Don’t Cry Wolf | Video Alarm Verification Reduces False Alarms

It’s 2 a.m. and a suspicious person breaks into your building. What happens next?

Audible alarm.

The most common and least expensive security solution is to have sirens go off if the system detects an intruder. However, audible alarms alone are ineffective. Just think of the last time you ignored a car alarm. Perhaps a concerned citizen will phone the police, but random alarms receive very low dispatch priority. That’s because most are false.

In Chula Vista, California, one study found 99.7 per cent of the city’s residential alarms and 98.6 per cent of commercial alarms were false.1 Closer to home, Surrey RCMP received 10,149 alarm calls in 2013. Of those calls, 9,337-or 92 per cent-were false.2

“On average, about 95 to 99 per cent of “blind,” or unverified, alarms are false,” says Robert Baxter, a director of the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response [PPVAR]. “Too often, keyholders are unfamiliar with the security system and accidentally set off the alarm.”

Responding to false alarms drains tax dollars. Surrey RCMP spent more than 3,500 hours of general duty constable time responding to false alarms in 2013. That works out to the cost of just over two general duty constables a year.3 That’s why virtually every municipality has a false alarm prevention program in place.


Closed-circuit television and basic video surveillance systems can also be relatively inexpensive. Even a webcam can provide police with high-quality images of suspects. Unfortunately, these images are only useful for investigating a crime, not preventing one. You will likely still suffer loss or damage.

“These ‘nanny cam’ systems may satisfy your curiosity about what’s going on in your building, but they’re not very effective for combatting crime,” Baxter says.

As any police officer will tell you, an effective security system needs to be monitored. However, the Vancouver Police Department cautions that thieves can easily cut telephone lines to disable systems that rely on them. Opt for wireless systems where feasible.

Having an employee or a security service monitor your video feeds 24/7 also adds a considerable amount to the cost. And there is the risk of fatigue setting in. A tired operator may miss some suspicious activities.

Security Guard.

Having security guards on site allows you to confront intruders in person, and ideally, prevent intrusions in the first place. They can be effective at controlling specific access points, such as a lobby area, and locking up after hours. However, a guard cannot be everywhere at once. An intruder could easily slip in after a patrol passes by.

Baxter notes, “An on-site or mobile patrol only passes by once every hour. That gives a thief plenty of time to break in.”
He adds that confrontations between intruders and guards, or managers called in to check out an alarm, can be dangerous. “You want to make sure they have back-up.”

Remote Video Monitoring

Remote video monitoring addresses some of the issues with CCTV and on-site security patrols. Using video analytics technology, intelligent security cameras continuously monitor your property. Using complex algorithms with predetermined criteria, the software detects, categorizes and tracks objects in real time. Security cameras then processes video to separate foreground elements from the background. With a memory bank of 250,000 images, video analytics software can distinguish between animals, people and vehicles in all weather and lighting conditions.

Once the remote video monitoring system detects any suspicious activity, it sends an alert and a video clip to a central monitoring station. Once alerted, operators can pan, tilt and zoom in on the situation with specialized cameras. Then they can silently notify police, set off sirens and strobe lights, or engage with intruders over loudspeakers.

“Traditional video surveillance systems lacked the ability to integrate the video feed with an alert to a monitoring station,” explains Baxter. “Remote video monitoring systems bridge that gap.”

Baxter-who is also the president and CEO of Radius Security in Vancouver, as well as an electrical engineer-developed a video monitoring system he dubs “remote guarding.”

“Remote guarding costs less than on-site or mobile security patrols, and we can also adapt an existing CCTV system to use video analytics,” adds Baxter. “The real benefit, though, is that you can respond to situations in progress and verify alarms with video. Police assign a much higher priority to verified alarms for crimes in progress.”

Faster response times mean intruders are more likely to be scared off or apprehended—before they have a chance to cause any damage. And that means lower insurance and other costs for you.

Before deciding on an appropriate security system, consult a professional to explore all your options. The VPD’s web site ( offers guidelines for selecting a qualified security company.

Lita Aldworth
Vancouver Fire & Security


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