Mobile Video Puts Alarm Verification in Palm of Hand

With today’s technology advances, failing to combine video surveillance with intrusion detection systems is something akin to flying blind.

FALSE BURGLAR ALARMS have become a serious problem for nearly every community in the United States. No matter how engaged we may be as security professionals, no matter how well we install and service our alarm systems, false and unwanted alarms continue to drain the resources of law enforcement agencies.

“In the past, false alarm activations and dispatches have been consistently reported at over 90%. Alarm ownership rates are also increasing,” according to a report from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Therefore, although there is a national downward trend for false alarm calls, law enforcement agencies in some jurisdictions [e.g., areas with no alarm ordinance] are responding to increased numbers of false alarm activations. In these types of jurisdictions, false alarms may account for a considerable proportion of calls for service.”

The authors of that report (Joseph Kuhns, Kristie Blevins and Tammatha Clodfelter) sought to distinguish between that of a “false alarm” and an “unwanted alarm,” because the difference is important. That distinction lends a much clearer picture of the true culprit behind the majority of unwarranted dispatches. According to their report, “A false alarm is broadly defined as unsubstantiated alarm activation. A false dispatch involves the unwarranted request for law enforcement response.”

Another interpretation is a “false alarm” is one we suspect has its roots in an unwarranted equipment activation whereas an “unwanted alarm” is more often user-based. A good example of the latter is when someone forgets their alarm PIN (personal identification number), or when someone arms the system and leaves after the exit delay has expired, often driving off before the entrance delay has expired and the audible alarm sounds.

According to Kuhns, Blevins and Clodfelter, unwanted alarms are the worst of the two: “False dispatches should be a greater concern for local jurisdictions given the consumption of scarce resources and the opportunity costs associated with responding.”

Now that we have established that the main culprit behind the overwhelming number of false dispatches is user error, let us see how security companies can assist law enforcement in saving time, human resources, and consequently money. For several reasons, combining video surveillance cameras with intrusion detection systems – video-verified alarms – has moved to the forefront of this conversation.

More Cities Require Verification
There are several ways a burglar alarm activation can be verified. Like so many other cities, Akron, Ohio, and Detroit have passed laws that require alarm verification before the police department (PD) will respond. The foremost common methods of verification include:

  • The central station can verify that one or more signals were received from perimeter and interior sensors, such as a door switch and an inside motion detector.
  • Three alarm signals received from one or more interior sensors.
  • An audio signal sent from the scene of the crime to the central monitoring station where an intruder is clearly heard.
  • A video image sent from the premises clearly showing the presence of an intruder.

Historically, progressive alarm companies have instituted one or more of these methods to assure only valid all alarm dispatches were necessary. Most of the time seeking to verify alarms meant calling the premises first and asking for a password.

Of course, this method only works when the user is there and answers the phone, which is not acceptable to Detroit, Akron or most other municipalities that have instituted verification laws. Some alarm professionals believe Detroit and Akron are too excessive and costly for their clients, but where the false alarm rate for both cities is 98%, clearly security companies must do more.

Value of Mobile Video Verification
As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and when we look at the evidence, it’s quite clear that “seeing is believing.”

Although video verification is not new to the security market, mobile access to video clips that show before, during and after images is a relatively recent development. Images as well as alarm data are now pushed to the subscriber’s mobile device, allowing them to view video direct from their place of business.

The same is true of residential clients who desire a level of security above the rest. In either case, the subscriber is able to advise central station operators as to whether the person onsite is authorized or not, thus enabling central station operators to act with certainty by advising the PD to either dispatch or stand down.

This flavor of video verification requires the use of a third-party service, either based in the cloud or at a high-capacity remote data processing center. The success behind mobile video verification (MVV) involves a savings of time combined with the certainty in validating identity.

“As a standard feature, our system has a cancel/verify option on the keypad that is sort of an additional step built into the managing side,” says Mark Hillenburg, executive director of marketing with Digital Monitoring Products (DMP). “We merely extended the same feature to our keypad app for the end user. Now, when video is pushed to a person’s smartphone, they can advise the central station by pressing cancel or verify, which are soft buttons on their mobile device.”

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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