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ECHO is set to cut police response times, but ARCs need to be compliant – five minutes with Ken Meanwell

In an emergency, every second counts. However, most calls between Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) operators and police services are conducted manually with voice calling which, given the high volume involved, and despite having well-trained and dedicated call handlers in operation, can result in errors and delays.

The Electronic Call Handling Operations (ECHO) initiative is designed to transform the way ARCs communicate with blue light services. Digitising and automating call handling can avoid mistakes and slash police response times.

In this blog, we speak to Ken Meanwell, compliance manager with Police CPI, a police-owned organisation that provides the Secretariat for the NPCC Security Systems Group, responsible for overseeing the police response to alarm systems throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

We discuss the ongoing ECHO rollout, and the importance of ECHO-compliant alarm systems to police forces, ARCs, and the public.

Q. In situations where ECHO isn’t used, what are some of the challenges found within blue light emergency response to triggered alarms?

Whilst the system we currently have works well, it does have its setbacks. Activations passed through a traditional method will obviously take longer than they would if they were passed through ECHO, for example, as they rely on using a telephone system to phone the police control room and pass on the details of the incident. And there’s a risk that words or locations might be misunderstood; the caller might be asked to repeat the details of the situation if the call taker wasn’t able to hear them correctly.

Q. How can ECHO help to overcome these challenges?

Fundamentally, it’ll eliminate phone conversations. Alarms will be passed digitally from the ARC straight to the police dispatcher, completely cutting out the call taker. Every police control room has someone that receives calls, whether they’re 999, 101, or in this case, alarm signals. Cutting them out of the process means the alarm gets sent straight to the police dispatcher for an immediate response. It’s a lot more efficient, it’s a lot quicker, and it will revolutionise the way the police respond to alarms in the future.

Q. What other benefits does ECHO bring to all stakeholders involved?

There are advantages for everyone concerned. It saves ARCs time, because they don’t have to pick up a phone, and it’s quicker for the police control to monitor incidents. The biggest beneficiary will be the end user, though, because they’ll get a much faster response from the police. If someone’s premise is being burgled, or they’re at serious risk of assault, it’s vital the police get there quickly. ECHO will change the way they attend. In the trials we’ve held since it went live in October 2021, we’ve cut down attendance time by up to four minutes, so it’s already a massive improvement. During the first trial between Banham ARC and Essex Police, for instance, everything went through in 10 seconds. Roger Kay, Head of ARC, said he’d been waiting years for this to happen.

Q. How does ECHO differ to professionally installed police monitored system such as a DIY self-install or even just an APP based system?

Only alarm systems that are compliant for police response and have URNs issued will be able to pass activations via ECHO. DIY, APP based and all other alarm system that are not compliant for police response will not be able to use the ECHO network under any circumstances.

Q. Why should installers ensure that products are ECHO compliant?

The biggest incentive for companies to comply is that, if they don’t, they’re at risk of not getting a police response. To their credit, the ARCs already involved are keen to move on with it. It hasn’t proven difficult for anyone. However, the NPCC has said that ARCs will have three months to get on board with each police force as it joins. If they don’t, they’ll be in danger of losing their police compliance.

Q. What more can be done to educate people?

There’s a great deal going on in the background to raise awareness. The ECHO board is doing a lot of work to ensure ARCs, alarm installers, alarm maintainers, and the police themselves are fully aware of what’s happening, and when. We’ve been raising awareness at security events recently, for example, to make sure people understand the benefits of ECHO and what they need to do to be compliant. There’s regular dialogue between the ECHO board and companies like BT Redcare, too, to make sure the message is conveyed correctly. It’s just a matter of chipping away to ensure everyone’s on board, and that there are no setbacks.

Q. What’s the future of ECHO / alarm signalling?

We currently have three police forces on board, and we’ve got a long list of others asking if they can be next. I think we’ll see most police forces connected to ECHO by the end of 2023. In terms of connections, we’re currently looking at intruder and holdup alarms across the country. In the future, we’ll focus on lone worker alarms, and detector-activated CCTV systems. It’s a big job, though. You can’t do it all overnight.

To find out about our ECHO compliant portfolio click here or get in touch with your Regional Account Manager.


Regional Account Managers:

Garry McCallum

(Scotland and Northern Ireland)

07971 821134

Neil Richards

(North West)
07889 978251

Salim Saleh
(North East)
07795 980019

Joanne Watkins

(South West & Wales)
07483 314331

Raj Patel

(Central & Midlands)
07889 644413

Raff Miah

(East Anglia & North London)
07484 928326

Baz Choudhury

(South East & South London)
07703 502155


Regional Desk Based Account Managers:

Rebecca Mellor

07483 951833

Naomi Helps

07483 437444