April 2009 - Posts

Lynn, MA, and Alarm Industry Work Together for Ordinance

A recent collaboration between the alarm industry and the powers-that-be in Lynn, Mass., has seen the successful creation of an alarm ordinance that everyone can live with.

John Olson, Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce chairman, hailed the agreement. “The best thing from my perspective is that not only did we end up producing an effective and fair ordinance,” Olson said, “but in the process we changed the view people in city government have about the role the Chamber can play in setting policy.”

Lynn City Councilor Dan Cahill agrees: “It just became this great sharing of information. It was a wonderful learning experience that exemplified the quintessential model for a public/private collaboration,” Cahill said. “That’s rare in government. It was just a pleasure to work with those guys.”

Cahill last year proposed an ordinance that would fine owners with repeated false alarm calls. Cahill cited numerous other communities that had an ordinance in place and claimed such an ordinance could reduce the number of false alarm dispatches by as much as 80 percent.

Seattle PD Credits Enhanced Call Verification for 26% Drop in False Alarms

The Seattle Police Department is crediting the enforcement of a new alarm policy with a 26 percent reduction in unnecessary dispatches so far this year versus what they experienced in 2008.

The new Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) policy, which went into effect in January, not only requires companies and alarm users be licensed and registered with the city, but also that monitoring centers place two verification calls to customers prior to alerting police. According to a statement issued by the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, Seattle has seen a 62 percent reduction in false alarm calls since it began updating its alarm ordinances in 1999.

“Seattle is an excellent example of the positive effects that come from enforcing a cooperative alarm ordinance between law enforcement and the alarm industry,” said Washington Burglar & Fire Alarm Association Alarm Response Manager Ron Haner. “The statistics from Seattle prove that if a jurisdiction takes the time and effort to enforce their alarm ordinance in cooperation with the local alarm industry, they will see the desired reductions.”

Editorial: Leave Video Monitoring to the Professionals

In Atherton, Calif., the police are offering to monitor home video surveillance cameras owned and used by the town's residents. Just pay your $300 initiation fee plus $269 per camera and an annual $50/camera monitoring fee and the police will monitor your cameras for you.

Interesting, yes. Smart, probably not. In fact ... (Read the full copy of Geoff Kohl's editorial on the SecurityInfoWatch.com site.)

Report: NFPA to Approve ESC Guidelines for 2010 Code

According to Security Sales & Integration magazine, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) could approve a national mass notification standard for the private sector at its safety conference in June. 

The Chapter 12 standard (formerly known as Annex E) adds a category to the National Fire Alarm Code, which was last updated in 2007. It would be the first time guidelines have been put in place for an emergency communication system (ECS). The code would roll out for 2010. 

The systems will be required to provide pre-recorded messages as well as real-time instructions to occupants of a building during an emergency, according to the most recent draft of Chapter 12. 

Perhaps the most notable element of the new chapter requires emergency communications systems be integrated with fire alarm systems as the primary notification system on school and hospital campuses. Once the emergency is over, this combination ECS/fire alarm system could provide independent fire alarm notification. 

“In new construction, the best way to comply with NFPA 72, Chapter 12 code appears to be an integrated ECS/fire alarm systems approach,” says Beth Welch, public relations manager at Honeywell Fire Systems. “When dealing with a retrofit application where a fire alarm system already exists, a separate ECS may be required.” 

“Voice intelligibility” in messaging would also become a requirement, which could trigger additional fire-alarm inspections, Welch added. 

The updated version of NFPA 72 is scheduled to come before the association’s membership at the technical session that is held in conjunction with the 2009 NFPA World Safety Conference and Exposition in Chicago. 

The proposed code update was circulated to the public in mid-2008 for review and comment. 

The NFPA’s Standards Council has been overseeing the update. The council created the Emergency Communication Systems (ECS) Committee to review and update documents on the risk analysis, design, application, installation and performance of emergency communication systems. 

The addition of Chapter 12 would address in-building communication systems, as well as wide-area signaling. Wide-area signaling, which was introduced in the 2007 edition of NFPA 72, is the process of providing alerts or information to people in exterior open spaces, such as campuses, neighborhood streets, cities, towns or communities.

$250 Fine for Late Alarm Registration Angers Palo Alto, CA, Residents

A $250 fine for not renewing their burglar-alarm permits on time has some Palo Alto, CA, residents feeling like criminals.

Homeowners who for years have faithfully paid the annual $35 permit fee on time recently found themselves in receipt of the hefty penalty when the renewal notice they usually receive didn't arrive -- and they forgot to pay.

