Solutions for Nuisance Alarm Activations in Public Buildings

The second in a three-part series from SIAC’s Ron Walters

Certainly the easiest solution to the issue of nuisance alarm activations in public buildings is not to exempt any category of occupancy from the provisions of the ordinance, but realistically this isn’t always going to happen. So what other solutions can be applied?

The first place to look for a solution may be in the alarm equipment.

Over 75% of all dispatches are due to user error. In locations where there are many users of the alarm system, being able to identify the person who created the dispatch can go a long way in educating these individual(s). Virtually all alarm equipment is capable of assigning multiple key codes. If this is combined with transmitting data to the monitoring point then we will know who created the problem and target them for training.

There are also issues regarding how many people actually need access after hours. Limiting access will also have a cumulative impact on reducing dispatches.

Additional steps can be taken to establish responsibility for alarm systems in public buildings. In Phoenix, the police identified those managers who had an alarm system as part of their sphere of responsibility. The police educated these individuals on the proper use of alarm systems. At that point all annual reviews of these individuals included the performance of the alarm systems.

Establishing responsibility for the performance of alarm systems is key to addressing the problem. In Gwinnett, County Georgia schools were exempted from the alarm ordinance and their performance was the worst of all occupancies in the county. The police met with Superintendent of schools, who provided them with cellular and home phone numbers of every school principal. These principals became the first contact on every alarm activation and within a few weeks the problems solved themselves.

Again in Phoenix, the alarm unit created an alarm school for “abusers” (those with multiple dispatches in any 12 month period) modeled after traffic schools. By attending the school, these individuals received a certificate that entitled them to one free pass from a fine. After 8 years, more than 90% of the attendees had not experienced another false dispatch.

For these occupancies the curriculum could easily be adapted to specifically educate users of systems in public buildings and in particular, schools.

Stayed tuned to SIAC’s blog for our conclusion next week.

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Public Buildings and Curbing Unnecessary Alarm Activations

Part one in a three-part series from SIAC’s Ron Walters

For over a decade the alarm industry, working in concert with various law enforcement associations and law enforcement agencies, has identified the Best Practices that, when applied will deliver the highest reductions in dispatch requests for public response to alarm systems. Through this process we have also been able to identify issues that must be a part of any effective reduction effort or the maximum results will not be achieved.

While one might believe that there aren’t enough alarm systems in public buildings, the truth is this is simply not the case. Public dwellings have, and continue to be, one of the thorniest issues to address when it comes to reduce unwanted dispatches. This occurs for a variety of reasons. Statistically though, these buildings continue to have a disproportionate share of nuisance alarms.

When the City of New Britain, CT, for example, was proposing the cessation of response to alarm systems, they found that the largest abusers were actually government buildings. Following is some of the information provided to the City Council.

• “The Top “25” Locations-Police Alarms: “Over the past six years, police officers responded to 3,471 different buildings in the city for alarm activations. The top 25 of these locations represent just 7/10 of one percent of the total addresses, but reflect 12% of the service demand. This is disproportionate by any measure. More embarrassing is the fact that ten of these locations are city schools and more than half are governmental buildings.”

• “The Top “25” Locations-Fire: “Over the past six years, firefighters responded to 778 different buildings in the City for alarm activations. The top 25 of those locations represent just 7/10 of one percent of the total addresses in the city but reflect almost 36% of the service demand. Five of these locations (all city schools) also appear on the list of top ‘25’ locations for police alarms.”

The City of Aurora, CO adopted a policy of non-response to alarms, and exempted public buildings. After one year of enforcement they had reduced dispatches by 75%, meaning that governmental occupancies represented 25% of the call load while only representing .02% of the alarm sites in the city.

(Stay tuned for next week’s SIAC blog, when we address solutions for these facilities.)

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Ron Walters Honored with Bill Moody Award

Last month at ESX in Nashville, SIAC was pleased to honor our own Ron Walters with the prestigious William Moody Award. The award is both deserved, and probably long overdue given he has been a SIAC team member for 16 years. Because Ron works so much behind the scenes, and doesn’t seek attention, his work often goes unnoticed.

But not to us, and not to many of the state associations he helps throughout the U.S., along with the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), Security Industry Association (SIA) and Canadian Security Association (CANASA). They know Ron, and his contributions over the years, and recognize how much he helps improve alarm management practices across North America in big and small ways.

One of the least noticed parts of Ron’s job is his diligent, consistent and high value work helping associations develop, implement and enforce strong standards. He also writes ordinances for jurisdictions across the country, maintaining consistency from city to city.

If you get a chance to hear Ron speak at a national association or your state association meeting on security issues, please take time to pull up a chair and listen. Ron sends a powerful engaging message to audiences, and works for all of us in the electronic security industry when he speaks out. He is always open to feedback, so feel free to seek him out afterwards to share your thoughts. We’re glad to have him at SIAC, working for us, but most importantly, working for you.

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Monitronics Honored with PDQ Award

SIAC honored Monitronics last week with the Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) award at ESX in Nashville, TN.  Security Sales and Integration magazine (SSI) and Honeywell also support and participate in publicizing and funding the award.  The False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) and Installation Quality (IQ) program also endorse the program.

