Traditional professional and do-it-yourself (DIY) alarm systems are too limited to address today’s challenges of protecting people and property. To meet these challenges, systems must evolve from the detection of security breaches to active intervention and, ultimately, prevention.
Although technologies exist that allow systems to provide active intervention, there are a number of obstacles to overcome before they can be fully implemented. Once in place, though, these technologies will make security systems far more valuable for homeowners and businesses.
Traditional Security System Limitations
Historically, residential and small business security has been based on the concept of deterrence through detection. The user has a security system that notifies the police when an intruder enters the home or business. There might also be a siren that alerts neighbors. These systems were primarily developed to protect a homeowner’s property.
This model worked when police were able to respond quickly. In addition, intruders were usually breaking in to steal things, not harm people. However, a number of changes have occurred that make the deterrence-through-detection approach less effective.
Changing Environment Challenges the Old Model
Traditional security systems historically have high rates of false alarms. At times, as much as 98 percent of all notifications to monitoring centers are caused by factors other than actual intrusions. This resulted in many wasted trips by the police. Although there have been significant efforts made to address this challenge, the damage was done. Many local authorities now require verification before responding to an alarm and some fine providers or owners for false alarms. As a result, many systems now enable verification through audio, video or other methods. Although these improvements add value, today’s systems still provide only reactive responses to intrusions, causing costly delays.
Decreased Police Responsiveness
With increasing demands on law enforcement and the history of false alarms, police have become less responsive to residential and small business alarms, particularly if they are unverified. This has lowered the likelihood of intruders being caught and has emboldened them.
Self-Monitored DIY Systems
Some say that the new trend of DIY systems, self-monitored by homeowners, has reduced the likelihood of apprehension even further. In theory, the homeowner’s familiarity with the property, residents and potential guests would make them effective in identifying intruders. However, without 24/7 monitoring, what is the likelihood that an intruder will be caught? Will intruders even see this type of system as a deterrent?
Since the early 2000s, intruders have become more likely to confront and even harm homeowners than they were in the past. One explanation is that harsh penalties for causing injury during a break-in no longer provide the deterrence they once did. Another is that attitudes have changed. Whatever the reason, these changes have made traditional security approaches less effective.
The global pandemic will cause lasting changes in threats and security requirements. Cycles of lockdowns and unrest have altered the nature of security threats. Intervention-based solutions will be even more important as our environment becomes more dynamic and less predictable.
With the deployment of outdoor cameras came the realization that community watch strategies could be supplemented with technology, thereby making distributed security stronger. Police and neighbors can share information so that they can become better informed faster, giving them the ability to respond more effectively. Imagine, now, the ability to anticipate intruders, verifying in advance of events and taking preemptive action.
Evolution of Security Systems
Throughout the history of the security industry, systems have evolved as a result of two factors: new challenges posed by changes in human behavior and the costs of addressing those challenges. We would all like to live risk-free lives but the costs of attaining that are far greater than we can afford. Generally, we assess risks and spend whatever we feel those risks warrant. If we had a system that provided greater protection at a lower cost, we would certainly use it.
In the past, the amount that we were willing to pay for a security system was a function of how much it was worth to us to protect our property from theft and damage. Now, systems must evolve to protect ourselves and our families from harm. This increases their value, along with consumers’ willingness to pay more for them.
While we try to develop ways to address new threats to our physical safety, we are also faced with new threats to our identity. Intruders are not just coming at us physically but also virtually, which enables them to steal much more. Cyber-intrusion of our homes though connected devices allows thieves to disable security systems and physically enter the property with no risk of detection. Security systems have to further evolve and encompass the entirety of the residence’s network infrastructure as well as its physical borders.
Intervention: A New Approach
Preventing harm by making it impossible for an intruder to enter the premises is obviously the most effective approach, but, for the average homeowner, it is also very costly and restrictive. For most of us, building high walls around our property, hiring guards, and implementing other means of prevention are out of reach. Even the least intrusive form of prevention, deterrence through detection, is becoming less and less effective. We must find ways to intervene before an intrusion takes place in order to enable stronger deterrence or buy more time for authorities to respond.
