Alarm companies are all too aware of the effects the downturn of the economy has had on their businesses. With the lull in new construction and difficult-to-get new sales, companies have become increasingly dependent on monitoring contracts which bring in steady RMR. For alarm companies, controlling attrition and acquiring new contracts can prove challenging as end-users significantly cut their budgets. Not only that, but alarm companies are affected as fire and law enforcement agencies are also forced to cut budgets and resources: false alarm rates are under attack from municipalities and state governments imposing requirements and fines on both end-users and alarm companies.
The alarm industry has always employed resources to reduce false alarms, but current economic pressures and technological advances have brought to light significant trends in alarm management that are not only on the minds of alarm system and monitoring providers, but on those of government agencies and end-users as well. Law enforcement and fire agencies require verification; end-users demand transparency through web portals; and alarm companies push to drive value from unique features and increased response. For some, staying on top of these trends can mean the difference between staying afloat and thriving.
That verification technology has advanced greatly in recent years is no secret; neither are the benefits of these technologies. Video verification is a technology that generates a sizeable amount of “buzz,” but is not yet widely adopted. Ron Walters, director, Security Industry Coalition (SIAC), points out this is a technology that is fundamentally causing “a big switch” in the industry. “It’s no longer coming; it’s here and it’s important,” Walters says.
Being able to provide information to alarm responders in real time results in both quicker response and more arrests, and, according to Keith Jentoft, president, Videofied, RSI Video Technologies, “There is no better ‘deterrence’ than arrests.”
The predecessor of the integrated video verification offering was “marrying CCTV with intrusion systems,” says Felix Gonzales, vice president of strategic initiatives and business development, Stanley Convergent Security Solutions (Stanley CSS). “The two systems together did video alarm verification.” While a great solution, he adds, those systems were prohibitively expensive. Some contemporary systems are comparatively “very affordable” and have evolved to include wireless and high-definition products.
“SIAC has spent years developing ordinances and processes to reduce false alarms and proven that if they are implemented they will reduce false alarms by 90 percent,” Jentoft explains.” At that point it is simply continuing to ‘minimize a negative,’ meaning that as long as there is one person generating one false alarm, the job cannot be ‘perfect.’ Instead of the huge cost of diminishing returns I believe that the next step is a move away from minimizing a negative to a positive message of ‘making more arrests.’ In this scenario as long as we make one arrest, this is better than nothing. We maximize a positive message using video alarms and priority response to actually catch criminals in the act. This is a strong message of value to both consumers and law enforcement.”
A key issue that ties into new verification technologies is legislation demanding alarms be verified before dispatch. Many states and municipalities have passed laws with such requirements with varying degrees of restriction put upon alarm companies as well as fines. Most people in the industry are aware of Enhanced Call Verification (ECV), if only because their local governments are insisting they implement it. A complete list of cities and counties that have passed verification laws is available at SIAC’s website (http://www.siacinc.org/DealerSupportDocuments.aspx).
While at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Walters spoke with many law enforcement officials who gave a favorable outlook on the way the security industry is moving in regards to verification. “All indicated they’re pleased with the direction the alarm industry is going. They want us to keep working but acknowledge we’ve made progress and are making a difference. They’re aware of what we’re doing and that’s a real positive.”
“Standards are being written on what constitutes criminal activity that calls for faster response,” Walters says. Enabling a “priority response” through verification of alarms would drive additional value to security systems, as well as improve relationships with fire and law enforcement agencies, and ultimately, provide customers with simply more security. “Delivering greater security through improved response is where additional RMR dollars actually are,” says Jentoft. “RMR is based on monitored systems (as opposed to non-monitored alarms). What makes monitoring valuable is response. This is why the industry has spent millions fighting non-response laws, because it would impact RMR and the value of a monitored system.”
Gonzales of Stanley CSS highlights the importance of offering options in verification technology to create what he calls a “best fit” with a customers’ needs. Stanley CSS offers audio verification through a partnership with Sonitrol and video verification with Videofied. Gonzales says that an important goal for the company is to make these technologies accessible to the mainstream by reducing product and operating costs, which includes ensuring new technologies can be integrated into Stanley’s monitoring platform. “Whenever we look at new technology, we look at whether it can be integrated…so that operators will see [these alarms] like any other account.”
On the end-user side of alarm management information, people have begun to expect, and in some cases demand, total transparency from alarm companies. Arming/disarming mobile applications, alarm histories and details on how events were handled and by whom are just a few of the things end-users want access to, Gonzales says. “Customers are just becoming so accustomed to having data and information and performance results about companies they do business with.”
On the whole, current trends in alarm management are focused on benefitting the customer, Gonzales says. “Alarm companies, they’ll have to step back and say… I have to make an investment in video monitoring and especially on online content.” He adds that a company website is the minimal expectation from customers. “Another investment to make is in providing alarm histories, account information, reports, historical and future â€” and make that available to customers. This will change the landscape for small to medium-sized alarm companies.”
“Without a doubt, IP technology is here,” says Gonzales. “POTS has a limited life expectancy, but it’s still a significant part of the overall industry. The challenge is both supporting technology that is still commonplace, being POTs, as well as making investments for IP technology which is quite popular and quite the norm. Companies need transition plans or upgrades for the future. One of sheer strengths of this industry is that we have so many existing customers that rely on installed systems, both field services and monitoring services. Customers really want to hang on to their investment, so the challenge is to go ahead and move customers to new technology in an efficient and affordable fashion.”
Walters adds, “Nothing is going to be the solution to our false alarm issue, because we have such a huge population of legacy systems that will not be changed. We have to be careful when we move forward with equipment-based solutions. It won’t happen overnight; it takes a long time to have a big impact through technology.”