February 2009 - Posts

Colorado Bill Requiring CO Detectors Sent to Gov. Ritter

A Colorado bill requiring new homes and houses for sale to have carbon-monoxide detectors is headed to Gov. Bill Ritter's desk. 

The House passed the bill Wednesday on a 42-19 vote after approving some minor amendments from the Senate, sending it on to Ritter. His spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor would sign the bill. 

"Tragically, and perhaps avoidably, we lost a number of Coloradans this winter to carbon-monoxide poisoning," Dreyer said. "This legislation will save lives and prevent these types of deaths from happening in the future." 

House Bill 1091 would require that all homes built after July 1 or put up for sale on or after that date have carbon-monoxide detectors installed. The legislation requires any apartment buildings built after that date to have CO detectors, and it would require that existing apartments rented to new tenants after July 1 be equipped with the alarms.

Fines Proposed for False Alarms in Fannin County, GA

Fannin County, GA, County Commission Chairman Bill Simonds said local law enforcement agencies have been plagued with answering false alarms from building alarm systems. He said that countywide, between Dec. 1, 2008, and Feb. 13, 2009, law enforcement officers responded to 391 false alarm calls.

As a result, Simonds said a proposed ordinance will be introduced at the next board of commissioners meeting that will establish a system of fines for false alarm calls. He said the first false alarm call will be free, but a second will incur a fee of $50. Subsequent false alarm calls will receive escalating fines, with the fee increasing by $25 for each additional call.

Another ordinance Simonds is proposing will require a final inspection on all new construction and remodeling projects in addition to the foundation, rough-in and electrical inspections that are already required.

Plymouth, MA, Considers Alarm By-Law Changes

In Plymouth, MA, police impose violations and penalties on repeat offenders of the town's False Alarm ordinance, but some businesses and residents object to the violation notification being delivered by a police officer.

Town Meeting will be asked in April to amend the town’s bylaw to eliminate hand deliveries of notifications. Police Chief Michael Botieri is recommending the bylaw be changed so that violations are sent through regular mail. If this approach doesn’t resolve the matter, a certified mailing would follow.

“In his (Chief Michael Botieri’s) opinion, staff could be better utilized by having them remain on patrol and not hand delivering notifications,” Acting Town Manager Melissa Arrighi told selectmen last week. “In addition, he recommended that the violations and penalties have a time limit per calendar year.”

Under the current bylaw, there are no violations or penalties for the first three false alarms, but the fourth time the resident or business is slapped with a $25 fine; the fifth false alarm triggers a $50 fine and each subsequent violation costs the owner $75.

Under the amended bylaw the violation and penalty schedule would remain the same. But proposed changes to the bylaw would ensure that language is included to specify the violation and penalties pertain to a particular calendar year. In other words, if your business experienced four false alarms this year, the slate is wiped clean come Jan. 1.

The amendment would also end the hand delivery of false alarm violations by police officers. Arrighi noted that many businesses and residents don’t like these hand deliveries because they’re bad for business and create unnecessary distress and concern.

Selectmen Chairman Dicky Quintal asked Arrighi to find out how much money was collected in false alarm penalties over the last three years. He asked his board to delay its vote on whether to recommend the change to Town Meeting until this information is presented for the selectmen’s review.

Jeffersonville, IN, Updates Alarm Law with Increased FInes

In Jeffersonville, IN, an updated alarm ordinance was brought forth by city attorney Darrin Wilder that increase the fine schedule for false alarms. 

Wilder was correcting language and updating the fine schedule that had been in place for a similar false-alarm ordinance.

Faulty systems that routinely call police and fire departments to false alarm scenes could cost users under a new ordinance adopted by the council.

If a faulty burglar or fire alarm sounds without an actual emergency happening more than three times in a calendar year, its owners will be levied a $150 fine. The fifth time it happens, owners will pay a $250 fine. And on the sixth occurrence, owners would pay a $350 fine.

Dana Point, CA, to Discuss Increase in False-Alarm Fees

The Dana Point, CA, City Council will discuss an ordinance change that would raise the city's false-alarm fee to $85.

Monday's council meeting will include the proposal to modify the false-alarm ordinance to match the fee adopted by the Orange County Board of Supervisors in December. Currently, city law provides a fee of $56 for false-alarm responses, the amount originally established by the county in 1991.

City law allows for two free responses for unintentional false alarms per calendar year, with third and subsequent false alarms bringing a fee determined by the city. False alarms caused by severe weather, wind or power outages are not considered billable, according to city staff.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department halted collection of false-alarm fees from Dana Point businesses and homeowners with security systems in October, when it was discovered that the $64 fee being collected did not match the city's law of $56. City law had not been changed from the 1991 ordinance establishing the $56 fee. 

City staff reports cite an administrative oversight at the Sheriff's Department for the incorrect fee collection.

"The intent of the program is not to discourage citizens from using alarm systems but to encourage responsible use. Timely response to reported emergencies is one of the most valuable services provided by the Sheriff's Department," the staff report to council members states.

Colorado Senate Gives Initial OK to Carbon Monoxide Detector Bill

Don Johnson’s 23-year-old daughter, Lauren, died of carbon monoxide poisoning on Jan. 5. Eight days later, he brought an urn holding her ashes to the state Colorado capitol building and urged legislators to require carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

That bill now appears headed toward passage, largely because of the advocacy of Johnson and relatives of a Denver family killed by carbon monoxide.

Johnson and his wife, Carol, watched Thursday as the full Senate gave initial backing to the Colorado measure (House Bill 1091). No “no’s” were heard in a voice vote in the unusually quiet chamber, suggesting that the bill should easily pass a recorded vote as soon as Friday.

The measure would require all homes and apartment buildings up for sale to have carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms. Homeowners and apartment owners also would have to install detectors if they do any major renovations or additions.

Spartanburg County, SC, Looks to Alarm Fines to Bridge Budget Gap

Spartanburg County, SC, Council will discuss several matters today that could paint a picture of the county’s financial health.

The county government is struggling to close a $5.4 million budget gap that's due to lost revenue from the state and other sources, projected over-budget expenses this year and the need to restore reserves.

Sheriff Chuck Wright will present several cost-saving ideas to County Council — including a new false-alarm ordinance, ways to save fuel and perhaps changes to the health insurance benefits his officers receive.

Fayetteville, AR, to Fine For False Alarms

Businesses and residences who are customers of alarm monitoring companies must register with Fayetteville, AR, police and could mean fees for false alarms, according to a city ordinance that takes effect March 1.

"If we can just cut that number in half, it would free up a ton of time and manpower," Cpl. Craig Stout said.

A more disciplined use of alarm systems under the ordinance will hopefully reduce errors and encourage users to maintain their systems better.

Fines will be issued for every false alarm after the first offense and for unregistered alarm calls. Discretion and common sense will be used, however, in determining offenses, Stout said. Multiple false alarms could be logged as one offense, and a false alarm response can be canceled by calling police before they arrive on scene, he said.

Anyone with alarm systems that Fayetteville police could respond to falls under the ordinance, including hospitals, nonprofits and campus buildings at the University of Arkansas, said Fayetteville city attorney Kit Williams.

A grace period will allow users to register after March 1 for a short time without a penalty, Stout said.

After six offenses, Fayetteville police can stop responses to that alarm system until the problem is solved.

"It's mainly for the worst of offenders until their equipment is updated," Stout said.

A private company, Public Safety Corp of Waldorf, Md., will handle enforcement and collection of fees. Fayetteville police will send the company information on the number of false alarms, and penalties will be disbursed based on that number.

Two-thirds of the money will go to Fayetteville police with the remaining going to the private company. The Fayetteville City Council approved the alarm ordinance in November 2007.

Registering Alarm Monitoring Systems In Fayetteville
    • False Alarm Reduction Program (877)575-0933
    • Online at www.crywolf.us/fayettevillecrywolf/default.asp

Merrillville, IN, Considers New Fire Alarm Ordinance

Merrillville, IN, is considering adopting a new false fire alarm ordinance that would make property owners more accountable for their fire alarm systems.

The town adopted a false fire alarm ordinance in November, but town and fire officials recently discovered that ordinance doesn't cover all situations.

False fire alarms caused by heat, smoke and water aren't currently considered finable, Ross Township Assistant Fire Chief Jim Lilley said, but that would change if the town adopts the updated ordinance.

Councilmen are expected to vote on the topic at Wednesday's Town Council meeting.

There also would be a slight adjustment in the fee structure if the council approves proposed changes.

The current ordinance calls for a $200 charge for a second false fire alarm at a location in a two-year period. Charges for the third and subsequent false fire alarm in a two-year period increase in $200 increments, according to the ordinance.

The updated ordinance would charge $200 for the second false alarm in a 90-day period, and the third and subsequent false alarm in the 90-day period would increase in $200 increments, Lilley said.

He said the structure change would make the ordinance consistent with the town's false burglar alarm ordinance.

Funds received from the charges will be deposited in the firefighting equipment fund.

Town officials said they need to reduce the number of false alarms in town because responding to unnecessary fire alarms is not only a waste of funds, but also causes safety issues for firefighters.

