Verification Versus Priority Dispatch

Over the last decade, the alarm industry has spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours addressing the issue of preventing unnecessary police dispatches from alarm systems. Attend any industry trade show and it becomes immediately obvious that video and video monitoring have arrived—and that they’re here to stay. But are they mutually exclusive, or will they become cooperative tools working together in the dispatch-reduction arena?

Starting with the Model States and CARE programs and now through the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), the industry has put forth a concerted and successful effort to reduce unnecessary dispatches to alarms. Even through a rough economic period the past three years, the number of customers in the monitoring segment of the industry has grown, making this alarm reduction effort even more necessary.

SIAC has worked diligently to promote the practices that deliver the best results. Programs such as enhanced call verification and the CP-01 Control Panel Standard have assisted in reducing dispatches to the point that more than 85 percent of all calls received at the monitoring station are resolved without the need of a response. This number will continue to improve as more companies embrace these proven techniques.

For the 30 years that I have been involved in the alarm industry, there really hasn’t been much change in what we do to provide security for our clients. The equipment has advanced from basic—and, I might add, expensive—to comprehensive. Current systems typically include many zones, multiple user codes, remote arming, and some energy management and lighting control features. And of course, even with all the newer options, electronic security systems remain very affordable. However, after more than three decades, the bread and butter of our industry remains a monitored alarm system with perimeter and interior detection devices. How many other industries are in a similar position of maintaining a technological status quo? Not many.

Video security systems have been our bright spot when it comes to advancing technology. As video monitoring capabilities became more refined, many were always concerned that these abilities would never have an application in the residential market because of the industry’s concerns over privacy issues. Evidently we were wrong. Today’s generation of consumers is much more tolerant of technology and basically unafraid of allowing a minor invasion of privacy in order to enhance security or to keep an eye on children or even pets. So if video is more affordable and more video is sold, will video replace our traditional systems for verification processes?

In spite of our best efforts to verify an event prior to requesting a response, almost 80 percent of all calls the industry dispatches are still due to user error. Will this always be the case with the added dimension of video feeds from the premises? The short answer is probably yes. Whether the event is triggered by a door contact or a camera, there is nothing that indicates that operator error will be replaced as the primary cause of signals transmitted for action. Could it be that all we will yield is a picture of the user activating his own alarm?

The addition of off-site video monitoring does not increase the number of real or attempted crimes, but it does provide the ability to identify an actual crime in progress immediately, resulting in a higher priority response and an opportunity for law enforcement to apprehend more people. When combined with a priority response, these video-enhanced systems are improving that apprehension number, an appealing prospect to law enforcement.

Even still, there is a warning sign we must heed. Applying any new technology to solve an old problem has the potential to exclude legacy equipment. For this reason, a new technology should never be a requirement in order to receive service. We must also be careful not to let our sales and marketing people oversell the benefits of video. History has proven that it takes many years to vet these new applications. It would be wise to develop guidelines, procedures and eventually standards to ensure we don’t repeat the errors of the past and allow the trend of decreasing alarm dispatches to reverse.

So how do improved verification and video fit in the same place trying to do the same job?

In 2010, when the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) set out to develop an ANSI dispatch standard for central stations, it had to answer this same question. Through open discussion, the association determined that a central station employee should dispatch on a video alarm only after the current and accepted verification techniques had been applied. If not, video alarms had the potential to actually reverse the gains the industry had made. In real life, video monitoring is already proving all of these statements to be true. At the same time, video has increased the number of apprehensions being made where there is clear evidence of a crime being committed.

However, no form of monitoring is immune from unnecessary alarm dispatches. Caution remains the rule of thumb. Any attempt to steer away from proven verification techniques should occur only if there is clear evidence that would lead a prudent person to believe that a crime is being, is about to be or has been committed. Look for more detailed information as the CSAA standard for priority dispatch is completed and opened for comment.

So, video monitoring has arrived, but will it become a staple product? The short answer is yes. The equipment is already competitively priced in comparison with traditional equipment. On the commercial side, there is no reason not to integrate video as part of an effective package to improve reliability and raise the priority of dispatches.

So, the next time you’re at a trade show, take at look at what the future vision of our industry will likely be.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Security Today.

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