what do you do if there's a false alarm

What Do You Do If There’s A False Alarm?

The activation of an alarm system through mechanical failure, accident, malfunction, misuse, improper activation or negligence. False alarms shall not include alarms caused by acts, other causes beyond the control of the alarm agent, alarm business or alarm user.

The three leading causes of false alarms are user error, installation or service errors, and equipment failure. 

More than 80% of all false alarms are caused by user error. There are easy steps you and your alarm dealer can take to prevent false alarms. 

False alarms present a severe threat to the effectiveness of our local police, fire and EMS departments, as well as public safety. False alarms are costly and dangerous by taking authority off of patrol to answer actual emergency calls.

The three leading causes of false alarms are: 

  • user error
  • installation/service error
  • equipment failure.

More than 80 per cent of all false alarms are caused by user error. There are easy steps you and your alarm monitoring company can take to prevent false alarms.

False alarms present a severe threat to the effectiveness of our local police, fire and Emergency Medical System (EMS) departments, and the safety of our citizens.

False alarms are costly and dangerous because they divert police officers from proactive crime prevention efforts and deny response to proper emergency calls. Problem sites or actions of the following:

  • Unlocked or loose doors or windows
  • Children, neighbours and visitors
  • A cleaning crew, repair workers, pet sitters
  • Pets or other wildlife
  • User error
  • Equipment malfunction

Before You Activate Your Alarm System

  • Provide your alarm permit number to your alarm monitoring company.
  • Ensure that you and others who use the security system are fully educated on its proper operation. This may include domestic or cleaning crews, children, neighbours, caretakers, employees and temporary staff.
  • Securely close and lock all protected doors and windows.
  • If you are leaving your home or business, close the door tight.  
  • Keep pets, balloons, fans, heaters, etc., away from motion sensor areas.
  • Know and rehearse the process to cancel an accidental alarm. Anyone with your key should know this process. If you give them your key, provide them with the code.
  • Know how much time you have to leave after you arm your system and disarm your system when you enter.

What If You Accidentally Activate The Alarm?

why is my alarm hub beeping 2

  • Do not panic.
  • Carefully enter your disarm code to reset your system.
  • Would you mind waiting for your alarm company or central monitoring station to call and give them your password or ID card number?
  • Do not leave your home or business until you have talked with your monitoring station. If they do not call you when the alarm activates, have their number posted by your control panel and contact them to cancel the police dispatch.
  • DO NOT call 911 or the Sheriff's Office Alarm Unit to cancel an alarm activation - you must contact your monitoring station.
  • You can arrange to have your alarm monitoring station call you or another designated person first before the police are called, whenever your alarm is activated.
  • If you are aware of a problem with the system, you can prevent police from being dispatched by contacting your alarm monitoring company and providing the correct password.

Customising Your Alarm Services

Always put your instructions to your alarm company in writing. Also, consider these options that can save you time and false alarm fines.

Enhanced Call Verification

Alarm Ordinance requires all alarm monitoring businesses to employ Enhanced Call Verification on all monitored properties in their jurisdiction (8.12.110). Request your alarm monitoring company to call more than one person on your contact list before requesting emergency dispatch. This has been shown nationally to reduce false alarms by over 50%.

Cross Zoning

Do you only want the police notified if both an exterior and an interior zone are activated? This is called "Cross Zoning" and can be an effective false alarm reduction tool. For example, a perimeter and an internal motion alarm would have to trip within a specified time to summon a public safety response. If an interior motion trips but the frame does not, the alarm company will not request police dispatch. Cross Zoning is based on the idea that an actual burglar at the alarm site will trip more than one zone, whereas a loose pet, decoration, balloon or insect may not.

Common False Alarm Triggers In Homes

  • Unlocked, loose-fitting, or open doors or windows. Always keep doors and windows locked when the alarm is activated to reduce the chance that friends, neighbours or customers will enter and accidentally set off the alarm.
  • Unsupervised pets - If you have pets, take special care to purchase an alarm system tolerant of pets. You may not want to buy motion detectors if your pets have free run of the house when the alarm is on. Also, sometimes barking dogs can activate glass-break sensors.
  • Balloons that move and cause motion sensors to go off.
  • DO NOT call 911 to cancel alarm activations - you must contact your monitoring station. 
  • Moving air (AC, heat, or drafts) can cause plants and curtains to move and set off a motion detector system.

