February 2010 - Posts

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Consider CO Detector Law

As people spend more time indoors during these dreary winter months, carbon monoxide poisoning becomes more of a threat. But Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to reduce that risk.

You definitely see the upsurge of that starting in September, October, as soon as the heaters go on, said Chief Bill Rehr, Reading Fire Department.

Just this week, New York made it mandatory for every home to have one and state lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering the same thing.

The Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standards Act is gaining support and could be up for a vote early next month. If passed, homes with fuel burning furnaces, attached garages, or fireplaces would need to have alarms installed by next year.

Carbon monoxide has no color or odor and symptoms mimic the flu.

Law or not, officials say having a working alarm is your best defense.

Next to smoke detectors, said Chief Rehr, carbon monoxide detectors are ranking right up there with them as an important device to have in your home.

Across the state, carbon monoxide emergencies coincided with the snow storms earlier this month. February 3rd, six people were taken to the hospital when carbon monoxide filled a business in Bucks County.

Four days later, 34 people suffered symptoms in a church in northwestern Pennsylvania. Two others outside of Pittsburgh died.

The next day, carbon monoxide forced folks out of a mall in Delaware County.

All in all, the CDC says 400 people in the U.S. die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning and 20,000 more are treated in emergency rooms.

Carbon monoxide alarms start at around $20 and soon that may be a price all Pennsylvanians have to pay.

Avon, OH, Eliminates Alarm Registration Fee; Allows Two False Alarms

False alarms from homes are not going to cost as much as they used to in Avon, OH, as City Council passed an ordinance eliminating the $50 sign-up fee and giving homeowners two free passes.

The city had the sign-up fee in effect since 1996, but started strictly enforcing it after there were too many false alarms that kept safety forces busy, according to Mayor Jim Smith.

"You could have seven false alarms at your business and they still treat each one as if it were real," Smith said. "When that happens, it takes officers off the street."

He said the city began charging a $50 fee when residents installed a house alarm, and an additional $50 fee every time someone had a false alarm. In 2007, Smith says there were more than 860 false alarms responded to. After the fee was instituted, that number dropped by more than half, he said.

Smith said a very common reason for repeated false alarms were that a system needed repair, and the fee gave people an incentive to have it fixed.

After the ordinance takes effect, homeowners will not be charged until the third false alarm. That will cost $50 for each, until the 10th one, which will then be $100. Businesses won't be charged until the third false alarm, but must pay the $50 sign-up fee.

Herkimer, NY, Fire Department to Charge for False Alarms

The Herkimer, NY, Fire Department has responded to 178 calls in the past year that were considered to be false alarms.

In an effort to deter that, village officials recently passed a law allowing the fire department to now charge people who make false alarm calls. 

Fire Chief John Spanfelner said the bulk of the false alarm calls come from businesses who have an alarm system wired directly into the fire department and are having work done in their buildings. He said that many times when the alarm is tripped, the fire department shows up, but the alarm was accidentally set off.

"It's when we go to a place where we find a faulty detector, and we tell them about it, but then the next week we are back there for the same detector," Spanfelner said, describing a false alarm. "Then, the following week, we are back for the same detector, and it's not getting fixed. That's where this law falls into." 

Spanfelner said that in some cases, his men have started out responding to a false alarm call, while another, legitimate call has come in. 

"It happened to me one night," Chief Spanfelner recalled. "Guys were out on a medical call. We had a call down on the south side for a structure fire, and we had to wait for everyone to come in (from the first call). I was, at that point, the only one on a call, for a few minutes. So, it does happen." 

The charges for a false alarm or nuisance call range from $100 to $250.

However, Spanfelner said that for the first false alarm call in a given month, there will be no charge. The chief said the village is not looking to get rich off this law. Instead, the idea is to deter false alarm calls. 

Spanfelner said that every time the fire department responds to a call, serious or not, it is dangerous and most of their man power is used.

Editorial: Pending Washington Law Endangers Lives Due to CO Poisoning

A bill that seeks to overturn a critical public safety law is making its way through the state Legislature. If it is not stopped, Washington residents will remain at risk of falling victim to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, the most common cause of accidental poisoning death in the US. 

As one of the world’s leading experts on carbon monoxide poisoning, I testified in favor of the original legislation mandating residential CO alarms. I lecture nationally and internationally on the topic of CO poisoning and remember saying at the time that I was embarrassed to be from a state that did not require CO alarms in homes because we were ignoring the opportunity to protect our citizens. 

