Special Focus: Monitoring—Intrusion Detection: How to Eliminate False Dispatches

June 11, 2013
Greater reliability in systems solutions

Congratulations! The security alarm industry deserves a pat on the back for advancements in alarm systems, particularly intrusion detection, that continue to make solutions more reliable and stable.

It hasn’t been easy. Early intrusion detection motion detectors, shock sensors and other devices were prone to erratic signaling from the environment and other sources. But thanks to continuing manufacturer innovation in technology, batteries, connectivity and more—systems are more stable than ever. And of course the industry has done a stellar job in educating response personnel and users in proper system application.

Our job is not done. False dispatches still exist. And the debate over what is a false dispatch continues. Was it an intruder trying to gain access that got away before anyone noticed or responding authorities made it to the premises? Or was it user error that set system signaling in place? Most likely, today, it’s the latter—and here again the industry deserves kudos for its efforts in training users.

Some 15 percent of users are causing the majority of false dispatches by not using the system properly, according to Ron Walters, director with the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). SIAC, led by Stan Martin, executive director of the Frisco-Texas based organization—has been instrumental in developing standards, best practices and educating the industry, law enforcement, responding professionals and others on how to effectively use alarm systems.

Walters, based in Pembroke Pines, Fla., said that a couple decades ago, the number one cause of false dispatches was equipment failure or misapplication of equipment. By the 1990s, equipment was becoming more reliable and robust and today, the incidence of equipment failure has become “minuscule.” Of course, not applying the correct product in a specification may also be a problem but today, there’s no excuse. Alarm professionals can get high-end motion detectors and other sensors for a reasonable price.

“Equipment and controls have become so reliable,” said Walters, “that virtually no true professional in the industry will scrimp on technology.” Walters pointed to other equipment innovation, such as pet alleys that can be set to detect and ignore the thermal mass of a dog that enters its field of view without causing an alarm; dual-action panic or duress buttons that require two button activation; video that verifies an event at the protected premises; and control panels that require multiple signals to activate alarms.

User training and education critical

SIAC, which is comprised of the Canadian Security Association (CANASA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Electronic Security Association (ESA) focuses on its primary mission to significantly reduce calls for service while strengthening the lines of communication with law enforcement professionals and end users. As new technology emerges SIAC is at the forefront of helping develop standards and policies with its partners in the law enforcement community. One of the standards of the organization is ANSI/SIA CP-01-2010-Revised. The standard details design features for security system control panels to reduce false alarms in residential and commercial properties. It covers event recognition and information handling sequences, as well as provisions for system layout testing. Other SIAC standards include enhanced call verification; acoustic glassbreak sensors; monitoring operations and procedures; and passive infrared motion detector technology.

“Video is a great way to address commercial alarms and multiple users,” Walters continued. “It provides reliable evidence into what might be going on at the protected premises. Video has the potential to provide an actual picture of the level of the threat at the alarm site.”

Finally, Walters said equipment intelligence has also helped decrease false alarms. For example, a signal might require multiple disarm codes and operators know who is associated with the disarm code. And that too may help in the fight against false dispatches. “So not only do we have the alarm but we have the information to target the problem user and we can have a conversation with this person or business to help reduce false dispatches further,” he said. “All this allows us to do our jobs better.”

Manufacturers have played a huge role in developing and strengthening technologies to make intrusion detection products more robust. DSC, part of the Security Products business unit of Tyco introduced earlier this year the PowerSeries Neo hybrid intrusion detection platform.

Designed to cut operational costs for dealers and provide reliability for end users, PowerSeries Neo platform delivers secure, reliable communications channels along with innovative alarm verification solutions.

The PowerSeries Neo platform is also primed to reduce the incremental costs of false alarms by employing innovative, regionally compliant alarm verification solutions such as visual verification, two-way audio and sequential detection, while also offering additional RMR opportunities to dealers, according to Vicki Sword, senior product manager, DSC Commercial Systems, Concord, Can.

“This is the single biggest product development in the history of the company,” Sword said. “Neo uses frequency hopping spread spectrum for adaptive signal strength and has five to eight years battery life. It addresses the issue of false alarms with three levels of alarm verification: sequential detection; audio over cellular; and visual verification in which a series of still images is sent to the central monitoring station for verification,” she said. Remote diagnostics features also allow the installing company to check and verify the ongoing health of the system.

Mobile video applications

For central station alarm companies, having reliable products for customers is critical. In the residential community, new technologies have added a layer of false dispatch protection. According to Pam Petrow, president and chief executive officer of Vector Security in Warrendale, Pa., one of the biggest changes in technology has been the utilization of mobile applications, so customers are more aware of what’s happening in their homes/businesses so they can make better decisions on when the responding agencies are truly needed.

“Residential customers are very willing to embrace cameras and the pricing of this technology is now affordable,” Petrow said. “With this intersection we have seen an increase in residential camera installations that are becoming more important in our false dispatch prevention efforts. As we do our verification calls on these homes, the customers are reporting that they know what or who caused the alarm, preventing a dispatch. Commercially, with mobile access, contacts are able to view cameras and identify authorized personnel, again preventing dispatches.”

Vector is also deploying locks that when unlocked also turn off the alarm system. They can be operated remotely to let in housekeepers, relatives, dog sitters, etc. and they don’t have to know how to use the alarm system so it prevents false alarms.  Customers can then remotely lock the doors and arm the system when they leave.  “This is another great reduction to false dispatches caused by people who are unfamiliar with alarm systems or only use them occasionally.” 

And while Petrow agreed that there has definitely been an improvement in technology for motion detectors, the industry cannot become complacent on training and education. “Technology can’t replace good training for sales and installation personnel so they install these devices in the appropriate environments,” she said. She added that the risk of some of the “package offerings” is that they are installed regardless of the environment so the customer ends up either not using the complete system or they have false dispatch problems which negatively impact the customer experience and the responding agencies.

“Awareness is the key and a commitment to addressing the issues. It has to go beyond the installation and the billing of monitoring. You need to educate the customer then provide ongoing support on the use of the system—doing this one time upon installation is not enough. Central stations need to monitor activity and address customers with excessive activity and make decisions to redesign, train or replace. You also need to have written material, email templates and scripts so your internal teams can respond quickly and have the problem-solving tools to help customers resolve problems. Management has to make reducing false dispatches a part of the company goals so everyone from their sales staff to the central station operators understand the importance of their role.”