Alarms & Monitoring: Check & Double Check
Video alarm verification enhances the monitoring industry’s efforts to fight non-response, while helping reduce false dispatches and allow subscribers to curtail fees.
In a majority of municipalities, a burglar alarm activation results in police being dispatched by a central station operator to learn the reason for the signal and to ensure occupants have not been harmed. But a growing number of communities have begun using a practice called “verified response.” Police respond to signals only if monitoring companies or alarm-system owners can confirm actual intrusions have occurred.
“To counterbalance this dangerous policy, the security industry developed a widely-accepted procedure called Enhanced Call Verification (ECV), which helps reduce false dispatches while still protecting tax-paying citizens,” explains Kevin C. McCarthy, national sales manager with Chicago-based EMERgency 24. “ECV requires central station monitors to attempt to verify the alarm activation by making a minimum of two phone calls to two different numbers before dispatching law enforcement to the scene.”
Video alarm monitoring represents a major enhancement on ECV. With video monitoring of the scene, authorities can be dispatched immediately if there’s evidence of an alarm event that requires emergency response, McCarthy says.
The enactment of municipal ordinances that require alarm verification is helping spur much of the move towards video alarm verification, experts say. In some cases, the city may not require verification, but it is being practiced nonetheless by some alarm users, such as corporations, to avoid having to pay fines for too many false alarms.
McCarthy says EMERgency 24 brought video monitoring to the industry forefront, as the first company with the technical capability to synchronize alarm signals with video at the central station seven years ago. In the past year-and-a-half, EMERgency 24 has witnessed increasing use of video monitoring in various forms.
“Video monitoring is the safest, surest way to verify an alarm and keep the end user out of harm’s way,” McCarthy explains. “One factor that may have spurred this growth is that source images can be sent over an IP network. This is a very efficient means of transferring video. Also, alarm users â€” both residential and commercial â€” like having the ability to watch what happened at their property during an alarm situation. Plus, video monitoring permits the alarm owner the ability to “look in” on his property. Many of our subscribers use this capability as a ‘nanny cam.’”
The technology was created to build in a way to gather greater information about an event, McCarthy says. There is no stronger substantiation than a video. And when alarm owners can witness the speed of response after a trigger event, they value the system even more.
McCarthy expects that just as with any other emerging technology, the use of video in conjunction with alarm systems will grow when hardware costs decline.
PLATFORMS & HARDWARE PROVIDERSManufacturers of video monitoring equipment also voice strongly held opinions about the trend. In the view of Paul Bodell, chief marketing officer of IQinVision, San Juan Capistrano, Calif., the market for video alarm verification is “absolutely growing.”
That’s one reason IQinVision developed a product called IQVerify, which is essentially a camera that includes all components needed for verification. “Unlike most verification systems that are fairly complex, and require additional hardware on site, IQVerify has all the intelligence built in,” Bodell says. “So when you install it, you simply connect to your router, and you can have remote connectivity, accessing the camera from a remote monitoring station, from your office or anywhere you have a computer.”
While convinced the video alarm verification market is growing, Bodell believes it could be growing more quickly. Among the challenges hindering growth is many alarm dealers have been slow to grasp the wisdom of using Internet connectivity, as opposed to phone lines, he believes. They need to proceed through a learning curve in adopting IP-based products if the video alarm verification market is to expand more rapidly, he says.
In addition, the cost of selling and installing the equipment is proving a roadblock to greater market expansion. “They have to get a return on investment, and if there’s a lot of labor and equipment installed on site, that means it takes longer for ROI,” he says.
Andreas Hartmann assumes a different stance than that of Bodell, asserting video alarm verification is growing rapidly and many players are entering the market.
Moreover, Hartmann believes cost is a minor factor in decisions to adopt video alarm verification. “The major factor is the cost savings through reliable remote monitoring,” says Hartmann, segment marketing director of Xtralis, a Melbourne-based company. “The savings are tremendous compared with typical security personnel deployment. These products have the ability to create a virtual presence on the site.”
Another leader in video alarm verification equipment is RSI Video Technologies, the Minneapolis-based maker of the Videofied integrated video verification security system. Firm president Keith Jentoff believes video alarm verification hasn’t realized greater acceptance from alarm users due to a couple very simple reasons.
“Whether it works or not is dependent on the technical skills of the installer,” Jentoff says. “If the camera isn’t pointed where the sensor is, you get video of what you don’t want to see rather than what you do want. Imagine if a camera monitoring a room is pointed at the window or the sink, instead of the door. Another issue is it’s cumbersome to install cameras. You have to run wires and cable to where the camera is going to be, and typically there’s both a power feed and a video feed.”
What will spur the growth of the video alarm verification market, he says, are both lower cost and an easier-to-use system. He believes RSI Video Technologies offers both with Videofied.
“We have an integrated camera, motion sensor and illuminators for nighttime vision in a battery-powered device the size of a man’s fist,” he says.
“When the motion sensor trips, we capture a 10-second video of the intruder, and send it to the monitoring station for dispatch,” Jentoff explains. The monitoring station gets the alarm and video of what tripped the alarm simultaneously. There is no need to log into cameras or check pre- or post-video, Jentoff says.
Target markets for video alarm verification include municipalities “going non-dispatch,” Jentoff believes.
“The greatest value I see to video verification is in higher-priority police response to a crime in progress, instead of an alarm. The system has greater value because the cops come faster. We’re getting a lot of apprehensions.”
In fact, Videofied is used by EMERgency 24, McCarthy notes. “The system is entirely wireless, for clean and efficient integration of up to 24 cameras in a single system,” he says. “Videofied uses regular phone lines to transmit to EMERgency 24, so no broadband connection is necessary. There are also Ethernet or GRPS cell network communication modules available to transmit signals.”
BUILDING A PLANIf a security dealer wanted to build the video alarm verification segment of his business, how should he proceed in building a sales, marketing and operational plan?
EMERgency 24’s McCarthy responded to that question by urging alarm dealers to work with central stations that support a wide variety of video platforms, and can offer their customers systems that best meet their individual needs.
What’s more, they should target marketing efforts toward their existing customer bases, because every commercial installation can benefit from this higher level of protection, McCarthy believes. In addition, owners of high-end residences are more likely to incorporate this capability into their alarm systems.
“As the technology matures and costs come down even more, every alarm system proposal should include video monitoring as an upgrade approach,” he says.
IQinVision’s Bodell says the first step should be to hire technicians who know how to work with routers, and are familiar with the Internet and network savvy. Another consideration is the integration of IP cameras into alarm monitoring software, he adds. The companies that develop the software for central monitoring stations must be convinced there’s a market here before they invest in the development of software integrating IP cameras and alarm monitoring, he asserts.
Hartmann, of Xtralis, feels dealers can tap a lucrative business model by selling the monitoring service along with the system itself. “It’s equivalent to a regular burglar alarm system, but you’re dealing with much larger margins,” he says. “You can have a few hundred to thousands of dollars revenue, depending on the number of cameras.”
Different companies use different pricing models. For instance, there are companies that have a flat monthly rate and charge per alarm. Others include a specific number of alarms in their flat monthly rates. When a pre-determined number of alarms is surpassed, they charge higher rates for all succeeding alarms.
That way, “there’s an incentive to create a system that generates as few nuisance alarms as possible,” Hartmann says.