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Systems alert: the evolution of intelligent alarms

Commercial alarms have moved from the days of door triggers, to motion sensors and pressure plates and can now be monitored with a live video feed into a control centre. Police Oracle speaks to the NPCC security systems lead

The NPCC Security Systems Policy provides details on the police response to security system activations. Alarm companies must abide by certain technical and procedural requirements in order to ensure a police response to activations. 

In 1995, the Association of Chief Police Officers (now NPCC) first produced a policy on police response to intruder and hold-up alarm systems. Back then, the number of calls annually that turned out to be false was in excess of 1.5 million. Now it is less than 83,000 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

DCC Ciaron Irvine was appointed as the NPCC lead for Security Systems in August. It’s a role that will see him oversee the NPCC Security Systems Group and associated Security Systems Policy. He told Police Oracle that there has also been a large decline in the number of genuine alarms over the same period - suggesting the systems are also effective deterrents. 

“The members of the Security Systems Group have reduced the number of inappropriate and unnecessary calls to these kinds of incidents significantly,” he said. 

“It gives confidence from the perspective of the whole industry - the installers, the companies that use the systems and the monitoring services that are in the middle. It gives them all the confidence that they’re able to elicit the right response at the right time. 

“Of course it also gives the police service the benefit of only going to incidents that we ought to be going to [...] plus we can be guaranteed that there will be an appropriate key holder or somebody with responsibility who will meet us at the property so that we can gain access quickly.”

The policy document is agreed with industry on an annual basis. It ensures that accredited companies have installers who are vetted and that systems are compliant. Once this has been done, a company can inform their local force and ask for that alarm to be brought into the scheme. Each force has an alarms administrator who assesses the documentation and creates a URN (unique reference number) which will come up if that alarm is activated. 

The URN will also trace occasions when an alarm has been activated meaning that if there are multiple scenarios where false alarms were put through - either by technological fault or by staff at the premises - then those who had responsibility of it would be asked to make improvements or they would be removed from the system.

“Commerical alarms have moved from the days of door triggers, then motion sensors and pressure plates and now we’re in the digital age where these alarms can be monitored with live video feeds coming back into a control centre,” DCC Irvine said. 

“We’re now working to develop practice between ourselves and the industry so we can start to take in that rich data picture from audio and video feeds - which will help us get the right response but can also be used evidentially if an investigation follows later.” 

DCC Irvine

Currently only a small number of organisations have the ability to feed video footage back into control centres. However DCC Irvine is starting to work with those centres on how to capture that information - in a way that would mirror how BWV is fed into a force control room. 

It’s currently in the technological specification stage whereby the policy and specifications are still being designed alongside industry. 

“The aim is to make us future proof so we can bring in that technology, but also ensure data protection considerations are in place,” DCC Irvine added.

“It's very similar to what we would do if there was a shoplifting in a retail store, we would go and collect the CCTV of the shoplifting. 

“The direction we’re working in is to build connectively between existing CCTV systems and also the alarm - it’s a bit like industrialising the ring doorbell so the alarm sets the trigger and activates the CCTV.” 

In-built within the current policy is a requirement for calls to go through a monitoring centre rather than straight to the police. It is that centre which will filter calls and then forward them onto the correct force where appropriate. 

Another ongoing area of work is the automation of this process - an idea first explored in 2015. Currently those at the alarm monitoring centres have to contact the police in the same way as members of the public - via 999 or 101. 

While some areas do have dedicated phone lines, DCC Irvine explains that the process relies on an already under-pressure system. 

Electronic Call Handling Operations Limited (ECHO) has the aim of passing Intruder and Hold-Up alarm activations electronically from Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) to control rooms. 

The system automates the contact between the monitoring centre and policing - meaning those at the centre can assess the call and send the information directly through to the command and control system. 

Essex first went live with this in October 2021. The Met, Avon and Somerset and Northumbria are now accepting alarm activations via ECHO and Kent is testing in readiness to go live. 

Today, there are over 250,000 alarm installations connected to ECHO. 

DCC Irvine explained that future benefits might also include Lone Worker Alarms as well as fire alarm signals for the Fire and Rescue Services.

Meanwhile, post-Brexit, standards that came in through the EU will need to be re-written and DCC Irvine says it will hopefully be in a way that leverages new technology. 

“The key thing for us is to ensure that the industry remains appropriately regulated and supported,” he said. 

“This is one of few NPCC portfolios that has a direct contact point with industry - in terms of the industry regulators but also in terms of the suppliers and installers," says DCC Irvine. "We’re also acutely aware of the broader financial climate - so we want to ensure that such the regulation that is applied is appropriate and fit for purpose but also that it allows industry to thrive.” 

DCC Irvine’s portfolio lead sits within the recently formed Prevention Committee lead by Merseyside CC Serena Kennedy. The Committee works to draw strands of prevention from different areas of policing together.

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