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False Alarm Prevention

With the explosion of alarm system growth in the residential market, it is imperative that all users of professionally monitored alarms exercise care in the use of their alarms to ensure the false alarm problem does not continue to grow. Police forces everywhere waste valuable resources responding to alarms which are false, and many cities now assess false alarm fees for every false alarm they respond to. Some cities assess expensive licensing costs for each alarm in service as well.

Here in Ottawa, false alarm fees have been raised to $150, which is full cost recovery for two officers and two cruisers to respond.

So why is this happening and what can be done about it ? Since 95% of alarms are caused by user error, lets start there for the moment.

It is imperative that all alarm companies train their customers properly on the use of their systems, including what NOT to do. Simply handing them the manual to read is NOT sufficient training. So what are those things that clients should do???

1- Wherever possible, systems should use cancel codes, advising the station that someone with a valid code has disarmed the system (even though at times this may make it appear the alarm is not working). Clients should be encouraged to always call the station right away to report a false alarm regardless of the presence of cancel codes.

2- Clients must be advised to keep their calling list up to date as they change jobs and phone numbers, and allow different people access to their home while the alarm is armed. Accurate information is vital for the monitoring station to do their job properly and to avoid false dispatches.

3- Clients must ensure that the very first and last things they do before leaving or entering the home is arming / disarming  the system. Do not arm the system and re-enter EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN ONLY A FEW SECONDS without disarming the system and rearming it. This is a major cause of user caused false alarms. You may think it is still on the "exit delay" while in actual fact it is now on the "entry delay". You re-close the door and leave, and the alarm goes off. Many alarms are set to arm immediately upon closing of the door, NOT at the end of the entry delay.

4- Clients often know about a problem with their alarm but hesitate or simply forget to report the trouble until after a false alarm  has occured. 

5- Clients should learn to "read" the signals their panel sends to the station.. How do you do this you say? 

To start, one must understand how an alarm works. A zone on an alarm is comprised of a contact held closed to ensure that a continuous electrical current is sent through the zone loop. When the alarm is armed, any break in this current flow (ie: door, window or motion "opens") is interpreted by the alarm as an "alarm" signal. When the zone is closed, it sends a "restore signal. Every alarm is comprised of both the "open" and "closed" signals. So when the monitoring station operator tells you they have received an alarm signal from your panel, don't automatically have them send the police. 

Instead ask them these questions:

a- How many different signals did you get? If they say only one, ask them the time duration between the "open" and the "close". If those two signals are received quickly (within the same second), clearly this is a false alarm, since no one can enter and close the door behind them within the same second. Normally when a door is kicked in, it stays open, so the station receives only the "open" signal"

b- If they received multiple signals, as if someone is walking through the home, then it is far more likely to be a real alarm ie: door goes "open" (no "close" signal), and the motions in the home trigger several times, this is likely someone walking around within the home. 

The key is, use your judgment about dispatching the police, after learning to read the signals your panel is sending the station.

So how can the industry help prevent false alarms ?

Here the answer gets a bit less clear. With the fierce competition that exists today in the residential market, we have seen a huge growth in new companies both large and small entering the market to garner that all important long term monitoring contract. This has resulted in a shortage of trained and qualified alarm installers to go around. The alarm manufacturing industry has responded by drastically improving their wireless products, which allows for less qualified installation people as well as much easier installs. Unfortunately, it has also spawned a new generation of "cream skimmers", offering poor quality, "non-supervised" wireless products, improperly installed using such things as Velco to hold devices to the wall. They heavily promote themselves through intense use of television commercials, often touting "two way voice" as the greatest form of response (ask yourself, if two way voice is so good, why hasn't the industry adopted it as a standard ??)

Most of this kind of "all in one", squawk box equipment is pure junk, being marketed to people who either believe they can actually get "something for nothing", or are too unsophisticated to know how to shop properly for a professional system. Or they simply won't or can't afford the prices of a professional quality system. Even the biggest alarm company in the world engages in these disreputable practices; they currently have a large sales force of ill informed students peddling overpriced "all in one" systems door to door in the major metro centres. 

Many of the TV heavily advertised systems seem to go on the premise that the more dung you throw up against the wall, the more sticks !! Remember, you get what you pay for is a universal adage of business, and rarely if ever is that not the case !! In this industry, you can also pay a lot and get very little if you are not careful. However, the end result is a lot of poor quality systems being put on to monitoring facilities everywhere. Do your research before buying in to these near scams !!! 

In addition, many of these new companies - the ones that  ARE indeed legitimate start ups -  feel they must use the cheapest equipment around in order to compete with the hundreds of other companies already in existence. Many times, their installations don't meet even the minimum installation standards necessary to be considered "professional" quality, and they can be just as responsible for false alarms as the end user.

In addition, many existing companies both large and small depend heavily upon subcontractors to meet the demand for their services, and these systems too are not always installed properly. Nor are they inspected for quality "after the fact"

As clients buy and sell homes, the alarms left over often are subject to abuse. When the new owner calls an alarm company to "takeover" the system he got with the home and put it back on line, it may have been "offline" for many years, and sadly in need of maintenance. Many companies don't inspect the system and bring it back up to standards prior to putting it on line again. A used alarm system is not unlike a used car ! Both can give you needless trouble and expense if not inspected and repaired !

Introducing a pet into the home without ensuring your motion detectors are pet immune is another common cause of false alarms. Large dogs may exceed the weight limit of even the most heavy duty pet motion. Cats can climb on furniture and get within the "no go" limit of 6 feet, and set the pet motion off. Improper placement of pet motions where they "see" an animal going up the stairs can cause false alarms as well. Systems must be carefully and precisely set up to handle the presence of animals, and depending upon the alarm company, this can involve considerable extra expense. IIf you have any questions at all about the workings of your system, be sure to check with your alarm company to avoid equipment caused false alarms.

Reducing false alarms is everyone's responsibility ! Failure of the industry to control the situation, will result in our "crying wolf" one too many times, with unfortunate results for all users when police response is curtailed.