It is no secret that 75 to 80 percent of all alarms are caused by user error, according to the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) and, therefore, alarm verification procedures and technologies can greatly reduce the number of false dispatches. Many national and regional companies already have implemented Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) or two-call verification as a necessity due to verified response or non-response ordinances in the cities or areas they serve, and a growing number are implementing verification technologies such as video and audio to add a deeper level of verification.
“The problem, as I see it, is that the alarm industry has always been plagued with blind alarm systems and everyone runs around trying to surmise what could be happening during an alarm,” says Keith Fisher, owner of Keyth Technologies, Highland Park, Ill. “There were times I slept in a jewelry store and a steel factory, because I couldn’t resolve the false alarms. Video verification would have been nice back then,” he says.
“We had to implement verification five or six years ago because of all the legislation,” says David James, manager of business development, Crime Alert, San Jose, Calif. “Now as we pick up new customers, we do it anyway. It’s easier to be proactive rather than reactive.” Crime Alert has a large number of customers on audio verification, and a small number doing video verification from Visonic, according to James.
Video and audio verification allow central station operators to be more certain of a crime — and they can pass the video file, audio clips, or a description of the scenario directly to the first responder. Verification procedures and technologies can strengthen relationships with both law enforcement and customers. The implementation of these technologies also can increase police response and customer satisfaction.
Determining the Fit
While two-call verification might be the optimal solution for a majority of customers, dealers and integrators find that commercial customers, high-risk customers, and those with a disproportionate number of false alarms, are all ideal candidates for verification technologies.
Vector Security, Pittsburgh, Pa., for example, uses two-call verification across all locations and has applications of two-way audio and video verification where it makes sense.
“Anyone that we have an audio feed with already, we’ll do audio verification,” says Pam Petrow, president and CEO of Vector Security. Each month, the management team looks at its top 10 highest false alarm customers at each branch and, if it makes sense, they will recommend a verification technology to help reduce false alarms.
Verification technologies, particularly video, are still most widely used in commercial applications, because these are the customers most comfortable with new and emerging technologies. Most dealers say that such technologies have not quite caught on in the residential sector in large numbers. The reason is that video and audio verification systems typically rely on motion sensors to trip the system into recording or calling the central station, and some residential customers do not want cameras or motion sensors inside their homes.
“We find that most [residential] customers looking at video verification right now would look into it for outdoor applications, unless they are very comfortable with the technology already. We would predict, however, that in general, as society increases its acceptance of video, video verification will transition more into the residential space eventually,” said Felix Gonzales, vice president strategic initiatives and business development, Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, Naperville, Ill.
Video verification is not really ideal for customers actually living at the property, Fisher says. “If it’s a residential application, then our clients might get video verification for perimeter detection or as a backup when they’re out of town,” he adds.
Customers might know they do not want to incur false alarm fines or unnecessarily use police resources, but they do not necessarily know what the solutions are.
“You have to make them aware of the issues of utilizing resources of the responding agency and educate them on the solutions to manage that activity and help eliminate false dispatches,” Petrow says.
Because responding agencies only see the number of dispatches and not the amount of activity that goes un-dispatched, there is a perception that all alarms automatically are dispatched to the responders. As a result, some agencies assign low priority levels to alarms. Many in the industry have found that verification solutions involving audio and video technologies can boost the priority number that an alarm is labeled by first responders. If the central station can pass along a physical description of a perpetrator or an audio or video clip of someone breaking into a property, it heightens the probability of an arrest.
“We like to tell people that all verification is not equal,” says Gonzales of Stanley Convergent Security Solutions. “If you look at what has been successful, video and audio verification get priority response. That tells me that those technologies are having the most success with law enforcement.”
With its purchase of Sonitrol Corp. in 2009, Stanley specializes in audio verification technology for commercial and residential customers, which is impact-activated. For example, if someone smashes glass or comes into a building through the roof, audio sensors will trip and send the event to the central station. The company also does some video verification for commercial customers and residential outdoor applications.
“We always looked at verification around false alarm reduction, but when you look at verification technologies, it’s about capturing the bad guy. Police officers live for the opportunity to get bad guys off the street,” Gonzales emphasizes.
Fisher at Keyth Security implements video verification technologies including hybrid systems and the Videofied wireless stand-alone system at construction sites, rooftops and other outdoor applications, and commercial applications.
“The last year or two, video verification has become easier to sell and it is driven by many things like the frustration of false alarms and police priorities. I present it in all situations,” Fisher says.
Some of today’s technologies can be installed wirelessly, such as all-in-one systems. Others are hardwired to the existing camera system. Stand-alone systems include those from Visonic, RSI Video Technologies and Texana Security. Hybrid systems, such as those by OzVision, Napco, Honeywell and SecurityLine combine standard alarm systems with standard CCTV cameras. Surveillance systems with pixel-based detection, such as those by Axis and VideoIQ, among others, can be used to verify alarms as well.
