may not even know where on-site the lone worker alarm has been generated from and where to start their search. More worryingly, a precious amount of time may have elapsed already, as there is no guarantee that the ARC will have been able to pass on this critical information to the internal team first time.
Some industries, such as the care sector, can have a high number of lone workers. Care workers often work alone, making visits into patients’ homes. They’re encouraged to trigger an alarm as soon as they feel threatened, not to wait until the incident has scaled to a point where they might be about to be physically attacked. Once the alarm has been triggered, this opens up a communication line with the ARC, so the operator can listen-in to ascertain what is happening. If they hear that the worker is being threatened and is in danger, they can contact emergency services. However, they can only listen in for approx. 30 seconds. If no threat is heard, the ARC will disconnect and contact staff internally to make them aware of the incident.
Due to the volumes of users being monitored, the number of alarms generated and passed on to internal teams to manage is considerably high. In some cases, more than one per day - though very few alarms are in fact passed on to emergency services. Which must make you wonder that if your internal team is managing the lion’s share of the alarms anyway, why not manage them all and provide them with the tools to do it properly? Not only will you provide a better level of protection for your lone workers, but you’ll be able to manage all your alarms far more efficiently.
An automated process
There is an assumption that ARCs can take the burden of alarm monitoring and incident response away from employees. But in many situations, they don’t and companies find themselves in a position where they don’t have the right processes in place to manage these second-hand alarms passed to them by ARCs, leaving them horribly exposed.
With an automated solution, businesses do not need to rely on two-tiered process. Instead, alarms can be distributed to an internal response team directly on their smartphone or PC, where staff listen in to audio and view maps of where the person is externally or internally located based on either GPS or WiFi / ibeacon technology.
An internal automated system can also be useful to ensure that the escalation process is as efficient as possible. If certain staff don’t respond to the alert it can be escalated and you have quick access to an audit trail to analyse where the process can be improved.
With robust procedures in place, ARCs can be effectively utilized and provide reassurance to organizations that should an incident occur, the alarm will always be answered by an operator. However, an ARC can also be an unnecessary extra link in the chain that can slow response and put staff at potential risk. Bringing the whole process in-house, using technology to underpin it, is certainly worth considering.
Klaus Allion is managing director of ANT Telecom.