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Intruder alarms: ensuring police response

Alarm security has been thrown into the spotlight recently in light of the recent jewel robbery at Hatton Garden wherein an alarm sounded, but was met with no response[1]. Here, James Kelly, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) reassures waste and recycling site managers that despite this isolated incident, police are now more likely than ever to respond to genuine alarm activations, thanks to a partnership approach between police and the private security industry, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of false alarm activations.

In the past two decades, the number of false alarm activations generated by security alarm systems has reduced dramatically, from an average of 1.36 per system, per year in 1995 to 0.10 per system, per year in 2013. Nowadays, the police are more likely than ever to respond to a genuine alarm, and more likely to catch criminals in the act when they do.

The development of new technology, methodology and standards within the private security industry has contributed significantly to improving the reliability of alarm systems, with the introduction of Unique Reference Numbers (URNs) revolutionising the way police respond to alarm activations.

URN registered systems are operated to such a high standard that they are the only systems that can guarantee a police response, and the introduction of this system has succeeded in improving the reliability of systems to such an extent that many insurers are now backing this system and offering discounts on policies to organisations who have URNs in place.

The reliability and resilience of URN registered systems can be attributed to the rigorous vetting that takes place at every stage of the process. All staff involved in the alarm installation and response are security vetted, from the design stage through to installation, handover, maintenance and monitoring, meaning that customers can rest assured that every individual involved in the setup and operation of their system are police vetted.

Historically, the level of false activations from alarm systems was high for a number of reasons, from accidental activation to incorrect installation or poor maintenance. With the police wasting more and more time attending false alarms, the security industry and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) came together to develop industry standards and practices to reduce the number of false activations.

ACPO’s response was to publish a policy on alarm response, first issued in 1990, while the British Security Industry Association – representing the UK’s alarm manufacturers and installers – developed several Codes of Practice relating to the installation and maintenance of alarm systems, which went on to become British, European and now International standards.

ACPO’s policy requires system designers to be knowledgeable, and requires systems themselves to be designed to a certain standard. When it comes to getting the system up and running, installation companies carrying out the work must be inspected by a UKAS-accredited inspectorate to ensure they can competently design, install and maintain each system.

Under ACPO’s policy, the products themselves must also meet certain requirements, and the relevant British and European Standards. Many of the components used in systems underwent significant design changes. It is possible in the past that many false alarms were generated by poorly designed equipment, which in some cases only met the lowest requirements.

The suite of component standards developed and used by all BSIA manufacturers has certainly had a massive impact on the level of false activations. Higher quality products have definitely contributed to the reduction in false alarms. Installers and end users benefit along with the police, as well as lowering the false calls to the police, the nuisance factor has been all but eliminated.

Professionally designed and installed systems, using quality components from reputable manufacturers have helped to re-establish the worth of an alarm system, not only ensuring a police response but also recognising the huge deterrent value these systems have.

Panic buttons, too, were historically a common source of false alarms, notorious for wasting police time. Used to summon a police response in the event of a ‘hold-up’ robbery situation, the ‘single-push’ nature of them meant that they were prone to unacceptable levels of false alarms, e.g. through accidental activations.

In recent years, the introduction of ‘dual-action’ buttons has also been very successful in the reduction of false alarms. Supporting this, a widespread effort among installers to replace single-push alarms with newer dual-push devices has further aided the industry in reaching its objective of reducing false alarms.

The joint work undertaken by ACPO and the UK’s private security industry has also succeeded in minimising the number of these high-priority false alarms. The introduction of confirmation in hold-up alarms is one element that has made a significant contribution towards ensuring that only genuine alarms are put through to the police. The development of British Standard BS8243 was an important milestone in this process, with the standard putting requirements in place for ‘multi action’ hold-up devices, which require differentiated methods of operation (typically using dual finger push) in order to activate the alarm, thus reducing the risk of an accidental activation.

While ACPO has recently updated its policy to ensure that installers follow the rules, there has also been an initiative within the private security industry to reduce the number of hold-up alarms that are being installed unnecessarily, for example, when customers apply for both intruder and hold-up alarm systems. In addition to this, the BSIA has introduced information relevant to the reduction of false hold-up alarms into its Intruder and Hold-up Alarm User Handbook, which now includes ten useful hints and tips on avoiding false alarms as well as a checklist for choosing the right type of confirmation method for your customer.

With so much invested by police and the private security industry to improve the quality and reliability of alarm systems, it’s important that those procuring such a system are equally committed to quality. Investing in a solid infrastructure can improve the longevity and resilience of a system from start to finish. To learn more about security systems, or to find a supplier near you, visit http://www.bsia.co.uk/sections/security-systems.aspx

[1] BBC News, 13th April 2015: ‘Hatton Garden raid: The mystery deepens’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32283449

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