Success Stories In Reducing False Alarms
A United Voice
A prime example of industry cooperation is the recent creation of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). Created through the efforts of key industry associations, SIACâ€™s role is to be â€œthe one voice for the entire alarm industry on false alarm management issues,â€ says SIAC executive director Stan Martin.
One of SIACâ€™s primary activities is, as Martin puts it, to â€œrun around the country educating police departments and dealers to influence good ordinances and discuss the negative ordinances that have a serious impact on community safety and on the alarm industry.â€
Adds Martin, â€œWe have the authority, when needed, to run radio ads and hire lobbyists.â€ SIAC also works with local leaders to provide key talking points. The alarm industry needs to understand the law enforcement industry point-of-view, says Martin. â€œFrom their perspective, itâ€™s a budget resource issue thatâ€™s usually based on false assumptions.â€ Noting that as many as 98 percent of all alarms are false ones, law enforcement sometimes may take a â€œwhy bother?â€ attitude. â€œBut thatâ€™s not a statistic that tells the whole story and not the best stick to measure progress,â€ says Martin. â€œThe number of dispatches per registered system is a better statistic.â€
Martin encourages alarm dealers to help reduce the number of dispatches by implementing enhanced call verification. With enhanced call verification, central station operators call the customer premises and a second customer-provided phone number to attempt to verify an alarm before dispatching the police. In comparison with traditional procedures, where only the customer premises is called, enhanced call verification can reduce dispatches as much as 40 percent â€“ or even higher, Martin says.
SIAC also promotes a model ordinance, originally developed by the Security Industry Association (SIA) and available at no charge on the SIAC web site (www.siacinc.org). The model ordinance calls for local law enforcement to impose fines as a deterrent when accounts have repeat alarms. False alarm billing software to enable police departments to enforce those fines is also available at no charge through SIAC.
SIAC, which has four full-time employees, is governed by the four organizations that created it through a board that has two members from each association. These include SIA, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, and the Canadian Security Association.
Other TOOLSSIACâ€™s governing associations, and others, have made additional contributions toward industry efforts to reduce false alarms. The CSAA, for example, is developing an online course about alarm system operation aimed at educating chronic false alarm abusers. Police departments may opt to suspend alarm response to such abusers until they successfully complete the online course. The course, which will be available at a minimal charge through the CSAA web site (www.csaaul.org), is expected to be available within a few months.
Meanwhile, the NBFAA has made its tri-fold consumer brochure available more widely. Member companies and state associations now can obtain a supply of the brochure, titled â€œResponsible False Alarm Management,â€ for a minimal charge â€“ and can have it customized with their own logo.
SIA also has contributed to false alarm reduction efforts through its development of the CP-01 standard, aimed at making control panels less prone to false alarms. Now that those panels have a track record, SIA is commissioning a study to confirm CP-01â€™s effectiveness. Larry Dischert, chairman of SIAâ€™s alarm reduction committee, anticipates that the results of the CP-01 study should be available by April 2005.
SIAâ€™s alarm reduction committee is also looking at standardizing the nomenclature used for alarm systems. â€œThere is a myriad of terms that manufacturers use to describe the same function,â€ Dischert says. This inconsistency may contribute to false alarms because users accustomed to one type of system may incorrectly assume that other systems work the same way.
Another group that seems to appreciate the importance of cooperation in reducing false alarms is the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), an organization of police false alarm coordinators which includes alarm companies, associations and suppliers among its associate members.
An important new initiative for FARA is a series of two-day regional conferences that FARA president Norma Beaubien hopes will bring alarm coordinators together with the alarm industry. â€œThe main benefit to alarm dealers is that they would get access to hundreds of alarm coordinators,â€ Beaubien says. â€œIt also gives law enforcement the opportunity to have specific contacts within alarm companies to deal with issues. Itâ€™s a way to open communication and to work together toward a common goal.â€
An important FARA resource that could be useful to alarm dealers is a series of false alarm bulletins on topics from passwords to thunderstorms that are also customized for certain types of accounts, such as banks, schools and places of worship. The bulletins, some of which will be available in Spanish, are available at no charge on the FARA web site (www.faraonline.org).
FARA is contributing to efforts to make it easier for police departments to enforce alarm system ordinances. The organization has spearheaded efforts to develop a standard format for registering alarm systems electronically. â€œIt should be easy to provide data to law enforcement so they donâ€™t have to re-key it,â€ Beaubien notes. â€œThere will be fewer errors and it will make it easier for everyone to get users registered and permitted.â€
SidebarOne of the strongest endorsements of equipment conforming to the Security Industry Associationâ€™s CP-01 standard comes from Bonds Alarm Company Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz. The CP-01 standard aims to reduce false alarms by eliminating alarm control panel features that are known to contribute to the problem.
Phoenix Dealer Gets Remarkable Results Using CP-01 Panels
â€œWe went back to our biggest abusers and changed a huge portion of them to CP-01 panels and immediately saw a dramatic reduction in false alarms,â€ says Bondsâ€™ president G. Thomas Eggebrecht, Ph.D.
When Bonds would question its most false alarm-prone customers, Eggebrecht says, the customers often told the same story. They were leaving home and forgot something so they went back in â€“ and after they came out, the alarm went off. â€œWe saw it over and over,â€ Eggebrecht says.
