Last month you read in SDM’s Insider News & Business about how the city of Henderson, Nev., stopped responding to unverified fire alarms. SDM associate editor Heather Klotz spoke with the Henderson deputy fire chief, who told her, “Over a three-and-a-half year period we responded to more than 4,000 alarms called in by monitoring companies. Of these calls, more than 99.9 percent were false alarms or required no intervention from our responders.” (Klotz reported further that the city will only respond to unverified alarms at high-risk occupancies such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.)

Non-response policies — whether aimed at burglar alarms or fire detection systems — go against everything the security industry has been built upon. Fortunately, such policies have not been implemented on a widespread basis, only in some cities and usually with negative results. As long as the security industry continues to aim at the target of reducing false alarms and false dispatches, we will have leverage in community discussions that affect our customers’ security and safety.

This month’s cover story, “The Truth about False Alarms,” beginning on page 42, describes the security industry’s progress, to date, in its effort to reduce false dispatches. (False dispatches are different than false alarms; they are alarms that are dispatched to public safety in order to initiate a response.) The Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a group comprised of members of several alarm industry associations, has been very instrumental in the alarm management effort.

Executive director Stan Martin told SDM, “Over the last eight years, the false dispatch rate has decreased 40 percent to 50 percent during a period when the total number of systems in operation has grown from 17 million to 34 million systems.” Decreasing alarm dispatches in the face of increasing numbers of system is a major accomplishment. A variety of methods are being used; enhanced call verification is one of the most effective.

I’ve observed that in almost every endeavor, people can be classified into three groups according to their behavior. One-third gets actively involved; one-third is interested and sometimes moved to action, but not always; and one-third does nothing. I think this rule-of-thumb can be applied to the industry’s alarm management activities.

Presuming that one-third of the industry’s security professionals have already done the heavy lifting, I am appealing to the next third — those who are interested in doing something more to help the industry and themselves, those who don’t want non-response policies to ruin the value of their business services — but perhaps don’t know where to start.

Here are three simple ways you can get involved, and start to move up into the top third of industry professionals:

  1. Assuming you use the services of a wholesale monitoring company, call your central station or drop by for a visit — ask what their practices are for reducing alarm dispatches. Ask if they practice enhanced call verification and ask specifically how they implement it. If your monitoring provider does not practice a solid form of alarm dispatch management, I suggest you find another company to monitor your accounts.
  2. Start collecting additional phone numbers and contact information from your subscribers. You can include postage-paid return envelopes in your next batch of invoices, asking customers to provide additional phone numbers. You can hire a college student (or find one to do a free internship), and set him or her to the task of calling for the information.
  3. Visit the Web site of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition: Take five minutes out of your schedule early one morning or after the day’s work is done, click on the Dealer link, and register for a user name and password. Once you receive it, dedicate time to become more familiar with SIAC’s programs, information and resources.

Please don’t stand idle when so much is at stake. Managing alarms is a long-term, perhaps never-ending effort that needs as much commitment from the industry as possible. Move up to the top third and get involved.