Common False Alarms: What You Should Know

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False alarms are the bane of the home alarm industry. They’re a pain for companies to handle, they annoy homeowners, and they waste the time and resources of emergency responders.

In Rockland County, New York, the Nanuet Patch reported that fire false alarms have become such a nuisance that the Fire Chiefs Association and Office of Fire and Emergency Services have embarked on a campaign to stop them.

Between 2009 and 2012, one out of every three calls local volunteer firefighters responded to was unnecessary.

“The volunteer fire departments in Rockland are getting overwhelmed with tons of false fire alarms,” said Chris Kear, the county’s Deputy Fire Coordinator. “These responses are a waste of resources, money and volunteers’ time. In 2012 alone, there were 2,905 recorded false fire calls! Way too many.”

The Cause of False Alarms

The false alarm problem is not only affecting fire departments like those in Rockland County, it’s affecting counties across the entire country. It’s also not limited to fire alarms, either; burglar alarms are also causing issues. In fact, most burglar alarms that law enforcement respond to are false — some reports cite upwards of 90 percent of all alarm calls are false.

What’s the cause of these pesky false alarms? In Rockland County, false alarms are caused by a number of reasons:

In those years, 15 percent of the false alarms were caused by contractors, working either in homes or in commercial properties.

The rest were caused by a whole host of things: malfunction of fire alarm and sprinkler systems, malicious activations such as alarm pull boxes being pulled, defective smoke and heat detectors, problems with fire alarm panels, or aging alarm systems.

Human error—the contractor who doesn’t shut off the system before starting to work, the cooking mishaps—count for a lot of the unnecessary alarms.

Human error also plays a large part in false burglar alarms. Sometimes it’s due to poor positioning of a sensor, such as when a door/window sensor is not aligned with the magnet. Or it could be a pet that wandered in front of a motion detector. Although this provides proof that a sensor works, false alarms are a headache.

The Negative Effect of False Alarms

As Kear stated, false alarms are a waste of resources, money and time, whether it’s a fire or burglar alarm. In Rockland County, for instance, the false fire alarms have caused a number of issues:

  • Increased risk to firefighters and citizens. In 2010, 19 percent of all firefighter deaths occurred during the response or returning from a fire call. When firefighters are in the response or in returning phases from any call, they are at risk.
  • Every time a fire department responds to a fire call it costs money. This can come in the use of fuel for the apparatus and the wear and tear on the apparatus and equipment themselves.
  • Responding to alarms which are deemed unnecessary can also influence the overall safety of the community by diverting fire department resources from actual emergencies.
  • Increased false alarms have a negative effect on morale. Volunteers who join fire departments do so to serve and protect their community. The majority are very dedicated. Responding to false alarms, many of which are avoidable, is discouraging. That can affect their prompt and consistent response to fire alarms.
  • An unintended consequence of responding to false alarms is that it can create complacency amongst the volunteers.
  • Last and most important: it’s a dangerous waste of the firefighters’ time.

In addition, false alarms can create a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” sentiment.

Think about all the times you’ve heard a car alarm, only to brush to it off as someone’s car gone awry. Homeowners who repeatedly hear false alarms often begin to ignore the sounds completely. This is obviously a problem, as an ignored alarm could be a real emergency.

The Value of a Security System

As the events in Rockland County demonstrate, false alarms are a problem. They do not, however, diminish the value of a home security system: there is simply no better way to protect your home.

But, what can be done to reduce this ongoing issue?

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be taking a look at common false alarm triggers and what can be done – by both the consumer and alarm companies – to reduce the number of false alarms.