I am appalled that the state in which I reside would consider taking a giant step backward in preventing injury and death from carbon monoxide. 

House Bill 2886 seeks to remove from law the requirement that existing homes have carbon monoxide alarms installed upon sale, eliminating one of the best methods in which to ensure CO alarms are phased into homes and can protect families. 

The bill will also delay by two years the requirement that CO alarms be installed in residential dwellings such as rental properties, student housing and lodging facilities. 

Claims by representatives of rental property owners that they do not have enough time for CO alarm installation under current law just doesn’t ring true when you consider that other states have implemented CO alarm programs in similar or less time. 

Oregon took 13 months; Illinois, Montana and New Hampshire had seven months; New York, six; and Maine, Massachusetts, Colorado and Vermont took only four months to institute the regulation, even for multi-unit dwellings and rental units. The 34 months HB 2886 seeks is much longer than required by other states, and the result will be to prolong the time that lives are put unnecessarily at risk.

To understand why HB 2886 is so damaging and why enforcing current law is so crucial, it is important to understand the magnitude of carbon monoxide in the United States and Washington state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year accidental carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 1,000 people in the U.S., with a majority of these deaths occurring in a residential setting. 

In addition, CO poisoning is responsible for an estimated 50,000 emergency department visits nationally. And, according to the Washington Department of Health, from 1990 to 2005, nearly 1,200 residents died from acute CO exposure, an average of about 75 deaths per year. 

These figures don’t tell the story of the long-term impact on Washington state residents who survive an episode of accidental CO poisoning but then suffer from long-term brain injury. 

Lest anyone is under the impression that CO poisoning can’t happen to them, carbon monoxide has many sources that can be found in most homes. CO poisoning can be caused by gas ranges and stoves, gas clothes dryers, faulty furnaces, gas generators and portable heaters, blocked chimneys, wood-burning stoves, and cars left running in attached garages. 

And because CO is odorless and colorless and symptoms of poisoning are similar to those of the flu, victims frequently do not know they are being exposed until they are severely poisoned. CO alarms – which cost less than $30 – are the best line of defense because they alert residents to toxic levels of CO in their homes, giving them time to leave the environment before they are injured or killed. 

I have treated hundreds of victims of severe CO poisoning and know the long- term and devastating effects of this deadly poison. I urge lawmakers to oppose HB 2886 to help ensure Washington state residents are protected as soon as possible from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Dr. Neil B. Hampson, medical director of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Virginia Mason Medical Center, is one of the top experts in carbon monoxide poisoning in the country. Virginia Mason Medical Center is the regional referral center for treatment of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning with hyperbaric oxygen in the hyperbaric chamber.

Rolling Meadows, IL, Looks to Correct its Alarm Ordinance

Rolling Meadows, IL, aldermen on Tuesday, Feb. 16 tried to correct a change to false alarm penalties that they didn't intent to pass.

"There was a recommendation to change some of the fee structure," explained Mayor Ken Nelson. "We changed more than we intended to."

In 2006, the city allowed residents to have up to three false alarms on their burglar alarm systems each year. After that, a resident was accessed a fee of $100 for additional false alarms. Fees and permits for alarms were set at 50% for senior citizens.

Aldermen that year considered a change in the false alarm ordinance. "The intent was to impact the fees for fire false alarms," Nelson explained. However, the change somehow also increased the fines for false burglar alarms. Under the current ordinance, residents are allowed only one false alarm with a fee of $350 for any additional ones.

Fire Chief Ron Stewart explained his department asked for higher fees due to the cost of sending two to four vehicles to a false alarm. In 2007, the fire department responded to 460 false alarms, 561 in 2008, and about 570 last year. Stewart further explained the department does not fine for everything classified as a false alarm and that it is behind in fine collection due to clerical cuts by the city.

Police Chief Dave Scanlan said his department noticed a problem with the new rates and did not charge the increased fees for false alarms. Police respond to about 800 false alarms each year, he added.

Nelson asked for a corrected version of the ordinance come before the Committee of the Whole in March. It could then be back on the books after two council meetings. Meanwhile, he expects the police department to enforce the old ordinance as it has been.

Gilbert, AZ, Wants to Minimize False Alarms; Offers End-User Classes

At a time when Gilbert, AZ, officials are struggling with tight finances, local police are trying to reduce a costly drain on officers' time and the department's overall efficiency: false signals from security alarms in homes and businesses.

