PPVAR, SIAC talk verified alarm standards

Guidelines needed to govern how central stations and PSAPs interact during a dispatch
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

LAS VEGAS—It’s little wonder that the topic of verified alarms tends to spark dialogue between those in law enforcement and the alarm space. Intended to reduce false dispatches while increasing apprehensions, verified alarms—and the policies that guide them—are of critical importance to both groups, and continue to shape the relationship between them.

And, given the ongoing conversation about standards for verified alarms, there’s still much to be said on the topic.

That’s one reason the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition and personnel from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department came together at a recent Nevada Security Association meeting, held here, to share ideas about verification technology.

Steve Walker, vice president of PPVAR, said hearing about priority response procedures from PSAP personnel in Las Vegas, a so-called non-response city, was especially illuminating.

A key question, Walker told Security Systems News is “what the alarm industry can do to report information about a verified alarm that would help the PSAP to very quickly recognize that it was a verified alarm and proceed accordingly.”

Walker, who is also VP of Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, said both PPVAR and SIAC sought clarity on the scripting and process involved with verification dispatch and how alarms are prioritized. They also discussed the role of enhanced call verification, which both groups agreed is an important step within the response procedure, Walker noted.

What also became resoundingly clear, Walker said, was that the more information PSAPs have at their disposal, the more effectively law enforcement can carry out a response. From the PSAP point of view, time is truly of the essence.

“One of the distinctions I thought was really meaningful was the importance [PSAPs] place on real-time versus recorded,” he said. “In this case, the PSAP is saying we need to know, is the info being recorded? Is it in real-time or are we dealing with something recorded five, ten minutes ago?”

Providing an accurate timeline for video footage is vital to the mission of responding law enforcement, who now know “how actionable the data is,” according to Walker. That law enforcement interest dovetails with PPVAR’s own quest to promote audio and video technology that gives officers a clearer picture of what’s taking place, and when, on a given premise.

Stan Martin, executive director of SIAC, believes it’s always cause for optimism when the industry can engage effectively with a non-response city. Also heartening is the Las Vegas Police Department’s stance that it’s open to receiving video, and can provide faster response when live video shows a crime in progress.

But Martin cautioned that there are details to be sorted out to determine how video is screened before being served to the PSAP. Clarification on these finer points may come about through PPVAR’s standards, he said.

“It’s important that we’re able to screen video to some guidelines or standards so we don’t compromise this opportunity to do a good job for police departments,” Martin said, adding that if the new standards process is done right, it will result in a win-win for everyone involved.

Guidelines are essential to widespread implementation of verified alarms because they’ll help monitoring centers “screen video and present what they find to police departments in a consistent way that they understand,” Martin said. “I think we’re on the path to doing it right.”

Larry Folsom, who is president of the Nevada Security Association, in addition to being president of American Video and Security and president and founder of I-View Now, said the meeting made clear that a consensus is building on verified alarms. Responsible for that momentum, he said, is an increased willingness in the alarm industry to listen to law enforcement’s needs and adapt accordingly. Folsom also pointed out that the industry and the Las Vegas PSAP personnel were in agreement about the importance of running ECV against video.

Delineating how law enforcement and monitoring centers should engage during an alarm event are key questions now, he said.

“What do we say? How do we interact? We’re used to calling in a [legacy] alarm, but this is verified, whether audio or video,” Folsom said. “So the interesting thing for me, and the next step with municipalities and law enforcement, is how we ensure that we’ve given all the information they want, and police have what they need in order to get the bad guy.”

Folsom believes new standards will go a long way in establishing how central stations and PSAPs interact during a dispatch. Fostering continued dialogue between law enforcement and the alarm industry, he said, will also be critical to the success of the standards.

“The more of this we do as an industry, the better our guidelines will be,” Folsom said. 


I commend Larry Folsom for pointing out that law enforcement and the industry were in agreement about the importance of running ECV against video.  I think that one of the most important and difficult realizations for the security industry is that law enforcement still wants (or requires by law like we do in Phoenix) the central stations to perform ECV on a video event unless there is obvious criminal actions that can be articulated.  There needs to be an action observed in the video that is indicative of criminal activity, not just the mere presence of a human in the video, to warrant a priority response.  A subscriber that needs the elevated security of a video system that is eligible for priority response needs to take their security seriously and has a greater responsibility during the ECV process.  The subscriber or RP needs to view the video prior to PD dispatch to rule out known persons like family members or employees and service personnel. 

