SITUATION: THE PITFALLS OF SIMPLICITY
For decades, alarm verification has been built on a model of elegant simplicity – simple data and straightforward logic. When any external factor trips an alarm, an agency is automatically tasked with investigating the incident. Simple prescribed actions like this have helped the security industry achieve impressive levels of efficiency in dispatching agencies and notifying responders. Unfortunately, these efficiency gains in the central station have come at a steep cost to law enforcement by way of a growing number of false alarms. Monitoring Centers have historically passed along an ever-increasing amount of simple alarm data to the authorities, however the quality of that data is not improving. Our emphasis on this binary simplicity has kept us blind to what truly causes an alarm condition. Traditional alarm systems simply do not provide enough information to determine with certainty that alarms are the result of crimes in progress. What you need is not simple; what you need is an elegant, intelligent solution.
FALSE ALARMS COST US DEARLY
This uncertainty can potentially cause your business a huge amount of undue stress and, in some cases, hurt your bottom line. In many jurisdictions, your business may incur hefty fines after too many reported false alarms. One of the key reasons anyone invests in a security system is to ensure that in the event of a crime, the police respond quickly and efficiently. However, the high frequency of false alarms has eroded the urgency with which police tend to respond – and with the vast majority of alarms “crying wolf,” it’s hardly surprising. Therefore, it has become critically important to understand what is setting off your alarms and to quickly identify whether or not it is a clear and present threat. Many alarms are caused by people that lack training or the necessary awareness to avoid activating an alarm system in the first place. Often times, these people lack the means or authority to cancel an alarm once activated. As a result, central stations dispatch police resources for a “blind” alarm, because in the current status quo monitoring centers cannot know whether a threat is legitimate or false. They err on the side of caution and report the alarm with uncertainty, employing tools like Enhanced Call Confirmation and Multi-Trip detection (see page 3 for more information). These tools do not verify whether an alarm is false, rather they simply eliminate the possibility of an obvious false alarm. With thinly-stretched resources arrayed against this status quo, it is not practical or even feasible to expect police to respond to every single alarm; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs taxpayers incur each year! The commonplace occurrence of false alarms also carries another hidden cost: complacency. Think about it from a law enforcement perspective – If over 90% of the alarm reports you responded to turned out to be false, how would that influence the way you respond to these calls over the course of hundreds or thousands of false alarms? You might take your time responding, or view the alarm as a lower priority and not even get a chance to respond at all. Providing actionable, quality intelligence that verifies a crime in progress to local law enforcement can mean faster response times in the event of an alarm and a greater security safety-net for your business.
COMBATING THE TREND: ENHANCED CALL CONFIRMATION & MULTI-TRIP DETECTION
It’s no surprise the false alarms cost your business dearly; but what steps can you take to reduce or eliminate those costs?
Full-scale video and audio confirmation help monitoring centers paint an even clearer picture (more on that in the following pages). However, the security industry has developed many effective strategies over the years for reducing false alarms and verifying user error that you can implement in your security strategy right now. Some of these strategies target the security system, resulting in standards for ensuring the quality of alarm system installations, user registration and permitting, and penalties for chronic abusers. Other strategies have focused on the central station, driving improved procedures to use the data provided by your security system to help verify an alarm.
One such strategy is known as Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) or Enhanced Call Confirmation (ECC). ECC requires central stations to call the premises and at least one person on the contact list in an attempt to rule out false alarm situations prior to dispatching police. This is a great first step in eliminating human error and circumventing authorization issues as mentioned earlier.
Another technique is known as Multi-Trip Detection. This is the process of identifying combinations of alarm conditions that are much more likely to constitute an actual threat versus a false alarm. Multi-Trip Detection is very effective in filtering out common sources of false alarms. For example, if a sensor detects a front door contact has been broken AND motion sensors detect activity near the front of the store, there is a much higher probability that this situation constitutes a crime in progress. The underlying idea here is that one type of alarm verifies another, greatly reducing the probability of a false alarm and unnecessary dispatch.
As effective as these strategies are for reducing false alarms, however, they have not increased our visibility to the underlying cause of alarms and they have not definitively helped us answer the central question: does this alarm represent a crime in progress?
At best, these methods simply reduce doubt about false alarms rather than verifying a legitimate alarm. True alarm verification is only possible when a Central Station operator can clearly determine that humans are present and there is a high probability of a crime in progress. In the previous example, the door sensor may have malfunctioned and the motion detection could have simply been an employee coming in to start their shift. Multi-Trip Detection can definitely help us paint a clearer picture, but in the end, the strategy relies on a process of elimination, not a process of confirmation. On their own, these strategies do not improve central station awareness or understanding of the cause of alarms, even if it does improve its chances of being right. Ultimately this strategy attempts to “minimize a negative” instead of “maximizing a positive.” The real value lies in verifying whether or not there is a probable crime in progress.
ATTAINING POSITIVE CONFIRMATION
The transition from blindness to sight requires a move from simple data to complex data. Video and audio technologies are readily available, and fit the bill for “intelligent and elegant solutions” that maximize your security. They provide information crucial to the verification of crimes in progress, and allow the central station operator to quickly confirm human presence and begin the process of assessing threat levels. This process can lead to a priority dispatch of authorities on a crime in progress, and – for audioverified alarms – has contributed to over 178,000 documented apprehensions , many of them prior to entry.
Despite the complexities involved, alarm verification is extremely straightforward. When a signal is detected, monitoring station specialists can tap into either a video feed at the moment the alarm was tripped (if the location has a video surveillance system), or audio through impact-activated microphones. These verification systems allow trained personnel to make a judgment call about whether or not a crime is in progress – one that law enforcement can trust. These specialists can even relay other critical information to law enforcement, such as a description of the situation based on what they are able to see or hear (i.e., number of intruders, method of entry, whether or not they appear armed, etc.). This information can save lives, and further underscores the importance of audio and visual alarm verification.
BENEFITS OF CONFIRMATION
Integrating video and audio alarm verification into your security systems sidesteps the potential pitfalls of false alarm fines and slower police response times. Good intelligence breeds decisive action, enabling law enforcement to arrive at the scene faster, and with a much clearer understanding of the situation. This ensures you have more control over shielding your business and staff from harm.
VIDEO VERIFICATION: BEST PRACTICES
It is important to understand that video and audio alarm verification is not a replacement for TCC, Multi-Trip Detection, or any other security techniques, but rather, an augment. Reducing false alarms helps law enforcement better manage their limited resources, and positive alarm verification across all these strategies provides them with actionable information for their response. This translates into a more secure location for you and a safer working environment for them.
Confirming a probable crime in progress requires central stations to establish meaningful procedures and definitions of threat levels based on audio and video information obtained from the protected premises. While it is possible for video and audio to present operators with enough information to immediately recognize a crime in progress, many situations will make the determination of criminal intent difficult based on video and audio alone. The Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response (PPVAR) is comprised of leaders from law enforcement, the alarm industry, and the insurance industry for the purpose of using video and audio technologies to verify crimes in progress and prioritize police response. To that end, PPVAR has developed a set of best practices for the use of video and audio to identify and categorize threat levels. These best practices are the product of input from key members of the law enforcement community, and help define when alarms should be reported as crimes in progress, and when additional steps should be taken (such as TCC) to minimize the chances of a false dispatch.
The technology for facilitating the dispatch of law enforcement on a confirmed crime in progress already exists. We need to move beyond simple notification of static alarms and leverage the power of video and audio to help monitoring centers more accurately identify real crimes in progress. Video and Audio verified alarms will help law enforcement to use their scarce and valuable rescues to increase apprehensions, and ultimately make your business more secure.
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