Painting a bleak picture of the industry

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11/23/2009
A recent story out of San Diego bothers me on a couple different levels. I mean, personally, I don't live in San Diego (I live way up in Maine, near the Arctic Circle), but on a professional level, there are just too many things wrong with the picture painted in the abovelinked story. First of all the title, "Stupid Alarm," does not set the scene for a warm, glowing, right-response kind of feeling. We're told that a fire alarm starts going off in the afternoon and that about a dozen residents of a condo complex evacuate. We're told that it is soon discovered the alarm was false, but that the maintenance person couldn't figure out how to reset the system. Okay, so we don't know what caused the alarm, but we do know that one of the building's employees did not know how to operate the system... Or is the system faulty? We're told the fire department soon (and when I say soon, I mean 20 minutes (20 minutes?) after the alarm began going off) showed up and couldn't figure it out either. They soon drove away shrugging their shoulders. This, of course, leaves all the business owners and residents in the area to bathe in the droning decibels of the alarm. And they weren't happy about it:
Although it was discovered to be a false alarm, the building maintenance person was unable to disarm the system. Soon afterward, homeowners as well as ground-floor retailers became annoyed. 'This is really loud and irritating,' said a retailer who had the alarm blaring in his store. 'It is turning my customers away. I was concerned at first, but now I just want them to fix it.'
See at this point, in the minds of the end-user, it's not the maintenance guy's fault for not knowing how to shut it off, nor is it the toast-burning resident's fault. It isn't the fire department's fault. It's the "stupid alarm's" fault. The real pariah here is the industry, who in this story is the nameless alarm company that took over an hour to show up and give everyone relief. That's a problem... the alarm company here is the bad guy... they're not protecting lives and preventing losses, they're making everyone sit around listening to ear splitting sirens. It's all about public perception.
A fireman was seen trying to assist but then was overheard saying, “That’s out of our league.” Firefighters then cleared the area and left within a few minutes. However, the sound of the alarm was not silenced until almost 4 p.m., when an alarm company support team arrived to turn it off.
The alarm started going off at 2:45, so that's over an hour that residents had to wrestle with a malfunctioning system and listen to the alarm. Business owners were angry, residents were angry. People who dealt with the alarm going off don't care how busy the unnamed "alarm company support team" was... said team just comes off as having not done its job right, which is too bad. What's worse of all, however, is the final woman interviewed--a resident of the building with the malfunctioning alarm--maybe she's the one who burned the toast...? Her demeanor, her statements demonstrate the ultimate danger in false and malfunctioning alarms.
A lady standing outside of her second-floor balcony to avoid the noise inside her home said, 'Good thing I didn’t bother coming downstairs. It wasn’t a real fire, anyway. I didn’t want to bother with packing my things and getting my cat.'"
That's not a good thing. It's not good that she's been trained to assume that the alarm was false. In the life safety business, if your solutions annoy and cause the "boy-who-cried-wolf" syndrome, they're probably worse than no alarm at all.

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[...] and money, and strain resources and industry/emergency responder relations. I’ve certainly touched on the problem before. However, this story is just too funny and seems to be causing no [...]