Defining Verified

Jan. 15, 2016
When it comes to alarms, the word verify is finally being properly clarified among the industry and law enforcement

The advances being made in alarm technology are truly amazing. One police chief told me recently that he believes modern surveillance and electronic security measures will eventually put many petty criminals out of business. One can only hope that prediction is correct.

But it is important to recognize that as these technologies change, our industry must be more specific with the terminology it uses when communicating with our law enforcement partners. One of the most important terms to clarify is the word “verify” which has been used in so many different ways that it is difficult to determine what it actually means and how it is being applied.


The original single call to the location of an alarm activation — referred to by the industry as “call verification” — was an attempt by the central station to contact the alarm user by telephone or other means to determine whether an alarm signal was valid before a call was made to the police.

In the 1980s, when a rising number of alarm systems meant that false alarms became an issue, the industry developed “Enhanced Call Verification” (ECV) — which meant that at least two telephone calls were made to two different numbers connected to the alarm system to see whether the alarm signal was valid before requesting law enforcement response.

ECV was a dramatic improvement helping to substantially reduce requests for alarm response by police, especially when combined with strong enforcement of a model alarm ordinance. ECV and the model ordinance have been adopted by public safety agencies nationwide and the term “verified” is most often associated with the ECV program.

A small minority in the law enforcement community, however, have insisted that the only way to control alarm dispatches was to require that there be confirmation of illegal activity before police were dispatched. The individuals coined the term “verified response” which further confused the issue.

While ECV is easily defined, “verified response” is subject to interpretation by each agency which sets its own standards for what constitutes verification.

Important Differences

First, it is important to note the ECV was a way of eliminating unnecessary requests for dispatch and was limited to actions at the central station. All other types of “verification” include the active involvement of the central station with the police or fire dispatcher.

Law enforcement experts with decades of experience in the field often say they have no clear understanding of what various “verification” terms mean and do not consider the terminology significant in running their day-to-day operations. Simply telling a public safety agency dispatcher that you have a “verified alarm” does not provide the kind of information they need to determine how to handle the call.

In addition, telling customers that police agencies will respond more quickly to a “verified alarm” may have significant legal implications because each of the nation’s 18,000 departments have their own policies and procedures.

Eliminating the Confusion

It was time for the industry to come up with more specific terminology and definitions in its role of assisting local governments to evaluate and create effective alarm management policies. Wording in city or state ordinances must be clear with precise definitions so proper response priorities can be determined by law enforcement. Remember the vast majority of law enforcement wants to respond to all alarms when the process is properly defined and managed.

The Partnership for Priority Verified Alarm Response (PPVAR) has worked on guidelines and standards for determining the protocols to implement a “priority dispatch” recommendation when there is video or listen-in audio verification.

The PPVAR group has worked with the other industry associations to come to a unified position that manifests itself in the revision of the ANSI (national Standard) CSV-01 2015. The time for clearly defining the term "verified" has emerged with the understanding that with the adoption of this new standard the term will mean either "crime in progress or high probability of a crime in progress.”

The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) has also developed strong working relationships with leaders in public safety — including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association, along with dozens of local and state public safety organizations nationwide and in Canada — to help come up with better, more specific terminology to help avoid these problems.

Effects of the Change

From the central station perspective, there will need to be additional training to help alarm industry operators understand the type of information that is helpful to law enforcement in determining how to respond to a triggered alarm system. Central station operators will need training concerning what constitutes suspicious activity vs. an employee who is working late.

Our industry does not want to get into the position of “crying wolf,” or we face the same pushback that occurred in the 1980s when police complained about too many false alarms.

From a legal perspective, we must also be careful not to promise faster response based on whether there is audio or video on the scene. While this information can be valuable, each public safety agency sets its own criteria concerning how they respond to alarms and what priority they give the calls.

Based on our experience nationally, alarm calls are a high priority in some communities with or without video or audio and a lower priority in departments with a heavy workload and insufficient resources. One agency said specifically that they want to respond quickly to every alarm triggered — but that a triggered alarm is still a property crime that will not receive an emergency-level dispatch.

Our industry, law enforcement and the people we protect are all benefiting from new technology that will make public safety more efficient, safer and help catch more bad guys. Video surveillance alone has dramatically changed how crimes are solved and how police are able to gather information. Today, it is common for video from security cameras to be a key factor in solving criminal cases.

Working together with law enforcement and security industry leaders, we can make sure that clear definitions and additional training put everyone on the same page when it comes to interpreting and responding to alarms.

David S. Margulies consults with police agencies throughout North Texas and works with the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. He can be reached at [email protected]