Paul Briesh knows all about windshield time. And that's convinced him of the necessity of network alarm monitoring.
Briesh is vice president and general manager of the Baca Valley Telephone Company of Des Moines, New Mexico. Baca Valley delivers dial tone to subscribers scattered across 2,800 square miles of rural New Mexico. Baca Valley's subsidiary company, Sierra Communications, offers cellular service, Internet access, business telephone systems, security systems and network cabling in a larger territory stretching from northeastern New Mexico to southeastern Colorado.
Over such a large and rugged territory, the windshield time - and the costs that accompany it - really add up. Baca Valley's remote sites are anywhere from 12 to 70 miles away from headquarters.
"Some of these sites aren't so far in terms of mileage. The problem is getting to them by the existing roads, and that's an hour and a half to two hours, one-way," Briesh said. "But we have one site on a mountaintop that's the tough one, especially in the winter."
Getting to Baca Valley's mountain site isn't just slow and difficult - it can actually be dangerous. The north side of the mountain gets five to six feet of snow, and in the winter the site can only be reached by Sno-Cat.
"This is why alarms are so important to us, because we have to know the status of that building on the mountain," said Briesh. "The mountain site houses the radio repeaters for the county sheriff, county emergency medical services and the county fire department. It's dangerous to send somebody up in a Sno-Cat. It's a lot easier to look on an alarm board and see that the AC is off, but the generator is on, so we're OK."
The most vital conditions that are monitored at the mountaintop site are commercial power and generator status, Briesh said. The site is ordinarily monitored with a DPS Telecom Discrete Point Module (DPM), but when the DPM was out for servicing, the site had to be visited at least every 10 days to check the generator. If there were power surges or outages, the site might be visited as often as twice a week.
Even under the best of conditions, the mountaintop site is still difficult to reach. In the summer it takes a 4x4 with chains to get through the muddy road up the mountain.
"For a man in a pickup to just get up there and back is four hours, even though it's only nine miles - and that's if he doesn't have to do any work up there. The cost for one trip is several hundred dollars. When you do that three times a week, it's very expensive. And the wear and tear on the vehicles is really hard," Briesh said.
Briesh has been with Baca Valley since the beginning, when his father, Paul Briesh, Sr., founded the company in 1974. Over the past three decades, Baca Valley's use of network alarm monitoring has steadily advanced.
"Back in the mid-seventies we started with some old Mountain Bell equipment we acquired," said Briesh. "With those type of alarms, we could dial in and hear an audible ring that the system would send back. One ring would tell you something, two rings would tell you something else. No rings would be catastrophic. So by listening to the rings you would generally know if the switch was down or not - and that's pretty much all you could tell.
"We've stepped up our monitoring considerably since then," Briesh continued. Because of gasoline costs, labor costs and vehicle costs, we have to find a better way of dealing with windshield time. The main thing we're interested in is climate - high and low temp - and whether the electricity is off. We also have smoke alarms and open door alarms in all our buildings. In the future, we may do some rectifier monitoring, and we may want to remotely close gates at some of our remote yards."
For the last five years, Baca Valley's primary monitoring system has been DPS Telecom DPMs, reporting to T/MonDL, a variant of the T/MonXM Remote Alarm Monitoring software that collects alarms over a single dial-up channel.
Briesh is a hands-on manager, and he says he can directly see how alarm monitoring improves operational efficiency. "I don't like to sit at a desk, and I do that as seldom as I can. I'm more hands-on. I plow cables, I splice cables, and I can tell, when these alarms come in, that we've gotten way more efficient, because we don't have to send somebody so often to these sites just to see if the electricity is on," Briesh said.
Baca Valley is considering expanding its network alarm monitoring capabilities even more, Briesh said. "Right now we have DPS equipment at the most critical buildings, like fiber hubs, but as we offer more services, I don't know that any one building or any one cabinet is really more important than the other. Fiber hubs are important, but 40 people losing dial tone or DSL is pretty important as well, so we really need to incorporate one alarm system for everything," Briesh said.
Baca Valley operates a 24/7 network operations center that answers trouble calls, monitors high-speed circuits and handles 24-hour trouble dispatch. Briesh wants to incorporate remote monitoring of power and environmental conditions at remote sites to the NOC's operations.
"Eventually I want the NOC to help us monitor alarms, especially after hours and on weekends and holidays. In the end that's going to save us a lot of wear and tear and labor," Briesh said.
Briesh recently attended the March DPS Telecom Factory Training Event to help evaluate how Baca Valley can meet its alarm monitoring goals. At the Factory Training Event, Briesh not only got to work with the latest DPS Telecom products, he got an opportunity for a one-on-one consultation with DPS Telecom engineers.
"We haven't installed any new monitoring at our sites yet, on purpose, because we knew we were coming to DPS. I'm here to find out how we can solve our company-specific issues, and I'm talking to Chris [Hower, DPS sales engineer and Factory Training Event instructor] and Chad [Linnenbrink, senior support tech and Factory Training Event instructor], and they're going to help us figure out our problems," Briesh said.
Briesh said he's considering upgrading to newer remotes, but his primary concern is transport. "We have 25 sites that we want to tie to the NOC. We're fortunate, in that we own all the facilities, we own the cable, we own the cabinets, and most of it is fiber-fed, so we can have T1, we can have dial-up, we can have DSL, ADSL, SDSL - anything we want, we have at our disposal. We're trying to find the easiest way to get alarm information back," Briesh said.
"Our other concern is that we want to standardize on one system. We don't have the personnel and we don't have the time to try something because we found it on the Internet. Through my 31 years, our goal has been to standardize on something that works, so then when you add sites, it's simple to add more monitoring, without a learning curve," Briesh said.
Briesh stressed that the best way to solve windshield time issues is to take a proactive approach to the problem. "Every telecom faces the same problems we do. We needed to find out what information was available to solve our problems, so we came to DPS training to find out. Don't sit home and wait - go find a solution."
The T/Mon NOC Remote Alarm Monitoring System is your most effective weapon against windshield time. T/Mon NOC supports 25 different protocols and hundreds of telecom devices, standard pager and email alerts, easy-to-use Web interface, nuisance alarm filtering and multiple remote access options.