Complacency Can Cost You Cash and Customers

A recent court decision involving a national provider and horrific injuries to its customer should remind dealers of the importance of well documented procedures, training and protocols for monitoring alarms. Further, it’s a reminder of the necessity for contracts that accurately reflect the alarm company’s responsibilities and current equipment service offerings made to consumers. The firm was found to have been reckless in its conduct, had not properly trained its personnel and was driven more by a profit motive than providing good security. The victim was awarded $8.6 million.

The abbreviated facts of the case are a female customer of the alarm company was beaten and sexually assaulted in her home. An intruder broke into the customer’s home while she was at work at a department store. The alarm company received repeated intrusion signals, as multiple zones of the alarm system were activated. On receipt of the first signals, the monitoring center immediately called the premises but received no answer. The center then contacted the police to report the possible intrusion. When trying to reach the customer at her work, the center received an automated message and hung up rather than follow menu prompts to reach a live person who may have been able to page the customer. Therefore, the customer was unaware of the alarm events and the system continued to send signals from various zones.

The police received a second dispatch request but would not respond unless a key holder was present. Ultimately, the police did dispatch another unit but, observing no forcible signs of entry, did not investigate further. The sister was eventually reached by the center and responded to the home, but was not made aware of the multiple signals and left since she did not have a key. After the customer returned home and the alarm triggered, the center provided improper information about the circumstances of her system. She was not advised of the prior signals nor any other information about the previous events, including her sister’s notification, that may have put her on guard. The customer was subsequently assaulted.

Extreme as it may be, this case demonstrates how monitoring providers must be ever vigilant and not complacent because most activations are false. Alarm companies are still in the crime identification and notification business, not the false alarm prevention business.

Training should be consistent, continuous, simulate potential events and be well documented. Central station personnel must understand the risks and dangers that may be identified by the receipt of an alarm signal. Today’s “interactive” systems where consumers may receive alerts on remote devices (smartphones, tablets) and be more involved in the process increase the need to provide clear instructions on how they should react or respond to an alarm notification, with the admonition that personal safety must come first.

Also, the advent of enhanced call verification (ECV) and other notification requirements make it extremely important call list recipients advised of an alarm also be cautioned about entering the premises from which it emanates. While controlling and reducing false activations is an important goal of the alarm industry, it must not compromise the safety of customers and their call list responders.

Finally, the contract with the consumer must clearly and fully explain the response and notification procedures that will be used, and contain the appropriate limitations of liability provisions. Also, it must include an appropriate description of the customer’s duties with respect to the use of the alarm system, including providing accurate contact information and contact instructions.               

Alan Pepper is an attorney with the law firm Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp.

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