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Cause for (False) Alarm: What You Can Do to Help

It's an issue that has caught the attention of everyone from the Department of Justice to the guerrilla economists at freakonomics.com: security system false alarms.

Police respond to millions of alarm activations every year, and most of those calls (many estimates put the number at more than 90 percent) turn out to be false alarms. As you might expect, the associated costs in terms of law enforcement resources are considerable.

Much of the debate over false alarms focuses on those costs, and how to recoup them.

Meanwhile, the security industry has made the reduction of false alarms a top priority. The Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a security system trade group, collaborated with various law enforcement organizations to develop "best practices" model ordinances for local governments.

However, security system users who are more interested in practicality than policy would probably be satisfied with knowing how they can avoid false alarms in the first place.

Who pays, and how?

To deal with the costs of false alarms, dozens of local law enforcement agencies and municipalities across the country have enacted systems of permits and penalties.

Sometimes, businesses and homeowners must pay to register their alarm systems. In other cases, the local government charges the provider and costs are passed on to the consumer indirectly.

When a false alarm occurs, the security system users must pay a fine — typically after two warnings in the same 12-month period. (At different points in time, some local governments have expressed interest in fining the alarm companies themselves rather than their customers.)

Fines can range anywhere from $25 to $100 per incident. Some local governments also require the alarm subscriber to have the system inspected.

How to avoid them

The most common causes of false alarms include:

  • Pets
  • Improper installation
  • Human error

Fortunately, a top-quality alarm system provider can help you reduce your risk for false alarms.

Pets — A security system with a pet-sensitive motion detector can be programmed to disregard the movement of your animal companions.

Improper installation — Many security providers offer professional installation. For example, a trained installer will know to avoid placing motion detectors near heating and cooling vents, where sudden gusts of air can create the illusion of an intruder.

Human error — It's common for professional installers to show homeowners how their new security systems work. Also, systems that offer guess access codes make it easier for trusted visitors like babysitters and relatives to enter your home without incident.

Be informed, not afraid

The key components of the SIAC's model ordinances include awareness and outreach — educating members of the public. In this respect, the subject of false alarms is no different than any other issue. Addressing the problem will require a better-informed public as an essential ingredient.

Don't let anxiety about false alarms keep you from enjoying home security benefits. Contact your security provider and find out what steps you can take to be part of the solution.

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