Kelly Knowles, Commercial Director of Fenix Monitoring wonders if there is a place for automated alarm handling in the remote monitoring space.
The fire and security industry is constantly evolving, there is an insatiable thirst to achieve greater connectivity, more robust services, improve efficiencies and to provide added value. Innovation is of course at the heart of these changes and should be embraced by us all.
As security professionals, reviewing, developing and improving our offering helps ensure we can advance and thrive in today’s technology-centred society, as well as helping us to combat modern criminals.
What do these technological changes mean for the sector?
We have witnessed some welcome advancement such as more secure connectivity, improved detection equipment, enhanced signal delivery and fewer outages.
Technology progressions have resulted in economically accessible solutions which have helped make remote monitoring viable for many.
Inside the Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC) we are seeing an emergence in the use of Automatic Alarm Handling (AAH) – but should this “advancement” be as welcome?
What is AAH? It is the use of technology to notify end-users (or installers) of alarm activations at their remotely monitored property, by text, email or automated voice notification on a phone.
The justification from those choosing to adopt automatic notifications as standard practice is that it will improve response times, give priority to more important alarms, help drive consistency and reduce the potential for human error.
Automation can achieve all of those things. In some cases, the impact of automation will mean fewer staff and therefore lower over ARC overheads and ARC operational overheads. A slow, inevitable walk to the automated world?
Maybe, but as an industry, we’re part-way through the implementation of the revolutionary and long overdue Electronic Call Handling Operations (ECHO) project.
The success of the initiative, which allows approved ARCs to seamlessly pass alarms electronically to the emergency services partners, has been very well documented.
It is estimated that end-users living within an ECHO connected area are benefiting from a faster police response rate of anywhere between one and four minutes as a result.
The ECHO initiative supports service to service communications – the ARCs are escalating emergency calls to a publicly-funded resource responsible for protecting said public.
Yes, it’s a partnership but ultimately the relationship is functional and necessary – not optional.
ECHO perfectly achieves what it needs to, for all of the reasons highlighted above and is quite rightly being acknowledged for the positive impact it is having in our sector.
In contrast, the delivery of Remote Alarm Monitoring services is a different beast all together.
It’s a choice purchase and many premises have remote monitoring solutions installed because it is specified by an insurance company, although I should add many end-users are simply taking ownership of their security provision, either way, end-users are consumers investing in alarm monitoring services with a view to protect their people and properties.
They are making conscious buying decisions and engaging security professionals to provide services that fundamentality will, or certainly should, ensure peace of mind. Can automation really achieve this?
Most (though not all) Alarm Receiving Centres that opt to utilise AAH tend to apply it only to reduced priority or “informational” alarms; “Lower priority” alarms are those that fall outside of Confirmed Intruder activity scenarios and or what are known as life alarms. i.e. Fire & Personal Attack signals. This might include faults or power fails for instance – phew, that doesn’t sound so bad right?
In some cases, no, if Dave in IT receives a call at 1am to advise him of a mains fail alarm at his office which provides customer support services for a travel agent- a) The nature of their business means the power failure will have little to no real implication and b) It’s unlikely he can do to anything to restore the alarm anyway, it’s a power cut.
So, the traditional operator call that Dave received from the ARC is unwelcome and the result is a grumpy and tired IT technician.
A perfect scenario for AAH here power fails at the office, an automated email alert is immediately generated, in the morning Dave’s email notification will be waiting for him when he wakes, he checks alarm logs via his phone and sees that despite being out for an extended period the Mains Fail restored at 7.30am, so he makes his way in to work, (resets the clock on the canteen microwave) and business as usual!
Switching this scenario up – Dave’s office is neighboured by a pharmacy and a bistro and further down the road is a poultry farm. All premises are affected by the outage.
The refrigeration unit at the pharmacy houses medical supplies including the next day’s vaccination stock, the freezer at the restaurant contains produce for the forthcoming week’s menu, the farmer’s barns house hatcheries which utilise electricity to maintain the heat and power required for the production process.
Similarly, with “unconfirmed” intruder alarm signals or single path fails on a dual signalling device, some users simply do not wish to know about this unless a secondary “confirmed” signal is received (or a secondary path fail which constitutes a confirmed alarm in conjunction with unconfirmed intruder alert), preferring to receive a “call” from the Automated Alarm Handler available from the ARC in place of the traditional voice call from an operator team.
We are also seeing opt-in smart reporting from some of our technology signalling partners who, by request, will hold unconfirmed intruder or single path alerts but send through both as a confirmed alarm should a secondary activation or path fail be triggered.
In contrast Mr and Mrs Singh are high-net-worth individuals who have chosen a security system predominantly because of their raised profile within the public eye.
A call to advise an unconfirmed intruder alarm has been generated with reassurance from a security professional at the ARC that escalation to the emergency services will happen should a secondary alert or a signalling path failure be received, it reinforces home is secure and family safe. For them, it is money well-spent for peace of mind.
Mr Keating has a grocery store in a remote area which has notoriously inconsistent GPRS coverage there have been a number of break-ins and is feeling anxious about security.
Busy by day, he prefers to use the automated digital operator alert service for Line/GPRS fails notifications but in light of the recent criminal activity in the area, out of hours, he wants to be aware of all intruder alerts and path failures while being able to speak to a real person.
Whilst we can all agree life and confirmed intruder alarms are without doubt a “priority” and should be processed as such – it’s evident that what constitutes a “low priority” alarm for one client is not necessary the same as another.
It’s short-sighted of any ARC to apply an arbitrary set of rules to what is clearly not a one-size fits all situation – the installer/consultant will have completed the risk assessment on site and combined with the end-users’ “wants and needs” they should have the right to decide what type of response they receive for each alarm generated from their security system as well as having the flexibility to change response as and when their needs (or wants) do!
There is a relevant place for AAH within remote monitoring space today, with a number of scenarios where, used alongside traditional alert options it should welcomed by each party within the holy trinity of the monitoring partnership, end-user, installer and ARC, the Fenix described monitoring triangle.
A little cross
The installer and end-user should however be part of the conversation, always. AAH used responsibly and collaboratively to form part of a tailored response is both welcome and necessary, though a true and personal operator response should ALWAYS be on the table too.
An ARC’s responsibility is to work in partnership with clients, understand individual risk and promote the very best in customer experience. CX is paramount to any service industry and your ARC should be focused on championing the relational elements of this security partnership, it’s what we are built on!
Any ARC enforcing AAH under the guise of improving service delivery is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous. AAH should very much compliment the experience that you receive from your monitoring partner NOT replace it!
So there you have it – I’m not quite raging against the machine, but I am a little bit cross with it.
For more information, visit: www.fenixmonitoring.com
This article was originally published in the August 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.