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Alarm Receiving Centres: The Hub of the Service

May 23, 2024

Alarm receiving centres (ARCs) play a vital role in protecting people, property and assets against intruders, vandalism, damage and fire by providing a rapid signal identification and actioning service. So what makes them so essential? 

Since the emergence of electronic CCTV and access control technology, ARCs have been the mainstay of the security industry. Commonly defined as remote monitoring facilities where security operators receive data, signals and alarms, ARCs are usually manned by trained experts on a 24/7 basis, where they can assess a situation as it’s happening and decide on the best course of action to deal with an incident.

Intruder alert

Intruder alarms are widely recognised by insurance companies and, in some cases, considered a prerequisite to obtaining cover. However, with locally signalled systems activation is usually only indicated by an audible warning, such as a siren, which is located on the outside of premises. Response to such systems relies on someone nearby both hearing the alarm and then taking action to investigate its cause or alert others. 

Although an intruder alarm can act as a deterrent, alert property owners to emergencies and indicate that action needs to be taken, they are often ignored. A 2015 survey by GoCompare revealed that 76 per cent of the 2,070 UK residents questioned had ignored a building’s intruder alarm. The most common reason was that the person ‘wasn’t sure what to do’ (26 per cent), while 24 per cent said they thought ‘somebody else would deal with it’.

So, although traditional alarms may alert staff or passers-by to an incident, they offer limited protection when used on their own. This is where an ARC comes in, as it can vet an incoming alarm signal and initiate agreed escalation procedures, if registered for police response, notify them so that necessary action can be taken.

Setting the standards

Although no two ARCs are the same, there are minimum standards that they have to be built and operated to. That said, when choosing an ARC it is vital to select one with the requisite industry accreditations. BS 5979 and the more recently introduced BS EN 50518, which has superseded BS 5979, and BS 9518 are recognised and accepted by the police service and security auditing bodies, while BS 8418 covers the installation and remote monitoring of detector-activated surveillance technology. 

ARCs can also hold National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) certifications. To obtain these accreditations ARCs have to adhere to all relevant British and European standards for technical competency, operate formal internal procedures and audit processes to give greater customer assurance, demonstrate a long-term track record of performance, and provide evidence of reliability and stability. 

False alarm

Eliminating false alarms is increasingly important and reputable ARCs can filter them out to ensure that only genuine emergencies are escalated. False alarms generated from traditional security systems can result in the police response being removed from those sites, while the time and effort required to gain reinstatement takes up resources and can leave sites exposed for significant periods of time.

Multitasking

Although ARCs are primarily used for the monitoring of intruders, CCTV, access control and fire detection systems, they are increasingly being used in a wide range of other applications. These include lone worker safety solutions via smartphone apps, dedicated safety devices and body worn cameras, environmental monitoring such as temperature sensors and lift alarms, gas alarms in waste treatment plants, freezer alarms in shops and patient safety systems in healthcare environments. Other services include remotely assisting clients that wish to set and unset their sites depending on occupancy and activities being carried out.

Using an ARC can also introduce greater operational efficiencies. For example, it isn’t necessary to assign manned guards to operate barriers for the occasional site visitor, carry out temperature checks, conduct internal patrols or provide CCTV monitoring and alarm setting. Similarly, using two person teams to manage access control and complete site patrols on an alternating basis is not usually required. Instead, using an ARC results in reduced resources and therefore costs required on site.

In retail environments, using remote investigation, whereby CCTV cameras move into pre-set configurations to provide an instant overview of what’s happening, is highly effective. A centralised management system also provides an audit trail so that, if required, it is possible to prove that a predefined strategy was adhered to.

Looking forwards

Greater collaboration and cooperation between the emergency services and ARC operators help to deter crime and facilitates a faster police response. Funded by the private sector, the Electronic Call Handling Operations (ECHO) project is a significant technological advancement in the handling of intruder and hold-up alarm signals. It is available to emergency services across the UK that are ready to accept transmissions.

 In the event of an activation from a monitored installation, an ECHO connected ARC receives a digital alarm signal transmission direct from the premises. The signal is verified and transmitted directly to the relevant police service via ECHO, negating human intervention and enhancing the potential for rapid intervention.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also having an impact, with the former creating deep learning algorithms that can differentiate between genuine and false alarms, and allow ARCs to increase their accuracy. At the same time, video analytics technology facilitates the aggregation and analysis of data by presenting information in statistical reports and graphs to identify when and where, for example, incidents are likely to occur, events are commonly triggered and who is using particular lone worker safety devices.

Safety first

Companies that offer ARC services must be able to demonstrate to customers that their data is protected, accessible and stored securely. The most effective way to do this is via certification to ISO 27001 – the international standard for information security management systems (ISMS). An ARC with ISO 27001 certification will be able to guarantee that only authorised, competent and security screened personnel are provided with access to data for retention and/or processing purposes and can demonstrate robust policies around information security management.

As part of a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), a service provider should describe the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing; assess necessity, proportionality and compliance measures; identify and assess risks to individuals, and identify any additional measures to mitigate those risks. Once a DPIA has been completed, a client must then decide whether the service provider can reduce information security risks to an acceptable level, appropriately protect the information, ensure that employees comply with applicable legislative and regulatory requirements, and provide documentary evidence in the form of records to show that the processes are being followed correctly.

A tailored approach

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to selecting an ARC and organisations looking to procure these services need to carry out a thorough assessment of what a potential partner can offer and, just as importantly, ask the right questions. BS EN 50518 and ISO 27001 are vital, as is SSAIB and/or NSI certification, while without a URN the police may not respond immediately. Utilising an ARC means that no matter the time of day, someone is watching and, when needed, can ensure a better level of emergency service.