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ECHO slashes police response times and helps to prevent mistakes - five minutes with Stuart Bowman

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, 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 Stuart Bowman, Security Systems Manager for Essex Police, responsible for the implementation of the NPCC requirements for responsible security systems policy. He has been in his role since 1985 and has therefore overseen wholesale changes to the policing and security systems industries. Stuart is also a member of the

NPCC Security Systems Working Group, where he represents Essex and the Eastern Region Forces of Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.


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?

We’ve been doing electronic transfer for the last 10 years, and what we’ve found is that relying on telephones often results in misunderstandings (such as mishearing unique reference numbers (URNs)).

What’s more, many police force control rooms have a regular turnover of staff. This means that newer employees may not fully understand the terminology used in connection with alarm systems.

Both these issues can result in significant delays in the process of policing alarm activations.

Q: How can ECHO help to overcome these challenges?

ECHO solves this problem by eliminating the need for telephone conversations entirely - the call comes in from the ARC via ECHO onto our force’s command and control system. Provided the data relating to the alarm matches what we expect to receive (i.e., has a valid URN), the signal bypasses all call takers and an incident is created, before being directed to a dispatcher to allocate a response.

This is a much more efficient method and saves all parties a huge amount of time and effort. Our staff have so much more information to remember, so it’s a significant time saver.

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

Firstly, the number of false calls we have seen today versus, say, 20 years ago – the number is down from approximately 28,000 a year in around 2002 to approximately just 3,500 now.

Since operators can often go weeks in between alarm calls in the control room, getting them to understand the difference between confirmed and unconfirmed alarms can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

ECHO solves that problem as well – for the last 10 years we’ve seen our call handling times and responses reduced by a matter of between 2 and 4 minutes. In a genuine emergency where time is of the essence, this can truly mean the difference between life and death. For that reason, it’s difficult to overestimate how crucial the ECHO initiative is to us doing our jobs well and getting people the help they need.

The only signals that can be transmitted via ECHO to police control rooms are so-called Type A systems- no other alarms will have access to ECHO. Type B systems, on the other hand, would only qualify for a police response following a telephone call from someone physically at the scene who reports a crime in progress, which of course significantly increases the risk of unreported incidents. 

Q: What’s the difference between the Type A and B systems?

Type A systems are those that have been professionally installed by a policy-compliant installer, monitored by a policy-compliant ARC, registered with the police and issued with a valid URN, whereas Type B systems would encompass any that don’t fit those criteria. Happily, eventually all professionally installed systems with police response will go through ECHO, which should drastically improve the likelihood of all incidents being reported accurately and quickly.

Q: What more can be done to educate people?

Once the benefits of ECHO are understood, what it is we’re doing and why it’s being put in place, I have received nothing but enthusiastic responses from colleagues in the industry. In terms of spreading the word further, I think this is likely to happen organically by word of mouth – ECHO is a win-win for all involved, so it’s only a matter time before the word gets out more widely as people will naturally want to shout about the successes they’re seeing.

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

Our force, the Metropolitan Police and a couple of other forces are already ECHO-ready, but as more forces gradually join our ranks I fully expect them to experience the same benefits I have outlined.

The industry is also increasingly using ECHO to make their applications digitally - registering new systems, amending and cancelling data on particular URNs can all be done through ECHO. In fact, warning notices about false calls and withdrawal or deletion notices fall into the same category, so I predict ECHO will only continue to add value for ARCs, police forces and the general public.

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