March 1, 2012
When Tornadoes and Alarm Companies Collide
Recent tornado activity, with 16 tornadoes touching down across seven Midwestern states, reminds us that natural disasters can strike with remarkable speed and severity. Even with advanced warning systems, many communities continue to experience the fatal and tragic consequences of these storms. It’s been a particularly bad tornado year so far, as this recent article indicates.
On Jan. 22 and 23, 2012, more than 37 tornadoes struck the southern USA. Ten of them tore across the Lower Mississippi Valley into Alabama. Worst hit were St. Clair and Jefferson County, Ala., where 2 people were killed, about 100 others injured, and at least $30 million in damage was done. It was a chilling reminder of the April 2011 onslaught of deadly tornadoes that took a staggering toll across southern and Midwestern states.
Storm Warning Systems
"Even with our advances in science and communications, we can still be surprised by the deadliest storms," says NOAA scientist Steve Goodman. "But NOAA is working with NASA and university researchers to give more lead time in tornado warnings." Southern tornadoes are especially insidious and challenging to track. The hilly, forested terrain in southern states makes an approaching twister harder to spot than in the flat Midwest. An Alabama resident describes the scene just before one of the April 2011 twisters struck near his home: "Suddenly, all the trees in my back yard corkscrewed violently, in unison, toward the northwest." Moments later, the storm was there.
How Some Alarm Companies React
That brings to me the subject of today’s blog – how alarm companies accommodate their customers (or don’t) when disaster strikes. And there just happens to be a great case in point, reported from Joplin, Missouri.
Roger Stinnett was chagrined to find a home-security company recently resuming monthly automatic payment taps on his and his wife’s bank account. Stinnett, a retired teacher and Episcopal priest, and his wife, Sherrie, lost their home of 17 years in the tornado that struck Joplin last May. The roof was ripped off their house at 2607 S. Minnesota Ave. The ceilings collapsed. The place was rendered uninhabitable.
Door Knockers Again
A couple of years before, a young man came to their door selling home-security systems for a company called APX Alarm Security Solutions Inc. If they subscribed, he told them, they could get their installation fee waived. The Stinnetts are in their 60’s and have some health problems. They Stinnetts signed a contract and received what seemed to be a satisfactory enough system, he said. It included devices for the front and back doors, a motion detector, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a console for communicating with company monitors, and two key chain devices to summon emergency medical assistance when needed.
What Happened After the Tornado
In the week that followed the tornado, Roger Stinnett called the company, which changed its name about a year ago to Vivint Inc., to let it know what happened and that most of the equipment appeared to have been ruined - and to let the company know that the couple no longer had a home in need of a security system.
Stinnett figured that would be the end of their account with the company, like getting the gas or electricity shut off. The company instead informed him that he could have a six-month grace period to get his home back in order, and then it could reinstall the equipment and resume the contract. “I told them that was ridiculous,” he said. “The house was uninhabitable. We were not rebuilding. Their response was dead silence.”
You Can Run…
The Stinnetts moved on with their lives. They now reside in another town and lease their home. In December, Vivint resumed taking monthly payments out of their account, and Roger Stinnett contacted the company about it. “That’s when they told me I’d signed a 45-month contract,” he said. He said the company would not let him out of it. He either had to keep paying as a customer at the new home, get someone else to take the contract over, or pay off the fees for the remaining months (almost $700).
Pay or Else
Stinnett said the company told him that if he stopped the payments, the matter would go to a collection agency. He acknowledged that he did not read the contract carefully before signing and did not realize he was committing to as long a period as he did. But he thinks the company could be more sympathetic to the plight of those who lost their homes in the tornado.
Lisa Davis, a spokeswoman for the company based in Provo, Utah, told the Globe on Friday: “This may be a misunderstanding at customer service or something.” She said the company has a “twofold” policy in cases in which a customer’s home is destroyed. She said a grace period is generally granted while the customer seeks a new residence. “If they get into a (new) home, then we’ll replace all of their equipment for free and then resume their contract,” Davis said. If the customer is not able to rebuild or buy a new home and winds up renting, the company will terminate the contract, she said.
The Follow Up
Davis later called the Globe and said the Stinnetts’ contract was being canceled as a “hardship exception.” Roger Stinnett said Saturday that he had yet to hear from Vivint. He said if what Davis said proves to be true, he would be happy. He had complained already to Better Business Bureaus in Springfield and in Utah, as well as the Missouri attorney general’s office.
This is an interesting story, at several levels. It’s true that plenty of US alarm companies (FrontPoint among them) offer significant discounts on equipment for a term contract – although FrontPoint provides flexible contract options for 12, 24, or 36 months. These functional but inexpensive systems are generally offered in exchange for a series of monthly payments to recoup the alarm company’s investment, which is why the alarm companies expect their customers to fulfill the initial contract term.
But when extenuating circumstances arise, and this story is a great example, it’s time for alarm companies to step up, and it’s certainly high time for any service provider to be easy to work with – especially if what you claim to provide is protection and peace of mind. As is the case with ADT, who is often perceived as the poster child for poor service despite its mammoth size, bigger may in fact mean too big to care, or too big to get it right. And that’s a shame – especially when customers are facing extreme circumstances.
Anything that increases your safety, security, and peace of mind is important to us. We’re the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US: we earned that spot with technology, pricing, and customer satisfaction that leaves the others far behind. No matter how big we get, FrontPoint will always have a small-company empathy for the people who got us here – our customers. That’s why so many smart shoppers choose FrontPoint – just read the reviews, and you’ll want a FrontPoint system too.