Study: SIAC model ordinance helps reduce false alarms

July 13, 2022
New research finds that only a small percentage of installed systems could be classified as 'problematic'

In recent years, municipalities across the country have enacted a variety of measures aimed at reducing the number of false alarms responded to by police, firefighters and EMTs.

The penalties levied by these ordinances have ranged from simple warnings to sliding scale fines issued to home or business owners depending on the number of false dispatches incurred annually. The metropolitan Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, Ga., even passed legislation in 2017 that sought to penalize alarm companies for the false calls generated by their customers until a law passed by state lawmakers last year banned the practice.

Despite the furor created by these laws and the insistence among local officials that hefty fines are necessary to cut down on the waste of time and resources caused by false alarms, a recently published study conducted by Joe Kuhns, Ph.D., a professor in the Criminal Justice & Criminology department at UNC-Charlotte, found communities that adopted the Security Industry Alarm Coalition’s (SIAC) Model Alarm Ordinance were able to effectively reduce false calls, while simultaneously maintaining police response to alarms.

SIAC’s Model Ordinance incorporates a variety of industry best practices, including:

  • ECC – Enhanced Call Confirmation (previously called Enhanced Call Verification or ECV) – Two calls to different numbers to determine the cause of the alarm and whether a dispatch is required. Video, audio, and other means of confirmation are also included in the referenced ANSI CS-V01 standard in the Model Ordinance.
  • Requiring Alarm Permits w/fees – Registration for security systems is critical for the effective management of alarm programs.
  • Limiting Free Responses/fines – Setting reasonable fines for alarm dispatches can be a significant deterrent to the occasional offender. Allowing a maximum of two free responses before incurring fines is advisable. Utilizing one free response will yield even higher dispatch reductions.
  • Ceasing Response to Chronic Abusers – The industry supports stopping response to the chronic abusers while including a reasonable appeal and restoration process.
  •  Accepting Cancellations – Allowing calls to be canceled if originating party verifies response is not needed.  

The four communities studied included Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Atlanta and Marietta, Ga.; and, Montgomery County, Md. The annual average percentage of registered alarms that generated zero dispatches was as high as 92% in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 82.6% in Atlanta, 87.5% in Montgomery County and 66.4% in Marietta. These statistics represented an 8 or 10-year average, depending on how long the ordinance had been in effect.

“A key finding of the study,” Kuhns said in a statement “is that the vast majority of alarm systems in these four locations were effective at protecting lives and property while generating zero calls for service in a given year, and only a tiny percentage are problematic systems that generated multiple calls for service.”

“It is also noteworthy that the percentage of zero dispatches tends to increase over time,” added Kuhns.  “As jurisdictions get better at administration, and the public becomes more familiar with the ordinance, results consistently improved over time in these four settings.”

“The Model Alarm Ordinance directly addresses the issue that the vast majority of false alarms are caused by user error,” said SIAC Executive Director Stan Martin. “The study demonstrates that the strategy of focusing on the chronic abusers and fining owners who are careless in operating their electronic security systems is the most effective way of minimizing calls for service.”