Fifteen residents appealed the penalty during an administrative hearing on April 1, but to no avail. Residents received a five-page legal document informing them that the penalty would not be waived, they said.

What has some residents even angrier than the hole in their wallets is the attitude of officials, they said. They claim they've been treated rudely, that officials haven't been cooperative and that the outcome of the hearing was predetermined.

City officials maintain the penalty is just and in line with other $100 and $250 fees, since the permit-expiration date is listed on a sticker posted at the homes. But some conceded the fine may be excessive, or at least a better method of notification could be devised.

Christy and William Neidig, who have had a home alarm for more than 20 years, are among those protesting the penalty. 

The Neidig's permit expired in September 2008. Christy Neidig appealed the penalty at the April 1 hearing before Louis Amadeo, an attorney and the city's administrative-hearing officer, and Janice Hall, a community-service officer at the police department.

Fourteen other people who also were fined but who had not received renewal notices were also waiting for the one-on-one hearings, Neidig said.

On April 13, the Neidigs learned their appeal had been rejected and that the city is not legally required to send the renewal notice, but does so as a courtesy.

Amadeo informed Neidig that he denied every request for waiving the fee and has always denied such requests and would continue to do so, Neidig said.

William Neidig said it sounded like a kangaroo court: The two officials knew what the outcome would be. 

"What I'm really objecting to is the concept of 15 people sitting in a room and to go through this charade 15 times," he said.

Amadeo said he's in a tough spot because he has to walk a fine line between being polite and also not advising appellants. His role is like a judge's, and he can't respond to or give legal advice related to a hearing -- and that can be interpreted as being uncooperative, he said.

But ultimately, as with any license, the responsibility rests with the permit holder, he said.

"It's like a driver's license or car registration," he said. "The city permit on its face has an expiration date. Whether the person has actual notice to respond to that (expiration) or if people claim they don't receive it is irrelevant. If it's expired, it's not allowed," he said.

Resident Vanessa Davies, who also appealed, said the fine is out of proportion to the offense. 

"A 700-percent-plus fine is outrageous. Property taxes, car registration fees, etc., items are considerably more important than an alarm fee. All have fines in the 10- to 20-percent range," she said.

Davies also said that she and others at the hearing received a letter dated Jan. 7 stamped "payment was due within 10 days or there would be an additional penalty of 10 percent per month" in addition to the $250 fine. But the letter was postmarked March 4.

But Charles Cullen, the alarm-program director for the Palo Alto Police Department, said the department is "very diligent about sending out the renewal notices one month in advance, and there is a grace period."

Cullen also said 1 to 2 percent of residents don't pay their renewals on time.

But he acknowledged the fine is "pretty significant. We need to look at it again." 

Cullen also said that while he understands people's frustration, the penalty is not intended to generate revenue. 

"I know people think we are gouging them. It was written before it was on my radar. In the next year, I hope to have some changes. We want to make it easy for people," he said.

The alarm permit was added to help manage the number of alarms going off. It requires alarm users to provide the police department with the names, addresses and phone numbers of three persons who can respond within 30 minutes, helping to track and cut down on police time, according to the website.

But the language pertaining to the penalty could be confusing: On Nov. 21, 2001, the city council voted unanimously to amend the administrative penalty schedule to include a $250 penalty for operating an alarm system without a permit. But the city's 2008-09 adopted municipal-fee schedule does not list a penalty for late renewal, only penalties for false alarms.

Davies said many people may be affected by the confusion.

"When I stood in line at the police department to speak with the alarm clerk about the fine, there was an elderly gentleman behind me with the exact same issue. He begrudgingly paid the fine and stated he didn't have the bandwidth to fight it. If 10 people bothered to go to the hearing ... I would bet a lot more people were like the guy behind me in line, threw up their hands in the air, and just paid it," she said.

Kettering, OH, Clarifies Alarm Ordinance

The Kettering, OH, Police Department wishes to clarify alarm registration and the city ordinance pertaining to responses. The department wishes to educate the alarm permit holders by reminding them of the current policies.

As stated in the City Ordinance, "the purpose of the ordinance is to protect the emergency services of the Police Department from misuse by responding to defective alarm systems and excessive alarms." The current ordinance was passed on January 1, 2003. History has shown that approximately 98% of all alarm calls are false.

If you have an alarm installed in your residence or business and have NOT registered with the Kettering Police Department, you can download the registration form from the city website at www.ketteringoh.org or contact Patrol Officer Jennifer Smithhart at 296-3238. The registration form will need to be completed and mailed in or e-mailed to the police department with a one time fee of $10.00.

