Training Spotlight – “That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It”

a person running a training and certifications meeting

by guest blogger Caryn Morgan, Bold Technologies

Why is it that when I ask people why they do things the way they do it I often get the response, “that’s the way we’ve always done it?”

As a trainer for over 30 years, I get this answer nearly everywhere I go. Working in the alarm industry for pushing two decades, alarm operators often find themselves having to defend the work they do when angry customers call in complaining they made mistakes. This phrase is the quickest way to shift blame away from themselves and onto the company. That and “I was never trained.”

In my experience the following three things cause more alarm monitoring mistakes than poor training and long-time practices:


When a business relies on comments to convey vital customer information, mistakes are inevitable. Why? Because you are asking people to interpret what you believe to be clear, and understandable, instructions and follow them correctly every time. This is simply not the case. The written word is difficult at best to convey urgency or clear instructions.

I am dyslexic, and many times my brain reads what it “thinks” is on the page and not what is actually on the page. When I was young and reading a story aloud I turned “cow” into “crow” and “break-in” to “breakfast,” changing the context of the story completely.

In my experience, monitoring centers use comments more as a rule than an exception to a rule. I advocate for the opposite. The comment should be the last resort and used ONLY when no other means are appropriate. In ManitouNEO we can now create action patterns that are valid for only a short period of time, thereby even eliminating the need for a comment that is temporary in nature.

Attention Span

Along with comments and interpretation, comes attention span. Many people begin to skim when they reach the second or third sentence in an article. That is about here in this paragraph.

With this reduced attention span, we need to make sure the key information is early, up front, and focused.

Operators are asked to focus on many things at once. They aren’t held to one task very long, therefore their attention is constantly pulled from one thing to another. If we expect operators to perform at their best we need to provide them with the best tools we can to ensure that their attention is focused appropriately on the right things. That means keeping the “busy work” off their screens.

Automation is not about taking jobs away from operators. It is about taking the busy work away from operators so they can be focused, and ready, for the work they were hired to be there to do… They were hired to protect lives and property.

Situational Blindness

Many monitoring centers ask operators to “focus” on videos to verify if there is something there to see. What they don’t realize is that this sort of focus can cause situational blindness. Consider this video from


The above video demonstrates situational awareness. As we focus on counting the passes we miss the important changes happening in the situation. When an operator is watching a video of a business active or not, changes can happen that will seem clear as day to someone watching an incident after the fact but the operator may have seen nothing at the time. How many times have you remarked, “I never even saw that…?”

This is one of the most dangerous situations related to video monitoring today. Asking an alarm operator to sit and watch a video camera may be the worst business decision a company can make. This is actually where video analytics are better than humans. A camera and the computer it uses to analyze the picture doesn’t compensate for the surroundings like the human brain.

The important question to ask is why do operators fall back on these two responses when challenged? The most common answer is fear.

How do we, as leaders in the monitoring industry, alleviate fear?

  1.  Take responsibility — When an operator makes a mistake, do your research, find out if the error was because they did what they were supposed to do and what they were supposed to do was wrong, due to a bad, or outdated procedure, if so, take the hit, explain that your operator did what you would have expected them to do given the information they received at the time. That you will fix that information and it will not be a problem in the future. This shows you support what they did and that you have their back. It also fixes the problem going forward.
  2. Clean up the clutter — Get rid of all the comments that are taking up space. Build better processes and action patterns. Don’t force people to interpret. Leverage Manitou to do what it was designed to do AUTOMATE.
  3. Understand why — Look at all you do and ask yourself why you are doing the things you do the way you are doing them. Is there a better, easier, way?
  4. Be clear — When you absolutely have to use a comment keep it short. Keep it clear. Keep it to the point.
  5. Listen — Alarm Operators know what is going wrong with customers and installers better and sooner than anyone else in the organization. Help them feel safe coming to you with concerns and questions. Listen.
  6. Act — When operators come to you with ideas, do your best to share and implement as many as you can. When you can’t, ask them to come up with ways that you might be able to do so in the future. When operators are invested, they show more interest, they have better outcomes, and they have fewer absences.

The Alarm Monitoring industry is one of both old and new ideas. It wants to stick to things that have worked well, that are tried and true; but it also must evolve given the new technologies that we all rely on these days.

Monitoring companies that are innovating with their technologies should also remember that their operators are a part of this changing world too. It is a new paradigm. Companies that support their operators with the tools and skills that allow them to be present and ready for the emergencies will flourish.