Video verification strategies: Response and standards

The alarm industry is nuts about video. Walking the aisles of ESX 2010 in Pittsburgh, Penn., attendees find that even though the attendees are primarily alarm system company owners and decision makers, video surveillance products are more likely to be found than control panels and PIRs. That falls in line with messaging from the show's promoter, the Electronic Security Association, that the ESA membership has significantly diversified. What once was a group of alarm dealers is an association of companies that service, install and monitor a wide variety of electronic security and fire equipment solutions.

With this push toward video, cameras are more commonly found today in businesses and homes as an adjunct technology for intrusion (burglar) alarms. Many dealers and central station monitoring firms are finding that if they can access video surveillance from the premises, they can tell the difference between a real break-in and a false alarm. That methodology is most commonly referred to as "video verification".

At a panel held on Wednesday, June 16, during ESX 2010, central station monitoring leaders examined some of the trends in video verification.

One of the first things said in the panel was that video verification is so new that most companies and even police departments are still trying to figure out how to effectively use video verification. There seems to be a question of how big this trend will go. Stan Martin, who runs the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, said that in 2009 the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) issued a position paper about video verification; the position is on SIAC's website ( But, said Martin, "Video is still relatively new in terms of how law enforcement is dealing with it and using it; SIAC is taking a cautious approach as we analyze it and form guidelines."

The challenge the industry faces, said Martin, is that without clear standards, video becomes a guessing game. What one facility owner installs for video verification may vary wildly from what another facility has in place. Martin said that there need to be clear best practices for camera placement (to ensure you have coverage). He said the industry also needs monitoring center standards for video verification, and will have to look at privacy concerns of central stations accessing remote cameras to verify or dismiss alarms. Additionally, video verification has to wrestle with the problem of intent. "Many times the pictures and video that we get are just pictures of false alarms," Martin said. Operators may be looking at an employee or business owner who simply incorrectly entered their alarm disarm code or they could be looking at a break-in suspect. The difference isn't always clear. How do you tell the difference between an employee going through his desk in the night trying to find paperwork for his meeting in the morning and a criminal who is going through the desk looking for cash or trying to find corporate secrets?

Lastly, Martin noted that one of the challenges that the security industry faces is one of popularity. Police departments -- which have often been plagued by a high number of false alarms -- are indicating that they so prefer video verified alarms that industry leaders like Martin are concerned that response to non-video systems could be diminished.

"We don't want to see police department to say that they will go to video verified alarms only. It would negate the thousands of intrusion only systems out there. We don't want this to be a single solution to dispatches."

Martin says that while police are favoring video verification systems, dealers need to keep a close eye on their sales staff to make sure eager sales representatives aren't over-selling the benefits of response. What Martin doesn't want to see is claims being made about priority response if that response isn't actually being promised by the police departments. He said that is one sure way to sour the relationship between the security industry and police. "It's still early in deployment," Martin reminded the audience, "and there are not standards on how police are going to respond and how they are going to process these signals."

(See also part 2 of this article.)