This is especially true for silent alarms where the user error factor is higher because an authorized person does not have any way to know that they tripped the alarm and need to cancel dispatch.  The difficulty is with the video systems that do not have the ability to observe the alleged criminal over time to see what they are doing.  The PPAVR is working thru a process for threat level evaluations because the security industry and law enforcement both understand the need for priority response to obvious criminal activity, smashed glass, vehicle thru the building, person hacking away on a door, etc.  The problem lies with the less obvious video of a person like a family member or employee that is just a person standing / walking in a space with a video alarm system.  Priority response to false alarms due to user error does not sit well with law enforcement especially when there is a simple process like ECV that is designed to weed them out.  Then there is the problem with video that looks out beyond the intended protected space and picks up cars or people in legal areas just passing by on the edge of the camera’s field of view.  The central station operator does not know that the camera is picking up traffic on a major road in front of the protected property, but the RP should know the difference.  The subscriber needs to be told when they purchase a video system that they are an integral part of the priority response process during an alarm activation.  There is a real possibility that law enforcement will not use priority response if the RP is not available to view the video prior to PD dispatch.  The central stations need to enforce ECV on all “verified” installations regardless of what the dealer or customer wants.  In my opinion, the central station is the gate keeper on this issue that will make or break priority response to “verified” systems.

This leads me to Steve Walkers comment about the importance “[PSAPs] place on real-time versus recorded.”  I’m thinking that Steve meant to say real time (recorded) versus clipped (recorded) or delayed (recorded) when he said. “In this case, the PSAP is saying we need to know, is the info being recorded?  Is it in real-time or are we dealing with something recorded five, ten minutes ago?” 

I am glad to hear Steve’s comments on this.  I believe the reason law enforcement places a high level of importance on real-time live (recorded) video over something recorded five, ten minutes ago is because the central station operator can observe the person(s) in question committing some element of a criminal act before dispatching PD and then relay timely information to the PSAP that is worthy of a priority response.  Law enforcement has a long history with enhanced real-time live (recorded) video systems being very reliable and not causing false alarms.  I have listened to the Phoenix PSAP operators handling a video verified alarm that keep asking for more information from the ASAP about the video because they (PSAP) are used to the enhanced systems with live-view.  It is very frustrating when the ASAP says that the video clip shows someone is just standing there, but not doing anything (criminal activity) and we are required to dispatch PD right away (no ECV).  The PSAP keeps asking for an update on what the ASAP sees (usually nothing, no live view, waiting on the system to refresh, 3 to 10 minute delay for the next video, etc.) while the patrol units are rolling hot to the scene of an authorized family member, employee, service worker fixing some equipment, or on some occasions a bad guy.

I am glad to see that SIAC and PPVAR came together in Las Vegas.  I have worked with Stan Martin and the folks at SIAC who understand where law enforcement is coming from.  I agree with Stan’s comment: “It’s important that we’re able to screen video to some guidelines or standards so we don’t compromise this opportunity to do a good job for police departments,”  SIAC has been fighting the trend of law enforcement going to an absolute VR solution to the false alarm problem for a long time.  They have been at the negations table listening to what the law enforcement community is saying about the reliability of alarm systems and the impact of false alarms.  Good technology that is proven to be reliable could be a middle ground solution for cities that are requiring VR and bring them back to some level of response during the actual alarm event. 

The bottom line is that the security industry needs to protect the reputation of verified alarm systems that are designed to elicit priority response from law enforcement or else run the risk that “verified” will become meaningless in the eyes of law enforcement.  There is already an issue with the reputation of other verification technologies that the industry has touted such as cross zone or stand-alone audio.  If the industry does not pay attention to what law enforcement is saying and kills the reputation of the video verification process, then what’s next?  Verified -verified?  Strict alarm verification?  Good-bye priority response?

PPD Robinson