Alarm Response - For years, the alarm industry has framed alarm verification around a simple and actionable response. When an alarm is triggered by an external factor, an agency is then responsible for responding to the incident.

Alarm Response

Central stations respond to alarms, but false alarms are a problem

For years, the alarm industry has framed alarm verification around a simple and actionable response. When an alarm is triggered by an external factor, an agency is then responsible for responding to the incident. Central stations have become well trained in responding to an event and tasking the appropriate responder to further investigate the event; however, this process has come at a large cost to the law enforcement due to the increasing high number of false alarms.

This trend exposes the need for a differentiator in the alarm industry to discriminate between non-critical alarms and critical actionable alarms, where there is a need for law enforcement response. A traditional alarm system does not provide enough information to a central station operator to discriminate and determine if there is a true actionable alarm, thus we’re seeing a rise in false alarms rates, and unnecessary police action.


According to the Texas Police Chief Association, “alarm calls are historically over 98 percent false and false alarm calls represent a burden on law enforcement resources, create complacency that may result in officer injury or death, and are a waste of taxpayer funds.”

In 2008, the San Jose Police Department conducted a study of false alarms in the city and found that the cost of false alarms to the department during that year was $662,000. In 2010, the same department reported responding to 12,450 alarm calls, which represented the second largest percentile category of all call types. Of those alarm calls, only two arrests were made and only 113 resulted in police reports being generated. These statistics support the labeling of the alarm reporting from traditional alarm systems as “crying wolf,” which makes sense when 98 percent of the time, the alarm is false.

One of the main reasons to invest in an alarm system is to ensure that in the event of a crime, the authorities respond in a timely manner and hopefully catch the criminal. The terrifying reality is that over time authorities have grown to view traditional alarms as less of a priority. They respond with less urgency to these types of alarms, because of their limited resources, the expectation that the majority of the reports will be from false alarms, and the associated cost and burden of false alarms. However, the consumer does not always understand that, and may operate with the assumption that all alarms will be responded to with same level of priority and urgency, creating a false sense of security. Criminals are also aware of the deficiencies around traditional alarm systems, and have become smarter about their methods of break-in and available time to complete their crime.


In response to the exponentially growing number of false alarms and the large costs associated with them, the alarm industry has been forced to adapt and intelligently discriminate on the alarm event before dispatching authorities. Initial steps toward alarm verification have been taken through the implementation of staffing procedures for enhanced call verification and deployment of multi-trip detection technology to reduce the percentages of false alarms; however, in no way have these improvements addressed the ability to verify and confirm a legitimate alarm occurrence.

True alarm verification comes in the form of live audio, or video, or an eyewitness account, which is the current trend of alarm verification. With the more advanced levels of verification, central stations are able to better provide responding police officers with information based on the audio and/or video they are able to receive real-time from the alarm location, resulting in better police safety and greater numbers of apprehensions.


Verified alarm response singularly identifies Sonitrol. They started the trend of verified alarms with their patented audio verification technology beginning in 1963. Sonitrol has remained uniquely positioned in the market for 52 years and its systems’ functionality has resulted in more than 170,000 apprehensions.

Sonitrol’s story began more than 50 years ago, when a police officer in Anderson, Ind., was looking for a better way to detect a crime in progress. Sonitrol created the audio sensor as a means of listening to the alarm event real-time once an alarm had been triggered to verify that it is not a false alarm. Audio sensors continue to be an innovative way to verify alarms and more recently, video verification has been introduced to the market as another verification tool. The most powerful level of verification is the combination of both audio and video verification.

Several years ago, STANLEY Security recognized the market movement to verified alarm response and saw an opportunity to leverage and expand on the already compelling Sonitrol value proposition. In June 2014, by entering into an agreement with 3xLogic, a leading video solutions provider, STANLEY Security has been able to unite Sonitrol’s solution by layering video verification on top of Sonitrol’s patented world class audio verification intrusion capabilities.

Today, Sonitrol now offers a powerful solution to the security marketplace, highly differentiating itself from the competition. Sonitrol has achieved nearly 2x the growth rate of the traditional alarm monitoring marketplace, and will continue the differentiation through addition of new technologies to verify an alarm and make our law enforcement partners more effective, safe and productive.


The movement toward verified alarm response in the industry is apparent and legislatively just in its infancy, with judicial actions being taken in cities and formation of committees around the growing trend. A growing number of cities are moving toward verified response to reduce the number of false alarms being responded to by law enforcement. That means that non-verified alarms will be given lower police response priority than alarms verified by audio, video, or an eyewitness.

In addition to the growing number of cities moving towards verified response standards, the formation of committees to help convey the importance of verified response is now widespread. One most notable example is the Partnership for Priority Alarm Response (PPVAR). PPVAR is comprised of members of law enforcement, the insurance industry, and the electronic security industry, and their goal is “to collaborate with all members involved in the alarm response process and share best practices, ideas and the information necessary to maximize the effectiveness of all resources necessary to protect our valued customers’ life and property.”

“Several leaders from STANLEY Security, Sonitrol, and our franchisee partners have been fully engaged with writing the next generation of verified alarm response standards,” said Jeremy Morton, vice president of business development at STANLEY Security.

Steve Walker, vice president of customer service for STANLEY CSS, and Jeremy Bates, general manager and owner of Sonitrol of Lexington, serve as board members of the PPVAR. Joey-Rao Russell, president of Californiabased Kimberlite, the largest independent Sonitrol franchisee, recently led an effort as the Chair of the PPVAR Audio Verification Committee to release its report entitled “Audio Verification Best Practices,” which outlines the best practices for central stations using audio to verify an intrusion alarm.


This trend toward verified response is one that will continue to grow and evolve, and the anticipated near-term outcome is that alarm verification will become a mandated requirement in the alarm industry, and it will be driven through adoption of standards like the ones released by PPVAR.

The temporal relationship of the ongoing use of traditional alarm systems, increased deployment of do-it-yourself (DIY) alarm systems, and fewer resources within law enforcement, will continue to significantly drive the rapid adoption of verified alarm response. As more police departments continue to move toward verified alarm response, traditional alarms will take lower priority, meaning slower or no response from police officers, and will be viewed more as a deterrent, rather than a means to stop an actual crime in progress.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Security Today.

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