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Your Station Receives a Signal Labelled – “AC Failure” – What Should Happen?

Alarm control panels will transmit a signal when AC Power is lost at the site of the alarm system. Everyone understands that. The consequences of such a signal can vary significantly from one site to another, as can the cause for such a signal to be sent. Let’s talk first about what can cause such [...]
Your Station Receives a Signal Labelled – “AC Failure” – What Should Happen?

Alarm control panels will transmit a signal when AC Power is lost at the site of the alarm system. Everyone understands that.
The consequences of such a signal can vary significantly from one site to another, as can the cause for such a signal to be sent.

Let’s talk first about what can cause such a signal. They can be initiated by any number of events such as:

  • Someone trips the breaker or removes the fuse for the electrical circuit feeding the alarm control panel.
  • Someone unplugs the transformer feeding AC power to the alarm control panel.
  • Someone disconnects the AC power for the entire electrical panel (perhaps to perform work on a circuit).
  • Someone who is planning to be away for an extended period orders their hydro supplier to discontinue service in order to save money (don’t laugh – it happens).
  • A hydro pole near the affected site is damaged in an accident and hydro is disrupted.
  • A storm moving through the area causes hydro outages.
  • An accident…you get the idea!

The point is, there are countless reasons for a site to experience “AC Failure”. Many alarm control panels have built-in delay periods before they will transmit such a signal. This eliminates at least some potential signals from being sent, since all signals will be cancelled if the AC restores prior to the end of the delay period. Some monitoring stations add an extra delay period upon receipt of such a signal before taking any action. This is based on experience, since a significant number of such signals come at a time of day where a call to someone’s home is thought, by most people, to be inconvenient and unnecessary.

Experienced monitoring station operators will tell you that few (if any) types of signals will lead to more aggravation than “AC Failure”. It’s one of those thankless situations we force on people. Some of the more common responses operators hear are:

  • Okay, so it’s 3:30 in the morning. You woke me up to tell me my power is off. What do you expect me to do about it?
  • Oh we are quite aware that the power is off. That would explain why we are sitting here in the dark, wondering whether anyone scored in overtime! Did our team win? Do you happen to know?

These are rather tame examples. The sarcasm can be much more caustic than shown here.

To add to the difficulties, the vast majority of homes now have digital telephones that use AC Power to operate. The same is true for most businesses. Well guess what! When we call, the telephone at the subscriber end will not even ring! The only phones we can reach would be cell phones – and then, all too often, to deliver a message about something they already know (see above).

Now let’s look at other mitigating factors. If we go back far enough, we might remember the ice storm of 1998 that knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses throughout Quebec and Eastern Ontario. In 2004 most of Ontario lost power when something went wrong with the power grid in northern US, Ontario and elsewhere. Christmas week of 2014 saw a large portion of Southern Ontario with power lines being knocked out, once again by freezing rain. Even a lightning and thunder storm can cause havoc and power outages over a wide area. In some of these instances it took over 3 weeks before service was fully restored! Of course it is not unusual during such events, for power to be restore for a period of time only to disappear again – and again – and again!

U

nless you have worked in a monitoring station for a period of time, it is virtually impossible for you to even begin to imagine the volume of signals that can be generated by events like those described here. Depending on the number of accounts being monitored at your station, we could be talking anywhere from 10,000 or more EVERY HOUR!

The time required for an actual operator to handle each signal is an absolute minimum of about 10 seconds, so each operator can clear about 6 such signals every minute, or somewhere around 180 per hour. It’s simple enough to do the arithmetic and discover that over 50 operators would have to be working at top speed just to clear these somewhat meaningless signals – with others committed at the same time, to handle burglary, fire, medical, panic or other alarm traffic at the same time!

Obviously something has to give! Since computers can clear signals at a much faster rate than people, and given the information provided earlier in this article, the choice is a no-brainer. AC Failure signals will be forced into a log-only mode, thus permitting alarm signals to be treated more quickly and accurately. This procedure is referred to by some as Priority Processing Mode where priority is given to signals other than AC Failure.

Think about it for a moment. Would any of your customers have purchased an alarm system simply to monitor for AC Power Failure? Of course not. What they purchased was an alarm system to protect them against burglar and/or fire and/or medical emergency or hold-up. Their main concern might even have been environmental, such as a potential flood or a failure of their refrigeration system – but their primary consideration was certainly NOT to have the electricity supply monitored.

With all that having been said, we do realize there are situations where early and continuous notification regarding AC Failure is required. Hog farms, chicken farms, blood bank refrigeration units, computer data centers, etc. are amongst the “special” sites where such signals might be considered very important.

When such circumstances arise, you, as the responsible alarm dealer, must ensure that your monitoring station is properly informed IN WRITING so that continuous notification service can be made available, even when the station is operating in Priority Processing Mode. To avoid any nasty surprises, we recommend that you review your customer list now. Take note of those accounts that fit the “Continuous Service Required” category and send the list to your station.

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Written by CSI Magazine

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