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How Control See helped a Phoenix metro commercial building modernize its alarm notification system using EcoStruxure Building Operation

With the rate of property crime in 2021 at 19.3 crimes per 1,000 individuals – according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice – panic buttons have become an indispensable feature for commercial and public facilities. With the simple press of a button, employees and building visitors can quickly alert authorities in case of an emergency. This is especially useful when dialing 911 is not possible.

A commercial property in the Phoenix Metro area using Andover Continuum BMS from Schneider Electric has panic buttons throughout its facility and parking lot. The system has served them well for over two decades. But the owners of the Phoenix Metro commercial building decided it was time for a change.

They turned to long-time partner Wilson Electrical Services to help transition to EcoStruxure™ Building Operation (EBO), Schneider Electric’s open and secure building management platform that optimizes control and management of building performance, efficiency, and security.

Wilson Electric successfully transitioned Continuum system field controllers into EBO, but one critical piece of the puzzle presented a challenge: a VT-1 voice unit used to dial the police dispatch whenever a panic button is pressed.

In his journey to finding a solution, Casey McClure, IT Specialist at Wilson Electrical Services, learned about Control See’s solutions on Schneider Electric Exchange, a partner ecosystem and developer community that helps users solve efficiency and sustainability challenges through cybersecure data access and integration and the ability to create joint solutions. Control See is a Schneider Electric Technology Partner offering alert notification products for IT systems and industrial automation.

“Unfortunately, that device was not supported in EBO and it was critical to the transition,” said McClure, explaining that the system was set up so that only the Phoenix police received notifications when a panic button was pressed. The new requirements called for other critical contacts to receive the notifications too.

It was McClure’s job to figure out how to get the VT-1 voice unit to work with EBO to get notifications out not only to the Phoenix police department but also to building security and operators.

A trusted partner fills an immediate need

One of the issues with the former configuration using Andover Continuum BMS and the VT-1 voice unit was that building personnel had little to no information to share with the police officers upon their arrival, according to McClure, which created inefficiencies in the process.

“This also meant that even in the case of a false alarm, the police officers would still enter the building and investigate,” he said. “This update would help everyone remain on the same page when a panic button was pressed.”

Michael Meirovitz, VP Sales at Control See, an active user on Schneider Electric Exchange, said, “They were planning to upgrade the older system to EBO, and they realized that VT-1 functionality in the older system was not compatible with EBO, which meant they couldn’t use it.”

Meirovitz told McClure that Control See had just what they needed: UCME-SmartConnector, an alert notification software for EBO. It can send SMS, push, email, and VoIP messages in response to alarms and system alarms that start or end in the EBO system.

The primary limitation of the existing installation was that in order to add notifications for building personnel and others, tons of programming and customizations would be needed to make it all work, according to McClure.

“It was very extraneous to add additional phone numbers,” he said. “But, in order to complete the upgrade to EBO, we needed to get that part of the system working.”

“They had a hole that they needed to fill,” said Meirovitz, noting that UCME-SmartConnector was the solution that allowed them to complete the upgrade with minimal programming and hardware re-configurations.

Digital delivers speed and scalability

“With UCME-SmartConnector, alerts can be escalated if no acknowledgment is received in a timely manner, and reminders can be sent to ensure that EBO alarms are not ignored,” said Meirovitz.

It also speeds up the amount of time it would take to get a notification out.

“In a test scenario of the previous systems, we would push a button, and it would take three to five minutes before I would receive the phone call,” said McClure.

But when he tested UCME-SmartConnector, he noticed the call time went from three to five minutes down to seconds.

Scalability is another benefit, according to McClure.

While the previous systems worked well for many years, in order to improve the coordination of responses, it was necessary to add notifications to as many critical contacts that needed to be aware when a panic button was pressed.

“We didn’t intend to change the process much, and it hasn’t,” said McClure. “But we were able to in a very rapid sense, deploy several more phone calls to more people.”

The old VT-1 module basically reached its limit in terms of memory, according to McClure.

“All it did was call the police,” he said. “So, the immediate value-add of the Control See solution was being able to also call the facilities operator and the 24/7-guard staff on site. But their procedures beyond that didn’t change with relation to us.”

Added value through digital

According to Meirovitz, with the previous configuration, only one phone line was available to make a phone call.

He explains that the Twilio API, a digital VoIP solution part of the current configuration, enables users to have thousands of phone lines.

“You can use virtual phone lines they can use so they can generate several phone calls at the same time, the same second,” he said.

Meirovitz clarifies that there is a low likelihood that hundreds of people are pressing panic buttons at the same time, but that if tens of buttons were pressed, which is a more realistic scenario, the system could support that.

McClure explains that Control See’s solution offers broader value beyond the original plan: to replace the VT-1 functionality.

“Since we’ve partnered with Michael and Control See, we found additional uses for it beyond just what we first needed for,” McClure said.

One example of an additional use includes the ability to add newer forms of communication to the mix.

“Our system using the smart connector is getting the alarm information by using our web API and from this point, we can do whatever we want with this alarm,” explained Meirovitz. “We can make a call and send a text message. In this case, we just make a phone call. But in general, we can send a WhatsApp and voice message, different emails, etc.”

Dedicated partner with just-in-time solutions

“It [UCME-SmartConnector] could do much more than what we needed. But it met our need so well, in the midst of absolutely nothing else that could. It was the kind of critical piece of functionality that we needed for this transition,” exclaimed McClure.

For him, Control-See was there just in time, when he needed them most.

“It’s hard for me to not make it personal to our situation because it was exactly what we needed. You know, getting right up to the last minute, and then it deployed so effortlessly, it worked flawlessly,” said McClure.

McClure also notes Control-See’s dedication to providing exceptional service – like the time he had missed a couple of things following a checklist.

“Michael jumped in with me to help, and immediately found those issues the day we were trying to deploy it, and we started testing that day. It’s just been a great experience.”