The false alarm epidemic is overtaxing law enforcement and sullying the security industry’s reputati
It’s standing room only.
Deep in the heart of
Hollywood, mere blocks
from the world-famous
intersection of Sunset and Vine,
the assembled throng is anxiously
awaiting for the evening’s program to begin.
Is it a movie premiere? Nope. An awards gala? Guess again.
A rock concert? Not even close. Believe it or not, the big draw this night is alarm systems.
Of course, the diverse audience that has huddled together inside the Community Room of the Hollywood Police Station has not shown up entirely of their own volition. In fact, many law enforcement officials and alarm dealers, these people are the bane of their existence.
They are (“Dragnet” theme music please) … FALSE ALARM OFFENDERS (gasp!).
Actually, by and large, the attendees of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) False Alarm School seem like perfectly nice and reasonable folks. Their presence means that they have been cited by the LAPD for a false alarm at least three times during a 365-day period. It also means that they are seeking to have an $86 fine forgiven.
Municipally organized false alarm prevention classes such as this one began popping up about six years ago (the LAPD launched its program in 1996). There are now dozens of similar ones across the country, with more surfacing all the time.
To help the movement along, the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) and False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) have released a guide called “How to Create an Alarm User Awareness School for Your Municipality.”
But, just how effective are these programs? What is involved in establishing one? Are they the solution to the monumental false alarm problem? How much do end users benefit from these classes? Do they view it as obligatory lost time, like traffic school? What can alarm dealers do to contribute?Calls Overwhelm Police; Industry Responds
The false alarm dilemma is as old as electronic security. Through the years, falsely triggered alarm signals have generated a good deal of ill will between alarm companies and the police who waste time responding to such calls. As the penetration of alarm systems increased, the problem only worsened. Stan Martin, vice president of ADI and national coordinator for the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF)/Coordinated Alarm Reduction Effort (CARE) programs, has helped bridge the security-law enforcement gap during the past 14 years. Recently, he managed a cooperative, two-year, 56-city study (“Model States Project”) that has helped establish the best practices for minimizing false alarms.
One of the key bits of information that came out of the Model States Project – besides how vital it is for the security industry and law enforcement to work in unison – was that 80 percent of false alarms are caused by 20 percent of users.
For the alarm dealer then, the key is addressing that 20-percent contingency of troublesome accounts by properly training them. Meanwhile, most law enforcement agencies have addressed the situation by implementing either no-response policies (Las Vegas, Salt Lake City) or permits, setting fines, escalating fines and/or initiating false alarm prevention courses. Phoenix Sets Blueprint for False Alarm Schools
An approach endorsed by the Model States Project and adopted in Los Angeles, among several other counties, is the requirement of alarm system owners to register with the municipality for a permit. The police issue fines for excessive false alarms. The main alarm code variables are the number of false alarms that are deemed excessive, the amount of fines and whether they escalate or are fixed, and the offering of a false alarm prevention class. Phoenix’s success has led many cities to adopt similarly progressive programs. The city issues alarm subscriber permits at $15 per year, and begins fining alarm users $74 for each false alarm beyond two. However, fines may be alleviated by attending a false alarm prevention course. Alarm owners without permits are subject to the fines plus misdemeanor citations.Establishing an Alarm Ordinance Is the First Step
Although the specifics of each municipality are different, the general path taken to implement a false alarm prevention school program is similar to the following scenario.First, an alarm ordinance is established that mandates issuing alarm licenses to alarm owners and the creation of a false alarm class. Next, an alarm unit manager is appointed to carry out the plan. Then, the course content is mapped out and instructors are selected. Often, local alarm companies are invited to participate in the presentations.
NBFAA has assisted municipalities in getting these programs started by compiling information from cities that have created successful schools and posting a downloadable PowerPoint(tm) presentation on its Web site. It may be used as is or as a template to tailor to a particular jurisdiction.Visual Aids and Q&A Help Educate System Users
False alarm prevention sessions generally last about two hours and often include a video, slide show or other visual component, a review and explanation of the local alarm ordinance, and an extensive question-and-answer period. The frequency of the classes vary, depending on resources and demand. In the case of Los Angeles, it’s offered eight times yearly to approximately 450 attendees.
Some cities, such as Overland Park, Kan., opt for smaller classes and greater frequency. The Overland Park Police Department (OPPD) gives attendees a $50 certificate that can be used toward a false alarm fee. In addition, 14 local alarm companies offer from one to three months free monitoring to clients who attend.
The Oxnard Police Department modeled its program on the philosophical foundations of the “Three Es” used in traffic safety: education, engineering and enforcement. According to Chronister, the city’s false alarm school was the first of its kind in Ventura County.Provider Participation Strengthens Programs
In several cities, local alarm dealers and/or associations actively participate in false alarm courses, which helps show both law enforcement and citizens that alarm companies are responsible and care. However, the consensus is that more security professionals need to pitch in.
Unfortunately, some shortsighted dealers who have participated in false alarm programs have exacerbated, rather than improved, the situation.Instructors: People Are Learning From Courses
Most people who have attended traffic school in order to have a moving violation removed from their driving record view the process as a necessary evil. It’s an unpleasant waste of time that must be endured to avoid the cancellation of auto insurance or an increase in rates.
Do false alarm schools elicit similar responses from attendees? Not according to industry experts and program administrators.
According to Rea, the sessions have also provided much-needed user feedback for representatives from alarm companies and associations. Attendees’ False Alarms Decrease Dramatically
Whether or not alarm users embrace or resist false alarm school, the process appears to positively impact the number of subsequent false alarms reported from systems owned by attendees. The Phoenix Police Department, for instance, reports that in excess of 90 percent of attendees never have another problem.
The findings from a study highlighted in Commander Chronister’s report seem to bear this out. The false alarms of a dozen randomly selected false alarm school attendees were compared during 365-day periods before and after the class as well as against a control group that did not attend the class at all.
The “students” averaged nearly a 42-percent reduction in false alarms when comparing the year prior to the class to the year following the
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