AvantGuard links false alarm spike with presidential alert

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10/10/2018

OGDEN, Utah—Last week, on Oct. 3, there was a test of the Presidential Alert system, which went out to televisions and radio as well as mobile phones. AvantGuard Monitoring, based here, noticed that there was a spike of false alarms—including glass break sensors and PERS button presses—linked to the test.

“Oftentimes, [when] we see a spike in a certain kind of alarms, they’re related to a storm or a localized natural disaster, and it generally affects a certain type of alarm like a security [system],” Justin Bailey, AvantGuard’s president and COO, told SSN. A simultaneous spike in security and PERS was very unusual for the company, he added.

The alert’s tone happened to match the frequency that some glass break sensors look for, AvantGuard said in an announcement, which caused the sensors to send false alarms. “It was a unique event for us. … As we started looking to see a common causality on the security side, an unusual number of alarms were [triggered by] glass break sensors. It’s not uncommon to have one of them in the buffer at the scale we have,” Bailey said. AvantGuard’s monitoring centers received about 70 glass break alarms that it can link to the presidential alert.

A member of AvantGuard’s team recognized the coincidence in the time of the alarms and the presidential alert, according to Bailey. “When you get a drop of signals, you know something is going on, because of the scale of how many alarms we received in that short time frame,” he said. “It was … part of our troubleshooting process to find commonalities and then get into causality. It was really just our good monitoring center leadership team that made that connection.”

AvantGuard received about 100 PERS alarms related to the presidential alert, as some seniors with PERS devices heard the sound of the alert and didn’t know what the alert tone was or if it was coming from their PERS device. “It was a matter of just talking to the subscribers as we connected to the two-way and—once we determined that they were ok—asking why it was that they had pushed their buttons,” Bailey said.

AvantGuard developed a system to address alarms that were likely false. “With the suspect alarms, we were able to partition them in a different queue, and then dedicate operators to work through those alarms that we believed were affected, allowing us to free up other operators to work alarms that we suspected … were actual, true alarms,” Bailey said.

“The reason we caught it and handled it so well is because we’ve already been prepared to deal with situations like that. So, I think it makes us more aware of challenges living in a connected world,” Bailey said.