Toledo, Ohio Could Require License for Low-Voltage Work

Burglar and fire alarm system installers in Toledo, Ohio, may have to obtain a license to run low-voltage wiring through homes and have an inspector approve their work under a proposed ordinance.

According to published reports, the law would require homeowners to shell out $40 for a permit to do the work themselves or contractors who do low-voltage work in the city to obtain a license prior to conducting the work. Work completed by either a contractor or a homeowner would have to be reviewed by a city inspector.

The Toledo City Council’s Community and Neighborhood Development committee is expected to review the proposed law at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Annapolis, MD, Weighs Fines for False Alarm Calls

A faulty security alarm system in Annapolis, MD, may cost money if a proposed legislation that would impose fines on businesses and homes with too many false alarms passes in the City Council.

It's a move that supporters say would save emergency resources wasted in responding to unwarranted alarm calls. The legislation, introduced by Ward 7 Alderman Sam Shropshire and co-sponsored by Ward 5 Alderman David Cordle at Monday's City Council meeting, would limit to two the number of false alarms permitted in a year before the owner or lessee is fined. 

Other jurisdictions in the area, such as Howard County, already impose fines for false alarms. Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop said he supports the bill.

"I think it's sensible legislation for a number of reasons," Pristoop said. "So many alarm calls are false and, in many cases, could be prevented."

"The way I look at it is, if we don't respond to as many false alarms, we have more discretionary time to provide services for the community in a proactive way," he said. "If we can use the officers' time better, we provide better upfront services for people. Everybody wins."

The proposed bill would also allow those fined to appeal to a board established by the Fire/EMS and Police Departments. If the board determines the alarm went off "beyond the control of the user or other extenuating circumstances," it could grant the appeal. 

"This is a cost-effective way to cut costs and provide more security for our constituents, and they are our first responsibility," Shropshire said in a statement.

Greenwich, CT, Looks at Alarms System Fees to Boost Revenue

Whether it be leaf collection, trash disposal or responding to smoke alarms, elected officials are seeing dollar signs perhaps more than ever when they weigh services provided by the Greenwich, CT. 

Looking to offset the decline of local conveyance tax receipts, building permit revenue and bank interest, officials are reviewing a host of fees for services to see if the town could be charging more.

"I would collect all revenue that's due," Selectman Lin Lavery said. "I'm not saying we should overtax people, but we have to be fair."

For example, there were $85,250 in unpaid fines levied by the town for false fire and burglar alarms as of Feb. 9, according to Lavery, who has been working with members of the Alarm Appeal Board to address collections.

Lavery said the town should consider charging interest on unpaid fines, which it currently does not, and raising fees for false alarms and to register security systems.

The town currently charges $10 to register an alarm. Residents and businesses are allowed one false alarm per year without being penalized, with the fine schedule starting at $50 for a second false alarm, $100 for the third, $150 for the fourth and $200 for each subsequent infraction.

"Just looking at this one item, the first thing I would do is raise the fees," Lavery said. 

The number of alarms registered in Greenwich is currently 6,734. The fine for failing to register is $20, which Lavery and some members of the Alarm Appeal Board also want to raise.

Jim Daine, a volunteer firefighter with the Sound Beach Volunteer Fire Department and chairman of the appeals board, said he plans to meet with town attorneys later this month to discuss enforcement of the town's alarm ordinance and fees.

"Unfortunately, right now, the ordinance has very little teeth," Daine said.

Daine said he supports a fee increase, particularly for registering new alarms.

"The cost to administrate this whole alarm ordinance is increasing. It seems to be justified to increase the fee," Daine said.

Daine said that some in the firefighting ranks have raised concerns that hiking alarm fees and fines will deter residents and businesses from activating security and smoke detection systems.

"Turning them off is obviously not what we want to see happen," Daine said.

Overall, Tesei said his administration is quite attuned to the revenue side of the ledger in the current recession.

"Again we're looking at not only programs, we're looking at what our revenue stream is over the long-term," Tesei said.

New Lake Alfred, FL, Law Would Fine for False Alarms

A new law tentatively approved Monday would subject Lake Alfred, FL, businesses and residences to fines of up to $500 if police or firefighters respond to multiple false alarms from private security alarm systems. 

City commissioners approved the proposed ordinance 5-0, and it's scheduled for a final vote March 2. 

The law requires obtaining an annual $25 permit for a business or home alarm system, according to City Manager Jan Shockley. Failure to register could result in a $100 fine. 

Up to three false alarms in a year would not result in a penalty, but the owner would be subject to a $50 fine if police respond to the fourth and fifth false alarm. That increases to $100 for each of the next two false alarms, $250 for the eighth or ninth incident and $500 for the 10th false alarm or more in a year. 

The city manager can choose to discontinue police response to a 'runaway alarm,' defined as 'an alarm producing repeated signals for no determined cause.' 

Shockley said 30 percent of 275 business and residential alarm calls received in the city last year were false alarms.

New Albany, IN, Considering Fee for False Alarms

Crying wolf could become costly for businesses and residents in New Albany, IN. 

Included in fire chief Matt Juliot’s wish list for 2009 is the establishment of a false call ordinance. If passed by the City Council, the measure would create a fee charged when public safety personnel have to make multiple false call runs to a location. 

Juliot would like the penalty to be enforced for anything over two false call runs in a month. 

“We have some businesses that we make two and three [false call] runs to a week,” Juliot said. “We’re trying to recoup some of the cost for taxpayers for doing that.” 

With lean economic times, Juliot said the city has to be mindful of all expenses. 

Jeffersonville and other surrounding cities have passed similar ordinances for public safety calls. Councilman Jack Messer wants to introduce a measure as early as March to constitute false call fees for the police and fire departments.

Messer said the exact amount of the fee has not been determined, as he’s in the process of gathering information from cities that have a false call ordinance. 

“I’m more than happy to sponsor that bill and work with [Juliot] on it,” said Messer, who is a New Albany police officer. “We want to pass a bill to be able to charge a fee that would be fair.” 

Messer added the police department makes more false call runs than the fire department, but said either way the responses tie up city personnel. Juliot said the false runs also put wear and tear on city vehicles. 

Floyd County Police Chief Ted Heavrin said the department has a policy of sending two deputies for a call “just to be on the safe side.” If a homeowner accidentally trips their alarm system and calls dispatch to report it, Heavrin said at least one deputy still responds just to make sure it’s really a false call. 

The Floyd County Commissioners haven’t passed a false call fee. City Councilman Steve Price said he’s for charging a penalty on habitual false alarm cases, but he is wary of taking the measure too far. 

“I don’t want people to be afraid to call the police and fire departments,” Price said. 

Like the county and city police, New Albany’s fire department maintains a policy of checking out a building even if they are responding to a false call. 

Juliot said in some cases, emergency personnel are left waiting several minutes for a keyholder to arrive on scene so firefighters can conduct their search. 

To combat this problem, Juliot is also suggesting a “Knox-Box” ordinance. It would mandate that all city businesses have a master key stashed in a fire department Knox-Box, so firefighters could always have a way in when making alarm runs. 

“That way we don’t have to find somebody to drive to a building at three in the morning,” Juliot said.

Suffolk, VA, to Charge for 911 False Alarms

Suffolk, VA, is going to start charging you for 911 false alarms.

So Suffolk City Council decided that offenders will pay up.

If a private home or business registers their alarm with the city, the first false alarm is free.

The second $25, third $50 and then it's $100 after that.

But if you aren't registered the first false alarm is $100.

"When we are tied up to false alarms then we can't get to the person who needs our help as quickly as we would like to," said Captain Stephanie Burch with the Suffolk Police Department.

Suffolk Police say they won't start billing anyone until late spring.

They hope these fines will reduce the number of false alarms in the city by 50%.

Police will be sending information on how to register your alarm in the mail or you can attend a special meeting Wednesday night from 6-7p.m. At Suffolk Police Sector One, located at 230 East Washington Street.

River Falls Journal: Rural Alarm Fines Too High in Wisconsin

Last week one of our front page stories was about Melgard Monument, a long respected business on Hwy. 35N, getting hit with a $600 bill for a false fire alarm. A passing highway driver phoned in a structure blaze. Firefighters found only smoke from Melgard’s outdoor wood-burning stove.

No one came blame the River Falls Fire Department. State law says it must respond to all alarms and emergency calls. For the public’s safety, no one wants that to change. 

You also can’t blame concerned people who spot what looks like a fire. Calls are so easy to make now that drivers have cell phones handy. 

Still, while it’s clear that the Rural Fire Association must pay for the valuable service provided by the River Falls Fire Department, it seems unfair that a fire call to a business like Melgard produces a $600 bill — whether it’s nothing or whether the place is engulfed by flames.

This same scenario applies to rural homeowners. Sometimes they get stuck for a $600 bill because their backyard bonfire was mistaken for the real thing.

It seems like a Catch-22 but there might be a better way. Borrowing a concept from Chippewa Falls, neighboring Prescott uses a graduated fee system for its fire coverage. Itemized bills are also sent directly to insurance providers, rather than to home or business owners.

Prescott Fire Chief Bill Dravis says fees range from $100 for a false fire or gas alarm to as high as $2,500 for a major structure blaze that requires hours of work, 20-25 firefighters, several tankers and heavy water usage. 

