Alarm User Information

An alarm system can bring you a sense of security and peace of mind and is effective with proper installation, adequate training and regular maintenance.

FARA worked with the North Texas Alarm Association, Texas Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and the National Electronic Security Alliance to create a video that can be used to train alarm users about false alarms. Click Here to View the Alarm User Video.

Poorly used, installed or maintained systems can cause significant problems for the consumer and public safety officials alike. Therefore, it is important for alarm users to do their homework before buying and installing an alarm system.

FARA has developed a set of guides and bulletins to help alarm users make an informed decision on an alarm system purchase and use the information to help prevent false alarms. The information that FARA has developed for consumers includes a guide for consumers who are purchasing an alarm system, a guide on overall steps one can take to secure a residence and four trifold brochures on false alarm reduction steps for specific types of users (banks, businesses, school, religious facilities and residences). FARA has also developed several one page bulletins on a variety of topics including: consumer protection, how to operate your alarm system, dealing with your alarm company, common causes of false alarms and steps you can take to reduce them.

This information is available to FARA members for use and distribution. Members should visit the Members section for more information. Non members can click here to view an example. Members can download these publications from our website. Nonmembers can contact FARA, a member alarm company or local jurisdiction to receive copies.

We have also developed information designed to protect alarm users from unscrupulous alarm dealers  Click here for Alarm User Protection Information.

{slide=What Is A False Alarm?}

  • For A Burglar or Holdup Alarm: A false alarm is notification of an alarm to law enforcement when the responding authority finds no evidence of criminal offense or attempted criminal offense.
  • For a Fire Alarm: The activation of any fire alarm system which results in a response by the fire department and which is caused by the negligence or intentional misuse of the fire alarm system by the owner, its employees, agents or any other activation of a fire alarm system not caused by heat, smoke or fire.{/slide}

{slide=Why Are False Alarms A Problem?}

  • Cost You: False alarms cost system users $$$.
  • Waste: False alarms waste valuable public safety resources.
  • Delay Response: False alarms can delay response when you really need it.
  • Complacency: Frequent false alarms tend to make responders complacent. Complacency leads to carelessness. Carelessness injures law enforcement & firefighters.
  • Cry Wolf: Can desensitize the community to actual incidents and lead occupants and others to ignore the alarm when it goes off.
  • Can discourage use of alarms: False alarms make owners reluctant to use their system, exposing their home, facility or business to fire and property damage.{/slide}

{slide=How Can I Reduce False Alarms?}

There are several successful false alarm reduction techniques that have been proven to reduce the likelihood of false alarms.

  • Train all Users: Educate all alarm system users on the proper use of the alarm system.
  • Fix Any Problems: Schedule a service call if the alarm is not working properly.
  • Use ECV – Enhanced Call Verification: ECV is an alarm monitoring procedure requiring that a minimum of two calls be made to two different alarm user telephone numbers prior to requesting public safety dispatch. Typically, one of the phone numbers is the alarm user’s cell phone.
  • Update Contact Info: Make sure the contact numbers on file with your alarm company are always up to date. Be proactive and add your alarm company’s phone number to your cell phone contact list.
  • If You Give Them A Key – Give Them the Codes: To avoid false alarms, ensure that persons with access to your location (Scheduled workers, Maintenance, Cleaners/Cleaning Crews, House or Pet Sitters & Landscapers) have the proper temporary codes and passwords for your alarm system.
  • Cross Zone: This is an alarm monitoring technique that requires more than one zone in your burglar alarm system to fault or trip before public safety is notified.  For example, a perimeter and an interior motion alarm would both have to trip within a specified period of time in order to summon public safety. In this situation, if an interior motion trips but the perimeter does not, the alarm company will not request a public safety dispatch.
  • Follow the ANSI/SIA Control Panel Standard (CP-01): CP-01 is a standard that addresses the settings on control panels to avoid the most common cause of false alarms; user error. Alarm users should ask their alarm companies to use panels that comply with CP-01.
  • Take Care With Pets: Talk to your alarm company about installing pet friendly devices or changing your system design to accommodate pets.
  • Check On Any Displays: Always ensure that hanging or moving decorations will not activate motion detectors, especially when heating systems come on.
  • Take Care When Rearranging: Before rearranging your furniture or putting up the new spring curtains or drapes, first determine whether the design change would interfere with the operation of your motion detectors.
  • Check Before Remodeling: Always contact your alarm company prior to starting any remodeling project. You need to work with your alarm company to make sure the remodeling process does not cause false alarms and that your system will continue to work properly after the work is completed.
  • Check Your Batteries: Like all batteries, your backup has a useful life of about 3 to 5 years, but that life may be shortened if you have had several power outages. Your system battery should be checked annually, or after any storm related false alarm, by an alarm technician and replaced when needed.
  • Use Video or Audio Verification:  When utilized in an electronic security application, it allows the monitoring center to either “hear” or “see” into the protected premise to determine if an intruder is present.{/slide}

