External Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC) are employed by a number of organisations to monitor their alarms around the clock, or after hours when few or no staff are physically on site. With robust procedures in place, ARCs can be used effectively and provide reassurance to organisations that, should an incident occur, an alarm will always be answered by an operator. That said, are ARCs the best way for businesses to effectively manage their alarms and keep employees safe? Klaus Allion offers his views.
When alarm signals are transmitted to an ARC it’s often understood that all alarms are managed and handled for the host organisation. This isn’t always the case, though, and many alarms are escalated back to internal staff to manage and ensure that the company’s lone workers are safe.
Unsurprisingly, companies are often ill-equipped to manage alarms that they receive ‘second hand’ and don’t always have the processes or tools in place to ensure staff are safe, which not only puts lives at risk, but also 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 organisation perhaps located 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 cannot simply wander into the next room to switch off the machinery and free the trapped limb. If an incident warrants an ambulance, will the paramedic know exactly where to go and how to find the injured person within what is, for them, an unfamiliar facility? 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?
Keeping track of events
In many cases the attraction for using ARCs is that all critical alarms are dealt with by the Emergency Services, but this isn’t always the case. The fact is that ARC operators can only contact the police or the Ambulance Service 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 after the lone worker alert is triggered.
If, for example, the lone worker has been rendered unconscious, you then have a very serious and potentially 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 an alarm has been triggered. All of a sudden, an internal response team 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 the site the lone worker alarm has been generated and where to begin their search.
More worryingly, a precious amount of time may have elapsed already as there’s no guarantee that the ARC will have been able to pass on this critical information to the internal team first time around.
Some industries like care working 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 and not to wait until the incident has escalated 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’s happening. If they hear that the worker is being threatened and is in danger, they can contact the Emergency Services. However, they can only listen-in for approximately 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 the 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 so properly?
Not only will you provide a better level of protection for your lone workers, but you’ll also be able to manage all of your alarms far more efficiently.
There’s 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 ARC operators. This can then leave them horribly exposed.
With an automated solution, businesses don’t need to rely on a two-tiered process. Instead, alarms can be distributed to an internal response team directly on their smart phone or PC where staff listen-in to audio and view maps of where the person is located (externally or internally) 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 then be escalated and you have quick access to an audit trail to analyse where the process might be improved.
While an ARC can provide reassurances for organisations, it can also be an unnecessary extra link in the chain that can slow response and put staff at unnecessary risk. Bringing the whole process in-house using technology to underpin the entire process is much more efficient, reliable and cost-effective.
Klaus Allion is Managing Director of ANT Telecom