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Security Industry Alarm Coalition

Akron implements alarm verification policy

The move was met with both praise and disappointment—depending on whom you’re talking to
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02/12/2014

AKRON, Ohio—A new policy set to take effect here in March requires security alarms to verify criminal activity prior to police response.

A chat with SIAC’s Stan Martin

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Friday, September 6, 2013

This morning I had the opportunity to chat with Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. He proved to be a valuable font of information about the current state of the alarm industry, in particular the three-pronged relationship involving alarm monitoring companies, law enforcement and municipal governments—all of which play huge collaborative roles in responding to legitimate alarms and mitigating false ones.

When I asked him what he considers an ideal alarm ordinance, it became abundantly clear just what kind of challenges an effective alarm ordinance has to address. A whole constellation of considerations go into curbing false alarms. 

“We’ve studied alarm management issues for twenty plus years, and we know what best practices will reduce these unnecessary dispatches,” Martin said. “We list them in our model ordinance.”

A model ordinance, Martin said, should require all alarm systems to be registered with local police. It should mandate the use of Enhanced Call Verification, or two-call verification, a protocol that requires alarm monitoring stations to attempt to confirm a signal is valid before requesting dispatch. It should require that panels feature the newest equipment standards, meaning they are compliant with the ANSI/SIA CP-01 Control Panel Standard – Features for false alarms—a standard that minimizes the single biggest cause of false alarms: human error.

Martin also emphasized the tremendous importance of strict enforcement of an alarm ordinance, but acknowledged that enforcement measures vary by municipality, and are often dictated by local politics—particularly with respect to the number of free responses permitted. The SIAC recommends no more than one or two free responses. It also recommends suspending response once a fixed number, generally between the range of six and 10, has been surpassed. 

Martin says this curtails chronic abuse and holds some of the larger commercial entities accountable. “You do need to stop responses,” he said. “Otherwise, the higher-end clients, commercial clients, banks in particular, will just write the check. They consider that easier. It’s the cost of doing business. But when police say they’re not going to come any longer, they have to take some kind of corrective action.”

Simon says it's time to cooperate with your local PD

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Giving your customer list to law enforcement makes sense.

That statement seems to fly in the face of convention for the alarm industry, which hasn’t exactly been cozy over the years with the boys in blue. But Dave Simon, writing recently for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, makes a compelling case for doing so.

Simon argues that there are far more benefits to cooperating with law enforcement than erecting barriers. Despite concerns in the past that sensitive information about customers could be compromised, that hasn’t happened, he said. And he draws another conclusion (agree with it or not) in this age of surveillance: Police departments will eventually get the lists anyway, so why not partner with them as good citizens?

The bottom line, Simon wrote, is that SIAC believes the cooperative approach bears more fruit. Here’s more of what he had to say:

Besides being nice, alarm dealers are actually helping customers in those cities where they provide the lists. Why? Because the list helps the PD do their job, ensure compliance and get systems registered. All that means a better-run alarm management program, improved enforcement and increased public safety. That’s good for the alarm dealer because customers have fewer false dispatches, saving them expensive fines and the risk of losing police response.

SIAC promotes cooperative problem-solving. This is a great example of how we can be supportive and help local jurisdictions—particularly the police department—conserve resources. We’ve found that even the largest national companies give lists. Cooperating with law enforcement is not a novel idea. Supplying customer lists should be an extension of our continued cooperation to ensure well-executed alarm management programs.

Simon invites opinions on the subject, pro or con, at siacinc.wordpress.com.

Enhanced call verification now law in Georgia

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“It’s a good day in Georgia.”

That was the reaction from John Loud, president of the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association, after Gov. Nathan Deal signed enhanced call verification into law on May 6. GELSSA, with an assist from the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, had been pushing for ECV for years and finally saw it brought to fruition with House Bill 59.

It wasn’t an easy process. As HB 687, the initiative made it through the Georgia House last year and through state Senate committees, but the legislative session ended before the bill could be brought to a vote on the Senate floor, Loud said. Then, HB 59 had to overcome resistance from those questioning the need for ECV.

“Some of the legislators were asking us, ‘Well, if it’s so great, why don’t you guys do it on your own? Why do you have to make it a law?” Loud said.

The explanation comes down to competition, with some alarm companies in pockets of Georgia using ECV—or lack thereof—to their advantage while ignoring the problem of false dispatches.

“They tell customers, ‘We only have to make one call [for police dispatch],’ so people would go against alarm companies that are doing ECV—‘You don’t want to monitor with them, they have to make two calls,’” Loud said. “And now this kind of equalizes it across the board. It’s right for the industry, it’s right for municipalities and it’s certainly right from the taxpayers’ standpoint.”

Law enforcement worked closely with GELSSA on the initiative, with the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police endorsing ECV. Loud said there were a few initial concerns from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, “but once they understood that this is not about fire, they came on board and supported us right away.” ECV will not be required in the case of a fire alarm, panic alarm or robbery-in-progress alarm, according to the statute.