Even as overall calls for police assistance have declined for three straight years, false alarms have been steadily rising.

Robert Shubert, an alarm specialist with the Gilbert Police False Alarm Unit, said time wasted by a police officer called to a false-alarm equates to "dollars and cents." 

"It's a waste of what we call resources when we have officers being tied up on alarm calls and there has been no evidence of a crime being committed," Schubert said.

False-alarm calls have been on a steady increase since 2005, when 4,743 were recorded by police, statistics show. The following year, such calls increased by 893, and advanced even further in 2007 to a total 6,727. 

Gilbert police dispatchers fielded 8,212 security-alarm calls through 2008, yet only 92 percent of calls signaled a legitimate threat to a home or business. 

Of those calls in 2008, 7,576 were considered false alarms, according to police statistics. That's on average 684 alarm calls per month, 23 per day and an estimated 131.43 hours of patrol time per year.

"Police respond to all alarm calls and investigate as if they are legitimate calls for service until it is known otherwise," said Sgt. Mark Marino, a Gilbert police spokesman. "The time spent on each call varies from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more depending on the size, layout and type of property that we are being dispatched to."

While false-alarm calls to area residences and businesses have increased, the overall number of calls are on a three-year decline. 

In 2007, dispatchers received 8,554 alarms and that decreased to 8,212 in 2008. Last year, those numbers decreased even further to 7,359. 

"I believe we can attribute this to the fact that there are a lot of vacant homes," Schubert said. "We have seen many closed accounts. (However) there seems to be an increase now of new alarm permits coming in."

Home and business owners alike who install security alarms are required to register with the town to receive a $10 permit, which is renewed every two years. The town has about 13,000 permit holders.

To ensure the fewest number of false-alarms, Gilbert police offer a 90-minute course to help residents and business owners use their security alarm systems more efficiently. 

During the course, the first of which begins Wednesday, users learn the numerous ways alarms are tripped and can signal a police response, Schubert said. 

On many occasions the sensitivity of motion sensors is set too high, Schubert said. Such is often the case when the air conditioner kicks on inside a closed business and the air moves a hanging sign or other object, tripping the alarm. 

Wind from a ceiling fan can cause a curtain to move and pets wondering inside a home in the night can also set off an alarm. 

"We show people how to cancel an alarm when it's set off accidentally," Schubert said. "It's also making sure children know how the system works."

Most of the town's repeat offenders are businesses, Schubert said. Home and business owners are allowed two false-alarms per year, but are charged $50 on the third occurrence. The fine increases by $50 every time thereafter. Those successfully passing the false-alarm prevention course are given a $50 voucher toward their first fine. 

"The police are here to serve the community," Marino said. "Our time is better spent patrolling, investigating reports of criminal activity, preventing criminal activity and contacting suspicious people as well as enforcing laws."

New Haven, CT, Alarm Registration Deadline Arrives

New Haven, CT, police released a reminder on Friday that it was the deadline for registering burglar alarms with the department. 

Following an ordinance passed last November, all city residents with burglar alarms are required to register their systems with police. Failure to do so results in a penalty of $99.

Douglas, AZ, Approves First Reading of New Alarm Ordinance

The Douglas, AZ, City Council, on February 10, approved the first reading of an ordinance relating to alarm systems, licenses and permit, establishing severability of components and establishing an effective date. 

Part of the ordinance had fines for those alarm systems that consistently went of and forced the Fire or Police departments on false alarm calls.

The council did have a problem with charging a license fee for an alarm system in one’s home or business. Currently there is a $30 annual fee for businesses and $10 for residences.

Muskogee, OK, Set to Approve False Alarm Ordinance

About 98 percent of the 3,839 alarm calls answered by the Muskogee, OK, Police Department turn out to be false alarms, Chief of Police Rex Eskridge said Tuesday.

That is the equivalent of taking one officer off the street full time, Eskridge said.

Firefighters responded to 415 false alarms last year. Of those, 117 were from Fair Haven Apartments, 500 Dayton St. The total false alarms for Fair Haven were more than 25 percent of the bogus calls the fire department received for the year, said Derek Tatum, fire chief.

False alarms cost each department thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours each year and jeopardize the citizens by having officers and firefighters tied up on a false alarm when they might need to be somewhere else for a real calls, Tatum said.

Councilor Jim Ritchey said the emergency vehicles responding to false alarms also create a traffic hazard, as they run with lights and sirens on.

Muskogee is one of a few larger cities in the state that doesn’t have fines or fees for false alarms, Eskridge said.