{slide=Should Storms Cause A False Alarm?}

NO. Power surges and lightning strikes should not cause false alarms!  False alarms caused by lightning strikes are controllable through the proper grounding of alarm systems and the use of power AND phone line surge suppressors. Use of surge suppressors greatly reduces false alarms by redirecting and dissipating electrical current to the ground.  Power outages or interruption of power should not cause false alarms!{/slide}

{slide=How Should I Use Duress, Hold-Up & Panic Alarms?}

Duress, hold-up and panic alarms are designed to allow alarm users to activate the system under specific emergency situations when they are unable to dial 9-1-1. These types of alarms generally result in a heightened response, sometimes with lights and sirens, due to a raised likelihood of a criminal event in progress. Therefore, activating these types of alarms in non-emergency situations could result in stiff penalties and fines to the alarm user. It is very important that alarm users understand that activation of these types of alarms in non-emergency or improper situations may place law enforcement officers, alarm users and the general public at increased risk.

 When NOT to use your duress, hold-up or panic alarm:

  • When you need fire or medical assistance
  • To check to see how long it takes law enforcement officers to respond
  • When someone has shoplifted merchandise
  • To report a fight in the parking lot
  • When an underage person attempts to buy alcohol
  • To report that a vehicle has been stolen
  • Any other circumstance in which you are not in a life-threatening or emergency situation

When it is appropriate to use your duress, hold-up or panic alarm:

  • In emergency situations when you are unable to dial 9-1-1 for law enforcement assistance
  • During a robbery or hold-up in progress
  • When you are physically threatened{/slide}

{slide=What is Video Verification?}

Video is typically transmitted to the monitoring center when another security device in the protected premise has been activated. It is often used to determine who (if anyone) is at the protected premise when the premise is breached. It has also been effective in outdoor applications where audio verification and other technologies are not as effective.{/slide}

{slide=What Is Audio Verification?}

There are three major methods being utilized in the market today:

  1. Listen-in Audio: When a security device has been activated, such as a door contact or motion detector, etc., the listen-in device is also turned on to allow the monitoring center to hear what is happening at the protected premises.
  2. Two-Way Audio: A hands free communication session takes place between the alarm user and monitoring center to assist in determining the cause of an alarm activation in the protected premise. This method is most commonly used with the alarm user’s keypad.
  3. Impact Activated Audio: Sounds are transmitted to the monitoring center from the protected premise by an audio sensor, which is capable of hearing the sounds of an actual intrusion as it is taking place. This is different from the listen-in capability in that no other security device needs to be activated for this technology to function.{/slide}

{slide=How Can Disasters Impact Alarm Systems?}

If you are required to evacuate due to a disaster, do you have a plan in place to avoid potential false alarms from your alarm system? Taking a few simple steps before a disaster occurs, will help to avoid potential problems and the uncertainty that comes when you are required to make quick decisions in the face of a disaster.

  • If you install a generator to prepare for power outages, discuss with your alarm company how to connect the alarm system, as well as the procedures to follow before a disaster occurs.
  • Ensure that your contact list and information is always kept current. You should contact your alarm company at least once per year to update.
  • If you relocate in an emergency, contact your alarm company with phone numbers of where you can be reached and provide them with the phone number of a contact person outside the immediate area, if available.{/slide}

{slide=What Is Your Identity Password?}

When an alarm activation occurs and the alarm company calls, the alarm operator will ask, “What is your password?” Few customers will answer this question correctly on the first try. Your Identity Password is the word you gave your alarm company when you had the system installed, which identifies you to the alarm company as an authorized alarm user. It should be a word that is familiar to you and can easily be recalled. The Identity Password may be called a passcode, password, personal identification code (PIC) or personal identification number (PIN) by your alarm company. Your Identity Password is NOT your entry/exit code.{/slide}

{slide=What Is Your Entry/Exit Code?}

When your alarm system was installed, the installer asked you to select a secret entry/exit code – the sequence of numbers (usually 4 digits) that you press into the keypad to arm or disarm your system. You probably selected a number that would be easy to remember for you and others who would be using your system. When the alarm company calls, this may be the first number that you recall because you use it so frequently, but it is not your Identity Password. Remember, it is a secret code that only you and other authorized users of your alarm system know. The entry/exit code cannot identify you as an authorized user to the alarm monitoring company, because it is not on file with them.{/slide}

{slide=Types of systems}

  • Burglar Alarm Systems – A system that alerts homeowners or business owners to an intruder via annunciators and sensors. A burglar alarm system is activated and deactivated by the user via a control panel or keypad. Free Guide
  • Fire Alarm Systems – A system that alerts homeowners or business owners to fire via manual pull stations, smoke or detectors or monitoring of sprinkler systems.
  • Robbery Alarms are also known as hold-up, duress, ambush or emergency alarms and have communications capabilities to alert someone off site when the alarm is activated.
  • Access Control Systems – Allow people or vehicles into a restricted area via identification through coded keys, magnetic cards, or biometric readers such as hand, face, voice, finger of retina readers. These systems are used in many businesses, hotels and apartment complexes.
  • Closed Circuit Television Systems (CCTV) – A camera system that displays activity on a premise via video monitors. Used primarily in businesses but becoming more popular in homes as well to view visitors at the door or monitor activity in a baby’s room.
  • Home Control and Automation Systems – Home automation connects all aspects of a system together through one central control panel, keypad or remote. Used in what is called a “smart home” where virtually all home functions can be linked together and controlled via one central remote or keypad.{/slide}

{slide=Be an Educated Consumer}

In order to be an informed consumer you need to understand the different components of a system. The best systems professional will help you determine what components you need to serve your home or business.

