An Inside Look at Alarm Detection’s Award-Winning False Alarm Reduction Strategies
Thanks to a high standard of installation and monitoring excellence and a low tolerance for nuisance alarms, Alarm Detection Systems earned the 2018 Police Dispatch Quality Award.
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“The population of the city of Aurora has grown over 70,000 people over the last decade, to become the second largest in Illinois. Alarm Detection Systems is by far the most dominant commercial and residential alarm company in our community. Despite this growth, false alarms dispatched from our dispatch center from private alarms are down slightly over 40% over the aforementioned period. I hope this is helpful in your assessment of the value of Alarm Detection Systems.”
That persuasive testimonial from Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman highlights some of the impressive results achieved by an even more remarkable false alarm program that has been refined and all but perfected the past 10 years.
As a consequence, Alarm Detection Systems (ADS) has added another feather to its cap during a year in which the firm is celebrating its golden anniversary by capturing its second Police Dispatch (PDQ) Award.
The family-run business that was founded by President and SSI Industry Hall of Famer Robert Bonifas in 1968 and marked its 40th year in 2008 with a PDQ trophy has now repeated the feat to underscore ADS’ half-century as one of security’s premier organizations.
“The Bonifas family has set the bar for decades on inventive alarm dispatch reduction,” says Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), one of the PDQ program’s organizers. “Their concept of having a dedicated team of service technicians that are assigned exclusively to fixing problem systems and then giving those technicians the authority to condemn and replace faulty equipment was a huge leap. Their results more than justified any costs associated with the program.”
Founded in 2005 by SIAC, False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) and Security Sales & Integration, and officially endorsed by the Installation Quality (IQ) program, the PDQ Award annually recognizes a security company that best demonstrates a proactive, cooperative and successful effort in false alarm reduction strategies.
The PDQ program’s mission is to raise industrywide awareness, promote partnering with responding agencies for public safety, motivate alarm companies to be proactive and provide workable models.
Applicants participate at no charge and are evaluated by three judges in a thorough process that analyzes 14 areas (see sidebar). ADT was named this year’s runner-up (profile coming soon).
ADS, which operates its own TMA (formerly CSAA) Five Diamond central monitoring station and fields more than 100 trained and certified technicians, offers a full complement of commercial and residential security and fire/life-safety systems, solutions and services.
The company boasts same-day service, smartphone-enabled system access and control, municipal code compliance and a live person answering all incoming calls.
The company is also among the most active in industry trade groups and causes, with both Bonifas and his son and current Executive Vice President Ed Bonifas having served as national association presidents.
14 PDQ Best Practices
1. Advertising, sales literature provide realistic expectation of alarm response
2. Salespeople explain permitting requirements, fees and fines
3. Use of Enhanced Call Confirmation (ECC, formerly ECV)
4. Contact customers after every false alarm
5. Track worst false alarm offenders and take action if needed
6. Instruct customer on verification process and keep call lists updated
7. Ongoing communications with customers
8. Installers have minimum NTS Level I or II training
9. In-house training must be led by credentialed instructors
10. Customers thoroughly instructed on all system operations
11. Checklists used for installers and customers
12. Unique or additional initiatives (e.g. video verification)
13. Development of strong working relationship with local law enforcement
14. Properly calculating and actively reducing false dispatch rate
One of the principal reasons for ADS’ false alarm management success has been making designated individuals accountable for maintaining and improving its protocols and practices. Leading the charge is False Alarm Reduction Coordinator Mellissa Hodgetts, who shares the program’s particulars.
What drove Alarm Detection Systems deciding to mount such a thorough false alarm reduction program and have the commitment to maintain it?
MELLISSA HODGETTS: In 1991, Bob Bonifas was chairman of the Central Station Alarm Association [now The Monitoring Association] False Alarm Reduction Committee. That’s when he decided how important it was to start watching the false alarms and working to eliminate as many of them as possible. ADS is proactive in this area because we have dedicated staff members to work on false alarm reduction on a daily basis.
Our focus has always been to provide the highest service levels possible. In the event of an actual security situation, the correct escalation should occur along with the safest resolution that is possible. Human error or malfunctioning equipment that generate false alarms get in the way of achieving what ADS does. We protect lives and property. When someone purchases an alarm system from us it will function when needed.
Who are the main people responsible for keeping the program on track?
HODGETTS: We have two main people here dedicated to false alarm reduction. Between us, we have more than 38 years’ experience with the company. Ed Lubic, who started in ADS’ stockroom 22 years ago, has spent the past 17 years as a field technician and serves as our False Alarm Team leader. I started out as an operator here 16 years ago and learned many of the different jobs within the call center. For the past four years, I have been in the sales department as an admin to our senior sales reps — and today I also serve as ADS’ false alarm reduction coordinator. The two of us work with our technicians, central station operators and call center staff. Our mission is accomplished through persistent communication among departments and with the customers.