False Alarm Considerations For Businesses

  • Swinging doors or windows
  • Banners, signs or balloons that move
  • Plants or curtains caught in drafts
  • Stacked items, such as boxes, can fall and set off motion detectors
  • Untrained, unaware or uncaring employees
  • Locate your alarm equipment so that it does not interfere with daily business, such as forklifts or loading areas

Fire Alarm Response

When the fire alarm sounds in your building:

  • Immediately evacuate the building to the outside.
  • NEVER go back to retrieve personal belongings.
  • Move away from the front of the building to allow the firefighters and their trucks to access the building. 
  • If there is an incident on the upper floors, the area underneath is the hazard zone, and that is where you will be injured by falling glass and debris.

Have an exit strategy, know two ways out, such as another stairway, an emergency exit or a fire escape.

The fire alarm system is designed to give you an early warning when there is a smoke or fire condition in your building. NEVER ignore the alarms just because your area is clear. There may be a fire or smoke condition on another floor that the sensitive detection devices have alerted you to.

Assume there is fire even if you do not see smoke in your immediate area.

NEVER use an elevator in ANY building once the fire alarm is sounding. Use the stairs.

Remember, how you react in an actual emergency depends upon how well you have prepared yourself before it happens. The way you entered the building may not be the safest and quickest way out. Familiarise yourself with the two exits closest to your area and react immediately to all fire alarms.

What do I do if I discover a fire in a building? If you discover a fire or smoke condition:

  • Do not panic.
  • If the fire is in a room or small area, confine the spread of the smoke and fire by closing the room doors before leaving the building, but only if it is safe to do so.
  • Evacuate the building to the outside and warn others of the fire on the way out. 
  • Once you have reached a safe area, call 911.
  • Never re-enter the building.
  • Seek out the first arriving personnel, police officer, firefighter, EMT, and give them the specific location of the fire or smoke. 
  • If you know someone is still inside, try to give the firefighters the last known location where you saw them.   

Steps To Prevent False Alarms

how do you install a security alarm system (3)

Notify the Fire Department Communications Center and your alarm company before testing or repairing the system and tell them to place the system.

Know how to cancel a false alarm. If the alarm goes off and you are sure you know what caused the panic, notify the alarm company immediately and tell them that the "Homeowner wishes to cancel the alarm and that there is no need for the Fire Department to respond". 

Have the alarm company's phone number handy. If there is any doubt about whether there is a fire, don't take chances – let the Fire Department respond to check it out.

Dust and smoke detectors do not get along! Dust looks just like smoke to a smoke detector. If you are spray painting, sanding floors, installing new drywall, working with heat or doing anything else that produces visible dust, smoke or fumes, there is a good chance that you will set off a smoke detector. 

Smoke detectors should be covered during construction to prevent dust accumulation in the detector chamber. Once the building is completed, the covers should be removed, the system should be cleaned, and the sensitivity checked.

Fire alarm systems need regular testing and maintenance. You expect your fire alarm system to work when it's needed and not to cause false alarms. The only way to make that happen is to have your system tested and maintained by a technician. Deal only with qualified, licensed professionals.

Fire alarm equipment must be installed properly. Smoke detectors do not belong in kitchens, garages, attics, or just outside bathrooms with showers. Heat detectors can be used to protect these areas without false alarms, or photo-electric alarms can minimise the likelihood of false alarms.

Make sure the alarm company has your contact information. Many calls we respond to the "responsible party" information are not available. 

Once dispatched to an alarm, the Fire Department is obligated to respond to the scene. If no one is on-site, the alarm company needs your contact information to inform you of the alarm, and the Fire Department might require your response to assist in gaining entrance to the building.

By following these simple steps, you can do your part in helping to reduce the risk of false alarms, and therefore avoid the hassle and expense they cause. 