Loud said success also hinged on “getting the right folks to adopt and carry the bill forward for us.” The legislation was sponsored by state Republican Reps. Tom Taylor, Kevin Cooke and Lynne Riley.

SIAC Director Ron Walters said Georgia is the fifth state to legislate ECV, joining Delaware, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. The law goes into effect on July 1.
 

Deadly shooting follows low-priority alarm in Colorado Springs

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It was what the Colorado Springs Police Department calls a Priority Three alarm: A minor incident “requiring a response that is dispatched based on the availability of patrol units.” What followed was the nightmare scenario dreaded by police, alarm companies and alarm users alike.

According to CSPD spokeswoman Barbara Miller, a security alarm was triggered at the home of David Dunlap and Whitney Butler at 11:10 a.m. on Jan. 14. The alarm company, ADT, then called Dunlap’s cellphone and left a message for him to call back. At 11:18, ADT called police to notify them about the alarm.

Based on department policy to reduce the burden of false alarms in the city, officers were not dispatched.

“We had no units available,” Miller told Security Systems News. “We do priority calls. … If there is a ‘crime in progress’ call [with a life-threatening situation], those are first. If it’s a human-activated alarm or a panic alarm, that’s also a high priority. We would respond immediately to that.”

At 11:25, Dunlap returned ADT’s call and was informed about the alarm, but he did not call police, Miller said. Thirty-five minutes later, CSPD responded to a report of shots fired at the couple’s Bassett Drive address. Police say Dunlap and Whitney were killed as they entered their home by 17-year-old Macyo January, who was arrested three days later and charged with first-degree murder.

Miller said the incident calls attention to a common and potentially dangerous oversight by alarm users: If an alarm is activated, they should not assume there will be an immediate response from law enforcement.

“Many times, the alarm company will notify the owner that their house alarm has been activated. If that person returns to his or her home to check on the alarm, they must be extremely cautious and vigilant,” she said. “For instance, if they notice a front door that might be slightly opened or a broken window, or see a suspicious vehicle parked outside their home, we would strongly recommend that they call 911 so an officer can check for a possible burglary in progress or burglary that just occurred.”

Miller said that Colorado Springs police will respond to any activation when there is evidence that a crime has been committed—“i.e., a responsible party is on scene and has told the alarm company there is a broken window at the residence or business. Another example would be an alarm service indicates they have video surveillance inside of the business and they can see someone inside of the location.”

Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, told SSN that virtually all police agencies, even those with scaled-back response policies, handle human-activated alarms “at a fairly high priority.” That goes for video intrusion alarms as well, but as Walters pointed out, there is only so much a security company can do.

“Alarms are designed as a deterrent and cannot stop a crime from happening,” he said. “The best deterrent remains the threat of response by a well-trained and armed police official.”

Connecting—with costumes and without—at Honeywell's Connect 2012

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Imagine Scott Harkins, president of Honeywell Security Products, lumbering about in an inflatable sumo wrestler suit. Envision Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, stalking around in a long cape as Count Dracula, looking for blood as well as donations to SIAC. And then picture Patrick Egan, president of Select Security, scarily attractive in drag as a red-lipsticked brunette in an elegant gown.

Those attending the Honeywell First Alert Professional Convention here in Hollywood, Fla. didn't need to conjure up those images—they were all there for everyone to see tonight as security dealer attendees let their hair down (quite literally in Egan’s case) at a belated Halloween costume party.

They got into the fun with inventive costumes, which included a nun and monk, wizards with tall hats, a beekeeper, a gladiator, a Wizard of Oz scarecrow, Popeye, cave men and cave women in leopard skin clothing and one brave dealer in a Scottish plaid kilt and matching tam–o'–shanter.

It may sound silly, but it turned out to be a good way to break the ice at a networking event—and it was just another way to connect at Connect 2012.

Earlier today, Harkins, in his more familiar attire of a suit and tie, explained why the event was given that name this year.

Speaking on the first full day of activities of the annual event, which launched yesterday and runs into this weekend, Harkins said, “Why the name ‘Connect’? … We wanted to rebrand the entire experience.”

Networking was one reason, he said—“connecting companies and individuals.”

But he said the word also shows how home automation services are transforming the security industry. “It’s not just a security space anymore,” he said. “It’s a connected home space.” And, he added, “we think interactive home services will continue to expand under our brand Total Connect.”

Harkins’ talk this morning also included a sober moment that contrasted with the lighthearted event that ended the day.

He asked everyone in the audience to pause a minute to think about fellow FAP members who couldn’t make the event because of Hurricane Sandy.

He said this year’s event was slated to have had pretty much the largest attendance ever, with 165 companies represented and 740 people total. But he said about 50 of those companies were “in the eye of the storm,” which early this week battered the East Coast, especially New Jersey, where Honeywell is located, so some people couldn’t attend.

