When 99% Is 100% Inaccurate

Statistically speaking, no matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, the number of false alarms will always hover around 99%. 

For example, let’s say the hypothetical city of Mt. Pleasant had a total of 10,000 alarms in 2005 where police were dispatched to the premises, and to their dismay 9,900 (99%) proved to be false. In 2006, the city and local alarm companies instituted Enhanced Call Verification (ECV), which requires that at least two phone calls from the alarm monitoring center be made to verify whether a user error has occurred before law enforcement service is dispatched.

Due to the concerted effort, Mt. Pleasant drastically lowered the total number of alarm calls to 5,000. However, using the same statistical ratio, the number of false dispatches is now 4,950 — still 99% — even though the total number of alarm calls has been reduced by half! 

Is the mathematical formula currently used to determine false alarms (actually false dispatches) flawed? Yes! The formula should be the total number of alarm systems divided by the total number of police dispatches. Will ECV actually reduce police dispatches by half or even more? Absolutely. In cities that have instituted ECV, some had a 90% reduction! 

What exactly is ECV? It’s really very simple. The monitoring center needs to make TWO calls: one to the premise (make sure the alarm panel communicator is finished communicating and has released the line, otherwise you may get call-waiting); and possibly one to the primary person’s cell phone to help filter out invalid alarm signals. 

How is this going to reduce false dispatches? All industry and Security Sales & Integration research studies show that 80% of false alarms are caused by end-user error during entry and exit times. Stats also show it only takes 30 to 60 seconds longer to make a second call. 

So, when you consider that the national average response time from the moment the alarm goes off to when police arrive on premise is 20 minutes, an extra 30 seconds is insignificant to avert a false police dispatch. Issues surrounding false alarms have been around a long time. 

Are we making positive progress to alleviate some of the burden for law enforcement? The answer is yes! Police magazine (which has 40,000 law enforcement subscribers) conducted two exclusive studies for SSI in 2003 and 2006. Here are some interesting results from the surveys: 

  • 32% of police officers have an alarm system in their own home vs. an estimated 22% of civilian homeowners
  • In 2006, 41% of officers strongly recommended alarm systems in their community vs. 30% in 2003 — an 11% increase within 3 years
  • In 2003, only 2% of officers thought ECV was a viable solution to false dispatches — that percentage has jumped to 21% in 2006!
  • One in 4 officers said they have a “strained” relationship with alarm companies in their community
  • However, a whopping 96% said they would like better communication from the local alarm companies, while understanding that some false alarms are inevitable

Without a doubt, it seems much of the verified or no response implementation is in direct proportion to the relationship and/or communication currently between law enforcement and local alarm companies.

You need to concentrate on creating an open dialogue between alarm companies and local law enforcement. Seek out and learn how to compromise, because all politics are local. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

For more information about ECV and how you can help, check out www.siacinc.org and www.faraonline.org.

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