How Verification Tech is Revolutionizing Alarm Response

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The matter of implementing video and/or audio verification for intrusion detection alarms would appear to be more of a when or where than if or how proposition. That’s because by most accounts today’s sensor, imaging, communications and monitoring technologies are ready and able to make a dramatic difference in helping law enforcement respond faster and more efficiently to better protect the communities they serve.

Video-verified alarms are increasingly being deployed and proving their value in myriad use cases, and audio continues to bolster its established history of false alarm reduction and aiding police apprehensions. At the forefront of the electronic security industry’s promotion and support of both technologies is the Partnership for Priority Verified Alarm Response (PPVAR).

Founded in 2012, in addition to security industry members the organization is comprised of individuals from public safety and the insurance sector united in advocating the value of video and audio to verify alarm activity during the dispatch process and providing the most reliable and cost-effective alarm response to the end user. While the appeal of those benefits is undeniable, the progression is more evolutionary than revolutionary.

“Part of the challenge for adoption of verification, law enforcement says it all the time, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just video verify?’ The reality is that you have to get more than 100 million subscribers in the U.S. across residential, commercial and government to adopt the new technologies to do it. Then you have to get all of our industry to do the same thing, and to try and scale that is a huge undertaking,” says Joey Rao-Russell, PPVAR’s immediate past-president and president/CEO of Kimberlite, the largest independent Sonitrol dealer.

Long known as an industry leader in audio verification, more recently the firm has also incorporated video. Sonitrol isn’t alone as SSI’s most recent research (2019 Installation Business Report) shows that 41% of security companies now offer video verification services. That includes the nation’s largest provider, ADT, which last year acquired market leader I-View Now.

To further discuss the movement, Rao-Russell and her PPVAR successor, Thomas Nakatani, whose day job is vice president of customer monitoring technology for ADT, are joined by Frank Fernandez, a retired police chief and city official from Florida who now sits on the PPVAR board.

Please provide some background on PPVAR, and the value of intrusion alarm verification.

Joey Rao-Russell: PPVAR specializes in priority response for verified alarms. That means through our central station, through technology either typically now audio or video but with enhanced analytics and other Big Data, we hope to move it going forward to encompassing all available tools to provide a better probability of a crime in progress. One of my company’s co-founders, Al Cronk, was a police officer and that’s why Sonitrol specializes in verification. I run a verification-only central station. All of my alarms are able to be verified either through audio or video. That allows us to have a much lower false alarm rate and a much higher apprehension rate.

We’ve helped police apprehend over a thousand criminals this year so far. Real-time data means safety for the community as well as the police officer. We’re able to tell them, “We hear voices in this room.” We’re able to say if we see them with a weapon. We’re able to know how many people are there. We’re able to tell them if they’re in the front of the school or the back of the school or if we’ve heard glass breakage, gunshots, various things that help them know how to respond. One of the biggest dangers for police officers is complacency because even though many traditional false alarms can be up to 98% false, that 2% can result in the loss of life for law enforcement right now or a loss of life for citizens.

Whenever they run sirens, whenever they respond in priority to any dispatch, there is the chance for an accident. It’s very important that when we utilize these resources, we do it in partnership and collaboration to help keep everyone safer. That’s why PPVAR is such a wonderful organization, because we work very hard in partnership with law enforcement to find consensus and ways to better help service them.

Today’s sensor, imaging, communications and monitoring technologies are making a dramatic difference in helping law enforcement respond faster and more efficiently to better protect the communities they serve.

Thomas Nakatani: One of the unique things about PPVAR is it was formed as a partnership among several industries: the security industry, the insurance industry and, most importantly, public safety. PPVAR actually has several members of the public safety community on its board and we’re looking to expand that. We have direct input from some amazing individuals who have chosen to volunteer their time to participate on the PPVAR board. Their insight on using verified information to help provide actionable information to the 911 centers and first responders is invaluable.

Frank Fernandez: What PPVAR is doing is a game-changer. It’s very innovative and going to save lives. It’s going to protect police officers and really protect citizens. I recently asked two officers about their response to alarm calls and the common theme was, “Why can’t the alarm companies verify through video today with advanced analytics before they dispatch us?” PPVAR is developing a method that will enhance the reliability of these alarms when they’re dispatched.

What are some of the latest developments within the organization and video-verified alarm technology?

Nakatani: PPVAR is in the process of working with TMA to develop an ANSI standard. Because of the expertise and focus PPVAR has on applying verification information to alarms, we were able to form a working group with members of the various industries we represent to establish a framework. We have capable technologies, but the challenge is determining how to quantify what those technologies detect or depict into something a first responder can respond to and take the appropriate action.

We have video, there’s audio that Sonitrol has been doing for a long time. There’s other types of detection devices that are always out there, such as traditional intrusion sensors, door contacts, motion detectors, and a lot of that can be aggregated together. The connectivity to these devices is increased tremendously with the Internet. Now we can get this information and take that data and apply analytics to it, plus involve human agents to look at that info and provide their input. We can aggregate all of that and turn it into a score to provide to the public safety side of the house.

Rao-Russell: Thanks to great advances in the technologies, it no longer necessarily requires monitoring center agents to possess a great amount of training and institutional knowledge in order to make a discretionary call. We’re trying to standardize so you don’t have one agent who believes a person on a property is a high priority and another who waits until they see a gun. With all the available data and inter-connectivity, we now have enough technology in the backend to write algorithms to improve response and dispatch decisions.

