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California city institutes new alarm policy

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06/10/2014

CHICO, Calif.—Starting June 15, this California city will no longer respond to unconfirmed burglar alarm systems in the city, according to a news release from the California Alarm Association.

Toronto police considering non-response

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Toronto, the largest city in Canada, is mulling the possibility of not responding to private alarms, citing a false alarm rate that looks bad even within that context.

According to a report from the Toronto Star, just 300 of the 20,000 private alarm calls Toronto police responded to in 2012 turned out to be legitimate. As a result, an internal police steering committee is reviewing the cost-savings that could be reaped by scaling back on alarm response (among other services), the report said.  

By doing so, the committee estimates the police force could realize $613,222 in savings, according to the report. That amounts to 10,960 officer hours.

Additionally, the committee recommended police stop taking reports on lost or stolen property whose value does not exceed $500.

From a law enforcement perspective, it’s sensible to do away with writing redundant reports for lost property, particularly when other institutions are better suited to deal with such events. But what could a non-response policy portend for alarm companies who would then have to provide private response services themselves? Not only do companies stand to incur the costs associated with this; they also stand to lose what many in the industry view as the most vital element of the value proposition of an alarm system—the guarantee of police response in the event of a legitimate alarm.  

False alarms (and what to do about them) remain among the most polarizing issues in the alarm industry today. It continues to define, and sometimes roil, the relationship between private alarm companies and law enforcement.

So what’s can be done? The theories about how to mitigate false alarms tend to diverge and dovetail, making the issue especially complex and difficult to navigate, much less reach a conclusion on. Some believe a clear and properly enforced ordinance, bolstered by measures such as cross-zoning and enhanced call verification, will do the trick, with fines for offending alarms helping to offset the losses. Others say private response is the inevitable long-term solution.

Others still, such as PPVAR, believe the relationship between law enforcement and the industry can and should remain intact so long as the alarm installed base evolves technologically and municipalities move toward a verified response approach (that's not to say the industry is in full agreement over what constitutes a verified alarm). The organization also espouses new video verification standards.

The issue continues to be a fraught one, with no definite solution in sight. To be sure, many cities have made great strides with false alarm reduction. But cases such as Toronto are a resounding reminder that there’s room for improvement.

SIAC urges compliance with best practices to avoid false panic alarms

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06/03/2014

FRISCO, Texas—The Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a North American industry organization focused on alarm management, is urging the use of best practices to reduce false panic alarms triggered by key fobs, according to a news release.

Washington city may begin charging for false alarms

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05/13/2014

MERCER ISLAND CITY, Wash.—Police in this city near Seattle have responded to an average of 858 false alarms annually over the past three years, with about 300 believed to be repeat offenders, according to a report from the Mercer Island Reporter, a newspaper based here.

Ohio city enacts alarm verification

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Plagued by an astronomical 98 percent false alarm rate for security systems, Akron, Ohio is following the lead of several other major American cities and introducing verified alarm response, according to a report from the Associated Press, and a news release from Sonitrol, an audio verification company.

The policy, adopted in larger cities such as Detroit, Las Vegas and Milwaukee, is simple: If an alarm goes off, a possible crime must be confirmed prior to law enforcement dispatch.

There are several causes of false alarms—outdated systems and installation flaws are among the most common culprits. But whatever the cause, the torrent of towns and cities taking measures to address them suggests that municipalities and police departments have had enough. In addition to being a budgetary drag, false alarms can potentially have dire consequences if they delay police response to more critical calls.

To some, enacting policies designed to confirm crime prior to police dispatch sets the stage for greater cooperation between the industry and law enforcement. But according to the AP report, not everyone is sold on these measures being the best means of ensuring maximum public safety. David Margulies, spokesman for the SIAC, was quoted in the report saying such policies are "basically putting the public in danger." To be sure, there is a fundamental tension between the need for municipalities to save resources by reducing false dispatch and certain ideas about the best policies for responding to alarms. In the coming days, I hope to gather some opinions on both sides of this debate.

I’ll be interested to hear how municipal measures to curb false dispatches through verification policies modify the demands of central station personnel on the ground level. As such policies become more widespread, how will the industry change? Does the future of monitored alarms involve video or audio verification becoming de rigueur?

Texas city delays alarm permit, citing problems with contractor

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10/28/2013

CROWLEY, Texas—Businesses and homeowners in Crowley, Texas, have until Nov. 1 to obtain permits for their monitored alarm systems.

IQ Certification and public perceptions about the industry

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Over the course of June and July, fourteen companies renewed their eligibility with IQ Certification, an installation quality certification program for alarm companies. The group of re-certifiers includes COPS Monitoring, based in Williamstown, N.J., Monitoring America Alarm Co-op of Tulsa, Okla., and General Monitoring Services, based in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Founded in 1997, the IQ Certification Program, headquartered in Erie, Pa., is based on one fundamental principle: security systems that are properly designed, professionally installed, feature the best equipment, and are monitored correctly tend to function free of failure or false alarms. A fifth component of a sound security system, according to the website, is providing users with education and training as well. 

To earn IQ Certification, alarm companies must undergo a rigorous evaluation by the IQ Certification Board, which is comprised of law enforcement, fire, state regulatory and insurance industry representatives, the program’s website notes. The certification standards are extensive and specific. The website features a code of ethics and PDFs on program bylaws and polices and guidelines. To become re-certified, companies must demonstrate to the board on an annual basis that they meet the required standards.

The expansion of a program like IQ Certified, first and foremost, reflects the industry’s dual commitment to mitigating flaws, such as false alarms, and making users better attuned to managing their systems. The guidelines expounded on the website also demonstrate a concerted push for cohesiveness and standardization in the interest of quality and functionality.

Interestingly enough, I began learning about the IQ Certification Program mere minutes after reading an opinion piece, published on MSN Money, titled “14 reasons monitored home security isn’t worth it.” The article, while somewhat disconcerting, is nevertheless worth a read, if only because it offers a window into certain non-industry attitudes about home security.

Yes, the opinion piece is critical of monitored systems, often unduly so. The tone is one of exasperation and hyperbole. But few things can better counteract the negative perceptions detailed in this piece than a rigorous, quality-focused program like IQ Certification, an organization aimed at rectifying problems rather than dwelling on them. 

New sensor takes aim at false alarms

MOBOTIX’s new analytic tested in adverse weather conditions
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06/12/2013

NEW YORK—MOBOTIX AG has begun equipping its video surveillance cameras with new motion-detection software that the company says can reduce false alarms by more than 90 percent.

Flint stops billing security companies for false alarms

Industry groups seek long-term resolution; city puts talks on hold
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05/15/2013

FLINT, Mich.—The city of Flint has stopped billing security companies for false alarms, but the future of the policy remains uncertain as industry representatives await the next move by city officials.

Wrongly placed dorm fire devices trigger nuisance alarms

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05/06/2013

CHICO, Calif.—About 105 fire alarms have been triggered this academic year at an off-campus cluster of residences near Chico State University, according to an article from The Orion, the university’s student-run newspaper.

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