Lord help me, I’ve become part of the problem. I have become a statistic likely to be used against the industry I love and support. On Monday, Jan. 5, yours truly was cited by the city of Culver City, Calif., for a false alarm. This, less than a week after I had it installed in my new home. Oh, the indignity!
Although the false alarm — which resulted in my wife being shocked by the two police officers who showed up at our front door with their clubs drawn — was due to my error, I don’t believe I should take all the blame. Circumstances beyond my control played a role as well.
After all, the alarm was triggered by our cats, which would not have happened if the pet-immune PIR motion detector I had requested had been installed as scheduled. However, the installer — a long-time employee of one of Southern California’s most reputable electronic security contractors — did not have one with him when he arrived to take over and reprogram the existing system.
Since it was to be a week before the installer could return to finish the job, I figured I would simply only use the “Stay” button to disable the motion detector while still activating the perimeter sensors. This seemed like a workable solution … until I was in a hurry to leave for work one day and hastily punched in my code — instead of hitting the “Stay” button — before departing.
It did not take our furry would-be felons long to trigger the motion sensor. About a half-hour later, moments after I had parked my car outside my office, my cell phone rang and the alarm company operator informed me our alarm was going off. I grimaced, cursed (more upset with myself than anything else) and told the operator it was a false alarm. The operator tried to stop the police from responding, but it was too late. More of my swearing ensued.
It all happened so quickly! That’s what I get for signing on with such a fast-reacting, professional alarm company and moving into a neighborhood where the average police response time is only five minutes! “This can’t happen to me,” I thought. “I’m supposed to represent this industry and set a good example.”
As it turns out, I’m only human, as are most of the root causes of false alarms. In fact, according to the 2003 SSI Dealer Survey (for more, check out SSI’s 2004 Buyer’s Guide & Fact Book), more than 81 percent of false alarms are due to user error and just a hair over 14 percent are caused by pets.
Speaking of humanity, an E-mail I recently received in response to the July 2003 SSI special supplement I wrote called “Police Want to Partner With the Alarm Industry” (click here to order copies) served as a startling testament to the profound repercussions of false alarms. I urged the writer to share his story with the alarm industry (see “False Alarm Leads to Real Tragedy” ) so security professionals could gain an intimate understanding of the gravity of this situation.
Although I have extensively written about and covered the false alarm problem for a number of years, that article and my own recent personal experience have given me an even deeper appreciation for the responsibility shared by manufacturers (reliable, easy-to-use products), security contractors (quality installations, adequate user training and alarm verifying) and end users (using systems conscientiously).
A few days after being embarrassed by receiving the city’s false alarm warning before the arrival of my first alarm license, I had a pair of dual-technology, pet-immune PIRs installed. Just to be safe, I had the zone assigned to the motion detectors placed on test for two weeks. I am delighted (and relieved) to report that I have not encountered any false alarms during or since the test period (knock on wood!).