He and Tatum asked the City Council’s Public Works Committee to enact an ordinance setting a $25 minimum fee for false alarms. The more times a false alarm was sounded, the higher the fee would go until it finally reached a maximum fine and fee of $449.

The committee approved the proposed ordinance and will vote on final approval Monday night at the City Council meeting.

The false alarm ordinance was one of several items on the agendas Tuesday afternoon for the Public Works, Finance and Charter Review Committees.

New Alarm Ordinance in Memphis, TN

Accidentally setting off the burglar alarm at a Memphis, TN, home or business will now cost big bucks.

The Memphis City Council passed a law to charge residents if police keep responding to false alarms at their home or business.

After 5 false alarms there is a $25 charge.

After 7 false alarms, the cops won't come at all, and your name will go on a "do not respond" list until you attend a class to have it removed.

Alton, IL, Passes Alarm Ordinance that Calls for System Registration and Fines for False Alarms

Alton, IL, officials are sounding the alarm against false alarms that require police and firefighters to respond to hundreds of groundless calls each year, tying up responders.

At Wednesday night's Alton City Council meeting, aldermen OK'd a resolution on a 5-1 vote that would amend city ordinance to require alarm companies to file a yearly form with the police chief, among other requirements in a 19-page ordinance.

Any such business operating in Alton would be required to have at least one staff member complete certification training at first, then all workers within a year's time. Customers would be instructed in preventing false alarms and would pay the company a fee when they first subscribe to the service. The cost will be $25 for residences and $50 for commercial customers.

The fees will go to the city.

Alarms will be required to have standby batteries to prevent false alarms, and new systems cannot go directly to the Alton Police Department. In the event of a second false alarm within a year's time, the subscriber would have to pay a fee of $25. The third and fourth such false alarms within 12 months would cost $50 each. After the fourth such alarm within a year, the police chief can suspend the service for 30 days.

Aldermen also voted 5-1 in favor of an agreement with Municipal Dynamics to handle alarm registration and manage false alarms. Alderman Mick McCahill, 2nd Ward, voted no on both resolutions. Sixth Ward Alderman Gary Fleming was absent.

Police Chief David Hayes said the ordinance is the same as in St. Louis, which he said had a 50 percent decrease in false alarms during the second year after the ordinance went into effect.

"The subscribers are holding the vendors responsible," he said.

Besides gasoline costs, when police respond to false alarms, Hayes said it "takes officers out of doing something legitimate."

In 2009, he said, the city recorded 1,272 alarms of all types - 522 residential and 750 at businesses.

One out of every 195 of the residential alarms was an actual burglary. Eleven out of 68 commercial burglar alarms turned out to be burglaries. In addition, 261, or 46 percent, of alarm locations had two to nine activations, and eight had 10 or more alarms.

One home's alarm went off 17 times, and one business' alarm sounded 26 times, with police responding. There were 135 false alarms for the Alton Fire Department.

Registration and Fines for False Alarms in Oakland, CA

The City of Oakland, CA, has taken steps to cut down on wasted time and resources from false alarms.

The effort is two pronged. First, all alarm owners must register with the city for an alarm permit. The annual fee for permits is $25 for home users and $35 for commercial users. Each year, users will receive renewal notices 30 days prior to permit expiration. According to officials, 13,000 alarm users have already registered.

Second, there is a penalty of $84 for a general false alarm and $156 for a false panic alarm. If police respond to an alarm and discover the facility has no permit, there is an additional $70 fee. 

Police will not assess fees if the alarm is canceled by the monitoring company before an officer arrives.

The Oakland City Council passed the ordinance regarding alarm permits last July.

Oakland has contracted with ATB Services to manage the False Alarm Reduction Program. More information, including the ordinance itself, is available at www.atbservices.com/oakland. Call 866-950-9902 for further help.

Plymouth, MA, May Charge for False Fire Alarms

Plymouth, MA, bylaws include a schedule of fines for false burglary alarms. In April, Town Meeting will consider a similar schedule for false fire alarms.

Under the proposal, the first three offenses would not trigger a fine. But if your business or home experiences four or more false fire alarms, you would be fined from $50 to $200.

Alarm systems have been known to malfunction. Sometimes an employee or resident arms the system when they shouldn’t, or a cat or other innocuous disturbance trips the alarm. The trouble is, false alarms sometimes draw emergency personnel away from real emergencies, tying up police officers and firefighters who might be needed elsewhere.