Comments (28)

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  1. David Downing

    On Wednesday morning the motion detector created a false alarm I was woke up by the police department calling my phone asking me if I lived at my address they said they saw my car there but I told them that since I am a flight attendant I’m not home I reset the motion detector I called front point right now they are having me do a cabinet test I’m not too sure if that’s going to work or not but since I travel all the time and my house is already been burglarized I’ve only had the system just a little over two months and it’s already given false alarms before I reset the motion detector the application on my phone said that the motion detector was always active previously if it didn’t detect any emotion it would say Idle. The police department isn’t very amused by the false report

  2. Belita Anatalio

    My alarm went off at 4 AM and 5 AM even though it was not armed. I had guests that I thought might forget I had an alarm. It was frustrating that no one at Frontpoint could determine why that happened. I insisted on having my control panel replaced even though it was only 2 days old. Now the new one just went off at 3 AM. I don’t even have motion sensors. I just disarmed it for the rest of the night.

    • Katie Rynex

      Belita, thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. We want to make sure your system is working as intended and we will be having one of our Support Supervisors reach out to you to assist. Thank you again, and we look forward to speaking with you soon.

  3. Nadeane

    I just had an alarm go off while I’m home. FP couldn’t tell me which alarm it was (though I later found it on the website). My best guess is that it was the cat. But he only weighs 11 pounds – I was told by the salesperson that the motion sensors are pet proof up to 40 lbs. Does anyone know about small cars setting off motion sensors?

    • Valerie Saponara

      Nadeane, that’s a good question. You’re correct in understanding that out motion sensors are safe for pets up to 40 lbs. The restriction is there because most 40 lb animals are a certain height and generally are no more than 3 ft tall. However, if you have a cat that is jumping up from the ground onto tables, shelves, or chairs it will look like a cat that is 4ft or 5ft tall and will definitely set your sensor off. If you know your cat is jumping up onto things we suggest keeping your cat in another room or re-position that sensor so it wont be pointed directly at surfaces your cat likes to jump on. Hope this helps explain things a bit better.

  4. marlene bennett

    Sunday we were leaving the house and I hit frontpoint. It was saying something about a key, also my car started honking. I shut off the detector, and car stopped. Turned it back on and all repeat. I disarmed what was on and hit motions again. Alarm was fine, then car shut off again. When I got into the car, I had warning on disfunction of traction control. Could not get it off, Dave said move away from house and see what happens. Once I turned the corner everything in the car went to normal. I know it was the frontpoint, just don,t know why except I had the car in front of house running, whereas all other times the car was in back and in garage. Know of any reason why this happened?

    • Jamie Botzer

      Hi Marlene, I’m so sorry that you’re having issues! I shared your comments with our Customer Support team and someone should be contacting you soon to help you troubleshoot. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this soon. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  5. Bill Thomas

    I am enjoying my system over my previous telephone system. Frontpoint personnel are very helpful.

    One of my glass breakage sensors kept going off. I have 2 poodles and a parrot. The one poodle has a big mouth, God love her! But I had to deactivate it and FrontPoint advised me it was probably the parrot setting it off. But I have a motion sensor in the same area so the area is protected.

    Frontpoint offered me a refund on the sensor and emailed me a mailing label. It was their immediate suggestion not mine.

    Bill Thomas

  6. Bill Thomas

    I am enjoying my system over my previous telephone system. Frontpoint personnel are very helpful.

    One of my glass breakage sensors kept going off. I have 2 poodles and a parrot. The one poodle has a big mouth, God love her! But I had to deactivate it and FrontPoint advised me it was probably the parrot setting it off. But I have a motion sensor in the same area so the area is protected.

    Frontpoint offered me a refund on the sensor and emailed me a mailing label. It was their immediate suggestion not mine.

    Bill Thomas

  7. charlie h

    Had a FP motion sensor false alarm a few times. I felt terrible but the staff at FP were very understanding and helpful. Those two cats of mine really know how to set it off. I can’t seem to find the perfect placing.

    • Jamie Botzer

      Charlie, your cats sound like a handful! If you’d like to give our Customer Service line a call, they can help troubleshoot the placement of your motion sensor. The number is 1-877-602-5276. Keep us posted!

  8. Ana Hernandez

    We’ve had two different glass break sensors go off falsely when we were away but no broken glass anywhere.

  9. Ana Hernandez

    We’ve had two different glass break sensors go off falsely when we were away but no broken glass anywhere.

  10. Jim Smith

    I had two false alarms. It was when we were away from home (motion sensors were on). Turned out to be a faulty sensor. Front point had me do a test to verify it was bad. We received a new sensor in a few days and the system works fine now.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Jim – sorry to hear about your inconvenience with the false alarm – we work hard to help our customers avoid these nuisances. But I am glad to hear that we responded quickly with the appropriate fix, and that all is well now. As we like to say, things do happen, since no alarm company (or technology) is perfect. The real test of a service provider, in our opinion, is how a company responds when things are not 100%. In that regard, it appears we did what we always try to do, which is to restore your peace of mind – in a hurry. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Jim Smith

    I had two false alarms. It was when we were away from home (motion sensors were on). Turned out to be a faulty sensor. Front point had me do a test to verify it was bad. We received a new sensor in a few days and the system works fine now.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Jim – sorry to hear about your inconvenience with the false alarm – we work hard to help our customers avoid these nuisances. But I am glad to hear that we responded quickly with the appropriate fix, and that all is well now. As we like to say, things do happen, since no alarm company (or technology) is perfect. The real test of a service provider, in our opinion, is how a company responds when things are not 100%. In that regard, it appears we did what we always try to do, which is to restore your peace of mind – in a hurry. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Jerry Pancake

    We had a false alarm in late February with a FP motion sensor while we were away traveling to which the police responded. Needless to say, it was a nervous experience being a thousand miles away, fearing a break in, only to discover it was nothing. Also, we have been warned in writing by the police due to the false alarm.

    What causes motion sensors to report false alarms? How do we prevent these?

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Jerry – there are a number of reasons why it could happen, but it’s unusual with the sensors we provide – they are known for being stable and reliable. Please contact the Support team, and they can help trouble shoot the issue. It may have to placement, or environmental issue in the home – hard to tell with going through a series of questions. We are here to help, so please contact us. Thanks!

  13. Jerry Pancake

    We had a false alarm in late February with a FP motion sensor while we were away traveling to which the police responded. Needless to say, it was a nervous experience being a thousand miles away, fearing a break in, only to discover it was nothing. Also, we have been warned in writing by the police due to the false alarm.

    What causes motion sensors to report false alarms? How do we prevent these?

  14. Akos Szilvasi

    One of my reasons to drop ADT for FrontPoint is the remote monitoring and the low battery level warning. I had many false alarms when the ADT’s system batteries ran low. The only prevention was the wasteful and annoying replacement of all batteries every year.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Akos – thanks for your comment. Just one more reason why so many people are moving to FrontPoint. The list of reasons gets longer of all the time – and so does the list of new FrontPoint customers! Thanks again.

  15. Bill

    I experienced a false fire alarm when the adhesive on the detector unit gave way and it fell 10 feet to the floor. Middle of Florida summer, house not conditioned and unit installed for about a year. Same failure with a motion detector. Check your adhesives with your batteries.

  16. Judy Burgere

    Once I lived just north of Chicago just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. I was on the corner of the 7th floor with few buildings nearly as tall around me. It got really windy at times and sounded like the “old West”. I wasn’t home but was told the police were at my place because the alarm got set off. They think it had to be the wind since my place was fine.

  17. Judy Burgere

    Once I lived just north of Chicago just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. I was on the corner of the 7th floor with few buildings nearly as tall around me. It got really windy at times and sounded like the “old West”. I wasn’t home but was told the police were at my place because the alarm got set off. They think it had to be the wind since my place was fine.

  18. Stephen Martin

    In the 2 years I have had my Frointpoint system I have had 1 false alarm- and of course I was out of town. I will never know what set it off. I have 2 cats that would seem to be too small to trigger the motion sensor.

  19. Stephen Martin

    In the 2 years I have had my Frointpoint system I have had 1 false alarm- and of course I was out of town. I will never know what set it off. I have 2 cats that would seem to be too small to trigger the motion sensor.

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