Billing, therefore, is based on the type and duration of service. Dravis says insurers like the detailed bills, which bring very good, though not total, compensation. The chief adds that occasionally he asks the Prescott Area Fire and Ambulance Association to “write off” a $100 false alarm call, since even that amount seems wrong to ask a homeowner or business to pay.

LeRoy Peterson, Clifton Town Board chairman and a member of the Rural Fire Association, says graduated fees for fire calls have been discussed before. Maybe that discussion should return. Such a system will bring higher bills for major fires but would also reduce the frustration of getting slapped with a big expense for a false alarm.

Jacksonville, FL, Enhanced Call Verification Ordinance May Include Fines

In an effort to reduce false burglary alarms, the Jacksonville City Council passed an updated ordinance Tuesday night that will require alarm companies to make two calls to property owners before sending the alarm on to police.

The prior ordinance, enacted in 1999, called for only one call verification. The new ordinance requires anyone within the city limits with an automatic alarm system to provide two numbers to their alarm company so that when the company receives an alarm it can first try to contact the property owner at both numbers before notifying police. 

The second call verification is expected to reduce false alarm calls by 35 to 42 percent, JPD Chief Mike Yaniero said.

He said the new ordinance will play into his department's call reduction strategy of reducing the number of repetitive and unnecessary calls so that his officers can be out on patrol more.

"This will greatly reduce the number of times an officer has to respond to a false alarm," he said. "Now the alarm company will have two numbers to call, like a home number and a cell number, before the alarm goes through."

Jacksonville Mayor Sammy Phillips, a retired JPD deputy chief, said he understood Yaniero's concern about eliminating as many false calls for service as possible.

"When I was working in law enforcement, the alarms were a problem for us; they did eat up a lot of resources," he said. "And we have limited resources as far as police are concerned."

Under the updated ordinance, residents who have three or more false burglary alarms within a 12-month period will have to pay a fine, starting at $50. For each subsequent false alarm a fine is assessed and the more false alarms, the higher the fine gets. Ten or more false alarms will result in a $500 fee for each false alarm.

However, residents will be provided the option of taking a class on the third false alarm to waive the fee.

"Obviously our goal is to discourage them from having those false alarms," Yaniero said. "I think because of the way the fine structure is, some of the other cities that have done this have not seen a lot of $500 fines because most of the (residents), after they get fined $250 per alarm, they pretty much take care of whatever the particular issue is."

Yaniero said research indicates that most false alarms are caused by inadequate equipment, poor installation or user error and that 20 percent of alarm users are responsible for 80 percent of false alarms.

"This will not affect the majority of the alarm users. It's only a small percentage that cause these problems, and usually it's one after another," he said.

The new ordinance will take effect July 1, giving area residents and businesses time to prepare for the change.

The city and JPD will use the time between now and July to educate the public on the new ordinance, said Jacksonville City Manager Kristoff Bauer.

"Before it goes into effect, we'll focus on simply making people aware," he said. "It's an awareness campaign to help people understand what the new regulations are, how they are going to apply and what they need to do to comply."

Following the implementation of the ordinance, classes on how to effectively operate alarms will also be offered, Yaniero said.

"We're going to do a number of community education process because it's really the community education part that's really the important part," he said.

Fire Alarm Ordinance Proposed in Cleveland, GA

A proposed false fire alarm ordinance for the City of Cleveland, GA, is still being considered by the city council. 

The proposed ordinance is in response to numerous false fire alarms the city receives each year, and their subsequent impact on the fire and police department's budget.

“There were 27 false fire alarms in 2008,” Cleveland Fire Chief Ricky Pruitt said. “It costs $175-$225 per response to check out an alarm.”

The proposed ordinance calls for fines of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $1,000 for a third offense, and is taken from language in similar ordinances in Dawson and Lumpkin counties.

It was expected to receive its first reading and consideration Monday, Feb. 2, but Cleveland City Clerk Connie Tracas requested more time to resolve “ambiguities” in the language, in addition to adding language that also would cover false burglar alarms. 

Despite passing a motion to postpone the initial reading and consideration until after Tracas finishes the draft, the council did take the time to discuss the proposed ordinance, as it is currently written.

Much of the discussion centered around whether the city will be able to enforce the ordinance on other government agencies, such as schools, which Pruitt states make up the majority of false alarm responses.

“There were eight or nine at Jack P. Nix and five or six at the the Ninth Grade Academy,” Pruitt said.

It was stated during the discussion that the system at the Ninth Grade Academy is very old and susceptible to false alarms, which require the deployment of one to two trucks and five to 10 responders.

“Do we have enough power and authority to enforce this?” questioned councilmember Rush Mauney.

The council then unanimously moved to postpone the first reading and consideration until Tracas completes her work on the language of the ordinance.

But the issue wasn't entirely put to bed for the night.

During a discussion on proposed revisions to the city's ordinance that authorizes prosecutions for certain violations, the proposed false fire alarm ordinance was once again on Mauney's mind.

“Does [the prosecution ordinance] provide us with the vehicle we need to prosecute for violation of ordinances?” Mauney asked Cleveland Police Chief John Foster.

“Yes,” Foster said.

“Would the fire alarm ordinance apply?” Mauney questioned.

“That's something we need to look at,” Foster said. “Will the fine be a civil penalty or a fine levied in municipal court?”

With so many questions left to be answered, the council is expected to tackle the false alarm subject again during its March 2 meeting. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the City Hall Annex.

Fees on Tap for False Alarms in Warren County, NC

A new Warren County,NC, law that goes into effect February 16, 2009, could start costing you money if you have an alarm system.

Under the false alarm ordinance adopted earlier this month by the county commissioners, Warren County fire departments and Emergency Services will provide a maximum of two free false alarm responses to alarm users in each calendar year.

Additional false alarms responded to may be charged a user fee; however, there are some exceptions. Excluded are: alarms activated by bad weather as reported by the Warren County Emergency Services director, the National Weather Service or the investigating responding agency; alarms activated by an outside animal; alarms activated by an electrical power outage to the electric meter on the building housing the activated alarm system, as long as the alarm user provides proof of the electrical outage within five business days of the alarm response; an alarm where there is physical evidence of a fire; and an alarm activated during alarm system testing procedures if the alarm user notifies the Warren County E-911 Communications Center of the alarm testing.

In addition, the ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to activate an alarm without just cause.

Fees charged for false alarms over two per calendar year are $50 each for alarms three through five and $100 each for alarm responses over five.

Alarm users will have 72 hours to appeal to the Warren County fire marshal if they feel their alarm was justified. The fire marshal's decision is final. 

All alarm users will start with zero alarm responses as of Feb. 16, the date the ordinance goes into effect.

Swampscott, MA, Police Chief Proposes New False Alarm Bylaw

Swampscott, MA, town officials are looking to place an article on the Town Meeting warrant that, if adopted, would add a new town bylaw to regulate alarms.

"The goal is to encourage people to make repairs to reduce the number of false alarms so we can make better use of police resources," Police Chief Ronald Madigan said. 

According to the draft of the article provided by Madigan, the police department would designate an alarm officer who would be responsible for the administration of the proposed program.

Madigan said the alarm officer would be responsible for reviewing alarm activations, reporting on problematic alarms, service fee billing and acting as a community resource.

The proposed article would require all alarms in town to be registered, properly installed and maintained to minimize false alarms. The proposed regulations would require alarms to have equipment, which would prevent sending out a false alarm in the event of a power failure.

Madigan said the policy would impose an alarm service fee of $80 for residential alarms for the third and subsequent false alarms within a calendar year. The first two false alarms on non-residential properties in a calendar year would not be charged a fee, but for subsequent violations the alarm service fee would be $120 per occurrence. A malicious false alarm would carry a fine of $150 per activation. The proposed alarm service fees would not be subject to a formal appeal process. But Madigan said the police chief, fire chief or other designee would accept written documentation outlining mitigating circumstances for the false alarm and measures being taken by the alarm user to prevent future false alarms. He said the police and fire chief would be authorized to waive the fee if circumstances warranted it.

The proposed bylaw is expect to be discussed at the annual Town Meeting, which gets underway on May 4.

Middlebury, CT, Moving Toward New Alarm Law

The Middlebury, CT, Board of Selectmen supported a request from Police Chief Richard Guisti, Sr., to change the burglary alarm policy established in 1994.

Chief Guisti, in a letter to selectmen, reminded that "Town policy states that a resident will not be charged for a false alarm until five false alarms have occurred."

The national average for the number of false alarms before a homeowner is charged is three. 

Chief Guisti's letter recommended the town's policy be revised to charge $50 for the fourth false alarm call and $75 for the fifth. Additional false alarm calls would cost the homeowner $100. 

"It is not my intent to discourage residents from using their alarms," Chief Guisti's said in the letter, "but it is their responsibility to educate themselves as well as their family members on how to use the alarm." 

The requested change in policy would not apply to residents who have medical assist, panic or fire alarms.

The chief's letter also requested revising the policy for alarm companies who do not register residential or commercial alarms after installation. The current fine for not doing so is $25. 

