Fake news can clutter your control room

Dec. 15, 2017
False alarms limit an operator’s overall efficiency

Functioning democracies are based on the ability of a well-informed public to shape its views and cast its vote accordingly. When the public cannot discern between genuine facts and alternative facts or “fake news”, it undermines the foundation of our democracies. To fill this gap Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, recently introduced the WikiTRIBUNE, a news website where published news stories are backed by a community checking and rechecking of all facts – geared to be a source for verified evidence-based journalism.

The situation in the control room is very similar. These unwanted alerts are the fake news of the security industry. They clutter the view of the operators and limit their ability to understand the situation at hand and make an informed decision on how to respond, but can they be filtered out to leave only actionable intelligence about real incidents, as the WikiTRIBUNE does?  

As new sensors and systems have been diligently invested in, with the intention of improving the ability to prevent, detect and respond to incidents, a consequence has been a sharp uplift in false alarms. In fact, it has been suggested that false alarms can consume 90 percent of a control room operator’s shift and that comes at considerable cost, far above and beyond the operator’s time (although the impact should not be underestimated).

In the extreme, closing a platform in a rail station, shutting an airport terminal, or evacuating a bank, for example, can see costs rise to millions in the blink of an eye. To illustrate the extent of this problem, we worked with a large European bank that had to deal with a massive 19,000 false alarms each year. To place this in context, the cost of every resulting police dispatch was $50.

This issue of false alerts is also having a significant impact on police resources, with estimates of annual costs reaching $1.8 billion in the U.S. for their response. With police resources stretched, as a result of budget tightening and the global threat level, which remains high, it is an unwanted and wholly unnecessary distraction.  In fact, there has been evidence to suggest that U.S. police agencies are losing as much as 6.5 million man-hours to false alarms.

A root cause analysis to determine the scale of false alarms in your organization is imperative, but the critical factor in beginning to reduce them is to understand what is triggering them and this can throw up some surprises. Is there an issue with the location of a sensor? Has the right piece of kit been specified for its specific use? Has it been installed correctly? Is there a reliability issue with a certain vendor over another?

It’s crucial that this isn’t a one-off exercise. It needs to be an ongoing ingrained programme of monitoring to ensure operators are presented with actionable intelligence that is combined with a best practice driven response to every incident – situation management.

It is not to suggest that it is possible to eradicate all false alarms, but it is a realistic expectation to drastically reduce the volume and frequency of them, and in turn, help operators to filter the ‘noise’ being presented to them and focus on the meaningful aspects of their job.  The aforementioned European bank was able to reduce its false alarms to 1,200 per annum. It has achieved this through the use of its situation management (PSIM) system to correlate information and provide video confirmation of alarms in real time. By integrating all of the data-feeds coming into the control room and presenting a single operating picture, a situation management system provides situational awareness, that in turn enables operators to be far more confident in being decisive about what is false, what is fact and how to best respond. 

Jon Denial is executive director at JPMorgan Chase and he is quoted as saying: “Filtering false alarms and focusing on the important information gives us real-time situational awareness.”

With an ever-increasing array of sensors and systems being made available to control rooms, the issue of false alarms is not abating, if anything it is only going to get worse if it goes unchecked. The time has come to filter out the fake news in the control room.

About the Author: Udi Segall is the Director of Business Development at Qognify.