With tax revenues down and costs of running a police department going up, what decision would you make if $633,000 of your budget was spent on responding to false alarms?
Once upon a time … long, long ago … I started my security career as an alarm service investigator (ASI). This meant between midnight and 8 a.m. I carried a toolbox and a gun, the latter for protecting myself and the former for fixing false alarms. Once dispatched from the UL central station, I would rendezvous with the local police or sheriff’s department patrol to investigate the cause of a burglar alarm signal. My job was to either assist in the capture of a perpetrator or determine and repair the cause of the false alarm.
The process of troubleshooting was methodical and assisted in real-time by the central station supervisor. The objective was clear. Find and fix the cause of the system’s false alarm while I was onsite to avoid a repeat trip the next night. When the cause of the system’s problem could not be determined, there was lots of paperwork and follow-up with the day shift service department, which would then deploy experienced service technicians to repair or replace system components.
It was important to “own” the false alarm issue from several perspectives, which included company reputation, customer satisfaction, police cooperation, and response to our primary business product: alarm monitoring and dispatch. New trends and market dynamics today are forcing security businesses to own up to false alarm issues more than ever before. Changes to the competitive landscape and customer preferences mean security company owners and operators must rethink their current and future business strategies.
Responder Cuts, DIY Market Growth
In December 2011, the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department announced without any warning it would no longer respond to nonverified alarms. While it would appear this policy decision came out of the blue with little notice to key stakeholders to prepare an adequate response for their customers, we should have seen this coming! It happened in Dallas a few years earlier. With tax revenues down and costs of running a police department going up, what decision would you make if $633,000 of your budget was spent on responding to false alarms?
What is the lesson for our stewardship of the security industry? We may need to rethink how we approach our security alarm business to deliver a professional product based on reliability and value. If not, the circumstances of the market realities may dramatically change your security business during the next five years. This means a more careful look at the products you choose to install, the operational practices for maintaining systems, the customer education training you provide, and your central station alarm dispatch capabilities.
But, you say, competitive pricing pressures are squeezing our margins, so selling more advanced, false-alarm resistant technologies means we will lose bids and business! Consider: What if police nonresponse to nonverified alarms becomes more widespread, or if customers choose to install and monitor their own systems at a $0 per month monitoring charge?
A major DIY retailer recently started selling a wireless, self-configuring, self-monitoring alarm system for around $300. This system communicates to, you guessed it, your smartphone app. Ah hah! While this new technology product would appear to make intrusion detection easy and simple, it could actually exacerbate the false alarm problem. Unprofessional application of detection technology is a recipe for a double batch of false alarm dessert.
Converging False Alarm Factors
So how does this convergence technology play a role in this important discussion? It all springs from IP technology’s march into our homes and lives, starting with conventional phone service. The migration away from POTS connections in our homes toward bundled broadband or pure cellular communication will continue at an increased tempo. This consumer preference trend, when combined with new competitive threats from cable companies and the sun-setting of 2G cellular back-up effectiveness, means we need to consider future alarm industry strategic business decisions.
Three key factors to consider are customer segments buying orientation, system solution options and the price of the verified alarm solution path. Let’s prioritize by price.
$ Do it yourself (DIY) — The customer chooses to buy a self-configuring, Wi-Fi intrusion detection system that requires very little knowledge and/or common sense to deploy. Unlike DIY systems of old that required some installation expertise, wiring, tools, etc., these new “converged” systems (alarm, network, notification app) only require you to know how to open a box. The next generation of alarm buyers who are Wi-Fi enabled may find this option and price very attractive. Alarm verification here may require that the customer investigates a break-in to verify. Anyone think that’s a good idea?