Crying Wolf Can Cost You – The Truth about False Alarms

Posted by , , at 12:25 pm

Most alarm system events are false alarms. The single biggest reason for these false alarms is user error, such as forgetting to provide the pass code to a contractor or family member, or using the system incorrectly. Other reasons include the following:

  • poor training by the alarm company, and/or overly complicated systems
  • inadequate verification of the alarm event by the monitoring center
  • faulty equipment (often outdated), or wiring problems

With local government budgets under tremendous pressure, and alarm system installations increasing at a fast pace, something had to give – and it has. All across the US, more and more police departments have established a process to register alarm users, usually by requiring an end-user permit, and then charging for false alarms. In many cases the police will not even respond unless a permit is on file for that address, so your alarm company should be proactive on that score. In some locales there is even a fine for not having a registered system – and those can be stiff, as high as $1,000. Of course, this does raise the related issue of alarm company licensing and compliance, addressed in a previous post (click here).

Many jurisdictions (and even some states) now require Enhanced Call Verification (ECV), which means the monitoring center must call the subscriber at two separate numbers to verify an alarm before sending the police: this has helped reduce false alarms. Note: the better alarm companies always request two “reach” numbers for every new customer. As for the false alarm fines themselves, the costs vary. Some jurisdictions allow one or more false alarms per calendar year, and others charge for every incident. Here are two examples of false alarm fee structures:

Austin, TX (This one is fairly representative of what I see across the US)

  • Annual system registration cost for end-user: $30
  • First false alarm per calendar year: $0
  • Second false alarm per calendar year: $0
  • Third false alarm per calendar year: $0
  • Fourth false alarm per calendar year: $50
  • Fifth false alarm per calendar year: $50
  • Sixth false alarm per calendar year: $75

Los Angeles, CA (This is an example of a more “harsh” fee structure – not too many of these!)

  • Annual system registration cost for end-user: $30
  • First false alarm per calendar year: $136
  • Second false alarm per calendar year: $186
  • Third false alarm per calendar year: $236
  • Fourth false alarm per calendar year: $286

Verified Response – Shifting the Burden to You

In a very few jurisdictions the police have taken things to the next level, and determined that they just won’t respond, unless a third party can verify that there is an actual break-in. In Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, and a handful of other cities and towns, the only people allowed to initiate a police dispatch are the guard services (think “rent-a-cops”) who provide on-site confirmation of a valid alarm event. Of course this does not apply to panic or hold-up alarms – but for normal alarm response, the burden is on the subscriber and alarm dealer to work out the details of third party verification. Here’s an informative link to Salt Lake City’s explanation of why they resorted to this approach – and how it has worked for them.

What Can You Do?

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your exposure to false alarm fines:

  1. Pick the right alarm company to begin with (and on-line reviews can help a lot here).
  2. Be aware of local registration and fine ordinances. The better alarm companies are ahead of the game, so look to your alarm services provider for guidance.
  3. Wireless sensors are less prone to false alarms. No wires or connections to worry about, or go bad over time.
  4. Make sure you really master your system. Happily, the good systems these days are quite intuitive.
  5. Look for interactive features, like remote arm/disarm, text and email notifications, special apps, and even home video services. All these can reduce false alarms by making the system easier to use and control remotely. FrontPoint, a nationwide leader in interactive, wireless home security, specializes in these features, so is a logical choice.
  6. Don’t cry wolf – and you won’t get fleeced!

Comments (3)

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  1. RS

    We just had a false fire alarm…in baby’s room.

    We have Frontpoint.

  2. Alan

    Peter,

    Great information. Great Salt Lake City Police Dept. link too. I think that site adds to the credibility/objectivity of your post.

  3. Alan

    Peter,

    Great information. Great Salt Lake City Police Dept. link too. I think that site adds to the credibility/objectivity of your post.

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