Lothian and Borders' fire service attends around 8000 calls a year from businesses wired up to its system. However, 98 per cent of these are false and false alarms still cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in wasted journeys every year. The service says that despite there being no legislation allowing it to impose fines there are a number of options open to it when buildings known to be affected regularly by false alarms came up on the system.
Those choices, set nationally, range from sending a full brigade out on each occasion, regardless of how often the alarm goes off, to not responding at all unless a separate 999 call is made by the premises' supervisor.
A spokesman said: "At Lothian and Borders if an alarm goes off somewhere that we know experienced a false alarm recently we send one appliance out with its blue lights on to check it out. In other areas it is done differently, but that is how we do it."
He added that ignoring an alarm unless additional notification comes through "is an option, but we've never done it".
The spokesman added: "We also work closely with organisations, like universities, to see how to solve a problem if it is happening regularly."
Alarms going off for no reason continue to perplex the police. Supt Marshall admitted that the force is caught in a dilemma but cannot afford to ignore an alarm. "We are a response service and we will not give up any opportunity that might allow us to catch a housebreaker or prevent a crime. It's a balancing act in providing the appropriate level of response."
Matt Morrell, director of city-based security firm, Safe Simple Secure, has worked in the industry for 15 years.
He said: "Customer error is common for setting off alarms, as are insects which can trigger infra-red devices. And we advise people not to install alarms above radiators as heat can trigger them too.
"But the new systems which connect to monitoring centres are much better. In the past, police would have to deal with far more faulty alarm calls."
"We advise people to keep their systems up-to-date and well-maintained."