Chief Guisti asked that the charge be increased to $75. He explained that police officers have trouble making contact with the homeowner or designated key holder when false alarms, not registered with the Police Department, go off. 

"The current ordinance calls for five calls," said First Selectman Tom Gormley. "The national average is three. After five calls, we start assessing $75 per call." 

Mr. Gormley expressed concern that a lot of callers are repeat offenders, some calling up to seven or eight times, and diverting officers from a possible, critical emergency. 

"If there is a storm or something that causes a malfunction," Mr. Gormley said, "that is not considered one of three calls. We just can't afford this anymore. We're in critical times." 

Mr. Gormley said the policy change would have to go to a town meeting, but he wanted a concurrence from the board.

"We're not trying to make money." 

The board unanimously accepted the revision proposed by Chief Guisti. The policy change now goes to an as yet unscheduled Town Meeting.

Warren County, NC, Approves Ordinance to Fine for False Alarms

A new Warren County, NC, law that goes into effect on February 16, 2009, could start costing you money if you have an alarm system.

Under the false alarm ordinance adopted earlier this month by the county commissioners, Warren County fire departments and Emergency Services will provide a maximum of two free false alarm responses to alarm users in each calendar year.

Additional false alarms responded to may be charged a user fee; however, there are some exceptions. Excluded are: alarms activated by bad weather as reported by the Warren County Emergency Services director, the National Weather Service or the investigating responding agency; alarms activated by an outside animal; alarms activated by an electrical power outage to the electric meter on the building housing the activated alarm system, as long as the alarm user provides proof of the electrical outage within five business days of the alarm response; an alarm where there is physical evidence of a fire; and an alarm activated during alarm system testing procedures if the alarm user notifies the Warren County E-911 Communications Center of the alarm testing.

In addition, the ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to activate an alarm without just cause.

Fees charged for false alarms over two per calendar year are $50 each for alarms three through five and $100 each for alarm responses over five.

Alarm users will have 72 hours to appeal to the Warren County fire marshal if they feel their alarm was justified. The fire marshal's decision is final. 

All alarm users will start with zero alarm responses as of Feb. 16, the date the ordinance goes into effect.

Annapolis, MD, Introduces Law to Fine for False Alarms

Annapolis, MD, Alderman David Cordle, R-Ward 5, and Alderman Sam Shropshire, D-Ward 7, introduced legislation at a City Council meeting that would impose fees on repeat offenders in false-alarm calls.

City police last year responded to 3,598 false alarms at homes or businesses in the city, at a cost of $55,000. That averages about 10 calls a day at a cost of just more than $15 per call.

It's money that could be spent on more than one more police officer's salary, said Shropshire, who also is a candidate for mayor in this year's election.

But it's not just money that's pushing the idea to the forefront; it's also time.

"When our policemen are chasing false alarms, they're not out on the street or walking their beat," he said.

"It's a matter of public safety," agreed Cordle, another expected mayoral candidate who also serves as chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.

"You don't want to waste the police resources that you do have going on frequent alarm calls when they're false alarms," he said.

County Executive John R. Leopold said the county is working on similar legislation with Councilman Josh Cohen, D-Annapolis.

"Clearly there's a need to take action in the interest of public safety and the taxpayer," Leopold said.

Under the proposed city ordinance, two false alarms may be incurred during a revolving 365-day period. Upon the third, fourth and fifth false alarm, the resident or business owner will be assessed a $100 fine. The fine increases to $200 after the fifth false alarm.

Aggrieved residents and business owners will be able to appeal to a board established by the Annapolis Police Department, which will administratively review a petitioner's claim for relief.

City Police Chief Michael A. Pristoop said he supports the legislation.

Many of the calls are from the same places. He said 331 addresses accounted for more than 2,300 alarm calls during the first 11 months of 2008 - an average of seven alarms per address.

That accounts for hundreds of hours officers spent responding to false alarms - time that could have been spent patrolling or doing other work, he said.

"To me, it's a good piece of legislation," Pristoop said.

False alarms generally are due to malfunctioning or improperly installed or maintained equipment.

Business owners and residents need to make sure their alarms are working properly and that they're well-maintained, Shropshire said.

Cordle said he hopes the fines will encourage businesses to maintain their alarm systems.

"That'll be the incentive to take care of it, I would think," he said.

The city does not have a fine for false alarms for police calls, but it does have fines for fire department calls.

The city Fire Department follows the Fire Laws of Maryland, which allow for fines after three false alarms within a 30-day period or after eight false alarms within 12 months.

That fine is rarely imposed, officials said. This proposed legislation would lump police, fire and emergency medical responses together under the same rules.

A hearing will likely be scheduled for March or April on the proposed legislation, city officials said.

County laws
The county has fines for repeat false fire and smoke alarm calls, said Chief Matthew Tobia, county Fire Department spokesman.

After three false-alarm calls within one month or eight within one year, commercial buildings are subject to a $100 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third.

The fines are designed to get businesses to maintain their alarm systems, he said.

Anne Arundel County does not have fines for false police alarms, though this was proposed last year.

During a County Council work session in June, police representatives proposed that the first two false alarms would be free, but then the next four false alarms would cost $120 each. The following six after that would cost $500 apiece. If the security system sent out 13 false alarms or more, each alert could bring a $1,000 fine.

The county Police Department responds to some 60 false-alarm calls per day, adding up to about 22,000 bogus alerts each year and representing 99 percent of all alarm calls to which police are dispatched.

Elsewhere, fines for false alarms have cut calls and saved money.

Fines in Montgomery County have cut the rate of response to false alarms to 24 percent and saved $1.7 million a year, police representatives told the council.

Cherry Hill, NJ, Ups Maximum Alarm Fine to $1,250

False security alarms should soon bear much heavier penalties for some repeat offenders, the Cherry Hill, NJ, township council decided Monday night.

With a 7-0 decision, council members voted to raise the maximum fine for false burglar and security alarms to $1,250 apiece, up from $350.

Businesses and residents are not fined for false alarms unless they tally more than three unnecessary calls a month, council president Steve Polansky said.

The higher fines are designed to discourage businesses that have become habitual offenders, burdening police and the township budget.

32 calls to mall
Among the repeat offenders in 2008, TD Bank on North Kings Highway logged 29 alarm calls, according to township records. Officials also noted 11 calls from Commerce Center on Chapel Avenue, and 8 from National Freight Inc. on Burnt Mill Road.

The Cherry Hill Mall has tallied 32 alarm calls since 2005.

Representatives from those businesses could not be reached Monday night.

While the fine for false alarms had been $350, the actual average cost of each police response is about $500, said township spokesman Dan Keashen.

"That is why it is critical for us to create a deterrent," he said.

A judge and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office are to determine the actual fine for each false-alarm offense -- within the guidelines set by the township.

Keashen said burglar and security alarms sound in the township more than 7,300 times a year -- an average of more than 20 a day.

The total number of false alarms was not immediately available.

Motion sensors
But the township has reported before that many of the false alarms are easily preventable, caused by problems such as overly sensitive motion detectors.

At the Cherry Hill Regional Chamber of Commerce, President Art Campbell said he agrees with the crackdown "just from a common-sense standpoint."

"Where it's abusive, I think it needs to be dealt with," Campbell said.

He said the township emphasized that the stiffer fines will target repeat offenders -- not smaller operations whose alarms slip up only once in a long while.

"For small businesses, ($1,250) can be a lot of money," Campbell said.

Suffolk, VA, Hosts Alarm Owners to Discuss New Law

Suffolk, VA, police are hosting two public meetings to discuss the implementation of a new false alarm program as the city tries to reduce the number of false alarm calls.

Owners of both residential and commercial alarms are encouraged to attend and ask questions.

Of all alarm calls that come into the Emergency Call Center, Suffolk police say approximately 95% are false. The goal of the new program is to reduce these calls by 50 percent.

The first public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 17th from 6-7 p.m. at Suffolk Police Sector Two, 3901 Bridge Rd. The second session will be held Wednesday, February 18th, from 6-7 p.m. at Suffolk Police Sector One, 230 East Washington Street.

Virginia Senate Passes Bill to Tax Alarm Industry; House Votes Next

A bill introduced by the Virginia General Assembly that would impose a new tax on security company accounts passed the Senate today after meeting heavy opposition by alarm industry associations across the country. 

Senate Bill 1006 would require alarm dealers to pay $2.50 per account each month; however, the bill is expected to fail once it reaches the House. 

Tax revenue from the bill is intended to finance the “Line of Duty Health Benefits Trust Fund,” which assists disabled employees and families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Proposed Pinellas County (FL) Alarm Ordinance Revealed

Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners listened on Feb. 3 to the first reading of an ordinance proposed by Sheriff Jim Coats that is intended to provide an incentive to citizens and business owners to fix their alarm systems.

Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri said the average cost of responding to false alarms is $85,000 a year. He said two deputies usually respond to alarm calls and spend about 30 minutes a call.

The proposed ordinance would provide a mechanism to monitor security alarm systems, according to information from County Attorney James Bennett.

The ordinance would apply to unincorporated areas of the county as well as to incorporated areas contracting with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services, including Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shores, Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Oldsmar, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, Seminole and South Pasadena.

