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What Causes False Alarms and How Can You Prevent Them?

Despite advanced security technology, false alarms do happen. Non-emergency events are major strains on local emergency resources. Costs associated with false alarm dispatches cost the public millions of dollars every year.

False alarm fines are rarely levied against burglar alarm owners. Many jurisdictions give a pass to first- and second-time false alarm offenders. However, if you live in a jurisdiction that does levy a fine for first-time false alarms, or you are dealing with persistent false alarms, a fine can cost you as much as $250.

False alarms represent a costly issue for police, first responders, and communities as a whole. 

Burglar alarm activations are the highest-volume type of call for emergency responders. Unfortunately, the majority of these burglar alarm activations are false alarms. Police and emergency responders dedicate significant resources to alarm response, and costs associated with false alarms go beyond what you might think.

Typical false alarm costs include:

  • Personnel costs of police call takers and dispatchers. 
  • Backup personnel and equipment costs.
  • Time and costs associated with analyzing false alarms. 
  • Lost-opportunity costs. False alarms can prevent police from responding to actual crimes.
  • Costs associated with call displacement because the response to other 911 calls takes longer.

As we mentioned above, law enforcement agencies often give burglar alarm owners a pass for first- and second-time offenses. When fines are levied, they’re relatively inexpensive, not nearly enough to cover all the costs of a false alarm. Most costs associated with false alarms are passed on to taxpayers.  

What can you do to prevent false alarms?

Approximately 80% of false alarms are caused by simple user error. Other common causes include installation mistakes and improper system maintenance.

The good news is that these false alarms are largely avoidable. 

You can prevent false alarms by:

  • Entering the correct PIN code and doing so before too much time elapses. While setting a secure PIN code for your burglar alarm system is incredibly important, it’s just as important to remember the PIN code so you can enter it correctly. Most burglar alarms will activate if the alarm gets entered incorrectly after multiple attempts. They will also activate after a set amount of time. Either choose a code related to a memorable event that isn’t public knowledge, or save your PIN code in the Notes app on your phone as long as your phone is fully secured
  • Becoming familiar with and training others how to use the security system. This is a common problem for businesses with multiple employees. Be sure to train all employees who will arm and disarm the system. Develop an action plan of what to do in case the alarm itself malfunctions or an employee has trouble arming or disarming. Such a plan might include who to contact and what steps to take to make sure the system works properly so a false alarm doesn’t get triggered. 
  • Properly securing doors and windows. This depends on the system you have, as some burglar alarms may not detect open doors and windows. Be sure to discuss this feature with your alarm provider. Alarm systems that do have this feature may display the location of open doors and windows, which can be helpful in preventing false alarms. Even if you believe all doors and windows are secure, be sure to double check. 
  • Properly installing and configuring motion sensors. People, pets, or objects in close proximity to motion sensors can set off a false alarm. A motion sensor should be installed near entryways and other points of interest, such as back-office inventory rooms. Most motion sensors activate the alarm in the presence of motion or heat. Try to avoid walking near motion sensors after the alarm has been set. You may have to configure the detector’s sensitivity settings, so it does not trip an alarm when the family pet or otherwise authorized person walks near it. A professional security provider can help you determine where best to install the sensors, so they don’t cause false alarms. 
  • Regularly checking system status and device operation. Weak batteries can trip an alarm, as can a power outage. Check the status of battery-powered security devices to make sure they have plenty of power. Certain devices will notify you that the batteries are low; other devices might beep or chirp, letting you know it’s time for new batteries. For devices that are plugged in, some security providers offer battery backups that automatically turn on in the case of a power outage. A battery backup can keep your security system active and prevent false alarms—test backup batteries, especially if your system is a few years old. 

You should also consider alarm monitoring and live video monitoring services, both of which work to confirm an emergency when an alarm gets activated. In fact, you may be required to have some form of alarm verification, depending on where you live. Some police agencies and first responders will respond only to verified alarms

If your alarm accidentally activates, try not to panic. Here is what you can do to ensure emergency responders are not dispatched to your home or business when it’s a false alarm.

It’s clear that false alarms do happen—it’s also clear that they can happen due to simple user error. If an accidental alarm activation occurs, stay calm so you can work through the issue. 

First things first: try to reset your alarm. Maybe you typed in the wrong PIN code, hit a wrong button, or didn’t notice that a door was still unlocked before setting the alarm. Whatever the case, go to your alarm control panel and enter the PIN code. This should disable the alarm.

Once the alarm is deactivated (or if you cannot deactivate the alarm), contact your security provider. Chances are they received an alarm activation alert and want to know if the situation requires an emergency response. You may be required to give the security provider representative your account password and ID number, so have it handy. It’s best to contact your security provider prior to re-arming your system, just to ensure they know it is a false alarm and there is no reason to dispatch police. 

You should not contact 911 during a false alarm event. After all, it’s a false alarm—you don’t need police resources. Contact your security provider. 

What if a false alarm is triggered when you are not present? This is something you probably talked about with your security provider when the system was installed. The alarm monitoring center should have a protocol to follow when they get an alarm alert. Most times, they will contact the burglar alarm owner and/or anyone listed on the account before contacting law enforcement. When you set up notifications with your provider, have them call at least two phones before alerting authorities.

If you are unsure what caused the false alarm, reach out to your security provider. They can help you properly operate the system—again, knowing the ins and outs of how your security system works can reduce false alarms. 

At Bay Alarm, we know false alarms can happen. That’s why we offer live alarm monitoring and video verification—our monitoring agents work 24/7, always ready to act when they receive an alarm alert. They will work to determine if an alarm is a false alarm, and if it is, cancel police dispatch. Contact us today to hear more about our alarm verification services and learn how our security has been helping protect people just like you for over 70 years!