False Alarms, Real Costs

False alarms are a growing problem for local law enforcement, consuming undue time and effort. Because unwanted alarms have reached epidemic proportions for some jurisdictions, communities have set about tracking offenders and charging them a fine when the number of unwanted alarms reaches a predetermined level. In most instances, an alarm permit program pays for the program implementation and management.

While specific details vary, most false alarm programs require both the alarm company and end-user to purchase an alarm permit, which must be renewed annually.

A typical program would assign a per-month cap with a yearly total. When the number of false alarms surpasses the limit, the city fines the alarm owner. Fines vary from $35 to $100 per incident and often increase along with the monthly/yearly total.

Burleson, Texas, passed legislation in 2007 requiring home and business owners to procure an alarm license, without which police will not respond. Out of 2,531 alarm dispatches in Burleson, only 13 were valid. This is not atypical.

At the heart of any false alarm program is a database in which every alarm system in the community is listed. When false alarms occur, the details are entered into the system and tracked over time.

Another strategy that communities use to reduce the number of false alarms is that of no police response, also referred to as a no-response policy.

In Burleson, the magic number is 10, after which the alarm permit is revoked. Without a permit, police will not show up when there is an alarm. Not only is this bad for alarm owners, it’s doubly bad for alarm companies because it won’t take long for monitored clients to figure out that if the police are not going to show, they don’t need to have their system monitored. This strikes at the business model used by the alarm industry, which involves recurring monthly revenue for their monitoring services.

It behooves electrical contractors involved in alarm installations and central station monitoring to do everything possible to help their clients minimize the number of false alarms generated. The cost associated with not doing so is much higher than one might suppose.

Video to verify alarm drops

Another way to fight false alarms is to use remote video. In cases where video surveillance is already in place, all that needs to be done is to add a remote video system using either the Internet or a dial-up connection for signal transport.

Douglas County, Colo., recently adopted a false alarm ordinance. The total number of false alarms allowed in a 12-month period in the county is two. After that, the sheriff will no longer respond. To be reinstated in the program, the alarm system must be repaired, and the alarm owner must fork over $100 to the county.

To track and pay for this service, alarm companies are required to register the alarm systems they install. The cost for this is $40, but Douglas County doesn’t stop there. Alarm companies are required to verify all alarms before actually dispatching the police to a location.

Alarm verification can be accomplished either through the use of a special runner, such as a security guard service, or by the use of remote video.

The best course of action for an alarm company is to check with each jurisdiction before doing the work. Electrical contractors who work in this area should also ensure that their alarm clients understand the false alarm policy in their locale. If possible, put it in writing so the alarm owner cannot claim ignorance, expecting the alarm company to pay the bill.
Not only will these methods help reduce the load on responding police departments, they also will help keep legislated methods of reduction to a minimum.

COLOMBO is a 32-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He currently is director with FireNetOnline.com and a nationally recognized trade journalist located in East Canton, Ohio.


About the Author

Allan B. Colombo

Freelance Writer
Allan Colombo is a 35-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He is director with FireNetOnline.com and a nationally recognized trade journalist in East Canton, Ohio. Reach him at abc@alcolombo.us

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