However, Harkins said he was impressed with the numbers of people who did turn up despite problems like delayed flights and power outages in their homes. “There has to be about 400 to 500 people here,” he said. And some attendees were still arriving Friday evening.

Harkins already has set his sights on 2013, which will be the 24th year for the dealer program, which Honeywell bills as the “longest running” in the industry. “Our goal is 250 companies and 1,000 people next year,” Harkins said.

And what will the name be in 2013? Expect something similar. Harkins said that “Connect” also will be “a brand going forward.”

Habitec cuts police dispatches 20 percent with ECV

Ohio-based company says customers embracing two-call verification
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05/04/2012

TOLEDO, Ohio—One month after implementing two-call verification for incoming alarms, Habitec Security reported a 20 percent decrease in false police dispatches and is on track to cut the rate even further, according to company President John Smythe.

NPR program rips industry over false alarms

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

American Public Media’s “Marketplace” weighed in on false alarms this week, with the featured guest delivering a decidedly unfavorable verdict for the security industry: Alarm customers might be better off relying on a dog.

Program host Kai Ryssdal interviewed Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics.com, who cited a litany of figures and study results that don’t reflect well on alarm companies. Here’s a bit of what Dubner had to say on the show, which aired on National Public Radio:

—“We talked to Simon Hakim, an economist at Temple who’s been studying this issue for a long time. He says that in a given year, U.S. police respond to more than 35 million alarm activations. … Something like 95 percent of them are false alarms and the cost is about $2 billion.”

—“Financial analysts say that industry leader ADT ... has an operating margin of about 25 percent on roughly $3 billion [in] annual revenues. So these false alarms pose what economists call a negative externality. That is, the provider charges you for the service, but then they pass along a big part of their costs to someone else. In this case, the police departments and the taxpayers who support them.”

—“Well, it’s probably a good idea to make the alarm companies more accountable in some fashion, including having them make alarms that don’t fail so often. … As for me, I think I’m just going to ditch my new alarm that seems to go off every five minutes.”

Dubner then referred to his new deterrent—growling can be heard in the background—and told Ryssdal, “Go ahead. Make my dog’s day.”

On the positive side, Dubner quoted Hakim as saying that alarm systems deter burglars to some degree, citing “the sign in the yard and the threat of the alarm and the police.” He also quoted Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, who said false alarms are SIAC’s “No. 1 priority. This is the one issue that we have decided has to be addressed.”

The incidence of user error was briefly mentioned, along with the move toward more video monitoring to verify whether an alarm call is legit. But that was about it for the bouquets, which points to the long-standing need to better educate customers and improve relationships with law enforcement to reduce false dispatches.

It’s either that or the doghouse.  

SIAC offers e-notification for alarm ordinance changes

New Web feature automatically informs members about activity in their cities
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03/23/2012

FRISCO, Texas—The Security Industry Alarm Coalition is giving its members access to an upgraded online database to help them keep pace with ordinance changes that could affect the way they do business.

Three out of four for Monitronics; Tweets for SIAC

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make it three out of four for Monitronics.

The Dallas-based alarm monitoring firm was recently named Frost & Sullivan’s North American Company of the Year for 2011, adding to similar awards the company won in 2008 and 2010.

Frost & Sullivan praised Monitronics for maximizing value to clients by expanding its customer service operations and streamlining internal processes, resulting in record-low attrition for the year. The market researchers also cited the company’s “concerted efforts” to expand its dealer network, a point that wasn’t lost on Bruce Mungiguerra, VP of sales and dealer development for Monitronics.

“The biggest part for us, for our company and our dealers, is the way our program is modeled as a 100 percent dealer environment,” he told Security Systems News. “All of our business comes through our dealer network, and we really promote a high level of branding for our dealers to promote themselves and be their own local company.”

Mungiguerra said the award gives Monitronics’ dealers a big boost when it comes to marketing their services.

“Being able to have been recognized as the North American alarm provider of the year now for three years, it really helps give credibility to the dealers,” he said. “They can use those logos and that information on their branding to show what a great central station we are. … At the end of the day, our bread and butter is the ability to provide great monitoring services to retain our customers for a long time.”

Tweets for SIAC: Social media and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition? It might not sound like a match made in heaven, but SIAC sees the value of Tweets and blogs and is taking advantage of the new tools. Since launching its initiative a year ago, the group has attracted more than 100 followers on Twitter and 40 to 50 blog readers a week.

“While we have overcome many challenges, our industry continues to face significant issues in many communities,” said Stan Martin, SIAC’s executive director. “Social media helps us keep industry leaders informed on key issues in real time so that we can engage law enforcement and elected officials early in the decision-making process.”

SIAC’s weekly blog can be found at www.siacinc.wordpress.com, with Tweets at @SIACINC.

“It’s a long-term growth process to get more people involved in improving alarm management practices across the country,” said Dave Simon, SIAC’s communications director. “The first step is sending relevant, consistent information, and we believe these tools are effectively serving that purpose.”

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