If a homeowner moves or cancels the alarm service, the police department asks that you please notify Officer Smitthart.

Alarm RE-REGISTRATION takes place every two years. The alarm permit holder must update the registration form so that the department has current information. Re-registration can be done either by using the website registration form or by contacting Officer Smithhart. There is NO fee to re-register.

In the event that an alarm occurs at your residence or business, the alarm company notifies the Kettering Police Dispatch Center. Officers are then dispatched to the location.

If the residence or business is found to be secure with no signs of criminal activity, then a copy of the response card is left by the officer. If the alarm is activated accidentally, officers will make contact with the person on scene to confirm that there is no problem and leave a copy of the alarm response card.

If the residence or business has three false alarms within a six month period, a $100.00 fee will be assessed. For each additional alarm within that six month period, a fee of $200.00 will be assessed.

If the residence or business has three false alarms within six months and then goes six months without a false alarm, the account will be reset to zero and the two "free" false alarms are granted again.

If alarm fees are not paid, then both civil and criminal action can be taken against the alarm permit holder. An alarm permit holder who has five false alarms during a six month period and is believed to have not made reasonable attempts to correct the problem shall be ordered to disconnect the alarm system. If the disconnect order is ignored, the alarm user will be charged with a Minor Misdemeanor.

If the alarms occur due to faulty equipment, the alarm permit holder can send in the information with a copy of the work order from the alarm company and apply for an appeal of the alarm assessment fee.

The department is here to serve the alarm users; however it is the alarm owner's responsibility to keep the alarm system in working order and to eliminate user error.

If you have any questions, please contact Officer Smitthart at 296-3238 or log on to the city website at www.ketteringoh.org for information.

Issaquah, WA, Considers Alarm Ordinance that Requries Registration

Members of the Issaquah City Council’s Services & Operations Committee will consider a proposal April 16, 2009, that would require alarm owners to pay a registration fee. The fees, and fines issued for false alarms.

In 2008, officers responded to 1,035 burglary, robbery or duress alarms, according to police figures. A whopping 99.2 percent of the alerts were false alarms. Officers said commercial businesses are the most frequent false-alarm offenders.

Responding to these calls wastes thousands of dollars and hours of manpower each year. Each moment an officer spends chasing a false alarm is time he or she could be using to respond to a bona fide emergency.

Morton, PA, Now Requires CO Detectors

The Morton, PA, council recently enacted an ordinance requiring carbon monoxide detectors in every residence and commercial establishment in the borough. The ordinance requires compliance by July 1.

Solicitor Jay Wills said the detectors are to be installed on every floor in a building used for habitation.

He noted the detectors will be needed before a certificate of occupation will be issued when a property changes hands, or for new construction.

Alycee Nelson Ruley told council the annual senior citizens prom, hosted by the Teens For Positive Empowerment organization will be 6 p.m. April 25 at the borough community building. Tickets are $8 and the minimum age for attendance is 50.

In another matter, Sunday Dyitt, president reorganized Morton Borough Fourth of July Committee, told council the committee is planning an Independence Day parade and needs financial help.

She estimated a budget of $1,677 for the event. Council promised to help fund the parade and fund raising events were also discussed.

Oregon Lawmakers Urged to Require Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Choking back tears, Kari Rittenour urged a House committee on Wednesday to require that most homes and apartments in Oregon be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors to prevent tragedies like the one that took the life of her stepbrother and his family last Thanksgiving.

"It is the silent killer," Rittenour said of carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that is the leading cause of accidental poisonings in the United States.

Rittenour's stepbrother, Parker Lofgren, his wife, Caroline, and their children, Owen and Sophie, died of carbon monoxide poisoning from an undetected lead while staying in a rental home in Aspen, Colo. Rittenour said the family was safety conscious and that their own home was equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.

"If this can happen to them, it can happen to anyone," she said.

The House Human Services Committee heard Rittenour during a hearing on House Bill 3450, which would require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all homes and apartment at the time of sale or rental or when a certificate of occupancy is issued.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury told the committee that carbon monoxide can be fatal within minutes but that many deaths could be prevented by the installation of the detectors, which cost about $20. She said 19 other states already have laws that deal with the issue.

"We're not asking Oregon to do anything risky or innovative," Kafoury said.

There appeared to be widespread support for the bill on the committee and there was no outright opposition. Without being specific, state Fire Marshall Randy Simpson said he supported the legislation but that it may need to be amended and representatives of Oregon homebuilders and the makers of manufactured homes said they were concerned about the application of some technical aspects of the bill.

