For probably at least the last three years, our false alarms [in Lynchburg, Va.] have held about the same. I have anywhere from 200 to 230 as an estimate per month. They’ve held the same, but my permits have almost doubled. So you’re talking about more users, more people who we have permits for, but we’re still having about the same amount of false alarms. So really for us that’s a reduction. I think we see that because we work so hard with the public, with the alarm user, and with the alarm industry. Instead of just sending out the paperwork and expecting them to respond, we actually try to build relationships with them so that they will be aware of it, so that we can work with them.
Gerry Miller: We all have the same issues but how we deal with them is totally different from Canada to the United States. In the U.S. they regulate the alarm industry. We do not do that in Canada. We just tell them how we will respond to the calls, get them to work with us, and reduce false alarms by working with them.
If you could pinpoint your top challenges regarding both alarm users and alarm companies, what would those be?
Lowe: Being able to find who you need to talk to sometimes, the responsible person. Even with alarm users, because you have people who own apartment complexes and maybe they’ve installed the system and now maybe they’re not responsible for it. Once you rent to them you actually are responsible for it. It’s not included in your rent, your fee. So sometimes that’s a great challenge. Then also with the alarm companies is getting to the right person because sometimes you talk to someone who is just there, as actually a dispatcher they’re there doing their job to dispatch those alarms. Or you deal with the monitoring center and it actually is from the alarm installer. It gets extremely frustrating, especially if the alarm owner’s on the top 10 of your big offender list.
Hansen: The top challenges are educating the user on both sides. That’s our biggest challenge and where we see the most false alarms, is in user error. It’s getting that education to the actual user, whether it’s a resident or it’s that store manager who’s hired a new night manager and forgets to educate that night manager on how to arm/disarm the system, etc.
Miller: I agree that there needs to be more training with the alarm user. They need to take responsibility for the alarm system. If the system is working properly and they’re using it properly, false alarms would reduce even more. I think also the monitoring stations for the most part are aware when it’s a false alarm, but because of liability issues they still have to dispatch police. That is unfortunate because if they could take a little more ownership to help us that would also help.
What’s your perception of the false alarm issue overall? It would appear things are working a little better but what’s your take? How much traction toward improvement has truly been made?
McDonald: I think awareness is the most important issue. That awareness was brought up by the whole verified response issue because that made news. The awareness has benefited both sides because everyone has seen the need to form relationships and a cooperative effort to work with each other to reduce false alarms. I definitely think more can occur. Sometimes, on all sides — the industry, government, law enforcement — you still have players out there refusing to work with each other. But overall I think cooperation has increased. The issue is getting those numbers reduced and meeting in the middle to find a satisfying and happy medium.
False alarms are still going to occur because you have the human element, nature, any of those causes where it can happen. But we’re aware of those causes and with the new technology coming out, like video becoming more affordable, we’ll hopefully start to see an even greater drop in false alarms.
Miller: I think there are going to be more verified calls based on the technology that’s becoming available. At some point there could be more nonresponse. I know some agencies are having problems with receiving [false alarm fine] payments so they’re starting to suspend for payment. But I think it’s the technology that’s going to make a big difference in the reduction of false alarms. Even though the systems are increasing — our population increased 2.3% this year — our alarms did not go up. So there’s something keeping it down, and I think it’s really the technology and the hard work the industry is doing working with police.
Let’s continue with that train of thought, how technology and/or certain practices are affecting the incidence of false alarms and dispatches.
Lowe: What we call two-call verification is huge. I’ve heard people mention this, but with me a lot of my calls are actually that they do have someone’s cell phone number now. They are going to more using the cell phone than they are trying to call a home number first. They will call the person’s cell, and then they actually have another person instead of just calling the premise and the home.
And we’re starting to get some that have the video verification. I know in our public safety department a couple of years ago a few officers invited the people who owned the businesses in Lynchburg to come out and see what video security could do. You’ll be able to see what’s going on at your store or home. This allows getting into crime prevention or being able to actually make arrests because you are able to see the subject, or what’s going on. With the way technology’s changing, I haven’t seen much of a downside as it’s actually enhancing and making things better for us.
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Reducing False Alarms