Verification technologies not only help reduce frequent false alarm dispatches, but can also improve relationships with the customer. “A lot of customers are very concerned about the police or fire department showing up unnecessarily, so when you explain verification to them, they are okay with that,” Petrow says. “Our sales and installation teams explain that we want to be responsible partners and we want our customers to be responsible partners too.”
Ed Bonifas, vice president of Alarm Detection Systems Inc., Aurora, Ill., says that addressing alarm verification with customers has a positive effect, just as it does with law enforcement. “Calling police for clearly unnecessary reasons is bad business for them and for us as alarm companies. Customers don’t want to be a part of the problem and they realize that doing business with companies that are good corporate citizens is good,” he says.
Regardless of the verification method, dealers and integrators can use the steps they take to reduce false alarms to better their relationships with law enforcement and show their role as good corporate citizens — ideally, avoiding ordinances and policies such as non-response and broadcast-and-file.
“Like with any business, you will have reassigned officers or turnover, so it’s important to continue to offer the education,” says Frank Minni, senior director Sonitrol Franchise Program at Stanley Convergent Security Solutions.
Focusing on statistics and combating misinformation on how alarm signals are handled by central stations can only help the cause.
“Alarm companies should spend time talking with law enforcement and telling them what they’re doing to reduce false alarms,” Bonifas says. “We need to make sure that the private industry is a good partner to police and that we do everything we can to only use law enforcement when we have a reason to believe it’s necessary.”
Verification Solutions Defined
Cross-Zoning: Redundant detection devices such as motion detectors, photoelectric beams and door contacts will trip an alarm if more than one detector is triggered.
Audio Verification: Audio verification exists in two-way systems, which allow central station operators to have a hands-free conversation with the person in a building if needed, via microphones and speakers placed throughout the premises; or one-way systems, which allow central station operators to listen-in on a property’s system if an alarm has been triggered.
Video Verification: Video clips or live feeds are sent to a monitoring station when an event occurs. Integrators can offer video verification with stand-alone systems that are all-in-one security systems and panels; hybrid systems, which combine alarms systems and standard CCTV cameras; and surveillance systems with pixel-based detection.
Keith Jentoft, president of RSI Video Technologies and manufacturer of Videofied video verification systems, St. Paul, Minn., has made it his mission to educate first responders on video verification technology and urge them to make a policy adjustment that assigns higher priorities to video-verified alarms versus non-verified alarms.
Jentoft — along with the backing of several of his competitors in the marketplace, including Mark Ingram, president of Visonic, Bloomfield, Conn. — focuses on speaking with emergency call centers and convincing them that coding video-verified alarms as a 1 versus a 3, for example, is in their best interest, because it can increase the opportunity to apprehend criminals.
Priority response is similar to an HOV lane, Jentoft explains. “When the government wanted to encourage consumers to carpool, they didn’t outlaw single-driver cars — they created an HOV lane, which was an incentive to change your behavior. That is what priority response is in that sense. It doesn’t outlaw unverified alarms — it creates an HOV lane for alarms that have been confirmed with video,” he says.
“In the past, the industry looked at verified response as a bad thing, because it devalued their existing systems if police would only respond to verified alarms,” Jentoft says. “We’re not threatening the installed base, because we encourage responders to continue to respond to typical alarms as they traditionally do.” He says that the focus is on the ability to catch criminals using video verification, not the comparison of verified alarms and non-verified alarms.
The difference is noticeable only to law enforcement and public safety answering points or PSAPs (of which the majority are owned by police departments and sheriff departments, Jentoft says), because it merely changes the way a verified alarm is coded in their call centers.
Meetings take place with officials in charge of the 911 centers, and Jentoft and company demonstrate and explain video verification technology and its positive benefits. Ingram of Visonic adds, “It’s very important to go to police departments and talk about these technologies and how they work, because in the end, the consumer is much happier knowing that if there was a false alarm, it will be handled, and if it’s a true alarm, they’ll get a response. There is value there for everyone.”
SIAC – A Partner in Verification
The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) focuses its efforts on dispatch reduction and alarm management. SIAC endorses enhanced call verification (ECV) as a way to reduce false alarm dispatches and strengthen relationships with law enforcement. The organization also believes verification technologies such as audio and video are a good option, but it urges dealers and integrators to use the technology wisely and not have it take the place of traditional verification techniques.
“Our position is that we’ve got to be cautious not to proliferate technology unchecked. We like video verification, for example, because it does afford an opportunity to actually help police catch bad guys if they respond appropriately, but we’re still cautious and urge dealers to think carefully about these applications,” says Stan Martin, executive director of SIAC, Frisco, Texas. “The industry has spent quite a few years working to reduce unnecessary false alarm dispatches and we don’t want technology to be carelessly applied and see that trend reversed.”
SIAC would like to develop guidelines for technologies used for verification and, eventually, standards that govern their use in security applications.
Most dealers and integrators already implementing two-call verification agree that verification technologies do not take the place of ECV, but rather are an additional way to gain more information about an alarm event.
“These technologies are all different layers of verification,” says Pam Petrow of Vector Security. “Sometimes if we have two-way audio, that will be our first call. It’s a layered approach and all works to minimize false dispatches when we can.”