In the end, the committee decided to form a work group to devise changes to the bill before voting on it.

Los Gatos, CA, Council Rejects Registration Fee, Approves False Alarm Fines

The main topic of conversation at the Los Gatos, CA, town council meeting on April 6, 2009, was money. 

The raising of fees and the allocation of funds for grants and scholarships were the two most debated agenda items. Mayor Mike Wasserman felt that a proposed fee to register a residential alarm wasn’t fair to residents that may never use their alarm. Instead, he suggested that residents should be fined $50 for the second false alarm coming from their property.

The overall fee upgrades were passed, along with park reservation fees. The residential alarm registration fee failed. Instead, a fee of $50 will be imposed on anyone who has a second false alarm in a twelve-month period. Before this time residents were not charged until the third offense. The new fees will take effect on July 1.

Alarm Dealers Nationwide May Need Background Checks

According to a report issued by the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, legislation recently introduced in congress could provide installation and monitoring companies with the resources to ensure the employees they hire aren’t a threat to the homes, businesses and families they’re suppose to help protect.

The bill, the "Electronic Life Safety and Security System Federal Background Check Act of 2009" (HR 1939), was introduced by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and would give these companies the ability to check a potential employee’s criminal history against the National Crime Information Center or NCIC, a federal criminal database.

Farmington, CT, PD Gives Seniors Safety Tips

You leave the interior door between the garage and the house open because you’re only going to the store for a few minutes.

You haven’t checked if your house alarm is working in months, or better yet, you don’t bother to turn it on when you leave.

It takes the average burglar about two to two-and-a-half minutes to grab what he’s looking for and leave, said Farmington police detective Brian Killiany.

But in that time you could lose thousands of dollars or an heirloom collection that represents a lifetime of treasured memories.

“The elderly are excellent targets because they tend to forget all the stuff they’ve accumulated over the years,” Killiany told seniors during a home-safety seminar Tuesday at the Community and Senior Center. “And immediately after you’ve been burglarized you feel violated and spend tons of money upgrading security.”

The seminar was part of a community policing initiative designed to offer some simple yet cost-effective tips to make seniors and their homes less of a target.

The seniors meet regularly on Tuesdays and enjoy presentations on a variety of topics, from exercise to home health care to safety issues, said Nancy Parent, director of Recreational and Community Services.

“The value of having something like this is in being informed,” Parent said. “It’s being not informed that creates fear.” 

Burglars are “sneak thieves,” Killiany said. They prefer to come in through an easy access entry when no one is home. “Most burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which is usually when mothers run errands because the kids are at school,” Killiany said. “They don’t want to interact with you. They do their homework. Most professional burglars are smart; they know when someone’s home.”

There are easy steps to take to make it harder for someone to break in, Killiany told the group. Most seemed like common sense, but as the detective pointed out, you actually have to use them.

Use solid doors, not hollow ones, for exterior entrances. If you don’t have deadbolt locks, buy expensive ones that are attached through to the stud. Leave the key in when you’re home — but take it out and actually lock the deadbolt when you leave. 

If you have an alarm system, know how to use it properly — and make sure you actually use it. Have the system installed by a licensed reputable company, not your cousin who dabbles in electrical work, and if possible, make sure the alarm is loud.

“Remember, the average burglar takes only two minutes,” Killiany pointed out. “They’ll be long gone by the time we get there. But if you have a noisy alarm, it will scare them off. You want to bring as much attention to your home as possible.” 

Other tips included making sure bushes and plants are trimmed back and don’t offer good hiding places for thieves. Knowing your neighbors — and having them know your habits, is a good idea as well. “They know whose car belongs and whose doesn’t,” he said. “It’s not such a bad thing, having nosy neighbors.”

The bottom line, Killiany said, residents need to make good security practices a habit, not an afterthought. “After you’ve been burglarized you feel violated,” he said. “It gives you the willies, your home is your castle. I know people who have actually moved after being burglarized because they felt someone else was sure to break in again.”

Frank Decicco admitted he took Killiany’s words to heart and will be installing deadbolts as soon as possible. “I think it was really informative,” the 78-year-old said. “I keep putting it off, but the deadbolt all the way into the stud is a good idea. I definitely learned quite a bit. Now the thing to do is act on it. No more excuses.”

Kennebunkport, ME, Proposes Clarification to Alarm Ordinance

Kennebunkport, ME, Fire Chief Paul Moshimer proposed articles to Selectmen at the Town Meeting. 