What modifications have been made to the plan to keep it current?
HODGETTS: The main modifications have been to run more reports more often, call customers and try to educate them or get a tech out for repairs. The reports used to be run on a monthly basis. We now run them every other day or every day. Some accounts actually email the team directly when the alarm goes off so we can reach out to the customer immediately. We try having an open line of communication about the false alarms with the person in charge, and we email or call them when we see the alarm has gone off again. A lot of these are due to items hanging or stacked in front of motions, entry/exit errors. If they aren’t made aware of the issues they can’t fix them. If it isn’t a case of education, we get a tech out immediately.
How costly of an undertaking was this; how did you budget for it?
HODGETTS: We haven’t ever really counted or budgeted for our false alarm reduction efforts. We feel controlling false dispatches is the right and moral thing to do for both our customers and the authorities.
ADS first won the PDQ Award in 2008. How has alarm management changed for the firm since then?
HODGETTS: We have completely revamped the false alarm reduction process. We now track false alarms once they hit three in a year. This is a crucial step to ensure a recurring false alarm customer does not make it any higher on the list. The primary contact receives a phone call, and a line of communication is left open between the customer and myself as our false alarm reduction coordinator.
How are your installation and monitoring departments/personnel coordinated? Is it an advantage to run your own central vs. contracted monitoring?
HODGETTS: Our installation department has installation codes they have to follow. For example, all signals are tested via our central station or call center before the installer leaves the property. The central station and call center personnel must see all signals with proper restores before they allow the installer to put the system online. The advantage of owning our own central station is it is our equipment. We don’t have to rely on someone else that maybe doesn’t have the same passion for the industry that we do.
What role do standards, practices and training play in ADS’ program?
HODGETTS: Bob Bonifas has created a very high standard of operations for all departments. All departments go through rigorous training to ensure that our customers get the best possible service from everyone they come in contact with. Most importantly our central station operators go through six weeks of training including TMA 5 Diamond Certification. Enhanced Call Confirmation [ECC, formerly Enhanced Call Verification or ECV] is a great practice. With that second call and the acceptance of electronic cancellation, that eliminates many false alarms and unnecessary dispatches.
What were the challenges implementing the plan with customers, both commercially and residentially? Did anyone become more problematic?
HODGETTS: The biggest challenges we have had implementing false alarm reduction with our commercial accounts has been contending with their budgets for false alarm fines in cases where they won’t work with us to remedy their issues. Most of the time that situation is due to false alarms from user error and the lack of internal training with all shifts or new employees. Customers on the residential side have been pretty easygoing when we reach out to them. The biggest problem in both areas is the accounts that insist we dispatch immediately on all burglar alarms.
How have the results meshed with your expectations? Should ADS’ approach serve as a blueprint for others?
HODGETTS: Our results from the past two years have blown our projections and expectations out of the water. While we expected improvement with the new way of doing things we didn’t expect the improvements to be such that we would cut false alarms in half. We do feel our approach to false alarms would be a great blueprint for other companies and monitoring centers. If all monitoring centers and companies followed a similar process, the results would be very positive. And I’m sure the police departments would appreciate it.
PHOTO GALLERY: Get an inside look at Alarm Detection Services
How are advances in communications and technologies affecting alarm management?
HODGETTS: With new technologies coming out every day, it is challenging. POTS lines are going away, and everyone is getting rid of landlines. Many are going VoIP, and some of the older equipment is getting antiquated and needs to be updated using radio, GSM, Internet-compatible equipment. Even some of the central station equipment is having problems with some of the newer technology. Ensuring equipment is updated and getting customers upgraded is the only way to keep up with the new technologies. It’s a never-ending battle.
What about video verification as a tool to mitigate false alarms? Is this being practiced or investigated by ADS?
HODGETTS: Video verification has proven an additional tool to verify actual intruders before police dispatch. ADS has implemented many technologies for video verification to assist in our central station. As the cost of this goes down, and people’s network bandwidth goes up, I think we will see more video deployed with burglar alarm systems.
How might DIY impact alarms?
HODGETTS: We feel it will have a negative impact because alarm equipment requires proper installation. False alarms occur when devices are not set up correctly and tested periodically for faults. We don’t typically monitor DIY systems.
Why did ADS seek PDQ recognition; what value does it bring the industry?
HODGETTS: The PDQ program is precious to the industry. It opens up the discussion of false alarms and false alarm procedures, and their impacts throughout the industry and community. A little competition is always a good thing too. The reduction of false alarms is a top business priority at ADS. Having a dedicated team, a workable system and constant monitoring has created a winning recipe for success.
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