There are so many questions

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Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Managing Editor, Security Systems News

Headlines in our General News section over the past few months have centered on an ongoing, high profile battle in Los Angeles, where a controversial verified response policy has occupied the efforts of the industry for several months.

While police argue that the high rate of false burglar alarms there, about 92 percent, wastes officers’ and the city’s valuable time and resources, alarm industry officials, as well as homeowners there, remain concerned that the permanent adoption of a verified response policy will make monitored alarm systems less valuable to the end-user. After all, if the police won’t respond to an alarm, what good does it do to pay that monitoring bill every month?

Alarm officials also fear that such a high-profile policy will make other municipalities consider similar policies, and as such, change the industry as we know it. As it turns out, they have a right to be worried. Some municipalities are also considering instituting verified response rules, such as Arlington, Texas; Tucson, Ariz., and Minneapolis. Others, such as Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, have had these policies in place for several years and can come up with numbers to show that these policies have dramatically reduced false alarm response.

So what does this mean for the companies actually providing the monitoring and dispatching these calls to the police? How does this change they way they do business?

For a small central station that provides contract monitoring to a national customer base, as these policies proliferate, it will make the dispatchers’ job even harder. How does a central station track which municipalities have what requirements? Are there dedicated staff members who track these new policies as they become law or is it the dealer’s responsibility to notify his contract central station of a change in policy in the account holder’s municipality?

What legal liabilities does an alarm dealer or central station face if an event does occur at a business or residence and police don’t respond because the alarm could not be verified? Does the alarm monitoring contract between the dealer and the end-user need to be modified to reflect the status of expected police response? Are there ramifications here that are unexplored?

The alarm industry has been fighting the false alarm problem for so many years, but unless a vast majority of alarm dealers, and their customers, are onboard with the industry’s efforts, repeat offenders will continue in their role.

Much has also been made of video monitoring, particularly in its interactive form, where trained dispatchers are able to respond to what they are seeing on the monitor and have voice contact with a potential intruder. While this type of monitoring certainly seems appropriate for commercial and industrial applications, it hardly seems something that your average residential alarm user is looking for, nor is it intended to be in its current form, I suspect.

Does this mean that this type of technology won’t play a role in the future of home security? As price points fall and the technology evolves, perhaps this, in combination with more education for the end-user, is the answer to the false alarm problem.