Monitronics has been an industry leader in developing and endorsing better alarm management practices.  We saw a huge commitment to their training and educational programs for their customers.  That strongly advanced their submission in our eyes.

Because the award also includes a big component that recognizes partnerships with law enforcement, Monitronics efforts in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, area stood out to us.  They implement proven dispatch reduction techniques, and serve as a good example to other companies in the electronic security industry.

We began this award with most of the parties noted above back in 2005.  It’s a testament to their commitment that we have kept it going, and further testament to the security industry that companies continue to apply for the award, taking the time to put together thorough submissions.

We want to publicly congratulate Monitronics again.  Their dispatch rate for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region in 2013 was 0.184.  That means less than one in five systems in that area had a dispatchable alarm.  When you look back over the years, this figure continues to improve because companies like Monitronics are taking the extra effort to make it happen.  That’s good for their business and our entire industry.

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ESX a Week Away

ESX is a week away in Nashville, TN. SIAC plans to be there. You’ll also see the staff of the major security associations – SIA, CSAA, CANASA and ESA – in attendance. It’s a big show, one that showcases not only new technologies, but also awards, training and key meetings of committees that help us set strong standards for future security industry growth.

If you run an installation company, sell or manufacture equipment, serve as a distributor or run a monitoring center, we hope you will be there and send other representatives from your company. ESX came together to unite the monitoring and installation side of the security house, and has grown to be an annual showcase event.

In particular, we encourage you to look into sessions that can help you improve alarm management practices. You’ll find a number available. Not only will you find new ways to reduce nuisance alarms and improve your customer stickiness factor, but you’ll be taking a step to improve the overall health of the electronic security industry through an improved receptiveness with public officials.

Look for our SIAC staff at ESX next week, and say hi. We’d love to see how you are doing and listen to your ideas for next steps in the alarm management arena. See you soon.

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Don’t Take What You Do for Granted

By:  David Margulies, SIAC Media Relations Agency, and President, Margulies Communications Group

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David Margulies

Some of my good friends are airline pilots who often describe their jobs as boring because of increased cockpit automation. It has been reported that some pilots have trouble staying awake during long flights. But what if they discussed their work from a different perspective?

What the pilots are really doing is taking an infant to meet his grandparents for the first time, helping soldiers get home to see their families, taking passengers for advanced medical care and others to say goodbye to a loved one or comfort a grieving friend or relative.

It is easy to become complacent about things that are familiar to us and forget to focus on the benefits they provide others. Much as some pilots forget the importance of their jobs to others, we sometimes fail to articulate the many benefits alarm systems provide to entire communities.

There are few people the alarm and security industry don’t touch in a positive way.  Alarm systems protect the public buildings constructed and equipped with our tax dollars.  If you have a job, there is a good chance that an alarm system keeps the premises and property safe. Fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors save lives and property. Can you imagine what insurance would cost if property could not be protected electronically?

Alarm systems allow people who travel for business to provide an additional level of security for their families and property, giving them peace of mind so they can focus on their work. They allow a family taking their kids to Disneyland to know their home is protected from fire and theft.

Too often businesses and organizations that provide a great service to the community are taken for granted because of their high level of consistent and problem work.  But in today’s society, people often focus their attention on an industry only when there is a problem.  Just as goodwill has a value when you sell your business, it also has a value as we address the few but loud critics of the alarm industry.

We cannot take public support for granted. Each time we have an opportunity to discuss the industry, we should include a description of the benefits it provides to the community as a whole and the real difference it makes in everyone’s lives.

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Key Fobs: The Good and the Bad

By:  Ron Walters, SIAC Director

It hasn’t happened often, but at least twice in our industry what seemed like great ideas at the time turned very bad. Both of these issue involved silent alarms.

The first were panels that allowed a one-plus duress signal. This goes back several decades ago.  We’re still requiring in alarm ordinances that these systems be reprogrammed to eliminate this feature. Most panel manufacturers have eliminated it to comply with the ANSI SIA CP-01 panel standard.  A duress code should always be uniquely different than an arming code.

More recently the “good deed” was the use of wireless key fobs to arm and disarm alarm systems, a good idea, but it also included a panic button, a very bad idea.  This is particularly true when the panic alarm is silent.

A wireless single pushbutton device to trigger an alarm is a disaster waiting to happen. Young children love to play with keys. They make a rattling noise and fit nicely in a small mouth struggling with the teething process. Put that key fob in a pocket or purse and then grope around looking for it, well you get the idea. How many times has your car alarm gone off due to some inadvertent action that causes the button to be depressed while still in your pocket?

Given the fact that 99.999% of key fob activated alarms have no real emergency, we urge (even beg) you to NOT program this feature.  It’s a nice extra selling feature, but has no other practical use.  If you weigh that small plus against the number of law enforcement responders injured every year responding to unnecessary dispatches I hope you’ll agree – it’s just not worth it!

What are your views and how do you program key fobs?  Let us know by responding to this blog.

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