The safety of the residents of The Township and its Firefighters is the main priority for the Fire Department. Whenever there is an emergency requiring the Fire Department, our crews will be there to assist. At the same time, the Fire Department is working to educate businesses and citizens on reducing non-emergency calls. 

Our teams will be available to respond where emergency help is genuinely needed. If a fire alarm is activated in your home or building it is always recommended that someone call should you see fire, smoke or should you smell something burning. 

Until the cause of the alarm activation can be determined, the Fire Department should be notified to ensure the safety of everyone in your home or building.

Commercial Fire Alarm Systems

An automatic fire alarm system is designed to detect the unwanted presence of fire by monitoring environmental changes associated with combustion. In general, a fire alarm system is either classified as automatic, manually activated, or both. Automated fire alarm systems can be used to notify people to evacuate in the event of a fire or other emergency, to summon emergency services, and to prepare the structure and associated systems to control the spread of fire and smoke. The Lower Merion Fire Code regulates the maintenance of fire alarm systems and requires regular testing and maintenance of all devices.

 The Problem

The Lower Merion Fire Department responds to over 2500 fire calls per year, and almost half (46%) of these are false or unnecessary alarms in residential or commercial facilities. Responding to these types of false alarms, especially if they could have been prevented, is costly to both you and the Township. More critical is the undue risk our firefighters are exposed to when responding to these FALSE alarms.

The Response

The Department is a combination fire service made up of both career and volunteer firefighters. Once a call is received. Dispatch Center, the call is dispatched for our fire companies to respond. This means that our volunteers leave their homes or employment to reply to the firehouse where our career staff are waiting to respond to the location of the alarm. Again, the response to a residential or commercial alarm activation is as if there is a real fire.


The goal is to reduce the number of false alarms our fire crews respond to each year. Fewer alarms reduce the risk to businesses, citizens and firefighters by lessening the number of responding vehicles on the road and improving available responses for other emergency calls. In addition, fewer false means fewer disruptions to your business and residence.

Chapter 51 of the Code regulates alarm registrations and the imposition of fines for false fire alarm activations. Chapter 51 includes the following:

  • Any alarm user whose alarm system activates, causing three false alarms to occur in a consecutive twelve-month period, may not cause or permit a subsequent false alarm to happen in the same consecutive twelve-month period.
  • Each false alarm after three false alarms in the same consecutive twelve-month shall constitute a separate summary offence, and the alarm user, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to a fine or penalty of $300.00
  • Contractors and fire alarm vendors causing a dispatch for a supervisory signal, trouble signal, or unnecessary water flow activation signal shall be sentenced to a fine or penalty up to $600.00
  • The Fire Department encourages residents and business owners to examine ways in which you can prevent future false alarms from occurring, including: 
  • Fire alarm systems should receive regular maintenance and testing to ensure they are functioning correctly.
  • Educate contractors, tenants and building staff, including operators, cleaners and security, regarding when to take the fire alarm system offline and subsequent safety procedures to be followed.
  • Relocate fire and smoke detectors or switch the type of detector used in some regions of your building to reduce instances of false alarms triggered by activities such as cooking or steam from showers. For commercial buildings, businesses and multifamily dwellings, a licensed technician must work on the alarm system.
  • Monitor the use of portable cooking devices such as toasters, toaster ovens and microwaves. If you are a property owner or manager, consider including a clause in the tenant and contractor contracts to make these parties responsible for any fees for alarms they may cause. 
  • If you are performing building maintenance or renovations, you can shut down the fire alarm system but must first contact the Fire Department Administrative Office for permission to do so in commercial facilities. You may be required to provide continual surveillance within the building until the fire alarm is restored to operating condition. 

Some Consequences Of False Alarms:

  • Divert emergency resources away from actual emergencies.
  • A nuisance to you and your neighbours.
  • Make your security system less reliable.
  • It costs you and your community money.

Focus On Safety

Unless we know differently, the response to a fire alarm at a house or business is at emergency speed as if there is a real fire. With the growing number of new homes and businesses in the past several years, there has been a considerable increase in alarm investigations.

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