Rage Against The Machine

Automated Alarm Handling, is there a place for it in Remote Monitoring space?

The Fire and Security industry is constantly evolving, there is an insatiable thirst to achieve greater connectivity, more robust services, achieve improved 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 that we can advance and thrive in today’s technology-centred society as well as helping us to combat the more, dare I say it, sophisticated, criminal activities of the modern world.

What do these technological changes mean for the alarm monitoring and management sector? Well in remote alarm signalling world we have witnessed some very welcome advancements such as more secure connectivity, improved detection equipment, enhanced signal delivery and fewer outages. Progressions in technology have also resulted in more economically accessible solutions which have helped make remote monitoring more viable for many – Inside the Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC) we are seeing an emergence of the use of Automatic Alarm Handling (AAH) but should this “advancement” be as welcome? And is it really enhancing service delivery and experience in this space?

What is AAH? – in short it’s the use of technology to notify end-users (or installers) of an alarm activation at their remotely monitored property, this could be by way of SMS text, an email or by using an automated voice alert received via a digital “telephone” call.

Many of Fenix’s counterparts have or are in the process of implementing AAH, either by use of a “Digital Operator” or via SMS/ Email notifications as part of their standard alarm management procedures. Some have even taken the line of naming their virtual operator a la Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri… The justification from those choosing to adopt automatic notifications as standard practice is that it will: “improve overall response times”, “give priority to more important alarms”, help “drive consistency” and “reduce the potential for human error”…

True, automation will without doubt achieve ALL of those things… in some cases the impact of automation will also mean that less staffing resource is required and ARC operational overheads are therefore reduced, a slow inevitable walk to the automated world right? So it’s win/win right?

Maybe, but in support of this narrative we as an industry are 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 emergency services partners, has been very well documented, with numerous innovation accolades awarded and pretty much every industry publication featuring updates as the roll-out gathers momentum. An over stretched Police resource is able to be rationalised, impacting positively on future budgets, ARC personnel are not sat waiting in call queues to overloaded Police Control rooms - and perhaps most importantly its estimated that end-users living within an ECHO connected area are benefiting from a speedier Police response rate of anywhere between 1-4 minutes as a direct result of the initiative! (ECHO Website - July 2022)  - Wow, a glowing endorsement for the use of Automation!

But, before we get carried away it’s important to note that the ECHO initiative supports service to service communications – the ARC as security professionals are escalating emergency calls to a publically funded resource responsible for protecting the public, yes it’s a partnership but ultimately the relationship is functional and necessary, and definitely 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 having in our sector.

In contrast, the delivery of Remote alarm monitoring services is a different beast all together, it’s a choice purchase, yes many premises have remote monitoring solutions installed because its 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?

But it’s only for “Reduced Priority” Alarms?

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. They 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 neighbours a pharmacy on one side and an independent bistro on the other, further down the road is a poultry farm, all of these premises are affected by the power 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 – We immediately see that the consequences of a loss of power, which, whilst differing for each of these user’s organisations is significantly more impactful than they were for Dave and his business.

Similarly with “unconfirmed” intruder alarm signals or single path fails on a dual signalling 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 their 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. – Another big tick for a positive use of technology in alarm reporting.

However in contrast - Mr & Mrs Singh are high-net-worth individuals they have chosen to invest in a security System predominantly because of their raised profile within the public eye – receiving a call to advise that 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 reinforces that their home is secure and in turn their family is safe – They feel this demonstrates that the investment they have chosen to make is providing value for money as well as ensuring that all important 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 locally so he is feeling particularly anxious about security. He is generally busy at the store during the day so he prefers to utilise 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, when he is away from his store he wants to be aware of all intruder alerts and path failures AND the reassurance of speaking to a real person. Mr Keating should absolutely have the option to choose this!

Whilst we can all agree Life alarms and confirmed intruder alarms are without doubt a “priority” and should be processed as such – what constitutes a “low priority” alarm for one client is not necessary the same as another there are a number of other scenarios where what works for one user simply isn’t appropriate for 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 alert generated from their security system as well as having the flexibility to change response as and when their needs (or wants) do!

So I leave you with this, I fully acknowledge that there is a very 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.

The installer and end-user should always be part of the conversation, always. AAH used responsibly and collaboratively to form part of a tailored response is 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 it 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!

An 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!

Originally posted by Kelly Knowles, our Commercial Director in the Security Journal UK
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