Taming ‘Runaway’ Alarm Signals

Let’s discuss a cautionary tale about alarm signals gone mad. Here’s the idea:  Imagine three turnstiles in a subway. Every couple of minutes a passenger deposits a coin and passes through easily. Maybe two passengers converge simultaneously at the same the turnstile; one person courteously offers the other to pass, then follows him through or takes one of the other open turnstiles. No fuss or commotion; just a momentary delay.

Now imagine its rush hour and 300 passengers are all late for the same train. They are all trying to use the same three turnstiles within seconds of each other. Consider the pushing and shoving as these 300 people attempt to squeeze through the turnstiles, all the while long delays ensue.

Wreaking Havoc on Receivers

This chaotic picture is analogous to what happens when an alarm panel goes into what is commonly known as “runaway condition.” A runaway condition takes place when an alarm control panel, for whatever reason, transmits repeated, constant signals to the monitoring station’s receiving equipment.

Now consider if instead of sending one signal every 24 hours the panel sends 24 signals in one hour. In a typical runaway condition, the number of signals transmitted is much greater and can range from three to 10 signals per minute or more.

This situation creates a number of problems and even with redundant alarm receivers, the panel can bombard the receivers so heavily that these runaway signals can delay or even stop legitimate high priority alarm signals from being received. A system that is transmitting runaway signals can jeopardize all of the other accounts that transmit to that receiver. If the runaway account is transmitting during the central station’s peak signal traffic hours, the problem is only amplified. 

Recruiting Help From the Client

Since there is a danger of potentially missing or delaying one of these emergency signals, runaway panels must be serviced as quickly as possible. Installing alarm contractors working with contract central stations may receive phone calls at all hours of the day or night, alerting the dealer that their subscriber’s panel is in runaway condition. Since these panels often have to be powered down or reset at the location, it can be difficult convincing the subscriber to take this action in the wee hours of the morning.

Regardless of the time of day, dealers should attempt to work with the subscribers over the phone and get them to take action to shut down the runaway dialer. 

Runaway conditions can also be addressed in the subscriber contract or service agreement. These agreements can indicate the subscriber is obligated to take action in the event of a runaway condition, assuming the system can’t be reset remotely by the dealer. This is particularly important if the subscriber’s system reports on a long-distance or toll-free number. A runaway panel dialing in several times a minute can quickly run a phone bill into the hundreds of dollars if it is not serviced promptly.

Alternatively, depending on the amount of activity from the runaway panel, the monitoring station may be put in a position to “block” the subscriber’s phone number until someone takes action to rectify the situation. While the number is blocked, the central station will not receive signals from the panel. Sometimes this action is necessary to prevent turmoil akin to rush hour – all the other commuters have an opportunity to get to their train easily and on time.

Mark Matlock is Senior Vice President at United Central Control Inc. (UCC), a wholesale monitoring station based in San Antonio.


If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author


Mark Matlock is Senior Vice President at United Central Control, a division of Lydia Security Monitoring Inc.

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add sales to your bottom line.

A free subscription to the #1 resource for the residential and commercial security industry will prove to be invaluable. Subscribe today!

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters