Las Vegas Deals Us Out; Will Others Follow Suit?

A few years ago, Las Vegas created an uproar within the security industry by introducing its “no-response” policy for electronic burglar alarms. Well, Las Vegas is at it again! This time the city has instituted a no-response policy for automatic fire alarms, unless they are independently verified.

While I realize this probably outrages most people in our industry, I believe it is important to explore both sides of an issue rather than render a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s take a closer look.

In 2001, Las Vegas had more than 3,300 false fire alarms, costing taxpayers $3.5 million. That is a tremendous drain on resources and, quite frankly, I have always wondered why public services, such as police and fire, respond to automatic electronic devices installed by private, for-profit companies.

No other business entity works this way. Imagine if a utility company dug up a street to run new fiber cable and then left the cost of repairs to the city road department? This in essence is what we are doing. What makes our industry so different?

To get the full story, I called Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and spoke with Tim Szymanski, public relations director for Fire Chief David Washington.

“Current fire alarm city codes and laws only mandate automatic fire alarms notify occupants of the building to evacuate because of fire and, in certain cases, are required to notify the fire department of the fire,” explains Szymanski. “This notification requires occupancies of hotels/casinos, hospitals, detention centers and the like to have their fire alarm monitored by someone who can confirm the fire report and call the fire department. “Fire and smoke alarms in homes are only required to notify the occupants of the home of the fire; they are not required by code to notify the fire department.”

So then, the question is “Why should cities respond to privately installed alarm systems if 98 percent of signals are false?” Consider this for a minute with an open mind. Hey, I’m not the bad guy here; the false alarm issue has been going on for the 20 years I’ve been in the business. Our industry cannot expect this problem to continue for another 20 years.

Szymanski also points out that many of the central stations that monitor Las Vegas are located outside Nevada and cannot confirm whether a fire actually exists. He says medical alarms are particularly problematic.

“Monitoring companies call us to report a medical emergency; our crews arrive on the scene and then have to determine if they have to break into the home to reach an injured person. The city is ultimately responsible for repairs to the home. Also, with units responding with lights and sirens, the odds have increased of being in an accident with other motorists.”

Here’s something else to ponder: If alarm companies are so confident their systems are installed properly, and that end users and monitoring representatives are properly trained, then why not have the central station call up a private ambulance or guard service to verify the alarm before dispatching public services?

Szymanski continues: “If someone calls in a fire or medical alarm to 911 and it turns out to be false, that person is subject to a citation and fine per the Las Vegas Fire Code, and the same goes for alarm monitoring company. This fire code isn’t anything new; we just are now enforcing laws that have been on the books because of the increase in false alarms. Most false alarms are residential and small commercial.”

Fortunately, we have many alarm dealers/integrators who take their work very seriously. It’s those folks who need to stand up and say, “Enough!” Let’s address the 20 percent of users who cause 80 percent of the false alarms. If we do not take drastic measures, the idea of verified response could sweep the country.

Imagine the impact on your company if, tomorrow, you woke up and your city or town refused to dispatch until verified. This could be your future.

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