Keeping It Real With False Alarms

Stay on the front lines in the battle against false alarms.

THERE WAS A TIME not so long ago when car alarms were all the rage – and also the source of intense rage. Anyone who was around in the 1980s likely shudders at the memory of these primarily after-market systems that became rather ubiquitous despite their rampant false alarms. So much so the all-too-familiar and annoying medley of looped sounds has been relegated to that decade’s anachronism status along with MTV and video arcades. Eventually as the cost of car alarms dropped and people also began installing the units themselves, a problematic situation grew to epic proportions. You could scarcely walk through a parking garage without being bombarded by a cacophony, and some jurisdictions even instituted noise ordinances to combat the auditory assault.

I must confess, as a young man with his first new car living in the high vehicle crime area of Los Angeles, I too was among those who had an alarm system installed in my car – and it went off constantly! A truck went by and it was WEE-EW, WEE-EW, WEE-EW! A breeze kicked up and it was WEE-EW, WEE-EW, WEE-EW! A sparrow broke wind and it was WEE-EW, WEE-EW, WEE-EW! I remember returning to the installer to get it adjusted and tinkering with the sensitivity setting myself on just about a daily basis trying to get it optimally calibrated.

That blaring siren had me racing out in the middle of the night to check on it, and I was never able to come up with any indication it had been legitimately triggered or successfully prevented a break-in or act of vandalism. In fact, that car was broken into several times, including in my own carport right under my condominium, despite the presence of that alarm.

If not for an industrywide crusade to improve … our industry’s security alarm systems might have become as obsolete as the horse and buggy – or the car alarm.

After several years of this scenario playing out, audible car security systems essentially lost all credibility in the marketplace. Police disregarded them, citizens did their best to ignore them and criminals were undeterred by them. Even car alarm owners largely either stopped arming them altogether or ceased bothering to deactivate them upon sounding, instead letting them just cycle through to the auto-shutoff.

This nostalgia trip is important because it signifies what almost happened with alarm systems in homes and buildings regarding false activations and subsequent dispatching of police. As the market penetration of systems grew exponentially in the 1980s and 1990s, so too did the false alarm problem as the vast majority of signals received by central monitoring stations were due to system malfunction, improper installation, user error or environmental interference (to varying degrees, still the top issues).

If not for an industry-wide crusade to improve equipment and sensor reliability, create and support standards, establish best installation and dispatch practices, better train system users, deploy new technologies, encourage system licensing and development of alarm ordinances, and build better relationships with responding law enforcement agencies, our industry’s security alarm systems might have become as obsolete as the horse and buggy – or the car alarm.
If you are among those who individually or whose companies are proactive in effectively managing alarms and reducing false dispatches – such as SSI‘s October issue cover story star and Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award winner Amherst Alarm – then consider this moment a much-deserved pat on the back. On behalf of the entire industry, I salute you.

READ NEXT: 2016 PDQ Award Winner, Amherst Strong-Arms False Alarms

If, on the other hand, you or your company have just skated along figuring others would shoulder the burden or worse willfully exacerbated the problem, then shame on you. The good news is there still exists the opportunity for redemption. That’s because although many battles have been won, the war on false alarms is not going away anytime soon.

Unfortunately, I fear many have been lulled into complacency simply because strides have been made and the outcry seems to have diminished. Subscribing to that would be a grave error. With cable and telecom companies, among others, pushing into security and alarm system-inclusive smart homes and DIY ramping up market penetration, effectively managing alarms will remain as critical as ever. Now is not the time to let up but rather to buckle down.

So as you read through the multitude of trends, technologies, opportunities and issues presented in SSI‘s annual Alarm Response Issue (October), I urge you to take stock and reassess how you and your company are actively being part of the false alarms solution.

READ NEXT: 2016 PDQ Award Runner-Up, Why EPS Also Stands for Exceptional Processing of Signals

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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