False Alarm Reduction

What is a false alarm?

A false alarm is a request for a responding authority to dispatch people and equipment where there is not an actual emergency. A false alarm can be caused through human error, faulty equipment, misapplication of detection devices, environmental factors or simple miscommunication.

False alarms are not an exclusive problem of the security industry (in fact, by some estimates, more than 50% of all 911 calls are not crime related) however, the growing number of installed burglar alarm systems is placing an increasing demand on responding authorities (police, fire dept., ambulance).

Who is to blame for false alarms?

The focus and blame for the false alarm problem in the trade press has jumped from one professional, or one link in the chain, to another. Two years ago, the spotlight and blame was focused almost solely on the end-user. Listen in on a seminar or read an article from that time and you would most likely encounter words to the effect, “End-users had better learn to use those security systems and cut down on those false alarms. It’s not a manufacturer problem, it’s not a dealer problem, it’s an end-user problem.”

As the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) focussed its efforts increasingly on licensing, the emphasis and blame shifted to the dealer. Dealers weren’t installing the systems properly and they weren’t training the end-user how to use them adequately. It then became a dealer problem.

Today, the emphasis and spotlight is shifting to the manufacturer. A column in the May 1997 issue of SDM Magazine recommends an industry approval requirement for control panels, a recommendation intended specifically to address false alarm reduction. The clear implication is that it’s now up to the manufacturers to provide the answers and solutions to the false alarm problem.

Each one of these approaches is dead wrong. No single entity in the community has the ability alone to solve the false alarm problem or, in fact, to provide true security protection.

What can the end-user do to reduce false alarms?

As the end user, there are several steps one can take to ensure false alarms are being reduced on their end. For example, the following is a small sampling of some of these ideas:

  • No dispatch period: As with any new piece of technology, a certain degree of trial and error occurs within the first week to ten days as the end user becomes comfortable with the equipment. A suggestion is that you request from your monitoring station a specified no response period to ensure, should you make a mistake, the authorities will not be called.
  • Double keystoke keypad panic buttons or a security feature on the panic button: In the time of duress a panic button is the most effective button you could employ on your keypad or pendant. However, these panic buttons are also a major source of false alarms. Children and adults alike can accidentally trip this feature if it is a one keystroke activation. Request the double action codes (where you must simultaneously press two separate keys down).
  • Eliminate Silent Alarms: While the silent alarm is an effective tool for catching thieves in the act, it is also a source of false alarms as the end user does not know when they have made a mistake. Installing a sounding device not only informs a thief that an alarm has been tripped, but will also warn you and your family of an error or a crisis situation.
  • One device per security zone: Many false alarms have been caused by problems occurring after a repair has been performed. This is because the technician will have a difficult time isolating the problematic device and will sometimes repair/replace the wrong piece. By isolating each device to it’s own zone, the technician can quickly asses the problematic device and repair it.