What does enhanced alarm verification entail and what are the best practices for implementing it?
A document issued recently by the Central Station Alarm Association, titled â€œAlarm Verification and Notification Procedures,â€ offers specific guidelines about this. The document defines enhanced verification as â€œthe attempt by monitoring facility personnel to verify that no emergency appears to exist at the monitored premises by means of more thorough procedures, such as two or more verification calls, live audio or video, cross zoning, other means or a combination of these procedures.â€
Of these options, the most commonly used is to place two or more verification phone calls. Although some central stations initially perceive that this will create a lot of extra work, it actually doesnâ€™t, explains Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. â€œEighty percent of alarms are caused by user error, so it makes sense that if you can get hold of a user, youâ€™ll reduce alarm calls for service,â€ Martin says. â€œWhen youâ€™re able to get hold of a business or homeowner, the majority of the time they know of a reason why you shouldnâ€™t call the police. Maybe they left their kids at home or they have friends staying at the house or they have a new employee. They actually tell you, â€˜Donâ€™t dispatch the police.â€™â€
Verification ProceduresAlarm Detection Systems of Aurora, Ill., is one central station that has been at the forefront of the move towards enhanced alarm verification â€“ and ADS owner Bob Bonifas says the companyâ€™s procedures conform to the CSAA guidelines. For UL accounts, Bonifas says, requirements specify that the central station can make a single call to the premises, which can take no longer than one minute, to attempt to verify whether a true alarm condition exists. For all other accounts, ADS central station operators make an additional call to a number on a list provided by the subscriber, then try calling the premises a second time, taking care that no more than two minutes elapse to accomplish this before calling the police. â€œWe ask the customer to define a good second-call number,â€ Bonifas explains, adding that a home or business ownerâ€™s mobile phone is usually the best choice. The second call to the premises, he says, is answered approximately 5 percent of the time â€“ often enough to make it a worthwhile procedure.
There are a few exceptions to these rules. If an ADS central station operator reaches someone at the customer premises who does not know the passcode, then the operator will attempt to conference in the home or business owner or another authorized individual to confirm the identity of the person at the premises and that no emergency exists. This procedure is used for both UL and non-UL accounts. For UL accounts, it extends the maximum time that can elapse before calling the police to two minutes.
Customer CommunicationsBefore implementing enhanced alarm verification, Martin advises alarm dealers to check their customer contract. Some contracts specifically state that when the alarm company receives an alarm signal, it will make a single call to attempt to verify before calling the police. Alarm dealers that have used such contracts will need to amend them before changing procedures.
Properly notifying customers and explaining the importance of enhanced alarm verification is also critical. Customers should be sent a letter, which outlines the benefits to the community of reducing false dispatches, clearly explains the new procedures, and invites customers to update their contact list.
A good contact list is another key to a successful alarm verification program. Vector Security, a nationwide alarm company that has had great success with enhanced alarm verification, sends requests for contact list updates annually, notes Pam Petrow, Vector senior vice president.
Vector asks customers to make updates in writing, but also recognizes that customers are often too busy to take the time to make a written request. â€œIf we get it over the phone, weâ€™ll push the change back out to the customer in a letter,â€ Petrow says.
ADS generates a report, once each week, of customer contact numbers that central station operators tried to call but were found to be out-of-date. Based on that report, ADS mails letters to customers to request current information.
Wholesale Central StationsIn general, central stations that monitor accounts for other alarm companies have not been able to be as aggressive in implementing enhanced alarm verification because of the logistics involved in coordinating such an effort with multiple alarm dealers. For example, Wayne Alarm Systems Inc. of Lynn, Mass. â€“ which monitors its own accounts and those of other alarm dealers â€“ has begun to implement enhanced alarm verification for its own accounts but is holding off on introducing this capability for other dealers. Before doing that, Wayne president Ralph Sevinor says, â€œwe want to try to get a statistical analysis on how this can help,â€ which will be based on experience with Wayneâ€™s own accounts.
