One of the phrases that is frequently used especially in light of security and safety events such as bank heist, fire in metro station is “why security and law enforcement officers failed to connect the dots?” suggesting that there were ample indications and alerts to draw the attention of the security officers at the control room to the fact that something suspicious is going on and hence take an action that could prevented the incident or at least mitigated its impact.
False alerts are cluttering the scene
Connecting the dots, like any major sports draft day, is easier in a hindsight. In the reality of the control room, it is nearly impossible to connect the dots in real time. The main disturbing element? False alerts.
An analysis that we have conducted across several of our customers revealed that false alerts constitute 92-96% of the events. Just to put things in perspective and get full appreciation of the problem, a control room of large financial institute that monitors hundreds of branches handles 30,000 false alerts per month!
These number are not unique to security organizations. Here are some numbers from a report on How to Combat False Emergency Calls that was done on 911 call centers in the US:
Due to this high cost incurred by police departments many of them have introduced fines for excessive false alarms.
The case of Seattle Police Department
Let’s go back in time a bit, The S.P.D responded to an average of 25,000 alarm calls a year with over 97% of them being false before the introduction of the Fee Schedule (see below) in 2004.
Today, the S.P.D responds to less than 11,000 false alarms a year. Despite the reduction, the response to these false alarms cost the City of Seattle an excess of one million dollars annually.
The City of Seattle uses a new fee structure that bill’s false automated burglar and activated panic alarms.
The new fee for a false automated alarm will be $115 and for a false activated alarm the fee will be $230.
False alarms are approximately 10% of activated alarms that caused a police response and about 50% of these alarms belong to commercial businesses.
How commercial business can reduce False alerts fines
At a large retail bank control room in Europe that monitors 800 branches and buildings, we were able to correlate alerts coming from multiple systems such as seismic sensors, broken glass detectors, motion detectors, etc. as well as provide video confirmation of alarms in real time. As a result, the bank has been able to reduce false alarms from ~20,000 to 1,200 (94% reduction) per annum for substantial savings that was estimated at 750,000 Euro.
Key take away
The reality is that the prime time usage of control room operator nowadays isn’t so much in connecting the dots but rather clearing the false dots that clutters their view and impair their situational awareness. As we have seen in the example above, big data analysis, cross correlation of multiple systems and sensors, can reduce more than 90% of the nuisance alerts.
Such practices require deliberate effort, but based on my experience, it can deliver tangible results that help operators focus on true events and make a real impact in creating safer and more secure environment. And yes, in such an environment connecting the dots can become a reality. Especially if you’re not color blind: