An alarm is only as good as the sharpened stick it’s attached to. In other words, who will come once your house alarm has activated? This post was originally written for South African homes, however, there are armed response services the world over, no matter where your country is ranked relative to crime levels. The principles discussed in this post are applicable to anyone considering an alarm response subscription.
The response process is universal. An action in or around your home triggers an alarm sensor. The alarm’s control system interprets the signal and a transmitter sends a wireless signal (in some instances this may be a system wired through phone lines). The signal is captured in a control room and is interpreted by software, which tells an operator that your alarm has been triggered. The operator dispatches an officer to investigate the alarm.
Alarm Response Services Vary Around the World
The type and style of response to alarms vary on a continuum from country to country. An example of the more inert side of the continuum is Ireland, where alarm response services dispatch an unarmed guard to your home. In some parts of the USA, the local police department will respond to the activation. South Africa exists on the extreme end of this continuum. According to the Institute for Security Studies Violent Crime Statistics Fact Sheet, homes in the Gauteng province experience an average of 24 house robberies every day. To make matters worse, the ratio of police to citizens is lower than the global average. This has resulted in the creation of the armed response industry, where thousands of armed officers are deployed in response to alarms, and fill the significant crime-fighting gap left by the inadequate and incompetent police services.
Choosing an Armed Response Company to Protect Your Home
Choosing an armed response company for your home or business is not a casual decision. It’s not the same as picking the wrong landscaping company that might not trim the hedge the way you wanted or an interior designer that as an obsession with yellow lampshades. Poor service from a reaction company could cost you your hard-earned possessions and irreplaceable sentimental items. Beyond the loss of assets, you may need to cope with the life-damaging trauma inflicted by surviving a home invasion. Additionally, insurance companies may have specific stipulations that will affect their payout processes. While an armed response service is not the total solution to the threat of robberies and burglaries, picking the right service can add one more sphere of protection around your home or business.
Some Common Mistakes
Luckily, it’s possible to apply a little science to this decision-making process. Let’s look at some mistakes that homeowners commonly make:
- Beware of the big brand name. For some reason, people feel secure going with a name that they know well. However, it’s what’s behind the name that is going to make a difference to your family in a crisis. Don’t be a magpie. Avoid the bling of the big name and flashy vehicle. Large brand providers may have found a way to scale quality services countrywide, or they may impartially regard your family as just another number on a profit and loss report. Use the questions below to cut through the brand glitter and get to the actual quality of the service.
- Beware of being caught in alarm deals that tie you down. A common marketing ploy for security companies is to offer a “free” alarm system tied in with the armed response contract. This sounds like a great offer. You get a brand-new alarm system and response, what a bonus! However, consider this: The company needs to make its money back for that (bottom of the range) “affordable alarm”. To do this they will probably lock you into a two- or three-year contract, designed to pay them back for the system. This is a great client retention strategy. Now suppose you discover their service is appalling. You arrive home late from your family holiday and discover that someone has rearranged the inside of your home with a food blender. To make matters worse, no one responded to the alarm. The company’s management is hard to reach and takes ages to investigate your complaint. They don’t really need to care because they know you have to pay for that alarm system, now installed on the walls of your home. The “free” alarm has made your furious cancellation that much harder to do. Owning your own alarm system, even if it is going to be a bottom of the range system, gives you a little more leverage over choosing your service provider.
- Beware fly-by-nights that dazzle you with cars and social media dominance: So, there’s a new armed response company on the block. They have zippy looking cars and big guys that hang out on your corner drinking their morning coffee while they discuss the recent Connor McGregor fight. When something happens, they’re the first to post about it on the local social media; even arrive after the action has taken place. These guys have got to be good, right? Now consider the following: Do they have a sustainable business model that will guarantee that they will still be supplying a quality response to your neighborhood in five years’ time? After all, someone’s got to pay for those tattoos. Do they have a legitimate base of operations and a control room, or do they run off a cell phone app that will fail in the event that a major cell provider goes down for a few minutes? Do they pay their employees the proper industry rates and offer the correct and legal benefits for what can be a life-threatening job? Unhappy employees are less likely to go beyond the call of duty.
Quality Checklist for Choosing a Provider
Now let’s look at what should be included in your package in order for the response company to give you a decent service. This checklist will work best if you get more than one response provider to come to your home or business for a quote.
- In South Africa we say “Local is lekker” (Click here for a definition of this word): Companies that have a local footprint tend to offer better reaction times. They are locally invested; they know the problem spots and understand the crime dynamics of your area. The disadvantage of some of these companies is that they are often filled with the “fly-by-night” category of the business. It’s Uncle Jim who just left the force and is looking for a way to ease his way into retirement. Sustainability is as important as quality of service, so before deciding, dig deeper.
- Is the owner or a senior manager accessible to you; the customer? Security is an imperfect science. Technology fails and even with the best of intentions, men on the ground can make mistakes. Has the owner achieved a “god-like” status and therefore be too busy polishing his golf stokes to interact directly with you? Are you certain that someone with decision-making power will take ownership when things go wrong? Remember, it’s way better to be Joe Soap than John Doe.
- Find out what their average response time is: It’s unrealistic to tie a response company down to a guaranteed reaction time. Response time is affected by a range of factors such as traffic patterns, the size of the operational area and even thunderstorms. Also, what are the reaction officers busy with when your alarm goes off? Perhaps they are responding to a higher priority emergency! To clear this issue, ask the following questions and compare the answers you receive:
- How does the response company prioritize alarms?
- How do they deal with alarms during stormy conditions, when high winds and debris cause everyone’s beams to go off at once?
- What is the ratio of clients to response vehicles?
- What is the policy concerning threats outside your property? Crime doesn’t start inside your property. It is initiated on the street where criminals assess a property. The bad guys need to decide whether breaking into your castle is worth the reward for risking their freedom and their lives. Pose this question to a prospective security company: “If I spot a suspicious vehicle parked on the corner of my road, will you dispatch someone to check it out?”. Some companies will only attend directly to your property. Companies that understand threats in public space have a better chance of keeping your home safe.
- Are they adopters of new technology? Like all technology, security technology is constantly changing. Ask a prospective security provider what new technology they have adopted in the last two years and how this technology has affected their service to clients.
- Do they offer any public space monitoring? Most crime is a three-phase process. Firstly, criminals enter your suburb in a vehicle, as street pedestrians, or on foot through a greenbelt area. Secondly, the crime is committed. Thirdly, they flee the area; quite often via the same route that they entered. Most response solutions focus on the second step of the process, reacting to the crime after the deed is done by rushing to your property when the alarm or panic button is activated. Crime prevention, however, takes place during the first part of the process. The goal is to disrupt criminals when they enter the suburb. Some of the more common methods used include proactive street patrolling, live camera monitoring and even license plate monitoring. Ask the company whether they use any of these methods. Pose this as an open question and ask the representative to provide an example of this that you can see for yourself. If you don’t see it in your neighborhood every day, then the criminals aren’t seeing it either.
- Do they have access to additional services? Your aging mother takes a fall in the kitchen and breaks her hip. She manages to reach for the panic button. Does the company have access to a medical service or a technical service when your garage door won’t open? Once again chatting to a few providers will help you make the best decision for the safety of your family.
- Are they accredited? Regulation rules vary in different countries. Security companies are usually regulated and licensed to an authority (often named with a tedious acronym). These organizations will license and accredit the company and serve to create standards within the industry. Organizations such as England’s SIA and South Africa’s PSIRA, check that the company and its employees have the necessary qualifications. They also give you an authority that you can refer to should you receive substandard service.
In the Hands of Strangers
The final objective of the exercise is to give your home or business alarm some proper teeth. To do this you need to put your possessions and sometimes your life in the hands of strangers. Castaway the glossy brochure, look that salesman in the eye and dig until you are satisfied that you truly will be getting an extra layer of authentic protection.
References & Further Reading
Businesstech. (2015, August 13). South Africa’s police force vs the world. Retrieved from Businesstech: https://businesstech.co.za/news/general/95069/south-africas-police-force-vs-the-world/
Institute For Security Studies. (2017). Violent crime Statistics 1 April 2016 – 30 March 2017. Institute For Security Studies.
Naidoo, S. (N.D). 43 South African Slang Expressions You Need to Know. Retrieved from Pink Pangeo: https://pinkpangea.com/2016/02/travelers-guide-south-african-slang/
Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority. (2020). PSIRA. Retrieved from PSIRA: https://www.psira.co.za/psira/
Security Industry Authority. (2020). About us. Retrieved from Security Industry Authority: https://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Pages/about-us.aspx