The results can be dangerous when people’s lives hang in the balance.

“We want to amend the bylaw for the burglary alarm and add in false alarms by fire alarm systems,” Fire Chief Ed Bradley explained.

Single-family homes are rarely the problem, he added. But fire alarms in some commercial establishments, condominiums and rentals in town sound erroneously and often. In some cases, the owner won’t repair the problem. In others, workers don’t disarm the system before performing renovations, repairs or construction.

Under the Fire Department’s proposed fine schedule, the first three offenses don’t trigger a fine. However, four-time offenders would be fined $25. The fine for subsequent violations would increase, topping at a $100 fee for the twelfth in a year.

This schedule looked too lenient to Advisory and Finance Committee members who reviewed the proposed bylaw amendment. The committee voted to recommend the amendment only if the fines are doubled.

False burglar alarms usually prompt a police cruiser and one or two officers to a property. False fire alarms tie up a fire truck and several firefighters. Committee members reasoned that, as such, false fire alarms are more costly and the fine schedule should reflect that.

Bradley said his department will amend the proposed amendment in accordance with the Advisory and Finance Committee’s recommendation. If approved, that would mean violations four through six would cost $50 for each false alarm, while seventh through 11th offenses would yield $100 fines. Violators with 12 or more false fire alarms would pay $200 per response.

Westminster, CA, May Eliminate Alarm Registration Fee

The Westminster, CA, City Council will consider repealing or reducing a $30 annual fee imposed on residents and businesses for getting a security alarm permit.

In October, council members passed an ordinance requiring residents and businesses to secure the permit. The decision came after a request from police officials, who said officers were responding to too many false alarms in the city and it was consuming too much staff time.

According to a staff report, Westminster police responded to about 9,575 alarms from 2006 to 2009. Out of those, only 239 calls or 2 percent of the calls were genuine alarm calls.

Mayor Margie Rice said she decided to bring the fee requirement back to the council because she has received numerous complaints from residents.

"I've gotten so many calls from people who don't want to pay $30 in addition to the money they are paying to keep their security system," she said. "I think some of them are OK with paying $10 a year."

The City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, 8200 Westminster Blvd. Information: 714-898-3311, ext. 211.

Rockford, IL, To Charge for False Medical Alarms

Effective Feb. 11, 2010, the Rockford, IL, Fire Department will charge a fee for those responsible for false medical alarms.

With this change, false medical alarms will be treated the same as current false burglar and fire alarms and will be fined in accordance with a sliding fee schedule beginning with the transmission of the fifth false alarm.

The need to charge is because of the rapid rise in false medical alarm calls requiring a response from either the Fire Department, Police Department, or both. City officials began working directly with sites that triggered a high number of false medical alarms last fall, but were unable to see a decrease in unnecessary calls.

Because of the expense and commitment of resources these calls draw from the city, officials have opted to include medical alarms in the existing false alarm ordinance.

The false alarm fee will be billed to the primary subscriber of the medical alarm service. Each subscription address will be allowed a total of four false alarms of any type (police, fire and medical) before being billed with the following fee schedule: fifth-eighth false alarm, $100 per false alarm; ninth-10th false alarm, $200 per false alarm; and more than 10 false alarms, $300 per false alarm.

In addition, all subscribers must obtain an alarm permit through the city’s Finance Department. The fine for not having a valid permit is $300.

Copyright 2010 Rockford Register Star. Some rights reserved

Maricopa, AZ, Alarm Ordinance Reduces False Dispatches 17 Percent

One year after its launch, the Maricopa, AZ, alarm ordinance has helped to reduce calls for false alarms by 17 percent.

“We were expecting to see a 10 percent slide the first year; we were ecstatic to see that it had dropped 17 percent,” said city of Maricopa alarm coordinator Rebecca Molus. The alarm ordinance was instituted January 2009 in response an estimated $50,000 per calendar year being expended to respond to false alarms.

“If we could cut down the number of false calls, it would free up a tremendous amount of time for our officers to ensure the safety of the city,” said Maricopa police spokesperson Sgt. Stephen Judd in an August 2008 interview regarding the costliness of false alarms to the city.

At the time Judd said the average alarm response involved two officers and consumed 20 minutes of time, a strain for a force of about 37 patrol officers. Since its implementation, 1,313 have registered their alarms and many more sign up each day, Molus said.

