The security week that was: 08/26/11 (verified response)

A weekly surveillance of the news shaping your profession

The other problem with verified response

I was reading this week an article out of Detroit discussing the city's adoption of a verified response policy for burglar alarms. It was pretty standard stuff: Some 98 percent of the alarms were false. The false alarms are pretty evenly split between residential (51%) and commercial (42%) with the remainder going to storage-types of structures (warehouses, garages, etc.) The quick summary is that on Sunday, Detroit decided it needed real verification before it would dispatch police. It's not a big surprise. Detroit's economy has suffered in recent years and when budgets are tight, something has to give.

Considering they were at a 98 percent false alarm rate, it wasn't that they were avoiding actual incidents. They're avoiding the "I think something might be suspicious" types of events. Let's be clear: A break-in is reason for dispatch? A signal from an alarm that has cried wolf 98 times out of 100 calls doesn't sound very suspicious. It just sounds like a broken record. If that makes you raise an eyebrow, please understand this: In a perfect world, our city coffers are well stocked, our streets are generally safe and all of our children are above average in intelligence (to steal from Garrison Keillor). The truth is that I would love to advocate for a cruiser arrival for every alarm call, but I'm a realist and I know it's not fair to expect a police officer dispatched for what is likely a false alarm when there are bigger issues to tackle (and I can almost guarantee that Detroit has bigger issues to tackle).

But, whether you think verified response is right or not, there is one thing that comes about when one of these policies goes into place, and that is that some of your customers are going to pay you extra for checking their property for them (sending a guard). Before you think it's a gravy train of new business, consider also that you will lose some customers because they aren't getting instant, unverified police response. What happens is that you are supposed to send a guard out to a residence or business after leaving a message for the alarm system owner that you are doing so (if you can't speak directly with them). But with so many false alarms created by accidental tripping of the alarm by the owner, valid employee or a family member, your officer could be showing up without that person knowing your officer is coming. So your officer shows up to some semi-dark building, right after the alarm has been set off, and if there is a legitimate owner inside, what is going to be their initial thought when some guy with a flashlight comes walking around the building? Let's hope that owner isn't trigger-happy.

David Goldstein, president of Guardian Alarm Co., raised this question for Detroit, when he told Crain's Detroit Business this: "We don't have any real great desire to be in the patrol business. Imagine this - you're in Detroit, you get an alarm at 10 p.m., 11:30 at night. I've got to send a guard, most are unarmed, and they've got to go into somebody's backyard in the middle of the night? There are liabilities. We're not trained like a police officer."

Notably, Guardian is one of very few alarm companies that has a patrol division, and that presents another problem to guard-verified alarm response, which is this: How do you staff effectively for an unpredictable alarm signal? It's not like a standing guard position from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. every day or even a scheduled guard tour. Both of those models are predictable. If you get a flash of false signals (probably from a weather incident), you still have to check them out, but how do you staff for these?

I've raised the question that Goldstein voiced in our guard services discussion forum (join the discussion thread), but I want to hear from the dealers and central station operators: how are you going to adapt your business to verified response, or are you going to walk away entirely? Let us know in the comments section for this article.

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