Appropriate Response

Appropriate Response

Five Steps Dealers Can Take to Reduce False Alarms

Everybody knows the old saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. But, alarm dealers understand that there’s a third certainty: false alarms.

There may not be much that alarm dealers can do about death and taxes, but they can have a positive impact on the number of false alarms that are a constant thorn in our industry’s side.

As director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), Ron Walters is one of the industry’s most knowledgeable advocates of false dispatch reduction. He’s able to sum up the issue in a nutshell.

“Where ordinances are in place and enforced, and also include best practices, 85 percent of alarm users have no dispatches, false or otherwise, in any given year,” Walters said. “That means that false dispatches from 15 percent of customers represent 100 percent of the problem.”

So, what can dealers do to make an impact on that 15 percent? Here are some suggestions from Walters and Darin Anderson, who also knows a great deal about false dispatches as vice president of monitoring for Monitronics. The company puts a great deal of effort into trying to reduce false alarms through extensive training and support for its network of authorized dealers.

Quality Installation

Commonly recognized causes of false burglar alarms include improper selection of equipment, as well as poor installation and component placement. That puts the issue directly on the dealer’s doorstep.

“When a dealer takes time to put the right system in place and the installation gets done correctly, it makes a huge difference,” Anderson said. “That puts responsibility on the dealer to use the right equipment, but it’s an important part of getting the customer off on the right foot. Anyone who’s in an RMR business wants to keep a customer as long as possible, so it makes a tremendous difference when the customer is happy from the get-go.”

There is a responsibility to make sure a new customer is aware of and in compliance with all local regulations, including licensing requirements. Walters said that might create a bit of a burden on the dealer, but it’s worth the extra effort to emphasize the importance of avoiding false alarm dispatches.

“Sometimes, salespeople are hesitant to bring it up because they think that talking about local requirements might be considered as a negative,” Walters said. “But you’d rather have the customer know up front than to suddenly end up with a fine for not registering their alarm, or to have the police quit responding because they’ve had too many false alarms.”

Emphasis on Training, Follow-up

Of course, quality installation is only the beginning. User error is the cause of the vast majority of false alarms. While simple mistakes are a fact of life, many false alarms are the result of ignorance about the security system, and that usually comes from a lack of proper training for the homeowner.

“When 75 percent of all false alarms are because of user error, that means that dealers need to do a better job of educating customers,” Walters said. “The most effective way to cut down on false alarms is to improve the quality and duration of user training.”

Both Walters and Anderson say that quality assurance standards— such as IQ Certification—can be a huge benefit for a dealer. Monitronics is an IQ Certified monitoring station, and it encourages its dealers to also become certified. It’s a valuable resource for best practices for installation and training, and it’s a solid foundation for preventing false alarms.

“From a Monitronics standpoint, we want a customer who’s well trained,” Anderson said. “We stress the importance to our authorized dealers of showing customers how to use their systems properly, and that makes a tremendous impact in false alarm reduction.”

Choice of Central Station

Alarm monitoring can make a huge difference. While response methods typically don’t vary a great deal between central stations, the commitment to reducing false alarms runs deeper than just the agents who take the calls.

Last year, for example, Monitronics received the prestigious Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) award in recognition of its cooperation with law enforcement officials, particularly in reducing unnecessary dispatches. The award was created by SIAC and the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA).

“In winning the award, Monitronics demonstrated a huge commitment to educate its dealers and customers on the real cost of false dispatches,” Walters said.

Monitronics places a huge emphasis on following up with customers who repeatedly have false alarm issues, specifically through its False Alarm Control Team.

“The team works with customers to figure out the root cause for the issue,” Anderson said. “Sometimes it’s user error, or it can be something as simple as the wind rattling loosefitting doors or windows. Whatever the cause, this lets us reach out and assist people with specific issues, and that creates a better overall customer experience.”

Law Enforcement Relationships

One of SIAC’s biggest roles in the industry is cultivating relationships with law enforcement officials. But, dealers can play an important part at the local level, particularly in smaller or medium-sized areas. Walters says it makes a lot of sense to simply get to know local law enforcement officials.

“That needs to happen a lot more than we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Just by introducing yourself, it’s an excellent way to build support and develop a positive relationship.”

ZKAccess - a division of ZKTeco An easy place to start is with local burglary detectives, and making them aware of your presence in the community. Also, they may be noticing trends that will educate your existing customers, and help you to better understand the needs of potential customers.

It is a good idea to get to know the person within the department who is responsible for alarm coordination, Walters said, particularly if you’re doing business in multiple jurisdictions.

“They can help make you aware if any of your customers are having false alarm issues,” he said. “A lot of times, there might be a reason for the false alarms, and you can work with them on behalf of the customer.”

More importantly, local law enforcement officials will know that anytime they contact you regarding a specific issue, they’ll get a response. “It’s very frustrating when an alarm coordinator wants to speak to someone at a company and they can’t get hold of anybody, or nobody will return their call,” Walters said. “It makes sense for every company to have someone who will respond to any call coming in from law enforcement.”

Promote Effective Ordinances and Enforcement

Another benefit of having a positive relationship with law enforcement is using it as a bridge to local government. This is where ordinances that affect local businesses are typically created. As a dealer, that’s where you need to protect your interests. One place to start is by encouraging Enhanced Call Verification, or ECV.

Walters said that SIAC promotes ECV, in which a central monitoring station calls two or more numbers before requesting police dispatch for a burglary alarm. This is the model Monitronics follows, and Walters said it typically produces significant reductions of between 80 and 90 percent of false alarm dispatches, when enforced correctly and used in concert with a limit on the number of free responses (police responses without a fine) and a suspension of police responses if the number of false alarms goes beyond a certain threshold. At that point, the homeowner must rectify the cause of the false alarms before police response will be reinstated.

“When you put those things in, you have the basis of a very good ordinance, and one that will be very effective as long as it’s enforced,” Walters said. “But any time that a police department decides that they need to either write or amend an ordinance, the dealer needs to be there to support enhanced call verification and other practices that the industry supports.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Security Today.

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