Our industry has had a good run. For decades we were able to get away with providing an incomplete service. We installed and monitored alarms, but as soon as they actually tripped, the police department handled the immediate response. The police provided that crucial component of our industry’s ‘service,’ mostly without any real cost. What other industry has experienced a free ride like this?
Today’s reality is different. Response is more important than ever, but the ability of police to provide it no longer exists in most of North America. While the budgets of most police departments have gotten tighter, the number of installed alarms has grown exponentially. More alarms meant more false alarms. More false alarms meant more wasted police time. More wasted police time has led to verified response or nonresponse policies.
It doesn’t matter how well the system was installed, whether your installer cleaned up after him/herself or even how friendly your central station operator was to your client if when the alarm actually tripped, nothing happened. That is the reality in most homes and businesses. When the alarm trips, nothing happens. Nobody responds. Nevertheless, our industry continues to sell an outdated story that is simply not true anymore.
Big-budget television commercials mislead consumers by suggesting that when an alarm trips, police will respond. In many of those ads, the police arrive to arrest the burglar — who is invariably dressed in black and sporting a balaclava — just in time to save the day for the hapless woman home with her two young children. In others, the crowbar-wielding crook simply runs away after hearing the alarm siren.
Our industry is still making money using fear to sell that failed promise. It won’t last much longer. Rather than tackling the reality that our industry has changed and we can no longer sell a service that relies on the police (at least without paying for them), industry organizations like the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) have instead fought to prolong the death of an outdated business model.
Lobbying city councils and police departments in an effort to retain police response is one thing, but creating new ways to mislead consumers is much worse. “Enhanced Call Verification” (ECV) has been heralded by many in our industry as the solution to the false alarm problem. SIAC certainly thinks so.
ECV has reduced the number of false police dispatches, and that’s great. What isn’t great is it has achieved that ‘success’ at the cost of rendering a burglar alarm even less effective. Isn’t anyone worried about clients catching on? Rather than wasting time calling one number while a home is broken into, the alarm company will call two. That’s the ‘enhanced’ part. It’s certainly not enhanced for the client.
It’s not like there aren’t any viable solutions. Audio verification has been a solution for commercial properties for years. There is no shortage of companies using video verification to separate real burglaries from false alarms. At our company, Provident Security, we provide a guaranteed five-minute response, by our own guards, to client alarms.
False alarms are not the problem; they are the opportunity and future of our industry’s business model. Rather than wasting time trying everything possible to hang on to an old and broken business model, why not focus on providing the service that clients really need?
There is a lot of talk in the industry about the ‘threat’ of telephone and cable companies offering security services. The bigger threat is clients wising up to the fact that our industry has lied to them. The latter will hurt all of us far more than new competitors offering a different version of the same broken service.
Mike Jagger is President of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based Provident Security.