“Alarm owners would be given the option of a free registration with the sheriff,” Bennett said. “Those who do register would be permitted two false alarms per year at no charge.”

An escalating fee would be charged for each false alarm after the first two. According to the ordinance the fee for registered users would be as follows:

- Third false alarm: $75

- Fourth false alarm: $100

- Fifth false alarm: $150

- Sixth false alarm: $300

-Seven or more false alarms: $500

The fine would be appreciably higher for residents and business who do not register, beginning with first false alarm. The schedule of fees for non-registered users is as follows:

- One through three: $175

- Four: $200

- Five: $250

- Six: $400

- Seven and above: $600

Bennett writes that there are “several intended benefits of this ordinance,” including allowing the sheriff’s office to more quickly inform a registered alarm owner due to having information on file, which would allow the responding deputies to spend less time on a call.

The ordinance requires that every person who owns, operates or leases any alarm system register with the sheriff’s office within 30 days after the ordinance becomes law. Changes to the information given at the time of registration must be made within 15 days. Persons installing systems in the future also would be required to register and receive an alarm permit.

The benefit of the escalating fine schedule for repeat false alarms would allow the sheriff’s office to help defray expenses for responding as well as provide an incentive to property owners to prevent false alarms from occurring.

Gualtieri said an extensive education campaign to inform the public would begin if the ordinance was approved. He also said fines would be waived for the first 30 days.

Gualtieri said the ordinance is not about the fines.

“We don’t want to collect fines,” Gualtieri said. “We want to get these alarms fixed. We don’t see this as a revenue generator. We see this as an efficiency generator and a big incentive to the public to fix their alarms.”

Hannibal, MO, PD to Businesses: Cut Down False Alarms

The Hannibal, MO, Police Department is asking businesses for help in reducing false alarms.

“There’s enough bad things that happen without us playing with fire,” said Capt. John Hark.

Police are encouraging better training for workers at places that have security systems. Technology that can help reduce false alarms also exists.

“We understand mistakes are going to happen and we don’t have a problem with that,” Hark said. But, “We take these alarms very serious.”

Most systems are hooked up to a security firm’s central dispatch unit that can be on the other side of the country.

The companies that installed them immediately notify Hannibal police when a problem is detected.

Hark said that every time an alarm comes in, police put an emergency response plan into action.

The department doesn’t share details of the plan because of security concerns, but Hark said too many false alarms can lead to apathy. The public also can be endangered.
“The days of ‘This will never happen in Hannibal’ is just not true,” Hark said. “We have to remain diligent.”

Some communities have reduced response or stopped answering burglar alarm calls all together.

Hark said that’s not an option in Hannibal, although he said the city “may have to look at” an ordinance that would set up fines or “administrative sanctions” for businesses that continue to have an inordinate amount of false alarms.

No such law is in place now, and police are confident such regulations won’t be needed.

“Whenever we’ve reached out to businesses, it’s always resulted in a positive manner,” Hark said.

Nassau County, N.Y, Drops Proposed Alarm Law

The Nassau County, N.Y., legislature recently considered an ordinance that would have required alarms to be transmitted directly to local police departments instead of through a privately operated alarm monitoring system. 

The proposed ordinance met opposition from Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) members, the Board of Directors of the Long Island Alarm Association (LIAA), and local alarm companies. Andy Lowitt, vice president of Lowitt Alarms & Security Systems Inc. met with Nassau County Police Inspector Lawrence Mulvey to discuss possible changes to the plan. Instead, the legislation was withdrawn completely, which was the best-case scenario, according to Lowitt. 

The Police Commissioner informed Lowitt that they would not be pursuing the legislation any further after hearing the concerns of the alarm industry. Lowitt suggests others in the industry take a parallel approach if similar ordinances are introduced in their cities.

Keller, TX, Enacts CO Detector Law for Apartments w/ Garages

Apartment buildings that contain garages must be fitted with carbon monoxide detectors, the Keller, TX, City Council has decided.

The council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve that rule and others as updates to the city’s fire code. 

The new rule requires apartment-complex builders to install carbon monoxide detectors in units that will have garages in the same building. Existing apartment complexes will also be required to retrofit those units. 

City officials say the rule is a safety measure and hope other North Texas cities will adopt similar rules.

The detectors emit an alert when levels of carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless gas produced by internal-combustion engines and fuel-burning appliances, such as gas water heaters, ovens and furnaces – reach dangerous levels. Carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of inhaling large amounts of the toxic gas, can cause flu-like symptoms, dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness and can damage the nervous and respiratory systems.

The rule was proposed by Fire Marshall Bruce Mueller in response to an August 2004 incident at the Dominion at Town Center. In that incident, firefighters were called to the complex to investigate a gas leak and found deadly levels of carbon monoxide in one of the buildings. 

The source: a car left running in a garage overnight. The car’s engine burned all the fuel in its gas tank, emitting carbon monoxide gas in the form of exhaust, which seeped into nine apartments, endangering 19 people, Mueller said. One person was hospitalized after complaining of feeling lightheaded, and the others were treated at the scene.

Those apartments contained between 800 and 1,500 parts of carbon monoxide per million parts of air. 

According to Keller Fire-Rescue procedure, when levels between nine and 100 parts per million are detected, "we inform [residents] it is a potentially dangerous level and recommend they leave," Mueller said. "Above 100, we request they leave," as prolonged exposure could be deadly. 

After the incident, the Dominion did not install detectors, Mueller said. But Christa Bereuter, who became manager of the Dominion after 2004, said detectors were installed in 50 units.

Under the new rule, all 276 units in the Dominion are required to have detectors installed by mid-August. Detectors will also be required in about 77 units in Arthouse, also in Town Center, and in some of the 216 units in the Lakes of Stone Glen, at Bourland and Johnson roads.

Bereuter said each unit in the Dominion could get a $75 device that can detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. She estimates the total cost at about $17,000.

Residents are "not going to be responsible" for meeting the new requirement, she said. "Rent won’t go up because of it."

Mueller said he does not know if any other local cities have a similar rule. He plans to propose one for inclusion in a set of regional guidelines for municipal fire codes next year.

Lynn, MA, Proposes Enhanced Call Verification Ordinance

False alarms and their habitual owners are being given the silent treatment by the Lynn, MA, Ordinance Committee through an amendment to an ordinance and some hefty fines.

Last year, Councilor At-Large Daniel Cahill proposed the idea to fine owners with repeated false alarm calls in an effort to free up valuable police time and eliminate the drain on city resources.

After two revisions, the Ordinance Committee approved the amended ordinance on Tuesday, but a final vote from the City Council was postponed until Feb. 17.

To illustrate the number of false alarms that ring out in the city, Cahill threw a heavy stack of paperwork from the calls onto a table and said the newly revised document would definitely help to bring the problem under control.

"Our goal is not to make this a cash cow for the city, but to reduce the number of false alarms that Lynn Police have to respond to," he said. "There are multiple, multiple false alarms that happen in the city. Numerous states have implemented a plan like this and have seen reductions of up to 80 percent in false alarms. So with this plan, that would bring the problem down to manageable numbers."

Cahill's plan originally called for a blanket fine for all residents and businesses with repeated false alarms, but under the new plan, the first and second false alarms will be met with written warnings.

A $50 fine will be given for the third false alarm, followed by a $150 fine for the fourth and fifth false alarm, and a $300 fine for the sixth and following calls.

The ordinance also calls for people to use a nationally approved type of alarm system, a fine cap of $50 for people in residences 70 years of age or older, multiple activations in a defined time period such as a window left open, would count as one potential fine, and more opportunities to rectify the problem and abate false alarm fees upon rectification of the false alarm problem.

In addition, the previous proposal included fining for "Acts of God" such as storms and power outages, but have been removed in the new version. 
Funds collected would go directly into the city's general fund. A 10-day period would be allowed for the appeal of the fine or fines.

Cahill said several meetings were held with the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, Inspectional Services Department and Wayne Alarm to make sure the ordinance covered every aspect of the business and residential communities.

The ordinance will require owners to supply police with several phone numbers to track them down in the event of an alarm call.

"The multiple verification phone calls to the owner's home, cellular phone and business will reduce the number of dispatches because the person will be able to say to police, oh, it's only a false alarm," Cahill said.

Manteca, CA, Considers Verified Response, Increasing Fines

In California, the Manteca City Council met Feb. 3 at the Civic Center here to discuss proposed changes to the city's current false alarm ordinance. There was general agreement on a move that would drop allowable false alarms from two per month to two per year. 

However, there was contention over a proposed move to verified response, and the ordinance change was tabled until a March 3 meeting so that industry representatives could discuss the matter further with Manteca Police Chief Dave Briker, who proposed the changes. 

According to Security Industry Alarm Coalition director Ron Walters, the free false alarm reduction is needed. "It's excessive," Walters said. "We've found that two at the most and one is sufficient. That's what's recommended now, what's recommended by the industry, by the model ordinance."

Briker agrees: "It had been around since Moses was a child and they just never changed it, and so it was time to look at modifying the ordinance." 

