Credit where it's due

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08/05/2008
I often rip on the mainstream media for shanking security industry stories, but this little paper in Canada, the Beacon, did a nice job framing the false-alarm issue, at least on the fire alarm side of things. Not only do they give the issue its due - a solid 1,000 words - but they interview all the major players and never turn it into a hatchet job on the security companies. Sure, false alarms suck for the firemen (especially volunteers) who have to respond to them, but it's hard to pinpoint fault and the article makes that clear. It doesn't start out particularly strongly, though, so bear with it for a while. The first paragraph is brutally cliche, and then we get this winner a couple paragraphs down: The false alarm problem is not limited to the Gander area. At a recent Firefighting convention in Nova Scotia Chief Brett heard similar complaints from departments across the country. Nice transition there! You mean there are false alarm problems outside of the Gander area?!? I totally thought the Gander area was plagued with particularly crappy alarm companies, wonky alarm systems, and dumb alarm system owners! And this paragraph that starts section two isn't all that great either (why was I praising this article again?): Both Chief Brett and Mr. Murphy pointed to monitored security systems as being particularly troublesome. These systems call the local fire department automatically when an alarm goes off. The problem is that the alarms can be triggered by more than just fire. Weak batteries can also set them off. How could false alarms be generated by security/fire systems that aren't monitored? Could the ones we mount at the top of our stairwells just be so loud they can hear them down at the fire station? Also, at this point I'm really hoping they called a security company to ask them a couple questions. Luckily, they did (okay so it was three or four paragraphs later, but they still did it): Kendall Isnor is president of the Atlantic chapter of the Canadian Security Association, an organization which represents security companies. According to Mr. Isnor, batteries shouldn't be the source of false alarms. "If you take the batteries out, it sends a different reporting code than it would if it was a fire," he said. "It would send a trouble signal without dispatch to the fire department, and it would say 'smoke detector, upstairs hallway, not communicating.'" Hah! Take that Brett and Murphy. Ooooh, but Murphy comes back swinging: When monitored alarm systems are used correctly, false alarms can often be avoided. But Mr. Murphy said the alarm companies are more concerned with making money than educating customers. "It's almost like they're going around selling vacumn cleaners ," he said. "At the end of the day they're making a pile of money and it's left to the poor volunteer fire departments then to look after it, and that's wrong." Nice. Always a good idea to play the victim card. I'm actually shedding a tear right now for those volunteer fire guys. Or maybe that's the Golden Rod - the dang flowers get my allergies going every year. I'm thinking it's time for a rejoinder from Ann Lindstrom, ADT PR gal: ADT Systems Inc is one of the largest residential alarm companies in Canada. Ann Lindstrom, director of corporate communications with ADT, said her company educates its customers on the proper use of their alarms systems in several ways. They include pamphlets and an introductory "grace period" that allows users to try out the system without risk of accidentally calling for emergency assistance. Hmmm. Pamphlets. A grace period. I'm not feeling the power of the comeback here. She was probably misquoted. Murphy isn't buying it: People can only be educated when they are willing to learn, and Mr. Murphy said people aren't paying enough attention. Then there's a bunch of stuff about whether we should fine those not-paying-attention people, etc. Like I said, not bad for a mainstream article - the industry gets to make points and the vitriol from the fire department isn't given too much extra play. Also, here's a bonus sidebar of great tips for preventing false alarms: Three ways to prevent false alarms Don't place smoke detectors near the kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere else where steam or dust is likely to accumulate in the detector's chamber. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years of use or earlier. Clean smoke detectors with a vacuum cleaner periodically to get rid of built up dust. So, don't put the smoke detector near the kitchen, where like half of all fire start? Hmm, that seems counterproductive to me. Also, does steam set of smoke detectors? Really? I'm kind of doubting that. Number 2 seems logical. I might even spring for a new detector more often than that. My toaster breaks more often than that. Isn't the third one really the same as number one - i.e. don't let the detector get dusty? How about tips like: Call your alarm company if you set off the smoke detector inadvertently. Have your monitored detector inspected annually. Ask your alarm company if they communicate over IP or radio so that your phone line doesn't get tied up. Those seem like better tips to me. Okay, I take it back. This article basically whiffs. Nice try, though.