State of False Alarms

July 25, 2009
Control panel standard and outreach nip dispatch rate

For as long as there’s been security, there have been false alarms. But when you really look at the issue and how far the industry has come, you can see that advocacy and real-world manufacturing practices have harnessed the situation quite well.

“Can you imagine what it would be like today if we hadn’t been proactive about alarm management?” asked Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), Frisco, Texas. Martin said there are currently 35 to 36 million alarms in use, a significant increase from the 14 to 15 million about 10 years ago. SIAC is comprised of the Canadian Security Association (CANASA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA).

“Yet dispatch rates have been reduced by 70 percent, even with the much larger installed base of alarms,” he said.

SIAC research indicates that some 90 percent of public safety officials consider the alarm industry members their allies, Martin continued. “We also found a high 90 percent of law enforcement and public safety officials understand the value of alarms and want to continue a positive alliance with the industry,” he added.

The beginning of this story goes back many years when SIA and other advocates conducted research to examine the problem. What they found was that 70 percent of false alarms could be attributed to user error. And the solution came in the creation of the groundbreaking ANSI/SIA-CP-01 Control Panel Standard – Features for False Alarm Reduction. The majority of the industry’s control panel and alarm receiver manufacturers participated in the creation of the standard.

"We studied causes of false alarms, determined solutions and recommended programming changes to the panels and then spent several years trying to get voluntary dealer compliance," Martin explained. "The companies that were paying attention, proactive and professional either were doing the right things or made the recommended changes to improve. However, the vast majority of dealers either didn’t get it or didn’t seem to care. The logical solution was to have the panels 'pre-programmed' from the factory. It was the only way to force a necessary industry change, although many well-run companies found the ‘forced’ change a bit restrictive, nearly all have agreed it was necessary for the good of the industry, the public and our allies in law enforcement.”

The standard details design features for security system control panels to reduce false alarms in residential and commercial properties. It covers event recognition and information handling sequences, as well as provisions for system layout testing. Addressing both user- and equipment-caused false alarms, it is intended for use or reference by all security industry professionals. The 2000 version strengthened the user interface features to increase prevention and recovery from user caused false alarms.

Currently, the standard is undergoing revisions by SIA intended to further reduce the incidence of false alarms and will include updated arming and disarming procedures for security system control panels. The revision has several significant changes, including eliminating single button devices to initiate panic alarms; providing exceptions for the specified time ranges of the entry and dialer delay times; expanding the range for swinger shut-down programming; and requiring more specific product documentation.

Many of the key features of the original CP-01 standard deal with the acts of exiting/arming and entering/disarming, because that’s where the majority of false alarms originate. Some key features include:

  • Swinger shut down programming—allows the end-user to manually reset the alarm once after 48 hours and is designed to address environmental or other problems such as bad door switches or bugs in a PIR. An optional part is having the swinger trouble signal sent after the first trip.
  • Minimum of 45 second delay for the user to exit a building before the alarm is activated.
  • An audible exit annunciation sounder which increases in frequency ten seconds prior to final activation.
  • Entry and disarming considerations or entry delay feature. A 30-second minimum delay time between the opening of the designated entry door (detection) and alarm activation allows people the time they need to get to the keypad. (This procedure alone has resulted in a 35 percent fewer dispatches, according to Martin.)

“Where would we be today if we didn’t have this standard and enhanced call verification? I think we all know the answer."

Editor’s note: SIAC is a not-for-profit organization that can be reached at