Proposed fine increases are sizeable, as well. The old ordinance assessed a $50 fine for false alarms three, four and five in a month. The new ordinance proposes a fine of $100 for false alarm three, $200 for number four, and $400 for the fifth false alarm in a year. Walters felt that was warranted. 

More worrisome to the industry than increased fines, however was the proposal by Chief Briker to switch Manteca to verified response. According to California Alarm Association immediate past president Jon Sargent, who is also SIAC industry/law enforcement liaison and ADT head of industry relations-West, verified response is generally a bad idea. 

"The truth is, verified response has been implemented in a handful of cities, and already six municipalities have thrown it out," said Sargent, who attended the meeting and spoke with Chief Briker on behelf of SIAC. "We feel it's just too intense to impose it across the board on all of the citizens in the community, because there are citizens who aren't having false alarms." Sargent said he was impressed with the Manteca Police Chief's willingness to listen to industry concerns. "[Briker's] opened up an interesting area in addition to verification by an eyewitness, which could be a neighbor or a guard, as well as audio and video verification, he's also proposed in the policy to allow multiple zone trips. So if you get more than one zone trip, they would consider that verified."

Briker said for now the old ordinance will remain in force while he and industry representatives try and work out a mutually agreeable resolution prior to March 3. "There were several industry folks there and they were very supportive of the ordinance. We tried to use the alarm industry model ordinance to base ours on," Briker said. "There are a couple suggestions that [industry representatives] had that they would like to see added into the ordinance that we're going to look at."

Flint, MI, Councilman Wants Fines for Dealers, Not Home Owners

According to one Flint, MI, city councilman, false-alarm calls are a big waste of time and money. 

He wants security companies to start paying up. 

The city already has an ordinance on the books charging the security alarm user $50 for certain false alarms.

But Councilman Sheldon Neeley's proposal would shift that fee to the service provider because he believes they can better absorb the cost.

Global Security owner Tonya Burns says she believes any fine pushed to providers like her would just be passed on to the customer or consumer.

"False alarms do happen," she said.

In a proposal soon to be before the Flint City Council, security companies instead of the alarm users would be fined $50 to $75 for their third or more false alarm. The first two would be free.

The proposal addresses false alarms caused by malfunctioning equipment or operator error -- not something set off by the weather or a telephone disturbance.

Pinellas County, FL, Planning Ordinance to Fine for False Alarms

City Manager Frank Edmunds advised the Saint Petersburg City Council that Pinellas County, FL, Sheriff Jim Coats plans to introduce a proposed county ordinance that would fine violators of false alarms. 

The proposed ordinance will allow for two false alarms at a business or residence. After that fines will be imposed.

The fine after the third false alarm would be $75 for a registered alarm system and $150 for an unregistered alarm system.

Washington County (MD) Alarm Ordinance Approved

In Maryland, the Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would impose fines for repeated false alarms from security systems. 

The version of the ordinance approved Tuesday was scaled back from the Washington County Sheriff's Department's original request, taking out the proposed permit fees for alarm system users and the creation of an alarm administrator position. 

The commissioners also decided to cap the fine amounts at $100 for residential users and $250 for nonresidential users. The fines would start with the third false alarm of the year at $30 for residential users and $60 for nonresidential users, then increase with each false alarm that year by $20 or $25, respectively, until they reached the cap amounts, then remain at those amounts for each subsequent offense. 

The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the revised ordinance, with Commissioner Kristin Aleshire absent. 

Commissioners said the changes addressed most of the complaints they heard about the ordinance. Most opponents objected to the permit fee for alarm system users, which the sheriff's department originally proposed to help fund the creation of an alarm administrator position. 

Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said he listened to those concerns and decided not to request the permit fees in recognition of the fact that most false alarms come from a relatively small number of users, most of them businesses. 

"I certainly do not want to penalize our good citizens who have burglar alarm systems and are good stewards of those alarms," Mullendore said. "However, I do believe it is high time that we penalize those alarm users that do not use their alarm system properly and cause all the taxpayers to suffer consequences of using our law enforcement resources on a constant basis." 

Instead of creating a new position to administer the fines, the department will assign those responsibilities to its information technology administrator, who will run software to generate letters automatically, Mullendore said. 

The department will pay a one-time cost of $40,000 for that software, he said. 

The ordinance will take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Bristol, TN, Okays Alarm Ordinance

The Bristol, TN, City Council settled Tuesday on a service fee for excessive false alarms that is much lower than what the city’s police and fire departments actually lose when they respond.

The issue underwent more than a month of debate, leaving some members of the public, as well most city officials and council members unsure of what fees would be appropriate. 

In the end, the council unanimously approved a range of fees – not with the intent to recover all costs but with the aim of making people aware there is a problem. 

Owners of automatic alarm systems in homes and businesses that initiate an emergency response will be handed a bill for $25 for any verified false alarm beyond three in a 12-month period. That rate will remain the same for up to six false alarms.

On the seventh, the fee increases to $50, and after 10 or more false alarms are verified in a 12-month period, the fee goes to $75.

“We’re not going to charge what it actually costs to respond,” said City Manager Jeff Broughton. “We’re not trying to take anybody’s money. Our objective is not to create revenue, and we’re not going to be heavy-handed.”

Police Chief Blain Wade said about 85 percent of all automatic alarm system calls that summon city police, fire and emergency services turn out to be false. Sending two patrol cars and two officers to an alarm for 30 minutes costs about $62, he said.

“Each time these alarms are dispatched to emergency personnel, an emergency response is required which puts public safety employees and the public in potential danger,” Wade said. 

The new law goes into effect Feb. 20.

Though he did agree on the fees Tuesday, Councilman David Shumaker was the only one who voted against the move on the first reading in January, because there was no set fee established.

“I could not vote for something where we don’t know what the charges are going to be,” he said earlier Tuesday. “What happens if they have to send all kinds of fire trucks, ambulances and police? I just didn’t want a homeowner or business owner to get stuck with a $2,500 bill.”

The amended ordinance states that Broughton can declare an alarm system “unreliable” if the city has responded to a specific premises for three or more false alarms during a 12-month period and it is determined the responses were initiated from an “alarm system malfunction.” The ordinance also allows the city to “decline to respond to the activation of an unreliable alarm system until such time the city manager determines the alarm system has been replaced or is reliable.” 

Fire Chief Bob Barnes said Tuesday that the department usually finds a structure fire when these types of alarms are sounded. 

“In that case we send out three fire trucks and 13 firefighters,” he said. “Time spent at a false alarm lasts about 20 minutes and costs the department about $140.” 

Barnes said many times the department will respond to the scene and stay longer to make sure of the circumstances, properly identify the owner and other factors.

“So our actual costs could be more on some calls,” he said. “We don’t just want to show up and bust someone’s door down.” 

Broughton said the police department will be responsible for keeping track of violators and notifying the city’s finance department about whom to charge.

EM24 Donates $1k through Responder Reward Program to Cabin John Park Volunteer

EMERgency24, an industry leading central-station alarm monitoring company, donated $1,000 through its Responder Reward program to the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department, Company 10, in Bethesda, MD, on behalf of Splaine Security Systems of Kensington, MD.


This Responder Reward donation was made to acknowledge the fast response by the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department (CJPVFD) to Patti and Michael Hellyer’s home in Bethesda, MD, which saved their three dogs and substantially minimized property damage. The photoelectric smoke detectors installed by Splaine Security Systems quickly recognized the fire scenario and alerted EMERgency24 monitors who dispatched the authorities immediately.


“All of our dogs are safe because of our alarm system and we didn’t even have smoke damage because the fire department was called so fast. They got there so quickly that the smoke didn’t have time to soak into the walls,” Patti Hellyer said of the recent fire in her home. “My husband was making dog food on the stove and we were getting ready to leave for a meeting at our neighbor’s house. Apparently, the burner was left on and we left.


”Two hours later, when other neighbors left the meeting, they rushed back inside to announce that Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service vehicles were in front of the Hellyer residence. “We walked down the street and saw all of our windows were opened, so we knew something happened. The smoke set off the alarm and the fire department was summoned. It would have been so much worse if there was no alarm system,” Mrs. Hellyer said. “The fire would have grown until someone noticed what was happening. Fortunately, the only damage was that the door had to be broken down for the firefighters to gain access, but that is the least of our worries. We could have lost our dogs and everything in our home.” 


During the ceremony, CJPVFD Chief James Seavey said that incidents like this highlight the important role alarm-system installers play in keeping our communities safe and the value of having a security system monitored by a central station. “This situation underscores the importance of having a monitored alarm system.” 


Bernie Ramos, EM24 Washington D.C. Branch Manager, praised the actions of the members of the CJPVFD Company 10 when he presented the plaque. “To illustrate the important role firefighters play in communities across the nation, I want to highlight the actions of the people in this room. The fire at the Hellyer’s home is a perfect example of how alarm installation companies, central stations and emergency responders work together to make our communities safe. Because of the quick and fast response by Company 10, the Hellyer’s were able to spend the holidays in their home.” 