What’s really exciting about the ANSI standard and some of the things we’re looking to technology to do on the back end of our automation platforms, is we’re going to be able to quickly scale. Even things that aren’t security, like Google and Amazon devices, we will be able to soon incorporate information from them as part of the data points to be analyzed and translate it to what we do. It’s really an exciting time because we’re going to be able to accomplish this quicker and better. It will continue to grow without leaving the traditional security alarm technology behind.

Fernandez: It all has to do with how that monitoring station connects with the PSAP or emergency communications center. It has to all work seamlessly. Let me put it into practical terms. Let me give you an example of what can go horribly wrong responding to a false alarm. In Coral Gables, Fla., the owner of a bank lawfully sent his son into the location after-hours to retrieve some documents and the alarm went off, so false alarm. However, police were dispatched and upon arriving saw the front door open. They entered with guns out and ended up shooting and killing the son. That officer now has to live with the guilt of killing an innocent person. What I mentioned about PPVAR saving lives is just the tip of the iceberg. The forward-thinking of PPVAR is absolutely a game-changer for the alarm industry.

Video-verified alarms are increasingly being deployed and proving their value in myriad use cases, and audio continues to bolster its established history of false alarm reduction and aiding police apprehensions.

What are some emerging or disruptive technologies impacting or potentially transforming alarm response?

Nakatani: We see some amazing possibilities here. We just did our deal with Google; that was big news. But the ability to bring some of the analytics and Cloud technologies, 5G communications — there are so many technologies we can take advantage to enhance our ability to provide verified alarms, get more data from he systems out there, and analyze information that’s coming from more than a single place. As mentioned, we’re looking to provide this information in a way that aggregates data from various sources, pattern analysis and other things without getting too spooky about data collection. We want to use it for the greater good, with customers’ permission and privacy foremost in mind, to achieve the best outcomes.

The amount of bandwidth we have to utilize is advancing thanks to the Cloud and enabling more storage and analytics capabilities. The types of sensors and devices we have out there keep increasing in their sophistication. We have cameras now with 360⁰ field of view, night vision, built-in motion analysis with microphones and speakers where you can directly intervene during an incident. Having an agent say, “This is a security company and we are monitoring the situation,” can de-escalate a lot of situations. Taking advantage of mobile technologies is helping monitor and keep people safe as they’re moving around or in vehicles. We’ve done deals with Lyft and Instacart where it’s a combination of lone worker safety and monitoring the vehicle. These are new things, not just for the security industry, but for public safety. It’s a really amazing time to be in security industry.

What are the top challenges facing the video-verified alarm movement?

Nakatani: There’s great concern about making sure the privacy of our customers and citizens is respected, even if that’s in a public space or, more importantly, as we move these technologies into the home. ADT has millions of customers out there with cameras in their homes. I have them, but all of us would ask that question, “What can you actually see?” We want to make sure that technologies support the ability to maintain customer privacy, customer opt-in. We’re working to make sure you can choose when to share that information. It’s a policy issue as much as it is a technology issue. We also understand 911 centers are going through staffing issues. To just send raw video or raw audio, or just a bunch of information, is insufficient. It’s not what we’re hearing our partners in public safety want. We have to take this information and distill it into something usable. That’s what the ANSI standard that we referenced earlier is going hopefully to do.

Rao-Russell: Surveillance cameras have become a business tool. On the residential side, managing the difference between lifestyle and security use of cameras can be difficult. If you’re going to verify things you want to look at hot points. For a business, looking at a driveway is probably not that important to somebody who wants to see how their people are unloading trucks. There’s business versus security use. Another challenge is not if we can do it because today almost anything is possible; it’s if our infrastructure will support it. No matter how much infrastructure I build in my central station, if the end customer doesn’t have the bandwidth it makes it very hard for us to get quality usable video.

There are also environmental factors that come into play for the technology to work. Also, technology is growing faster than the education and end users’ ability to consume it properly. That is especially true with the temperature cameras being deployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve taken a very conservative stance to make sure what the customer purchases will actually provide what they need. We have a saying in my company: If you sell it right, install it right and monitor it right, it works. As an example, we have a customer who had their yard broken into probably 50 times. They’d put additional stuff in and switched companies a couple of times, but they’d never went a verification route. They finally decided to use verification.

That first weekend they had two separate incidents where we were able to get law enforcement there that resulted in apprehensions both times. For a monitoring center, it’s very important to have professional agents be able to best use technology and aggregated data in a very consumable and concise form to make better, faster decisions that help police respond quickly and be well prepared for what awaits them.

What are the opportunities for security dealers to become involved with PPVAR?

Nakatani: We want participants from every level of the industry working and contributing to the ongoing mission at PPVAR, including the standards we’re developing and outreach to public safety. We’ve been talking a lot as a security industry about our ability to leverage some of the technologies out there — the cameras, devices, how they’re set up, what’s sold to the customer, how they’re installed. All of that is very important to contribute to the culture of verification and reduction of false alarms.

Check out this month’s Security Speaking podcast for an extended version of this roundtable. 

Learn more about PPVAR here.

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