Ninety Percent Reduction Rate Signals Solution To False Alarm ProblemSIA White Paper
The war to defeat the cost and wasted effort of the nation's false alarm pandemic is being won, battle by battle, in new Alarm Schools sponsored by individual cities across the country. Similar to "traffic schools" attended by ticketed motorists, the Alarm Schools educate residential alarm users about the enormous costs associated with false alarms, most of which are caused by user errors. The class is available to repeat false alarm offenders in lieu of paying a fine.
The Alarm Schools are effective because they supply the source of the problem with a permanent solution. The problem is lack of understanding about alarm system operation among system users -- the solution is education.
Bellevue, Washington is the site of one such Alarm School. Bellevue is one of the cities participating in the Model Cities False Alarm Reduction Program sponsored by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF). The program is extremely successful. Since its inception, only one "graduate" has caused an additional false alarm. A similar program in Phoenix has enjoyed an extraordinary success rate, with 90 percent of attendees having no false alarms subsequent to training.
Los Angeles has had similar success with their alarm school. Their two-hour class includes facts and figures like these: 16 percent of all police calls are in response to electronic alarms. In 1996 LAPD officers responded to some 145,000 false alarms. Larry Williams of the LAPD created the school out of a belief that the lack of end-user education was a chief cause of false alarms. There's little doubt that he is right. Questions asked by attendees at his alarm school reflected a lack of understanding of the costs associated with false alarms, and many did not know the function of a central monitoring station.
The concept of the Alarm User Awareness Class is now being introduced into a program for broader implementation, called "Model States," and AIREF asked the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) to consider a grant of $1.15 million to assist in the efforts to reduce the number of false alarms in the five participating states of New York, Illinois, Missouri, Florida, and Washington. The NIJ turned down the request for funding.
Although it is up to the industry to develop a standardized program that can be implemented by municipalities - starting with the Model States - and replicated throughout the country, the security industry should not be expected to pay for program implementation on its own. Positive results from implementation of Alarm Schools go far beyond the reduction of false alarms. The schools foster good police/community relations. They raise crime prevention awareness and encourage citizens to participate in crime prevention efforts.
The Model States program fosters close cooperation between alarm companies, their customers, and local police in reacting to each alarm, determining the cause of false alarms, and taking corrective action whether it be user training, equipment update, or central station operations. In many cases, the local alarm association is also involved in community awareness and education. If AIREF is successful in the model states, the industry will have an even stronger model for a national program of prevention.
For its part, the Security Industry Association (SIA) has earmarked $480,000 for the implementation of the Model States Project. SIA believes the National Institute of Justice should have approved the grant request because the funds will help reduce the cost of false alarms nationwide.
The Security Industry Association estimates that it will take at least $100,000 per year in each state to accomplish the research and follow-up activities required to carry out the action plans adopted by the program. Funds are needed for hiring staff, lobbying, the use of tracking software for police departments, and educating dealers and law-enforcement personnel.
Far and away, the majority of false alarms are caused by user error. About 25 percent of user errors occur because of authorized entry without using a code or by failing to leave the premises within the programmed "delay time." Another 25 percent happen when the alarm user arms the system and then moves around inside the protected area. Homeowners using their system on a daily basis forget access codes, forget arming levels, or fail to secure all doors and windows before arming the system. Wandering pets, helium-filled balloons, and drafts that move plants and curtains cause false alarms triggered by motion sensors.
Statistics show significant decreases in the number of false alarms in many communities as a result of educating alarm users about the problem of false alarms, and of leveling false alarm fines against the worst offenders.
The good news about false alarms is that a system user can take a variety of measures to prevent them. Taking the following measures will greatly reduce the chances of causing a false alarm.
For more information contact the Security Industry Association at 703/683-0392.
- Learn how to turn the alarm system off - within the programmed "delay time."
- Have the system professionally monitored so the monitoring station can call to verify the alarm.
- Program the system with a delay time that is sufficient for entering the home without causing an alarm. Even better than an entry-delay is the use of a system that can be turned off remotely, before entering the house or turned on after exiting the house.
- False alarms can also be prevented by understanding fully what causes certain protection devices to alarm. For example, passive infrared sensors detect rapid heat change in the area they cover. The presence of heating ducts can cause false alarms because they are the source of rapid changes in temperature. Infrared motion sensors should not be installed pointing towards a window. Nor should they be pointed toward a fireplace or any other heat-producing object.
- Know how to cancel an alarm, and take the time to cancel an accidentally-caused alarm.