ADS Wages War on False Alarms

While ADS does not stand for Accurate Dispatch Services, given Alarm Detection Systems’ history of false alarm reduction it just as well could. The security provider’s staunch approach, which includes a task force and fewer false dispatches amid baseline growth, has earned it 2007’s Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award.

A Customized Approach

Rochester, Minn.-based Custom Alarm/Custom Communications Inc. was launched by President/CEO Leigh Johnson from the basement of his home in 1968. Today, the provider of residential and commercial security systems and monitoring, and sound and media solutions, employs nearly 70 people.

A hallmark of the company’s success is first-rate customer service that includes an emphasis on effective alarm management and minimizing false alarms/dispatches. These initiatives have led to Custom Alarm notching a .33 false alarm dispatch rate in 2007, and being named runner-up of the Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award two of the past three years.

Techniques used by the company include consistent messaging throughout its advertising, sales literature and contracts; thorough education, training and follow-up; acceptance of electronic cancellations; SIA CP-01 compliance; and excellent working relationships with responding police and fire departments. Custom Alarm Director of Marketing Nikki Johnson, one of several family members involved in the business, lends insight to the company’s false alarm prevention program.

What inspired Custom Alarm to mount a comprehensive false alarm reduction program?

Nikki Johnson: As a company and particularly as a central monitoring station we are very conscientious about serving our customers. It is our responsibility to make sure we are setting our customers up with the tools they need in order to have the lowest number of false alarms. We realize that a lower number of false alarms makes better business for us, happier customers, and also pleases local law enforcement.

How has the program evolved over time?

Johnson: An area we modified was fire alarm response – we do not do any two-call verifications on fire alarms. Late 2007, we met with the local fire marshal to discuss fire responses and dispatches. It was agreed that we would make one call to the home/business at the same time we are dispatching the fire department. This has further reduced the number of times the trucks roll for unnecessary calls.

In the third quarter of 2007, we
drafted a follow-up letter that was sent to the customer after calls are made on false alarms. This letter thanks the customer for taking the time to discuss the alarm event and outlines procedures for preventing false alarms. It also helps re-enforce the need for preventing false alarms.

What have been the internal challenges of implementing the program?

Johnson: Since we have always had false alarm reduction as a top priority from sales to installation, it was not a big adjustment. Our central station dispatchers have been the affected most. They are the ones who make the follow-up calls and help customers determine the best course of action. It was really our employees who rallied for two-call verification as an effort to minimize dispatches, and increased efforts to reach customers prior to unnecessary response.

As for the change in the fire dispatching, it too came from the central station researching those call procedures beforehand. They now have the ability to call the customer and ‘double check’ that the alarm was not accidentally set off. This additionally helps make our relationship with the customer even stronger as they see the efforts we go through to make sure they are safe, yet not sending help when it is unnecessary.

Is this plan appropriate for any security company?

Johnson: It should work for most companies. The real success of our program comes from communication with customers, which is key. This is a program that works for any monitoring company willing to invest the time to make it work. These programs do not cost a lot; it is an investment of time by the dispatchers to follow-up with customers when their system sends in false alarms, and to work with law enforcement to develop a working relationship.

About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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