The security week that was: 12/16/11 (public safety alarm communications)

A weekly surveillance of the news shaping your profession


Are we missing the big picture?

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) is campaigning to enact a ban on fire departments and police departments receiving alarm signals directly, but I'm going to tell you here that we're missing the boat on this whole legislation.

The language that upset the AICC is part of H.R. 3630, and specifically from a portion that is referred to as the "Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act of 2011". This spectrum act is part of what you might call an omni-bus legislation in that it includes other elements, including payroll tax relief, FEMA flood relief and a lot of other stuff that really shouldn't be tied together in the first place...including this part on alarms into 9-1-1 dispatch centers. The measure passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with a vote of 234 to 193, and it still included language that mentions: "nonhuman-initiated automatic event alerts, such as alarms, telematics, or sensor data, which may also include real-time voice, text, or video communications."

Despite the fears of the AICC, the text of the actual bill isn't encouraging your commercial or residential customers to send alarm signals directly to police dispatch. All it does is actually allow for the 700Mhz spectrum (old analog TV spectrum) and some other radio spectrums to be auctioned, as long as a portion of that spectrum is still available for use in national emergency communications, and one of the things it allows for that spectrum to be used for is signaling data.

But what the industry is up in arms about is that people have been convinced that this legislation is saying that your customers can send their alarms directly to the dispatchers, avoiding our central stations. Sure, as an industry we want those signals to come through our own central stations so we can get the $30/month or more that we can charge customers. That's just smart for our industry, so it's good that the AICC is campaigning for this legislation change. But the industry is up in arms over a mis-understanding. I even received a note from the AICC which called for every dealer to write their senator the note claimed that: "Allowing unverified alarm signals to go into 9-1-1 centers would cripple the emergency response system."

Now with all respect to our industry, and as a huge industry supporter myself, I still have to ask the obvious question: Aren't we already allowing unverified alarms to go into 9-1-1 centers? Be real: Do we actually verify these alarm signals? Sure, we may use "enhanced call verification" which means that we try to call a couple people on the contact list to see if it was an accident, and if we don't reach them, we assume it's a real alarm and pass it along to 9-1-1. But let's be very honest to ourselves here: Enhanced call verification is not actually "verification"; it's really a "verification attempt". Yes, it may weed out some of the bad alarms, but as an industry that tends to use ECV, we're still loading dispatch centers and police with bad calls, since 95% or more of alarm signals sent from our own stations to police are reported to be false alarms.

So, I have to ask, why are we worried about unverified alarm signals going to dispatch centers when we're mostly sending them false calls anyway? Why are we up in arms over what is an inconsequential element of this legislation?

In addition, there has never been a ban on police and fire departments from receiving dispatches directly. Plenty of police dispatch centers already monitor their own facilities and receive alarm signals directly from key assets, and this bill is only providing that as a continued possibility as it seeks to develop a "National Public Safety Communications Plan to govern the use of the spectrum licensed to the Administrator in order to meet long-term public safety communications needs."

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