Verified alarm? Definitions vary

Does ECV or cross-zoning qualify as a verified alarm? CSAA, PPVAR work toward new comprehensive verification standard
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

HENDERSON, Nev. and VIENNA, Va.—It’s likely that a new comprehensive verification standard will surface sometime in 2014. The Central Station Alarm Association is in the process of developing such a standard for all manner of verified alarms, and the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response, since its inception, has been gathering best practices toward that end.

What's less clear at this point is what the finished standard will look like.

While those involved in producing a comprehensive written standard tend to agree about what issues it should address and which stakeholder groups need to have input, there’s not a pure consensus about what specific methods and technologies need to be included.

The pivotal question is: What qualifies as a verified alarm?

“At this time, I believe the only technologies acceptable to law enforcement are audio and video verification,” said Don Young, chief information officer at Protection 1, and president of PPVAR, which has been gathering best practices for verified response. “Those are the only ones I’m aware of that allow you to say you’re witnessing a crime in progress.”

But the conversation around what qualifies as a verified alarm often extends beyond the boundaries of video and audio verification. Some believe that enhanced call verification and cross-zoning should also be included in a comprehensive standard.

Young isn’t one of them. While he’s a “huge fan” of cross-zoning and ECV as tools for reducing false alarms and driving down total alarm volume, he does not believe they merit inclusion under the definition of verification.

“There’s no realistic opportunity to tell a 911 dispatcher or a responding officer that I’m witnessing a crime in progress because multiple zones were tripped during an alarm event,” Young said.

The concerted emphasis on collaborating with law enforcement may be the most defining element of the latest push for a comprehensive standard. This is important when it comes to written standards, which, according to Young, are critically dependent upon law enforcement buy-in.  

“Given the dependency alarm verification has on law enforcement’s interpretation of what is or isn’t a priority event, I can’t imagine developing a verification standard without significant representation and feedback from them in the process,” Young said, adding that PPVAR has made a point of enlisting a number of law enforcement leaders to provide input into the development of best practices.

Law enforcement, he added, is “done with hearing our industry talk about how we’re going to stop having their officers respond through the use of ECV or cross-zoning.”

There are few involved in the process who doubt ECV’s value to subscribers and law enforcement. Where there’s disagreement is whether ECV should be included in the forthcoming written standards.

“One of the issues is centered around ECV,” Lou Fiore, chairman of the standards committee at CSAA and president at L.T. Fiore, a consulting firm for the security industry. “It’s still a very effective strategy for legacy systems.”

Fiore added there are “millions” of legacy panels out there and that the industry “can’t do anything techwise to make them become false alarm-resistant.”

“I still think [ECV] needs to be there for legacy issues,” Fiore said. “If you have a residential panel or a commercial panel that doesn’t have video technologies involved, you can’t just disenfranchise it. You have to accommodate them somehow.”

Fiore said the comprehensive standard aims to combine some of the measures delineated in two previously written verification standards, one focusing on verification writ large (CS-V-01-2004) and another on audio verification (CS-AUD-01-2012), approved by ANSI in 2004 and 2012, respectively.

The new comprehensive standard will be called CS-V-01-2014, Fiore noted. As things stand now, that standard could be prepared for the ANSI approval process sometime in June, following reviews of a second round of public comments. The CSAA’s initial round of public comments closed in December, Fiore said, adding that, during that window, the organization received substantial feedback from PPVAR members.

“We’re comfortably within that [June] timeline,” said Fiore, who is committed to having the standard completed before the end of 2014.

As Fiore sees it, the mission of a comprehensive verification standard is multifaceted. “The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of false dispatches to its irreducible minimum,” he noted. “There are going to be unpredictable situations where customers do things that you can’t predict. There’s always going to be some baseline false dispatch rate.”

He added: “Every time we come up with a new technology we can layer them,” which can serve—using Fiore’s analogy—to continue “squeezing the sponge.”

As the standard moves into its final stages, Fiore said cooperation between the organizations and stakeholders involved will be paramount to the project’s completion “We’re very much working with the PPVAR folks, and another round of public comments will ensure that it’s done to everyone’s liking.”

The final comprehensive standard, he added, should be shaped by feedback from influential law enforcement organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association. The final product should also be “cost effective and doable,” Fiore said.

Comments

I admire the fact that the security industry is actively working with law enforcement in this process.  It is true that law enforcement is looking to the security industry to step up their game on this issue. I think that Don hit the nail on the head when he said:

Law enforcement, he added, is “done with hearing our industry talk about how we’re going to stop having their officers respond through the use of ECV or cross-zoning.”

In Phoenix we have pursued a working relationship with the local security industry and actively participate with other Arizona law enforcement jurisdictions in the Arizona Alarm Association’s Public Safety Committee.  It is refreshing to see the cooperation with law enforcement on a national level with the issue at hand.  The standards that this group is working on will provide a valuable resource for law enforcement to use when writing their alarm ordinance based upon a reasonable and fair process that involves the stakeholders from both sides.

Over the years the security industry has tried to offer up solutions to the false alarm problem with improved technology and through best practice standards in order to appease law enforcement.  From my perspective the issue seems to be with the companies that do not adopt the best practices or allow certain “preferred customers” to dictate a deviation from the standard as defined by various organizations (CSAA- ANSI, NFPA 731, UL, SIA)  The adoption of the best practice standards by the alarm companies are voluntary and the companies that do not adopt them are poisoning the well for the rest of the industry. 

The Phoenix false alarm ordinance has been revised multiple times to reflect changes in the security industry.  Several of the revisions are a direct result of dealing with security companies who did not voluntarily comply with the best practice standards for one reason or another.  Even after ECV came to the forefront as a best practice we were told by some in the industry that they would only use ECV if our code mandated it.  Now we have a three level ECV; Premises contact plus 2 RP calls in the Phoenix alarm ordinance.  The CSAA tried to adopt a standard, CS-SIG-01 Definitions and procedures for supervising station signals, but it never made it past the draft phase.  I would like to see it come back up for discussion someday.  We used it and other resources as a reference to prohibit dispatching PD on non-critical, supervisory, AC loss, telco fail, comm fail, open / close schedule related supervision, signals associated with a cancel / abort / recent close, etc. based upon our experience after reviewing hundreds of central station reports during the inspection process. 

I would agree with L.T. Fiore that ECV and cross zoning are an effective component of reducing the number of false alarm dispatches but by themselves they are not a true indication of a crime in progress that warrants "verified or priority response" without additional information from the protected site.  The legacy products do not have the level of information available from the premises for the central station operator to reasonably determine that there is a greater probability that a crime is in progress.  Tripped zones that are blind are not the same as an eye witness.

The security products available on the market today engineered to the Nth degree and do exactly what they are designed to do, but the best security product is still plagued by the human factor when it comes down to the installation, maintenance, user operation and monitoring.  The central stations are in the best position to take control of the industry by acting as the filter to purify the information before it is relayed to law enforcement for a response.

PPD Detective Robinson

Great job Leif on the post about defining verified response.

Having two well respected industry veterans comment with opposing views brings out the core issue with verified response and until the industry can present a unified position this conflict will remain.

Also, kudos to PPVAR and CSAA for taking on the daunting task of developing industry standards that will become the industry's unified position. It is my hope that we embrace the standards process and follow this issue closely. There is a required sequence with ample opportunity for comment from everyone and it is this well defined process that will define our unified position going forward.

Thanks to you for presenting this in a vein that all can clearly understand and thanks to both Don and Lou for presenting strong but opposing views. This is the exact discourse that makes the standards process such a vital part of our industry. 

Ron Walters

SIAC