Sam Splaine, President of Splaine Security Systems, explained that security is a linear process. “If any link in the chain fails – the sensor, communication to the control panel, alarm transmission to EMERgency24, dispatch of the emergency responders – then everything else is wasted. A smoke alarm monitored by EMERgency24 is so much more effective than a system that only has an audible alarm. If no one is home, the neighbors won’t hear your alarm because of the way houses are insulated, but they might hear the windows explode eventually. Unfortunately, by that time, most of the house is gone and pets have no way of escaping. That sums up the importance of having a monitored alarm system.” 


The purpose of the Responder Reward Program, according to Patrick Devereaux, Senior Vice President of EMERgency24, is to recognize firefighters who put out blazes and to draw attention to criminal apprehension when the police respond to EMERgency24 dispatches triggered by monitored alarm systems. "The EMERgency24 Responder Reward Program was developed to thank firefighters and police officers for the invaluable services they provide in communities across America. Police officers and fire fighters responding to alarms is a vital function that makes our communities safer," Devereaux said.

VA Legislation Proposes $2.50 Tax per Subscriber, Per Month

From the NBFAA: In the event that you are not aware of what is currently happening in the 2009 session of the Virginia General Assembly, you need to know that two bills designed to turn monitored security and fire systems into a service to be taxed per account, per month is currently being considered and may be passed as early as tomorrow. 

If either of these bills pass in Virginia, we fear they will be introduced across the country, which will impact the entire industry. In the past, the supporters of these bills have sought funds to pay for them from DUI drivers and other sources-our industry is just the most recent target. These bills are:

Senate Bill 1006 - creates a monitoring tax of $2.50 per month, per account, paid by you, the alarm dealer, whether you collect it or not from the end user. This bill goes to the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. This is the same committee that overwhelmingly passed it last year. The full Senate will consider it before they adjourn in March.

House Bill 1997 - creates a monitoring tax of $1.00 per month, per account, paid by you, the alarm dealer, whether you collect it or not from the end user. This bill is being considered in the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee. 

Both bills are located on the NBFAA Web site

We need immediate action from you!

Regardless of your state, we need full opposition NOW. Supporters of these bills have inundated legislators with their lobbying efforts and are all over Richmond voicing their support. We need to provide an opposing viewpoint.

Call the General Assembly NOW and vote. During business hours, call the Constituent Viewpoint Opinion Line at 804-698-1990 or 800-889-0229 and a general assembly staff member will record your vote by bill number and forward the information to your representatives. If you have employees or subcontractors with whom you work, share this information and encourage them to call.

Visit, telephone, fax, email or text the members of the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates who represent where you live, where your business is located, or for whom you are the security services provider and communicate your displeasure with turning an industry of mostly small businesses into tax collectors.

Tell them: 

The bill is a "tax" on businesses and customers in the state 
The fees originally envisioned covering just firefighters but has now increased to other state and local employees, increasing the bill's cost to the industry 
There is no limit to the fees proposed-in just one month since introduction, fees in the bill to monitoring companies have jumped from $1.00 to $2.50 and they are now considering broadening this legislation to local employees 
The legislation was not reported in 2008 despite passage in the State Senate 
The state has no idea how many customers nor businesses will be impacted to pay for the benefits 
It's unfair to single out one industry 
To find contact information for your representatives, go to www.virginia.gov and follow the prompts for the legislature. 

Looking forward,

John D. Kochensparger, VBFAA President
Michael A. Miller, NBFAA President

Yuba City, CA, May Get Tougher Alarm Law

Yuba City, CA, may be getting tougher on false burglary alarms to free police department resources if an ordinance passes.

The ordinance would repeal and re-enact the security alarm systems section of the Yuba City Municipal Code, allowing residences and businesses only three false alarms every 365 days before facing fines.

The Yuba City City Council waived the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday, and the second reading and adoption of the ordinance, as well as establishing the fine amounts, will go before the council at a future meeting.

"We are trying to hold people accountable," said Police Chief Rob Landon "We would rather have the officer's time freed up to do other things."

Of the about 2,500 alarm calls Yuba City Police Department responds to each year, 99.2 percent are false. Each call requires at least two officers, who spend 15 to 20 minutes investigating, he said.

The alarm calls make up 8 percent of all police calls in Yuba City, the highest call for service in the department. And despite the high number of false alarms, few repeat offenders have tried to fix the problem, he said.

"This is not just a Yuba City problem," Landon said. "It's a nationwide problem."

The current code, which has not been updated since 1992, establishes a fine of $63 for the third false alarm in 90 days, and each additional false alarm rises in $63 increments up to $252.

Typically, the larger the business, the more opportunity for false alarms, Landon said. The Yuba Sutter Mall and the Yuba City Unified School District have the most frequent false alarms. The police department may host a training session to help prevent the problem.

Yuba City Unified School District has been successful in trying to proactively curb its false alarms in the last year, said Bruce Morton, director of student welfare and attendance.

"We obviously hope we can work with the police department so we don't end up with these charges," he said.

Morton receives monthly reports from each school site and shares the information with site administrators to try to fix the problem.

Sometimes an alarm is accidentally triggered by a teacher. Other times, classroom objects set off motion detectors. The school wants to do anything it can to alleviate false alarms, Morton said.

Don Covey, owner of Yuba City Florist and president of the Yuba City Downtown Business Association, said he thinks the ordinance is reasonable.

"I think businesses need to be responsible," he said. "We are looking at tightening budgets, controlling costs ... I think we can all take some responsibility."

Covey's shop has had its share of false alarms. In one week he had five false alarms, all set off by spiders. He said businesses are responsible for making sure employees either know how to operate or not set off alarms.

"It's all our responsibility to take care of false alarms so when the call comes in and it's a necessary call that we get a prompt response," Covey said.

The top three causes of false alarms are user errors, faulty equipment and poor installation, Landon said. A great deal of research went into the ordinance, looking at other cities nationwide.

Rocklin allows residents one free false alarm per year and imposes a fine of $50 for the second alarm and $100 for the third and any subsequent alarms. Oakland has a similar policy but charges $100 for the second false alarm, $200 for the third and $300 for the fourth and any subsequent false alarms.

Gilford, NH, Planning Board Recommends Tougher Alarm Law

The Gilford, NH, Planning Board recommended proposed changes to the town's Fire Prevention Code that would enforce the State Fire Code and adopt additional provisions for new construction, remodeling and maintenance of all commercial and multifamily buildings.

The current fire prevention code has not been updated since it was adopted in 1986. Many of the National Fire Prevention Association codes have been revised since the adoption of the code and the Gilford Fire Department thought it was in the best interest of the town and its residents for safety purposes.

"It was well overdue for an update of the fire prevention code," Deputy Chief John Beland said.

Gilford Fire Inspector Dana Pendergast spoke before the board, addressing the most significant proposed changes to the fire prevention code. One amendment of the fire code will require the fire alarm systems in all commercial and municipal buildings to be connected directly to the regional fire dispatch center. This will eliminate the time needed to transfer the signal to a third-party and will advise the fire department whether or not the fire alarm system can transmit if there is an emergency.

"This is a much needed update that mimics the state fire code, with minor changes to the local level," Pendergast said.

Currently the Fire Department has a set of fines for repeated false alarm, but it wants those fines increased. Fines are assessed over a 12-month period of time, having fines start after the second false alarm. Once a third false alarm is reported, a $100 fine will be given and will increase $50 for every other false alarm after up to six alarms. Any other false alarms after six alarms will be fined $500. 

Another new proposal calls for the requirement of all commercial buildings to have exit signs, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers and a fire alarm system. Planning Board member Jerry Gagnon questioned the need for having such requirements and said that changes to fire alarm systems could be cost-prohibitive.

He questioned why commercial buildings will be asked to require these upgrades of equipment, but single-family homes aren't required to have a fire alarm system at all. Pendergast told Gagnon that many people who enter a commercial building don't always know where fire exits are when they enter a building or where fire extinguishers are in the event of a fire. He said that the upgrades would eliminate confusion for those not familiar with the building. He added that the systems are designed to let people know if there is a problem in the other side of the building, even if someone is not in that particular section.

"Early notification makes the firefighter more aware of what to expect when they arrive on scene," Beland said. "It keeps our people safer by knowing how many people are needed and what apparatus are needed at the scene of the emergency. The system is there for our knowledge of an emergency if someone isn't there."

Under the new building code adopted by the NFPA, starting next year all new construction or renovations of 50 percent or more of a building of two or more stories and/or four or more attached wood frame units will be required to install a residential sprinkler system. This does not include homes with basements, but it does include all condominium units.

Gagnon was opposed to this proposal because of problems that may occur from having a sprinkler system inside a house.

"I don't agree with the requirements for the single-family and residential for having sprinkler systems," Gagnon said. "I understand they work well, but I see them as a maintenance issue."

The proposed amendments will become effective upon passage as voted on at Town Meeting in March.

Orland Park, IL, Alarm Law is Tougher Now

When Orland Park, IL, police respond to burglar alarms at homes and businesses, it seldom leads to a criminal arrest. 

Last year, police responded to 3,269 false alarms at village homes and businesses, said Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.

McCarthy and other village officials hope a stricter alarm ordinance will help curb the problem. The changes, which took effect Jan. 1, include increased fines for businesses and homeowners who neglect or misuse their security systems.

