(This article was first published for IFSEC Global in May 2014)
An alarm raised by a Lone Worker or other vulnerable person is a cry for help – for a response. It is in the ARC that the response is organised and without it the device or app which initiates the alarm is of limited value.
The aim of this article is to shed some light on ARCs and their increasing importance in protecting Lone Workers and other vulnerable people.
Estimates put the number of Lone Workers in the UK at around 6 million.
What started in the UK some 10 years ago as a service for them and their employers has expanded to include other vulnerable people. While Lone Workers are still the main application in the UK, there is increasing use of these services in countries where individuals are at significant risk from attack.
International travellers also use these services but providing a response for an individual in another country is still a problem. Last year there were over 50 million journeys abroad by UK citizens. No doubt similar figures apply to other nations. During that period there were 19,000 applications for assistance to the Foreign & Commonwealth office.
The technology developed for managing Lone Worker alarms is flexible. More applications have developed to help other vulnerable people including care for the aged, treating patients at home, domestic violence victims, those living in hostile environments and international travellers.
The flexibility is based on the capabilities of the monitoring software in the ARC and what it can do with the location, identity and situation information provided by the device or app.
How it works
The four elements to such services, which combine man and machine, are:
- The individual with a problem
- The device or app which generates and communicates the alarm message and opens an audio link
- The software in the ARC which receives the message, presents it in a useful form to the operator together with other pre-recorded personal and other information about the individual and their instructions
- The operator who combines their judgment and experience with the available information, including that from the audio link, to request the appropriate response
The ARC operator and the monitoring application work together with the information needed to initiate a response; location, identity and situation. These are essential to a) verify the alarm as genuine and b) give the information necessary to provide a proportionate response.
At the ARC – the monitoring application
For the purposes of this article there are three types of alarm monitoring software:
- Commercially available
- Dedicated Lone Worker
- Web based solutions
The majority of ARCs use commercially available alarm management software to monitor intruder alarms, fire alarms, remote CCTV and vehicle theft. They integrate all alarm sources into the one operator monitoring station.
This works well because the alarm source is generally machine initiated and, in general terms, the operator follows an on-screen script or instructions to deal with them, often within a couple of minutes.
However Lone Worker alarms are different in that the alarm is, with the exception of time out and man down alarms, initiated by a person who needs the operator to remain in contact via a 2-way audio link throughout the alarm, from initiation to completion. By their nature Lone Worker alarms are unpredictable as to situation and can last for some time. This goes against the basics of other types of alarm where the finances are based on maximum connection numbers and minimum operator numbers.
For this reason two Lone Worker companies have their own dedicated Lone Worker ARCs with their own custom-built monitoring applications and their highly trained operators.
Web based monitoring
Lately providers of Smartphone apps have developed their own web based monitoring applications. These are more flexible and can be integrated into an ARC.
These companies, and there are only two or three of them at present, develop software that is more flexible in application, easier to upgrade and develop. They can therefore include a wider range of services based on their ability to use the available information and present it in different ways, including the benefits of more advanced workforce management and direction.
Such web based systems are more able to operate internationally and put the focus where it should be – in the monitoring centre.
The UK ARC is a sophisticated entity governed by British and EU standards. For those living in more hostile environments, and for international travellers, web based solutions are likely to be of increasing importance where the accompanying language issues demand the interoperability between operators in different countries with different languages. For them he ability to transfer alarm details across the web and across international borders using the same monitoring software, albeit in different languages, may well become vital.
The ARC operator
The variety of human situations which can lead to an alarm is almost limitless. Therefore the most effective operators are those who have the knowledge and experience to apply their judgment to any given situation. This is not something for everyone particularly considering the violent situations they might have to listen to while maintaining a calm and competent demeanour.
Operators are the ‘friend’ of those in trouble and may be the only link between them and disaster.
For this reason the Lone Worker ARC operator is a special type of person and should be selected accordingly. They may be dealing with social alarms at one moment and extreme situations at another where their knowledge, experience and judgement, applied without time to refer to someone else, may be critical.
Bearing in mind the potential for extreme situations it is right that there is some control over who provides these services and the operators in the ARCs who will be looking after your employees. Also the emergency services do not want the sort of false alarm rates that occurred, and still occur, with intruder alarms.
In the UK the relevant British Standard is BS8484 which is demanded by the police for their highest level of response. Part 6 applies to the ARC, the operator and their training.
The British Security Industry association, (BSIA), has a dedicated Lone Worker section which represents the most responsible end of suppliers who have put significant resources into achieving the standard. The BSIA also offers extra protection to customers.
It is in the interest of responsible organisations to choose suppliers who can demonstrate certification to the standard, not mere ‘compliance’. To meet the standard in the UK ARCs must be certified to both BS8484 Part 6 and Category 2 of BS5979.
Lone Worker alarm Technology has expanded to include other personal safety and security services for a wider range of potentially vulnerable people.
What happens in the ARC and the experience, training and knowledge of the operator is critical to a successful outcome to both extreme and mundane situations.
Web based monitoring solutions, with their inherent flexibility, are gaining momentum, especially internationally.
Anyone using Lone Worker services is well advised to use companies that are certificated to the British Standard for Lone Worker alarms, BS8484.
1 May 2014