Common False Alarms: Advice from the Experts

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In our false alarm series so far, we’ve discussed what you need to know and what pet owners can do to minimize false alarms.

This time around, we’re getting tips and information from emergency responders, the frontline members who have to respond to false alarms. They’ll touch on how problematic false alarms can be as well as share recommendations to reduce them.

The Problem with False Alarms

When a false alarm goes off, it causes serious issues for everyone involved. Arguably, no one is more impacted than emergency responders. As the number of home security systems continues rise, so do the number of false alarms, which have overwhelmed law enforcement.

Stacey Glaesmann, a volunteer with the Pearland (TX) Police Department and Neighborhood Watch Committee Chairperson, reported that since January 1, 2014, the Pearland PD has had a total of 1564 alarm calls, but only four of those were the result of an actual burglary.

The problem is not limited to Pearland. In a report on the economics of false alarms, Temple University Economist Simon Hakim stated that 94 to 99 percent of all police physical responses to burglar alarms are false. That’s a distressingly high percentage.

A Waste of Time and Manpower

It’s apparent that false alarms are wasting a huge chunk of emergency responders’ time, money and other resources. But worst of all, they’re diverting the authorities from real emergencies.

According to Elaine Revis, the City of Palm Bay’s (FL) Alarm Administrator, false alarms generally make up 12 to 18 percent of the total calls for service handled by police and firefighters, and the cost is very apparent.

“In 2013, the Palm Bay Police Department responded to 2,027 false alarms which cost 1,588.64 police man-hours,” reported Revis. “Dispatchers spent 1,040 man hours just handling these alarm calls. This translates into a $145,000 annual cost to taxpayers for police officers and dispatcher man hours alone. If all other factors were added to the calculation to determine the full cost of false alarms, this figure would increase to approximately $200,000.”

In addition, the sheer number of false alarms has also caused many emergency responders to become apathetic – it’s the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” response. This has led to slower response times and general indifference.

An apathetic response is not something you want to see in law enforcement, especially when there are more than 2 million burglaries in the U.S. occurring annually. Something needs to be done to reduce the number of false alarms.

Shared Responsibility to Reduce False Alarms

Hakim proposes a public-private response to fight this problem, suggesting higher fines, general education, and registration fees. Revis expressed similar sentiments.

“We expect alarm owners/operators to realize that they must also accept the responsibility for operating their system in such a manner as to prevent false alarms. In addition, alarm companies also must do their part to help reduce false alarms.”

To help remedy this, Revis shared a list of what alarm companies can do to reduce false alarms:

  • Make the alarm user aware of the applicable alarm ordinance and permit/registration requirements, as well as any fines or fees that may be imposed.
  • Ensure that the alarm user is fully trained on the use of their alarm system and relay how critical it is to assure that all users of the system are trained on its proper use.
  • Explain the alarm user’s responsibility to prevent false alarms and give the alarm user written false alarm prevention techniques.

How to Reduce False Alarms

As a whole, the home security industry needs to take steps to educate users, as Revis suggests. As a user, there are plenty of resources available – from local authorities or in websites like this blog – that provide an insight into best practices. And we’ll continue to serve as a resource.

Remember, reducing false alarms is particularly beneficial for emergency responders, but you benefit as well: you reduce the chance of fines for repeat offenses, you believe in your system more and you have a law enforcement force who will react more quickly.

Home Alarm Systems Still Relevant

Despite the problems with false problems, home security systems are simply the most effective way to protect your home.

“While false alarms can keep the police department extremely busy at times, home security systems are still a great way to deter would-be burglars,” said Officer Daniel Hamminga of the Pearland Police Department. “Simply having a security system sign placed in a visible location in your yard can prove to be an effective way to minimize the risk of having your home burglarized by crooks.”

Comments (1)

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  1. Drew

    Being unfamiliar with a system is a huge reason why there are false alarms so staying up to date with the technology is important. Thanks for the advice.

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