Your systems professional should discuss what options fit your home and/or business and lifestyle, for instance, do you have small children, pets, are you away from your home for long periods of time, do you have expensive items such as jewelry you want to protect. All of these things may factor in to determine which system is best for you.

You may decide to install a system for a specific purpose but keep in mind in you can link other devices into your system such as security, fire, entertainment, controlled heating and lighting, and carbon monoxide detection. There can also be cost savings to combine these features versus installing them at a later date. It all depends on what you want and what suits you best.

The best systems professional will customize your system for your needs!

Selecting a contractor

If you are considering purchasing an alarm system, do your homework first! By taking a little time now, you can avoid potential problems later.

The False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) recommends that consumers take the following steps BEFORE selecting a systems contractor:

  • Understand/identify your needs, environmental factors and budget.
  • Contact your local Consumer Affairs Office, Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General’s Office for information on any alarm company with which you are considering doing business. Consumer offices will often maintain records of filed complaints and will provide you with information on the basis for the complaint, as well as its resolution.
  • Contact your Police Department/Sheriff’s Office to find out if there are any permit/registration requirements for alarm systems, as well as any fines or fees that may be imposed for false alarms.
  • Contact your state or local Licensing Bureau to determine if the alarm company with which you are considering doing business has all of the required licenses, bonds, insurance, etc. (if applicable).
  • Know your responsibilities and those of your alarm company before you buy or lease!
  • Read and fully understand your entire contract before you sign on the dotted line. Remember, ignorance is no defense! If you don’t understand something, be sure to ask questions until you do.
  • Nothing that has been guaranteed to you orally will be enforceable unless it is in writing in the contract.

Comparison shop.

Select two or three different alarm companies from which to receive written quotes.

Comparison shop for things such as best price, features you want, most favorable monitoring terms and conditions and for alarm companies that take false alarms seriously and have false alarm reduction plans in effect.

Don’t be afraid to ask each potential alarm company how their specific alarm system and its installation will avoid potential false alarms.

Knowing what questions to ask is half the battle.

However, if you’ve never had an alarm system before, how can you be expected to know what is important?

  • Do you know the difference between a local and a monitored alarm system?
  • How about the difference between a glass break and a motion sensor?
  • What are “panic” features anyway?
  • Is there a cancellation policy?
  • Purchase vs. lease?
  • Does the company do its own monitoring or does it contract out to a third-party monitoring center? Is any of this even relevant?!
  • FARA has published a Consumer Guide to Purchasing a Burglar Alarm. This guide provides you with fundamental information that you should have in order to make an informed decision. Use the handy chart, which lists questions you should ask of each potential company and record the answers to your questions for future reference.

Be a smart consumer!

  • Know what you want (or at the very least, what questions to ask to help you determine what is best for you), what you can afford and what your responsibilities will be as an alarm user.
  • Match up your expectations with the alarm company that comes closest to, or matches exactly, your specific needs and desires.
  • You want your burglar alarm system to bring you security and peace of mind; isn’t that worth a small investment of your time on the front end so you won’t live to regret it on the back end?
  • Ask the companies if they have appropriate state and/or local licenses, if required.
  • Ask the companies if they conduct any pre-employment screening.
  • Contact your local police department’s Crime Prevention Department, state licensing agencies, Consumer Protection Agencies, and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Ask your insurance agent, friends, family or neighbors for referrals.
  • After you’ve narrowed the field to three or four alarm companies, ask for the name of the person who will call on you. It is best to plan the appointment time when all those involved in the decision are present.
  • When he/she visits, ask to see some company identification.
  • Ask each alarm company representative for an inspection, recommendation and a quote in writing. Use a checklist to compare different packages and price quotes.{/slide}

{slide=Professional installation vs. do-it-yourself}

Before you decide to install an electronic system yourself consider these factors:

Are you aware of all the codes and standards that govern how your system is installed and operated?

  • Are you aware of all of the options and features of the equipment you plan to install?
  • Have you considered the value of your time to learn about and install the system in calculating the cost of your do it yourself installation?
  • Is the equipment you have access to at retail outlets of equal quality to the professional grade equipment?
  • Do you own all the tools you will need to install, test and calibrate the equipment you plan to use?
  • Will your insurance policies cover you if you are injured or do damage to your property during the installation?
  • Does the company you bought the equipment from provide sufficient help in the event something goes wrong during the installation?{/slide}

{slide=Are burglar bars safe?}Take care when you install burglar bars to keep intruders out as you may end up trapping yourself in if there is a fire. Click here to download the US Fire Administration fact sheet of Burglar Bars.{/slide}