CP-01 panels prevent that situation from occurring by recognizing when an end user re-enters a home or business after arming the panel but before the exit delay period has ended. If the user goes back in through the door that he or she used for exit, the panel will wait until he or she exits again before arming. â€œItâ€™s unbelievable the amount of times we resolved a customerâ€™s false alarm problem by putting in a CP-01 panel,â€ Eggebrecht explains.
The City of Phoenix hopes to encourage more dealers in the area to follow Bondsâ€™ lead through an incentive written into its false alarm code. Home or business owners that have a permit and a CP-01 panel get their first false alarm fine waived. (Fines kick in beginning with an accountâ€™s third false alarm within a year.) â€œSince weâ€™ve had this program, only one CP-01 account would have used the waiver,â€ says Patti Rea, alarm coordinator for the Phoenix Police Department. Rea sits on SIAâ€™s CP-01 committee and has been instrumental in promoting the use of CP-01 panels in Phoenix.
Rea shares statistics on the first year of operation of 80 new CP-01 panel installations by Bonds Alarm. Their total average alarm rate was just 0.459 (or less than one alarm for every two systems) compared with 0.74 for other alarm systems registered in Phoenix. During the same period, Bonds also replaced 18 alarm panels for accounts that were having false alarm problems. Prior to replacing the panels, the average false alarm rate for those problem accounts was 2.765 â€“ or nearly three alarms per system. After replacement, the false alarm rate for those accounts dropped to 0.647.
Bonds is so pleased with the results it is getting from CP-01 panels that the company installs them at no charge to replace panels that are causing problems. Bonds also uses CP-01 panels exclusively for new installations, unless a customer specifies a non-compliant model.
SidebarIn just 18 months, Alarm Detection Systems of Aurora, Ill. reduced its false alarm rate more than 20 percent. At the beginning of that period, the company consistently experienced about 50 false alarms per day. Recently, that number has hovered around 40 â€“ and has gone as low as 30. The track record is particularly impressive considering that the company also added accounts during the same period. ADS president Bob Bonifas attributes the improvement to two factors. He credits enhanced call verification for about 75 percent of the decrease and says the other 25 percent came from a systematic program targeting the heaviest offenders.
The Power of the Second Call
Late last year, ADS advised the 23,000 accounts that it monitors that as of January 1, 2004, the company would not dispatch the police in response to an alarm signal until it had called the premises (as it had always done) and also called a second number. The decision was made in response to growing industry support for the two-call system, which had been found to help eliminate unnecessary dispatches. Few customers responded to a request from ADS to confirm the phone number to use for the second call. But central station personnel have been able to work from existing records that often include an ownerâ€™s cell phone, home and business numbers. â€œAs the months go by, weâ€™re getting better and better at it,â€ says Bonifas, who adds that only about 300 customers opted out of the two-call system.
The second prong of ADSâ€™ approach to false alarm reduction is a three-person team dedicated to working with accounts experiencing the most false alarms to address the problem. â€œFalse alarms are death by a thousand paper cuts,â€ Bonifas says. â€œThe team is empowered to figure out the problem and find a permanent solution.â€
ADS identified 257 accounts that had had eight false alarms or more in a year, and the false alarm reduction team worked closely with each of them. Solutions varied from customer to customer, but often included restricting employees to a single entrance for business accounts, or putting a horn and a delay on a door that was commonly propped open by smokers stepping out to have a cigarette.
The false alarm team costs ADS about $150,000 a year in salaries and expenses, but saves on service calls. An exact cost comparison would be difficult to make, but, says Bonifas, â€œmy gut feeling is that this is no more expensive.â€
SidebarAn effective false alarm program requires cooperation from every department in a company, says Pam Petrow, senior vice president for Vector Security, which has several offices nationwide and was named SDM's 2003 Dealer of the Year. â€œWe had commitment from the top down and the program involved everyone from central station operators to senior management.â€
Dealer of the Year Employs a Multi-Faceted Approach
Vectorâ€™s information technology department was enlisted to write an application that provides real-time statistics about false alarms by account. Service technicians were queried about specific types of equipment they felt were most false alarm-prone and, based on that, were provided with a list of devices that were to be replaced on every service call. And central station personnel took on the task of implementing second-call verification. â€œFor the past year-and-a-half, customers were required to go on second call verification unless there were extenuating circumstances that were approved,â€ Petrow notes.
The new system has reduced dispatches dramatically. Forty-nine percent of alarm signals that would have generated a dispatch under the old system, in which only the premises was called, no longer result in a dispatch. By calling a second number â€“ such as the ownerâ€™s cell phone â€“ central station personnel often are able to determine that an alarm was tripped by accident.
Vector also created a false alarm team charged with calling people who have had false alarms. â€œThey started with the biggest offenders and worked down the list,â€ Petrow says. Common solutions include extending the exit delay time on a door, adjusting the opening schedules for commercial accounts and ensuring that cleaning companies are properly trained.
â€œThe coordinators have enough authority to make sure the problem is resolved,â€ Petrow says. For example, a coordinator could make sure that a service call to resolve a false alarm problem receives priority. Every branch has at least one false alarm coordinator.