Into the Matrix: Protecting Consumer Data
June 28, 2019

To Verify or Not to Verify?

False Alarms Debate Reveals Strong Opinions, Deeper Questions

Why are more and more first responders putting break-in emergency calls on the back burner? According to Joey Rao-Russell, President & CEO of Sonitrol-Kimberlite, 98% of those calls are false alarms.

Studies have shown that security systems are among the most effective burglary-deterrent measures; however, the cost of dispatching to alarms exceeds billions of dollars each year in police resources. When emergency calls are dispatched from monitoring centers, they are often placed as a low-priority response due to no verification of human presence.

In the Counterpoint Session- False Alarm Dispatches: A Real Threat or a Nuisance to the Industry, experienced industry professionals debated about the proactive methods behind diminishing false dispatching and explored new solutions for this issue.


“The solution is to provide useful verification.” – Mike Jagger


Setting the Stage

Prior to ESX, an ordinance by the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia, was approved that required verification for emergency response to alarms. This came after a previous ordinance that shifted the blame for false alarms to monitoring companies – further complicating the industry’s problem with false alarms and putting pressure on companies to prepare for the possibility of similar legal changes affecting the industry in other regions.

“In 2017, with false alarm calls still averaging 10,000 per year, the City Council revised the alarm ordinance, placing fines on the alarm companies as it is the alarm company which is placing the call to 911 requesting public safety dispatch,” says the Sandy Springs Government.

Taking this a step further, in mid-2019 the city began requiring video or audio verification before they would dispatch emergency services in response to alarms.

“Effective June 19, 2019, monitoring alarm companies must provide True Verification through audio, video or in-person verification, and prior to calling 911,” reads an announcement from the Sandy Springs Government.

Under the ordinance, emergency response to an alarm in an unoccupied home or business will be dispatched only after confirmation by audio or video evidence from a monitored alarm or by self-monitored audio/visual equipment. First responders still will respond to a call if the user interacts with operators via panic button, fire alarm or by dialing 911; the ordinance is only in effect when the home or business is unoccupied.


Responses to Sandy Springs

At ESX, speakers in the false-alarm focused CounterPoint session addressed the question of what would happen if other cities adopted Sandy Springs’ controversial ordinance.

One opinion is that the security industry should undergo reform to adhere to standards set by the ordinance.

“The solution is to provide useful verification,” said Mike Jagger, Founder and CEO of Provident Security Corp.

The reconfiguration of security systems to comply with the ordinance would require technology to make them all capable of video and audio monitoring– making older systems without these capabilities obsolete. However, the improved verification of events could benefit the industry, according to supporters of these reforms.

Some, like Rao-Russell, propose even higher levels of cooperation with first responders.

“Why can’t we have a false alarm technology where customers can interact with first responders? First responders need video verification from monitoring centers as a tool of authenticity,” Rao-Russell said during the session. “Verification has been available for users for years and caught many offenders. We need enhanced call verification that: one, would confirm a human presence and two, include an increased risk of emergency.”

Even in places where a similar ordinance is not in effect, supporters of verification implementation argue that it bolsters confidence in alarm systems and monitoring companies. The current response time to a traditional alarm is approximately 45 minutes, but some security companies report that true verification decreases response time to 7 minutes.


Questions about the Future

While the reportedly improved response time numbers sound like a drastic improvement, questions remain for many who wonder if the burden of false alarms should fall on companies or consumers, and whether alarm systems will be smart enough or fast enough to provide verified calls for response more quickly than standard ones. They also worry about what steps customers might have to go through to receive a response, citing possible confusion and inconvenience on the customer’s part as major setbacks for alarm and monitoring companies.

“Our company does not call our users to verify the threat of the situation. Our alarm trips after four seconds after receiving signal, and responders are notified to assist right away,” said Doug Bassett, Executive Director of Licensing and Compliance of Xfinity Home Comcast.

Companies operating in this way might not be able to continue offering this convenience to the customer if they were to enact the reforms proposed by some for the industry. This difference in opinion is still a point for much debate, and the discussion at ESX was a starting point for companies to prepare for possible changes, whether similar ordinances eventually spring up around the country or not.