Is the alarm response management tide changing?

Thursday, May 1, 2003

In the last 18 years, there has been an 85 percent reduction in the overall false dispatch rate across the country. The alarm industry is working to enhance this to an overall 92 percent reduction in a climate where the media, law enforcement and the industry itself are being presented with dire predictions about the fate of alarm response management.

From the updated version of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association/False Alarm Reduction Association Model Ordinance to the formation of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), the alarm industry and law enforcement continue to dramatically change the landscape of this important issue. Ordinances, alliances and cooperation also serve as a reminder in this era of dangerous alarm response management programs that there are responsible people both in the public and private sectors that are willing to work together for the greater good.

“Our missions have changed so much since 9/11 that we are not able to look after property. That’s why you folks are so important. That’s why we have to work so closely with you,” said Sheriff Tommy Ferrell, president of the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) at a recent event. “We can’t live without the service you provide, especially now that you all are cleaning up some of the false alarm problems.”

The NSA — part of the Private Sector Liaison Committee (PSLC) of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — recently formally adopted a resolution supporting multiple-call verification (two or more calls prior to request for dispatch). This bold new initiative was also adopted by the NBFAA, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators (IASIR) and others.

Unfortunately, aside from leaders in both the public and private sector, there are still people in both sectors that don’t really understand the problem, or, worse yet, have their own agendas. There are people in the alarm industry that feel they don’t contribute to the problem and refuse to look at the broader picture. In turn, there are people in the public sector who work to exclude the industry at every turn to end response to alarms.

While these individuals try to shape the debate as a confrontation about the right to response, the real question leaders are asking is this: What is the future of the responsible alarm user?

A recent study conducted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Police Department illustrates the importance of answering this question correctly. Charlotte-Mecklenburg has an alarm ordinance in place that is geared toward the problem alarm user through a series of escalating fines. Since its establishment in 1995, 92 percent of the approximately 110,000 alarm permit holders never had a billable offense. This means if a policy that excluded police response was established in Charlotte-Mecklenburg — as it is being established in other areas — 101,200 alarm permit holders would be denied law enforcement response because the city couldn’t work with the industry to find solutions to deal with the remaining eight percent.

The real debate here is not whether law enforcement really has to respond. That issue eliminates the realization that alarm systems are an effective deterrent and that not all alarm users cause false alarms. In fact, very few do. The debate also is not — as some in the industry would have you think — simply a case of a few bad companies. The real debate is over how to correct problem accounts and reduce the number of dispatches all while maintaining the positive relationship with the responsible alarm user. We need more debates on these issues and we need more leaders to step up and work together for solutions.

Dave Johnson is government affairs director for the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association in Silver Spring, Md. and can be reached at