Friday, February 20, 2009

False Alarms Aren't Fun and Games

False Alarms from malfunctioning security systems are a huge drain on police forces and the communities they serve. To account for false alarms police rosters must have sufficient personnel to respond. This increases the number of manned hours that must be allotted to the city or municipal budget to cover this expense. When budgets are being cut, and there is a shortage of necessary funds to provide equipment that would aid law enforcement in more efficiently curtailing crime, false alarm response is serious plight that must be dealt with. It should not be a burden only carried by law enforcement and the tax payers, but it is a responsibility of alarm companies that have installed the equipment.
Causes of false alarms are numerous and could range from pets setting off motion detectors, faulty contacts that trigger an alarm, faulty glass break sensors and lack of customer response from alarm monitoring center when an alarm is activated. The cities and municipalities in many locations access fines for false alarms that result in law enforcement, EMS responders or Fire personnel arriving on the scene of an alarm where it is determined that there was no emergency.
The city of Raleigh, NC accesses fines in this manner. The first false alarm will result in a written letter of warning detailing the further consequences of fines. The second fine in a calendar year will result in a $50 fine. The third though fifth false alarms will result in a fine of $100 per occurrence. The sixth and seventh false alarm is a fine of $200 per occurrence. The eight and ninth occurrence will result in a penalty of $300 per incident, and every false alarm from the tenth on is accessed at $500 per incident. The fines must be paid within thirty days or a $25 late fee will be added. Any unpaid fine that goes over ninety days is turned over to a collection agency. This raises the question of culpability and how responsible should alarm companies be in alarms that result in false alarms?
Clearly, the alarm industry does share some blame. Many alarm companies use the cheapest equipment and provide little training for technicians that perform the installations. Cheap equipment will malfunction. Many companies produce large revenues by providing service for malfunction security equipment. Their alarm agreements include trip charges and service fees and other labor expenses that increase their bottom line. Alarm companies that put profit first and the customer last are largely responsible for the escalation of false alarms. Companies that employ seasonal labor that canvas door to door offering free security equipment, and are willing to install the same day are contributors. Often the seasonal laborers are college kids with one or two days worth of training. They may be unlicensed and completely unaware of the manufacturer and industry standards of the equipment they are selling. The installers working for these companies cut corners by using tape to secure wireless contacts, and motion detectors, and often devices are improperly programmed. These are all contributing factors, but there are viable solutions to these problems. Homeowners should avoid these companies at all costs. Companies that operate under this model are First Line Security, Apex, APX and Northstar.
Companies such as Vector Security, Power Home Technologies, Priority Security, and Triangle Security provide two-way voice communication services that allow the monitoring call center to hear what is transpiring during an alarm event. This feature greatly reduces false alarms because verification can be made. On one way systems where the alarm monitoring company is unable to hear what is happening inside the residence during an alarm event may result in false alarms because the homeowner can not get to the phone to abort the alarm. When the alarm company can address the situation over a speaker microphone and also hear if someone is inside they are able to dispatch according to verified facts. Vector Security, which provides monitoring services, and has an established history of excellence, utilizes a unique four part program to curtail false alarms. They are the only company in the United States to have a false alarm rate under 1%. Their four part program mandates the use of high grade equipment from only approved manufacturers. They require strict training of all installation personnel. Every representative is required to be proficient in the equipment they use. Finally they require training of each end user that they provide monitoring for. If a false alarm is triggered that results in the police, EMS or fire personnel arriving where there was no need, an investigation is immediately triggered. The installing company and the end user which may be the homeowner or business owner will both be brought into the process. If the equipment has failed, an assessment is made as to whether it was installed according to the manufacturer standards. The equipment is replaced. If it was user error, then the user will be retrained so that the situation will not repeat itself.
Another, element that eliminates false alarms is the automatic reporting feature that is now available on newer alarm panels made by Honeywell. Honeywell equipment is the preferred provider of the companies previously listed. Automatic reporting allows the system to send a status, or system diagnostic report to the monitoring at certain intervals to assure that everything is working optimally. False alarm reduction can be achieved, when companies put the needs of the clients and the community first and employ the standard listed above. This will foster stronger relations with law enforcement and the city and county government. With the assurance that a security system will not result in fines and fees, homeowners can provide the necessary security to protect their families and possessions.

1 comment:

RLMcV said...

Good article. I have noticed though that many local governments - cities, counties and metropolitan districts do not always have the pleasure of having the alarm vendors bring to the table for alarm users as high a quality of systems. Additionally, some communities, sometimes because of the alarm ordinance & state alarm laws, have other elements that contribute to higher than what should be expected regarding (excessive) false alarms. Some issues are behavioral, civil, communications, and / or a lack of broader cooperation. When there is an ideal system (e.g., alarm), communications (& information), and behavior (human, animal, etc., environmental, etc.) then false alarms in our society will not be a problems. And at least back to how they started out as nuisance alarms - someone pulling an alarm just to see the fire wagon (and all) come down the street in wonder and awe. But today when a business who gets their deliveries late at time tells the delivery persons to let the alarm go off so you will have security (police, deputy) their while you deliver we will have nuisances. Is it a nuisance this time, next time, etc.

Keep up the good fight.