Back to Basics, Facility Security, Security Hardware and Technology

Back to Basics: Top 10 Reasons for False Security Alarms

Back to Basics is an article series highlighting important, but possibly overlooked, information that security professionals should know.

A security system, connected to a 24/7 external alarm monitoring center, is a great way for businesses to protect their properties. However, security professionals constantly battle the problem of security system false alarms. It’s a problem not only affecting business owners but apartment landlords and homeowners too. Historically, up to 98% of alarm calls in the United States are false alarms.

false security alarms

A false alarm is a response by police to a facility where no criminal activity has taken place. These false alarms come at a huge cost because at least one or two officers respond to each call.

Facilities management professionals and security professionals need to work together to reduce the number of false alarms coming from their facilities.

10 Most Common Reasons for False Alarms (and Ways to Avoid Them)

1. Improper installation: The system was installed by someone not following the manufacturer’s recommendations. It is recommended that all systems are installed by trained personnel.

2. Inadequate maintenance: This is caused due to failure to clean and maintain detectors and replace dying batteries. Annual maintenance should be done to remove dust and dirt. On-site security professionals should check component housing to ensure it is not cracked or rusted, that wiring is not frayed, and that cameras are working.

3. System malfunction: This can be caused by faulty equipment such as panels, detectors, keypads, and video cameras. It’s important that security professionals perform regular inspections to identify potential problems. The main security panel should be reprogrammed if the building’s layout changes as the result of major renovation or expansion.

4. Power: Power surges or outages should be reported to the security monitoring facility, so they are aware power was not deliberately cut by a potential intruder. Security professionals should have a battery backup system, and possibly a secondary backup, in the event of prolonged power outages.

5. Lack of training: Authorized users who do not use the system properly could easily set off the alarm. This issue includes failure to cancel an alarm and provide an updated authorized personnel list with the monitoring facility.  Security professionals should provide a handbook detailing all necessary directions so that authorized personnel can refer to it, if necessary.   

6. Passcode issues: One major issue happens when personnel type in the wrong code. Authorized personnel should be notified when the passcode is changed, and they should memorize the code. Another issue is when personnel fail to enter the passcode before the alarm timer goes off. Be sure to relocate the keypad near the entry point and adjust the time as needed.

7. Unscheduled entry or exit: Entering or exiting outside designated times can set off the alarm. Security professionals should contact the monitoring company if accessing the property outside those hours.

8. Weather conditions: Hurricanes, tornadoes, and strong winds can set off a motion detector, glass break detector, or blow open a door. Security professionals should keep a close eye on the system during severe weather events.

9. Failure to properly secure property perimeter and loose sensors: Having doors and windows that have not been shut and locked properly prior to activating the security system can cause the alarm to go off. On-site security guards should not only ensure all doors and windows have been secured but also check for loose sensors on doors and windows which can set off the alarm. They should use deadbolts for exterior doors to prevent issues from them not shutting and latching completely.

10. Objects: Moveable objects, including pets, rodents, and insects, that are inside a facility can set off the alarm. Security professionals should relocate motion sensors above waist level.

False Alarm Costs

There are many costs involved with false alarms, including:

  • Some estimates suggest that false alarms cost police departments about $1.8 billion and thousands of person-hours annually.
  • Many municipalities will issue fines against business owners that have false alarms, either for all alarms or after a specific number in one year. These municipalities often require businesses to purchase an alarm permit, and failure to purchase it results in higher false alarm fees.
  • Some municipalities require businesses to provide third-party verification that a crime is taking place before police will respond due to the costs associated with responding to the scene and performing a false alarm analysis.
  • Some municipalities fine security companies for false alarms to encourage them to educate their customers and ensure their alarms are working correctly.
  • As the police respond to false alarms, they are unable to work actual crimes and it takes them longer to respond to other calls.

Reducing False Alarms Through Technology and Personnel

Security professionals should invest in technology to help reduce false alarms even more. They should embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. For the best security, this should be combined with 24/7 video and audio property monitoring by live security professionals with recording capabilities.

Companies should instruct off-site security system monitoring teams to contact an on-site security professional if an alarm does go off, rather than automatically calling the police. This will ensure that police are not contacted in the event of a false alarm.

There are many reasons that security systems can give off false alarms. Security professionals should work hard to prevent this from happening. If they don’t, they likely will pay a cost, whether it’s a fine from their municipalities or delayed response to their properties when a crime is being committed as police are tied up at another location where a false alarm did go off.