As our security needs change, it is useful to think about security in terms of what we must protect. We need to protect our families, our property and our identities. Simply knowing that they are in danger (basic detection) is not sufficient. We need more comprehensive solutions. Faster and more effective responses help, but intervention and prevention will be crucial. Furthermore, approaches may need to be different for different needs. For example, for identity threats, just being aware of a threat (detection) will not help; what is needed is a blocking method (prevention) that saves us from harm. And we need to develop the equivalent for our person and property.
In the near future, we will see many instances of intervention technologies being developed and deployed. In its simplest form, it could be a warning. For example, when a camera detects an individual in a location that should be empty, a speaker could notify the individual that they have been seen, are being video recorded and will be apprehended unless they leave immediately. Going further, the system could turn on all the lights in the area and sound a siren.
In more advanced approaches, methods that affect all of the senses could be deployed to make it very unpleasant to continue a break-in or more difficult to get to the desired target in a home. These approaches could eventually provide preventive capabilities as well.
New capabilities will be needed to protect not just people and property at home, but also on the go. Methods exist to protect people from attack, like pepper spray and whistles, and cars and boats can be secured with alarms. But, as we become more mobile, and as new threats arise, we will need to develop and deploy new intervention technologies.
Role of Technology in Intervention
Technologies exist today that can enable intervention, with the most significant being artificial intelligence (AI). Here are a few ways that AI could be used:
- Better accuracy can be achieved through facial recognition, anticipating an event through monitoring of a variety of sensors and/or connecting with other systems, both internal and external.
- AI can create a seamless user experience by deducing that a certain event is likely and controlling the sensors that are involved with that event. For example, if a door is opened every day at 3 p.m. when the kids come home, the AI would use its historical knowledge and not trigger an alarm automatically.
- Current systems’ decision-making processes are binary (alarm/no alarm). By using intelligent scoring, events can be given a severity level that allows the response to be appropriate to the scenario.
- Inputs can come from external sources, such as weather forecasts, social events in the area, and more. This information can be used to set the system to different thresholds (e.g., a shock sensor during a storm).
- Warnings that notify an intruder before triggering an event, thereby deterring the intruder and/or gaining more time for an event to be verified. For example, if an intruder is trying to enter a house and trips a shock sensor, the system may sound a command to leave.
AI can thus decrease response times by giving law enforcement more confidence that a real event, not a false alarm, is in process. AI can also aid in facilitating deterrence, potentially eliminating the need for police to respond at all. These steps improve security and enhance the value of the security system.
Robotics represent another technological development that enhances detection, verification and intervention. Whether indoors or outdoors, we now have the ability to dispatch a robot or drone when a threat has been detected to gain situational awareness and, potentially, video evidence.
In terms of cybersecurity, we have the ability to not just detect but repel attacks. Imagine a scenario in which a cyber-intruder seeks to steal personal data but has their attempt deflected and their own system attacked and disabled.
Challenges to Intervention-Based Security
There are challenges to full implementation of intervention-based security. These technologies are not fool-proof and false alarms can still occur. This can result in negative consequences. For example, a smoke-like substance meant to disorient an intruder might be mistakenly deployed. In the best case, the premises would simply need to be cleaned, but in the worst case, innocent people could be affected. Also, systems that are not pet-proof could be activated by a dog running into a yard – and waking up the neighborhood by triggering lights and sirens. AI and other technologies can increase the reliability of devices, but it is likely that errors will still occur.
Another challenge, at least in the United States, concerns legal liability. For example, a criminal in a house who gets distracted by an intervention and trips, breaking an arm, might sue the homeowner and alarm company. This might be a remote possibility, but, in a society where lawsuits are common, it is a potential concern.
Finally, there is the expense. These systems will cost more than traditional ones, and the current trend in the industry is toward commoditization of systems. When price dominates, though, it is because of a perceived lack of value. If a user is as well off with an inexpensive, self-monitored DIY system as with a professionally monitored system, then where is the value in spending more? The security industry needs to redefine what security systems do and add the value of intervention in order to provide a new level of service.
There is a major need for traditional security systems to evolve. With so much change having occurred and with growing threats to people, identities and property, we need new types of solutions with better technology and lower cost. Implementation challenges exist, but the industry should be able to overcome those hurdles and help to better secure people, homes and businesses.
Haim Amir is the chief executive officer of Essence Group.