CenturyLink has plans to shut down an important alarm monitoring service used in buildings all over the Seattle region. Fire marshals say it's a troubling decision and a risk for public safety.
Thousands of area buildings, including schools and apartment complexes, use Scan Alert for alarm monitoring. CenturyLink announced the product is out-of-date and as a result would turn off the system December 1. Industry insiders and fire officials said they don't time to replace all of the systems. And that creates concerns about what will happen if no one is watching the alarm.
"I believe it is a safety issue," explained Redmond Assistant Fire Marshall Todd Short.
In May, CenturyLink sent a postcard to customers stating the service would end in August. Soon after, the fire industry voiced concerns about the timeline because replacing a unit requires thousands of dollars and can take weeks to clear the red tape.
"There's permitting process. There's some middle processes that fire departments and jurisdictions are involved in and the equipment itself," explained Steve Sully with Washington Alarm. "It's not just plug-and- play. It's not just going to the wall and sticking a box on the wall. It's a lot more involved."
CenturyLink heard the concerns and this summer moved the deadline to December 1. But Short said that's still not enough time.
"We estimate that we have about 300 to 350 buildings that still have a scan alert transmitter and we started out with over 700," said Short. "I don't believe we will make the December 1st deadline. In fact, our history of tracking these and rate is saying that we need about four or five more months," said Short.
Short's numbers are small compared to Ron Haner who works for Alarm Center in Lacey.
"We had 3,000 systems. We're down to about 1,100 right now," said Haner.
That breaks down to 33 replacements a day for just one alarm company. But remember, the entire Puget Sound is affected. In a statement CenturyLink said the problem is with the product, adding that “the sole vendor for Scan Alert has stopped manufacturing the necessary equipment, which means existing units cannot be repaired or replaced and may become prone to future outages."
"We think that they have some justification. They have some old antiquated equipment. They're concerned about it failing," said Short.
Short agrees Scan Alert needs to go away. His concern is with the consequences if there is no system in place.
"If CenturyLink does make good on December 1 and shut the Scan Alert service down, we literally could have thousands of customers without required fire alarming," said Short. "The liability for that is daunting. It only takes one fire with loss of life to really be a game changer."