The first would amend the false alarm ordinance to indicate alarms caused by events beyond homeowners’ control are not in violation, but false alarms caused by human error while using home security systems or failure to maintain the system, will be in violation and lead to penalty charges.

The second article would amend the fire code ordinance, clarifying language within the ordinance to reflect the current structure of the department.

Moshimer said the proposed changes are in effort to eliminate ambiguity and clarify expectations for residents compliance to the ordinances.

Dayton, OH, To Fine for Habitual False Alarms

Twenty-nine times in six months Memphis, OH, firefighters responded to the high-rise apartment building without a serious incident.

The 30th time in 1994 seemed no different.

There were no flames showing outside, recalls former Memphis firefighter Herbert Redden, now Dayton's fire chief.

Once inside, elevator doors opened to a floor, revealing a raging inferno. Two firefighters and two civilians died in the fire.

It's a tragic story Redden tells his district chiefs because he sees the signs of a repeat scenario in Dayton.

A review of the fire department's runs found that in the last two years, Dayton, OH, firefighters have responded to more false alarms than actual fire emergencies.

In 2008, firefighters responded to more than 1,500 false alarms, according to department data.

They responded to 1,150 actual fire emergencies.

To combat the false alarm runs, fire officials will soon start issuing fines to habitual offenders after city officials passed a false alarm ordinance late last year.

False alarms are considered alarm system malfunctions or accidentally tripped alarms, Redden said.

The ordinance calls for fines of up to $250 and a disconnect from the fire department's alarm system.

"This is not a way for us to increase our revenue," Redden said. "This is a way for us to protect citizens."

False alarm runs cost the city about $65,000 a year in equipment and fuel, officials said.

False alarms leave the city dangerously vulnerable with few crews left to respond to other incidents, Redden said.

"I get upset with these alarm companies from these commercial buildings and residential high rises who don't notify us when they test their alarms," said Redden, his tranquil southern drawl turning to a terse rant. "It puts us in a real dangerous position because we have to dedicate so many of our resources to a response."

CDC: Older Women Living Alone Vulnerable to Intrusions

Older women who live alone are vulnerable to unwanted intrusions in their homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caregivers of older women often evaluate crime risk and home security, but fail to identify women's intentions to reduce intrusion risk. In a new study, a University of Missouri professor has found that in order to feel safe at home, older women need to recognize safety risks and perceive themselves as capable of preventing intrusions. 

"Older women's intentions to ensure accessibility to their homes for family, friends, and neighbors can override their concerns about preventing intrusions," said Eileen Porter, professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing. "Health care providers need to engage older women in conversations about the risks they perceive and their intentions to reduce those risks." 

Previously, researchers had not evaluated the use of intention as a component of home safety assessments. The findings of this study reveal the need for safety interventions to supplement basic safety tips, Porter said. 

"To ensure that older people avoid victimization at home, health care providers often focus on providing recommendations such as locking the doors and installing security systems," Porter said. "However, it is not enough to ask if they are locking their doors, because the meaning of that term varies among people. Some women, who affirm that they are 'locking the door,' are locking their front door at night and during certain seasons of the year, but otherwise leaving front and back doors unlocked." 

Older homebound women who express worry about intrusions can benefit from carrying a portable phone or subscribing to a personal emergency response system, Porter said. Women who own portable phones but do not carry them can benefit from conversations about why they choose not to carry phones and questions about how they would reach help quickly if possible situations arise. 

"Caregivers and nurses should develop individualized safety interventions based on older women's intentions to protect themselves and reduce intrusion risks," Porter said. "Nurses should conduct multiple interviews and ask questions about safety perceptions, potential reasons for reaching help quickly and how to reach help immediately." 

Porter interviewed 40 homebound women, ages 85 to 95 and living alone, about their perceptions of feeling safe at home and precautions to protect themselves. The women reported various intentions about reducing intrusion risk, perceived capabilities in intrusion situations, and frequency of carrying devices that enable them to reach help quickly. Their main intentions to reduce risks at home were keeping watch, keeping out of harm's way, preventing theft and vandalism, discouraging people who might want to get in, and keeping those people out. Porter says these issues are important to consider when developing assessment questions and safety interventions. 

The study, "Reducing My Risk of Intrusion, An Intention of Old Homebound Women Living Alone," was published in October, 2008 in Nursing Research. The study, "Contemplating What I Would Do If Someone Got in My House, Intentions of Older Homebound Women Living Alone," was published in 2008 in Advances in Nursing Science. The studies were funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging.