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.

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