The Future Of Alarm Response In An Increasingly Technological World

By John Bigelow.

The future is an amazing place full of wonder, mystery, possibilities and intrigue. However, it is also full of change. One only need look at what has taken place in the security industry over the past decade to see to what degree things can change in a very short period of time. As recently as 1995, the internet was a relatively new phenomenon and not unlike an ethical politician, in that many people spoke about it with wonder and hope, but few people had ever seen such a thing.

Now, less than twenty years later, the internet pervades every aspect of our daily lives. We use it for work, personal communications, shopping, social interaction – it has become as much a part of our daily lives as the air we breathe. It has also had a significant impact on security. The past decade has seen traditional analogue technology such as CCTV, access control, intrusion detection and the like migrate to the digital realm. We have seen the rise of IP surveillance and video analytics, biometrics and remote monitoring – all things that a mere ten years ago would, to many, have seemed the stuff of science fiction.

There can be no doubt that the future brings change, which begs the question, “What does the future hold for the alarm response and patrol sectors?” The response and patrol functions, along with cash escort, crowd control and security guarding, has always been one of the pillars upon which the security industry was built. However, recent developments such as the rise of remote monitoring, the increasing costs of training to both entrants to the industry and training providers ,and the introduction of significant new barriers to entry into the security industry, have precipitated a significant change in the security landscape. If left unchecked, will these developments herald the end of the once-thriving response and patrol market?

Some industry experts believe it is already underway; that ten years from now, the alarm response and patrol function will be irrevocably altered as service providers lean more heavily on technology and less on actual people – opting instead, to utilise tools such as remote monitoring and video verification. The big question is, are we seeing a short-term trend in response to changing market conditions, or is it a longer-term move towards cutting costs and rationalising resources?

According to Nick Frangoulis of Wilson Security, any shift away from the traditional use of security personnel towards a more technical solution should be more directly attributed to a decrease in the quality of the services offered by many (but not all) providers in the industry over the past ten years; as opposed to any real desire by the customer to embrace technological change.

“People generally don’t like change. They will stick with what they know unless they feel they have no choice but to change. This might be because they simply cannot find a service that they are happy with at a price point that is acceptable, or it might be because the alternative offers a significant enough cost-saving to make the transition worthwhile. However, as a general rule, people will stick with what they know. That said, over the past decade, more and more patrol companies have begun subcontracting to other licensees. It might be in an effort to save money or to cut corners – either way, it is a practice that is neither good for the customer nor the industry. Having seen many of these subcontractors over the years, it is no wonder that some customers might consider alternative solutions.

“The key to a successful patrol and response business is to be able to offer your clients a high-quality service that is sustainable over the long term at a price that is competitive. That can only be achieved through the use of employee-based networks, not through subcontracting. When you subcontract, you lose control of your quality,” said Nick.

According to John McMellan, Chief Executive Officer of Wilson Security, the future viability of a patrol and response business will depend largely on two factors: The quality of the business’s service offering and the business’s ability to recruit and, just as importantly, retain the right staff. “All the best systems, procedures and technology in the world won’t help if the business doesn’t have the right people to oversee, drive and deliver its service,” he said.

The traditional employment practice within the industry has always been to recruit people who already hold a security licence. However, the inherent flaw in this practice is that the HR or operations manager is limited in his or her choice of candidates. They can only choose from a small pool of available and qualified applicants. A more prudent practice might be to find the right people and then have them trained. It is a practice that has been common in military special forces units for decades. Rather than recruiting regular infantry soldiers, despite the fact that such people may already have good experience and a strong knowledge base upon which to build, many special forces units would rather recruit cooks, mechanics and clerks where possible. The theory is that such people come to the unit with a good attitude, a desire to learn and be better, but no preconceived notions of how things are supposed to be done.

The same might be said for a security provider. Where possible, hire on attitude rather than skill or experience as it is much easier to teach skills than it is to teach someone the right attitude. Similarly, a recruit with the best skills and a bad attitude will most likely only ever be a poor investment.

Once you have the right people, the key, according to Nick, is to keep them. There are two keys to retention: The first, is to provide employees with a vision; a clear career path that shows that person that he or she has a future within the organisation. The second, is to provide that same person with diversity and a wide range of skills and experience. A patrol officer who spends lengthy periods every night travelling around in isolation, conducting patrols and alarm responses, will burn out in a reasonably short period of time if left to his or her own devices.

People need to be kept fresh, to be stimulated and challenged. To do this, they need to be occasionally rotated off of the road and given stints in other positions such as working in the control room or the office. This not only keeps the employee fresh, it also gives them multiple skills and makes them more valuable while also giving the business a greater redundancy of systems.

It also helps to minimise the attrition rate within an organisation because staff are less prone to becoming bored. Furthermore, when more senior positions become available, you will have internal people that can fill them because they will have the necessary knowledge and skills across multiple areas of the business.

 

Technology

To try and ignore technology or claim that it is not going to have a significant impact on the future of the patrol and response sector, much like it has upon the rest of the security industry, would be akin to trying to claim that swimming won’t make you wet. Technology will undoubtedly revolutionise the patrol and response function, but not necessarily in the way that most people think.

Of course, remote video monitoring will have a significant impact on the alarm response market in the coming years but it is unlikely that the industry will see a dramatic shift away from human resources to electronic resources. A video alarm is great in that it can help to increase officer safety by limiting situations where patrol staff blindly walk into a situation. It can also help to decrease false alarms while speeding up the deployment of police to serious incidents. However, alarm response and, more particularly, patrols are about more than simply catching an offender. A good patrol service should be proactive. It is the role of the patrol officer to identify and negate potential issues before they become a problem. For example, to identify a door that has been left unlocked so that a break-in cannot occur, or to turn off machinery, taps or lights that have been accidentally left on, thus minimising the risk of theft, flood and fire. Regular patrols also act as a deterrent to would-be offenders.

Therefore, as it is unlikely that the future will see patrol officers replaced entirely in favour of video alarms. The greatest impact technology may have on the patrol and response sector in coming years will most likely be to help make human resources more effective. For example, a combination of GPS systems, customer management systems and workflow allocation software would enable a security company to know where all staff are at all times, what jobs require immediate attention and which jobs need to be reallocated, ensuring an efficient workflow. This would ensure that officers do not have to rush from one side of town to the other to get to jobs, and that patrols can be allocated to another officer if the assigned officer is delayed, and so on.

This technology also enables a layer of accountability that was not previously possible. It enables companies to track how long patrol routes are taking, how many visits each client receives each night and, therefore, how many patrols to bill, how long an officer was onsite and when. All of this information can be compiled at a moment’s notice and given to the client so that the client can see what they are actually paying for.

Furthermore, technology is providing more sophisticated, significantly-enhanced levels of officer safety. Mobile computer and communication systems mean that officers can communicate more effectively with control room staff, that officers can be tracked and monitored during incidents and that, in an emergency, officers can be located and given assistance in the fastest possible time.

The next few years will see significant change in the alarm response and patrol market, and those who wish to survive will need move quickly to ensure that they are in a position to take advantage of new technologies such as video monitoring, as well as improvements in officer safety, workflow management, transparency and accountability. Cutting costs and subcontracting or offering cheap services will always win a few clients in the short term. However, in the face of emerging technology, it is an unsustainable business model that will eventually lead to collapse as larger, smarter clients look for security organisations that can provide a stable, sustainable, accountable and transparent high-quality service.

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