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2/12/2017 » 2/15/2017
2017 ESA Leadership Summit

Q & A: False Alarms

Q: What is a false alarm dispatch?
A: A false alarm dispatch can occur when authorities are notified of a potential emergency in progress at a home or business and after a timely investigation, the responding officer finds no evidence that warranted an emergency response from authorities. If there are too many false dispatches, they can place an unnecessary drain on police resources. A study by the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) shows that the majority (80%) of false alarm dispatches are triggered by a small portion (20%) of alarm users. The same IACP study shows that 80% of all false dispatches are related to user error.

Q: How does an alarm dispatch work?
A: When an electronic security system alarm is triggered, it sends a signal to a centralized monitoring center. Security monitoring center operators attempt to verify the alarm is an actual emergency through a phone call to the premises. If they are not able to confirm the alarm was triggered inadvertently, operators then notify the appropriate responding agency of an alarm at the address. The responding agency, typically police or firefighters, then dispatch authorities to the scene.

Q: Are there alarm industry organizations working with security companies to better manage alarm signal dispatches?
A: Yes. Electronic security services member companies work with industry organizations like the Electronic Security Association (ESA) including its state and local chapters, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Canadian Alarm and Security Association (CANASA).

Q: What is the security industry doing to manage alarm signal dispatches?
A: Electronic security industry organizations work closely with their security services member companies in a variety of ways including: The establishment of industry standards through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for the design and manufacture of security alarm control panels and other alarm system equipment. Tested and approved by Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) with factory default delays, these panels are programmed with a delay default value of 30 seconds to account for an inadvertent alarm activation. The active promotion and customer training of best practices, including a seven-day education or familiarization period, for new customers to ensure they are fully trained in the correct use of their security systems with the goal of minimizing or eliminating user error. The creation of a Model Cities Alarm Ordinance for community use, which has worked well in many areas of the country by establishing a permit and fee structure along with guidelines for service and alarm user education to encourage effective alarm system use.

Q: How effective are ordinances such as these?
A: Since March of 1995, when Montgomery County, MD implemented an alarm management program modeled after this formula, there has been a 42% reduction in false alarm dispatches. During this same period there was a 117% increase in the number of alarm users who have registered with the county!

In North Carolina, the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department reports that during the more than seven years since it's alarm ordinance has been in effect, 92% of registered alarm users have never had a fine due to a false alarm dispatch.

Q: How are these ordinances structured?
A: While they vary depending on the municipality, ordinances like these generally require the registration (or permitting) of alarm systems, the establishment of an escalating fine system for repeat violators, the creation of an administrative procedure and a set of conditions for suspension of police response.

The escalating fine system targets problem alarm users. After each false alarm dispatch to a premise, the municipality can impose a fine to the home or business owner. The fine acts as an incentive to the alarm user and encourages them to address the cause of the false alarms.

Q: I understand that some police departments are no longer responding to burglar alarms. Is that true?
A: In some cities, police departments require all burglar alarm signals to be visually verified by a private citizen or their designee, such as a security guard, before police will respond. The electronic security industry considers these non-response policies drastic and ill advised. They have the potential to leave citizens, their homes and their businesses vulnerable to criminal acts.

Q: How does non-response affect insurance rates?
A: Some insurance companies are refusing to insure properties where this type of non-response policy is in effect. The risk associated with non-response and/or the time required for physical verification clearly increases risk, which in turn increases the cost of the insured property.

Q: How does this policy affect the cost of monitored alarm systems?
A: If security firms are required to provide guards for visual verification of burglar alarms they must increase their rates for all customers in the jurisdiction, whether the customers have ever caused a false alarm dispatch or not.

Q: If police don't respond to alarms, or wait until they are visually verified, won't burglaries increase?
A: More than likely, yes. Preliminary statistics show an increase in burglaries in some cities where non- response policies have been adopted.

Q: What can I do if I live in a city that is considering non-response or verified response to burglar alarms?
A: Contact your local council member to express your opinion and request that they consider the best practices recommended through the Model Cities Ordinance, which offers effective alarm management while helping safeguard the community. For more information on how to go about this, contact ESA at (888) 447-1689.

Q: What about enhanced call verification?
A: The practice of enhanced or two-call verification (i.e., placing a second telephone call to the premises or other phone number if the first call does not successfully confirm that an actual emergency exists) to confirm an alarm signal has proven to reduce the incidence of false alarm dispatches by as much as 50%. The full membership of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has endorsed enhanced call verification as an effective means to reduce law enforcement response to false alarms. Many security services companies are implementing this policy as a pro-active measure to address the issue.

Q: Has there been a heightened interest in electronic security since 9/11?
A: People have experienced an increased sense of anxiety about their overall safety following the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. Electronic security can provide an additional layer of security and peace of mind for both homeowners and businesses. An increase in demand for law enforcement services at public facilities, such as airports and other public areas have put a strain on limited police department resources since 9/11. The responsible management of alarm signals by electronic security companies and customers is an important measure developed to help ensure that police can focus their attention on actual emergencies.

Q: If burglary crime rates are declining, why do we need security alarms?
A: The installation of security systems has nearly tripled during the last seven years. We believe this is why burglary rates have declined significantly during the same time period. In a national survey of police chiefs, 90 % acknowledged that alarms can deter burglary attempts and increase the probability of the burglar being apprehended.