Undoubtedly, you have heard the ads on TV or radio about the enhanced home/business security systems that provide two-way voice and one-way video surveillance upon demand (using Internet protocols). These new inexpensive systems and security/safety services are rapidly getting public acceptance from both consumers and first responders.

Recent studies have uncovered a growing trend in both public and private sectors to use these new security/safety services (voice and video) to confirm the alarm report. Numerous electrical and integrated systems contractors are already getting a substantial revenue stream by installing the terminal equipment and supporting infrastructure to activate these new expanded security/safety services.

Imagine the 911 operator getting a report similar to the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School with a verified threat (using two-way voice and one-way video surveillance—on demand). The emergency dispatcher would be able to confirm the report and, in many cases, provide additional information due to the live surveillance. This level of verification is important because of the significant number of false reports generated by automatic alarm systems (by customer error or by faulty detectors). Adding to those problems in the emergency reporting systems, we are seeing an increase in “swatting” incidents.

Swatting originates in prank calls to emergency services. Increasing sophistication of the techniques employed and the objectives, notably attempts to direct response units of particular types (in particular, attempts to cause SWAT teams to be dispatched to particular locations) spawned the term swatting. The term may have been coined by the FBI, which investigates these activities that are in the United States or are U.S.-related. Swatting incidents may range from large to small, from an entire SWAT unit to a fabricated police report meant to discredit an individual as a prank or personal vendetta. It is a misdemeanor or a felony in most states to report any untruth to law enforcement.

Swatting is also a new kind of prank being played on celebrities. Tom Cruise is the latest victim of jokers who call 911 to request a large police response at a celebrity's house, in the hope that a SWAT team will turn up on the doorstep.

Caller ID spoofing and phone phreaking techniques may be combined. 911 systems (including telephony and human operators) have been tricked by calls placed from cities hundreds of miles away. The caller typically places a 911 call using a spoofed phone number with the goal of tricking emergency authorities into responding to an address with a SWAT team to an emergency that doesn't exist.

The 12-year-old boy who was arrested in December for making prank swatting calls on Ashton Kutcher’s house and at least one other location last October was charged on several counts, among them, two felony counts of making false bomb threats and computer intrusion, the LA District Attorney announced. The juvenile’s name was withheld due to his age. The incident involving Kutcher’s house in Hollywood took place on October 3, 2012, and involved a false report that armed men were inside. The boy was also charged with regard to a call made one week later at a Wells Fargo Bank on Wilshire. There was no indication from the district attorney’s office that the boy would be charged in conjunction to a prank call reportedly made on the home of Justin Bieber.

The swatting trend continued in January, however, with prank calls made on the homes of the Kardashians, Tom Cruise and Chris Brown. No arrests have been made yet in conjunction with those incidents. The Beverly Hills Police Department said last month that they believed it was a case of copycat crimes. The LAPD has been investigating the crime spree in conjunction with the FBI. In other words, there may be more news on this disturbing trend. Other recent cases of prank or false reporting have challenged the authorities to pursue a stronger policy on verification.

How do we make our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces safer? The technology of Integrated systems can provide us with a better and safer way to report problems and get responses from our fire/police/emergency providers. Does the school where your children attend have a system to communicate a verified alarm to the local emergency services?

Valuable resources for emergency response should not be wasted.

For example: at a school, a police officer on site may cost more than $55,000 per year, and the budget is already anorexic.

An alarm system and service with two-way voice and one-way video surveillance—on demand may cost about $100–150 per month. Much of the required infrastructure and wiring is probably already installed in the schools. Multitasking facilities are part of the integrated systems design concept, which reduces costs and provides faster delivery of new services in the structure. How long would it take the PTA or school board to make it happen for your school?

Don’t wait for an emergency before you think about it.