Fines, which start at $50, now kick in after six false alarms. The old ordinance allowed 12 false alarms before police issued a letter of warning to property owners.

Three false alarms in a month could lead to revocation of alarm registrations with police, and property owners are required to update their information with police more often to account for turnover in homes and businesses. 

"If you make requirements too loose, there's no incentive to improve your system," said Trustee Patricia Gira, chairwoman of the Village's Public Safety Committee.

False alarms not only distract police from their crime-prevention duties but also cost the village thousands of dollars in wasted resources and add unnecessary risk to police and residents, McCarthy said.

Other local officials said security alarm companies are working with residents and business owners to promote proper use and maintenance of their security systems.

McCarthy said property owners will be able to appeal fines before a village hearing officer.

"We want to reduce the risk to our people and the general public," he said.

Manteca, CA, Proposes Verified Response - $700 Fines for 5th False Alarm

You can – as the municipal law is now written – end up having the Manteca, CA, Police respond up to 24 times a year to false alarms at your business or home and not be charged a penny for tying up law enforcement services an average of 18 minutes per response.

The current ordinance allows you two false alarm responses per month without being charged. The third, fourth and fifth responses within a month to a false alarm could garner a $50 charge apiece. Police Chief Dave Bricker is now proposing that only two false alarms be allowed a year instead of per month.

And that could cost $700 for the third, fourth and fifth false alarms and revocation of the burglary alarm permit after that.

The third false alarm would result in a $100 charge, the fourth false alarm a $200 charge, and the fifth false alarm a $400 charge. After that, the police department would move to revoke the burglary alarm permit. If the alarm is used after the permit has been revoked, it would generate a $500 per alarm penalty.

Bricker is proposing that the new rules and charges go into effect May 15, 2009 if the City Council during their Tuesday meeting agrees to the proposal. 

Other changes Bricker is pursuing include requiring installers and salespersons be licensed in accordance with state law, identify the duties and responsibilities of alarm installers and users, encourage alarm user registration with the police department, and educate the alarm users about the impact of false alarms.

The department also wants to charge for response to non-permitted alarms. There is no charge for not having an alarm permit today. Under the proposed changes, no alarm permit would result in a $200 charge. If the owner of the alarm fails to respond such as to a night-time or weekend commercial burglary, there will also be a $100 charge.

Manteca has 23,618 residential units. Of those, 5.6 percent or 1,312 homes have alarms.

Bricker noted that responses to alarm company calls started as a courtesy but has now become an expectation on the part of the companies.

“Responding to audible alarms serves a private few, but yet is subsidized by all taxpayers,” Bricker noted in a report to the Manteca City Council.

The department is proposing switching to a verified response to residential alarms. That requires a human verification of a crime or a problem. The verification response does not apply to robbery, panic, or duress alarms. Manteca Police will continue to respond to those types of alarms regardless of verification. Bricker noted in other cities, response times by security agents are generally faster than the police department.

Bricker pointed to the results of a study by the City of Fontana that switched to a verified response policy. They had an 81 percent reduction in police response to residential burglary alarms with no increase in the burglary rate. At the same time, they had a 14.6 increase in vehicle stops and a 59 percent increase in pedestrian contacts resulting in a 12 percent increase in arrests.

Response times to the major crimes identified by the FBI from assaults, vehicle and other burglaries, domestic violence, car thefts, armed robberies, and such improved.

Bricker said response to hold-up alarms will not change. Police will respond to residential and commercial distress alarms after the alarm company has attempted to verify the alarm by calling the premises, and they will respond to local audible alarms only if criminal activity has been verified.

Police will respond to all commercial and residential alarms when criminal activity has been verified. Police will also respond to burglar alarms if there are two separate monitoring zones activated and if the alarm company’s monitoring station has been unsuccessful in their attempt to contact the premises.

Acceptable forms of verification are audio or video communication or a guard, witness, or alternate responder verification.

Nassau County (NY) Legislator on Alarm Law: Meet w/ Affected Parties First

According to a senior legislator, the Nassau County (NY) Legislature should not introduce bills until it meets with the people or groups that would be affected.

However, the presiding officer said the home-security bill was the work of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, and the legislature was under no obligation to seek input from affected parties on his legislation. Suozzi had sought to raise $1 million this year by allowing burglar alarms to be connected directly to police, who would collect the monitoring fees now collected by the alarm companies.

Legis. Judy Jacobs, chairwoman of the Budget Review Committee and the former presiding officer, said she was making her suggestion after a bill dealing with burglar alarms breezed through committee and was coming up for a vote before legislators learned of opposition from the home security industry.

"I would like to respectfully suggest that when we are introducing a new law which has an impact on an industry [such as the alarm law] that we first meet with members of the industry to fully investigate the far-reaching effects of such a law," Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said in a statement.

Asked for comment, Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) said in statement: "This is the county executive's item. His office was responsible for obtaining and presenting any related information. I suggest you contact the county executive's office for any comment."

The companies learned of the plan just days before the scheduled vote and turned out for Monday's legislative meeting.

Andrew Lowitt, vice president of Lowitt Alarms of Hicksville, told the legislators that Nassau has 400 licensed alarm companies and they employ 2,000 to 3,000 people. "Many of those jobs and companies are at risk if this legislation passes," he said.

Yatauro said she had pulled the item from consideration the week before, but did not mention publicly that it was being withdrawn until Monday.

Washington County (MD) Drop Alarm Registration Fee - Targets Repeat Offenders

To avoid penalizing responsible security alarm-system users for a false-alarm problem caused by a few, the Washington County Sheriff's Department has dropped its request that alarm users be assessed a permit fee, Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said. 

The department is still proposing a system of fines that would penalize users whose alarm systems summon deputies for non-emergencies three or more times in one year. A public hearing on the proposed ordinance and fine amounts is Tuesday. 

The ordinance was designed to cut down on false alarms from malfunctioning systems, codes entered incorrectly, and other forms of accidents and negligence, which make up about 98 percent of security alarm activations and cost deputies thousands of hours each year, Mullendore said. 

The Sheriff's Department initially proposed that, in addition to fining repeat false-alarm offenders, the county collect a one-time permit fee of $30 from residential users and $60 from nonresidential users. The money would have gone toward the cost of processing and maintaining permits, and administering the false-alarm fine system, Mullendore said. 

An analysis of last year's alarm calls revealed the false alarm problem stemmed from a small number of users. 

Most of those users are businesses, Mullendore said. 

Out of about 4,000 registered alarm users, only 338 had three or more false alarms in 2008, and only 38 of those were residential alarm users, Mullendore said. 

Under the proposed fine system, those users would have faced fines starting at $30 for the third false alarm for residential users and $60 for the third false alarm for nonresidential users. After that, the amount of the fine would increase by $20 for each offense for residential users and by $25 for each offense for nonresidential users. 

If those fines had been in place last year, the county would have collected about $75,000, Mullendore said. That, combined with the savings from any reduction in false alarms, would probably be enough to pay for the administrative costs, without the permit fees, he said. 

"It's going to be pretty close," he said. 

For a handful of alarm system users, the fines could get especially costly. The Kellogg Co. distribution center on Newgate Boulevard was the county's top source of false alarms last year, with a total of 35, Mullendore said. Under the proposed system, that would have cost the company more than $15,000. 

Together, the top eight offenders would have paid about $50,000. 

With the ordinance in place, deputies hope those chronic offenders would have an incentive to fix the problem before the numbers ever got that high. 

Most of the worst false-alarm offenders are establishments with large buildings and many employees. 

"With those, part of the problem is the large volume of people that work there," Deputy Tracey Peyton said. "Not everyone is familiar with how the alarm system operates and which doors are alarmed at which time." 

Warehouses also are prone to problems, Peyton said. There, maintenance is often a factor, particularly with garage doors, he said. If a garage door is slightly misaligned, it can cause an alarm to not set properly or to become supersensitive, activating upon the slightest movement, he said. 

At Robinwood Medical Center, which was tied for third with 22 false alarms last year, human error and maintenance cause problems, facilities manager Jim Nipps said. The most frequent sources of the problem are people who are not trained and therefore use the key entry inappropriately, Nipps said. 

Robinwood and its parent organization, Antietam Health Services, understand what is motivating the county to develop the new regulations, Antietam Health Services spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said. In fact, when Robinwood officials are called out for false alarms, they pass along a $100 fine to the tenant as an incentive to better train employees, she said. 

Other repeat offenders said they didn't think the fines would do much good. 

At Kmart in Valley Plaza, which had 17 false alarms last year, Manager Dan Klein said the store has already tried to cut down on alarm activations, but the situation is often out of his hands. For example, some of the false alarms occur when a bird is in the building and sets off the motion detector after-hours, he said. 

"To fine us isn't really going to help," he said. 

Deputies acknowledge it might be impossible to cut out all false alarms, and the proposed ordinance includes exemptions for several situations. Signals would not be treated as false alarms if they are activated by severe weather conditions or other "acts of God"; if they are activated during the first 60 days after installation; if all appropriate emergency agencies are notified of a test ahead of time; or if the alarm company calls to cancel the alarm before police arrive.