Another wholesale station, Rapid Response Monitoring of Syracuse, N.Y., uses two or more verification calls only when local ordinances require it or alarm dealer customers have asked for it. As an alternative, however, Rapid Response recently introduced a system that automatically sends text messages to e-mail addresses, pagers or cell phones supporting short message service when an alarm signal is received. The text message advises recipients that an alarm signal has been received and invites them to send a return text message if they do not want the police to be called. The central station can send the same text messages simultaneously to several devices, increasing the odds of reaching an appropriate recipient. â€œSeventy percent of the time someone cancels,â€ notes Rapid Response president Jeffrey Atkins.
Since Rapid Response began offering this capability in late 2004, about 20 percent of subscribers have signed up for the service, which is available at no extra charge. Atkins says, â€œIf you can have someone call in and cancel, it saves on phone calls. But most importantly, itâ€™s a better service to the end user and the dealer.â€
ResourceA powerful resource in the effort to lower false alarm dispatches to police is the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. For more information on â€œAlarm Verification and Notification Procedures,â€ visit www.siacinc.org or call executive director Stan Martin at (972) 377-9401.
SidebarA technology enhancement that has begun to impact alarm monitoring is video verification. A small but growing number of alarm companies are installing systems that automatically send video images of a customer location to the central station when that customer experiences an alarm.
â€œWeâ€™re actually catching cleaning people tripping alarm systems,â€ notes Ralph Sevinor, president of Wayne Alarm Systems Inc., Lynn, Mass., who recently began monitoring about 35 accounts that have video verification capability. â€œItâ€™s another piece of data. If we see someone who appears like a cleaner, weâ€™ll call additional lines on the contact list.â€
Sevinor says heâ€™d like to see more standardization in this area, however, because there are many gray areas â€“ such as the number of zones for which a single camera can provide video verification.
Sidebar 2: 3. Enhanced Telephone Verification of Burglar Alarm Signals3.1 Extended Time | The maximum time permitted for enhanced verification of a non-certified system can be extended beyond the time constraints imposed for certificated systems defined in UL 827, UL 2050, ULC S301 or ULC S304.
3.2 Procedure | For burglary alarm signals received from non-certificated commercial burglary alarm systems or any residential alarm system, the following procedures shall be followed (further explanatory material on this can be found in Annex A):
3.2.1 Call 1 â€“ The monitoring facility shall attempt telephone verification to the protected premises after receipt of the alarm signal. The procedure defined in 2.1.2 above shall be followed if the premises telephone is answered. Otherwise proceed to 3.2.2 or 3.2.3, whichever is applicable.
3.2.2 Call 2 Other Than Premises â€“ When monitoring facility personnel get a busy signal or no answer on the first call to the protected premises, a second call or calls shall be made to an alternate phone number such as a cellular or work number and if the authorized person states that no emergency exists, responding entities shall not be notified or shall be recalled, if already notified, and the alarm considered aborted.
3.2.3 Call 2 Promises â€“ When monitoring facility personnel get a busy signal or no answer on the first call to the protected premises, a second call or calls shall be made to an alternate phone number at the protected premises when such number is available. The procedure defined in 2.1.2 above shall be followed.
3.3 Answering Machines | When any call reaches an answering machine a message shall be left, clearly stating that it is the alarm company calling and leaving necessary information for the alarm user to promptly contact the monitoring facility.
3.4 Scheduled Events | If an alarm signal is received in connection with a scheduled opening or closing event, additional telephone numbers shall be called on the call list in order to determine whether the alarm signal is caused by an opening or closing error. If no answer or no determination can be made that a false alarm exists, a Notification Call shall occur.
3.5 Verified False | If the alarm is verified as being false during the first, second or succeeding calls, monitoring facility personnel shall suspend activities relating to the specific signal being worked.
3.6 Call lists and Priority | Following the Notification Call, attention shall be placed on contacting the emergency call list, until someone is reached to achieve a cancellation of the notification if it is determined that no emergency exists.
3.7 Additional Methods | Audio verification, video verification, cross zoning or other electronic verification mediums shall be permitted in place of or in addition to the second verification call and shall be considered in compliance with this enhanced verification standard.
Reprinted with permission of the Central Station Alarm Association. The â€œCentral Station Alarm Associationâ€™s ANSI/CSAA CS-V-01-2004.XX (version July 16, 2004)" is available at www.csaaul.org.