When the department responds to an alarm call and the homeowners are not registered, it is Molus’s job to send them a notice. “We send them a note saying they have two weeks to register their alarm system for $10,” Molus said. “If they don’t do so, they must pay a $71 cost-recovery fee, $25 false-alarm fee and the $10 to register their alarm.”

Out of the 15 to 25 notices Molus sends out per week, only one or two people have failed to pay the $10, she said.

The $10 fee keeps a home or business registered in the city’s system for a year and helps to offset some of the city’s cost of responding to false alarm calls. “Having this policy makes people more aware and careful when dealing with their alarm systems,” Molus said.

However, registration is not the only cost-recovery measure. The ordinance allows the city to charge residents and business owners a fee of $71 for four or more false alarm calls per year or two or more panic alarm calls per year.

“The first year, we were not tracking the multiple alarm calls from on location due to a one-year grace period built into the ordinance, but now we are beginning to keep track of where false calls originate from and follow up with the appropriate fine,” Molus said.

Molus offered the following tips to help avoid false alarms:

• Make sure that everyone with a key to your home or business (including cleaning staff and visitors) knows how to operate the alarm system. Knowing how to operate it includes knowing the alarm code, a password and the phone number, as well as the procedures for canceling an alarm call.

• Have your security company check your alarm system at least once a year, including an inspection of your backup batteries. A qualified alarm installation company should provide instruction and training on the use of your system.

• Make certain your alarm contact information is current with both your monitoring company and the city’s permit coordinator (when one is established). Your system should be able to send a signal to the monitoring facility indicating a power outage at your home or business.

• Avoid false alarms by not reentering a building whose alarm is still on. Program door alarm sensors with at least a 45-second activation delay. Do not leave balloons floating in a building or residence. Do not allow pets to run loose in areas where they could activate the alarm. Motion sensors should have a second sensor to verify the first one.

• Panic buttons, used to indicate any life-threatening or emergency situation (fire, medical or a need for law enforcement), should not be accessible to young children who might push them out of curiosity.

• Cancel all false alarms immediately. Find out what caused the false alarm and take steps to rectify the matter.

To learn more about the city’s alarm ordinance or to register an alarm, visit.maricopa-az.gov/city_hall/ordinances.php.

One year after its launch, the city of Maricopa’s alarm ordinance has helped to reduce calls for false alarms by 17 percent.

“We were expecting to see a 10 percent slide the first year; we were ecstatic to see that it had dropped 17 percent,” said city of Maricopa alarm coordinator Rebecca Molus. The alarm ordinance was instituted January 2009 in response an estimated $50,000 per calendar year being expended to respond to false alarms.

“If we could cut down the number of false calls, it would free up a tremendous amount of time for our officers to ensure the safety of the city,” said Maricopa police spokesperson Sgt. Stephen Judd in an August 2008 interview regarding the costliness of false alarms to the city.

At the time Judd said the average alarm response involved two officers and consumed 20 minutes of time, a strain for a force of about 37 patrol officers. Since its implementation, 1,313 have registered their alarms and many more sign up each day, Molus said.

When the department responds to an alarm call and the homeowners are not registered, it is Molus’s job to send them a notice. “We send them a note saying they have two weeks to register their alarm system for $10,” Molus said. “If they don’t do so, they must pay a $71 cost-recovery fee, $25 false-alarm fee and the $10 to register their alarm.”

Out of the 15 to 25 notices Molus sends out per week, only one or two people have failed to pay the $10, she said.

The $10 fee keeps a home or business registered in the city’s system for a year and helps to offset some of the city’s cost of responding to false alarm calls. “Having this policy makes people more aware and careful when dealing with their alarm systems,” Molus said.

However, registration is not the only cost-recovery measure. The ordinance allows the city to charge residents and business owners a fee of $71 for four or more false alarm calls per year or two or more panic alarm calls per year.

“The first year, we were not tracking the multiple alarm calls from on location due to a one-year grace period built into the ordinance, but now we are beginning to keep track of where false calls originate from and follow up with the appropriate fine,” Molus said.

Molus offered the following tips to help avoid false alarms:

• Make sure that everyone with a key to your home or business (including cleaning staff and visitors) knows how to operate the alarm system. Knowing how to operate it includes knowing the alarm code, a password and the phone number, as well as the procedures for canceling an alarm call.

• Have your security company check your alarm system at least once a year, including an inspection of your backup batteries. A qualified alarm installation company should provide instruction and training on the use of your system.

• Make certain your alarm contact information is current with both your monitoring company and the city’s permit coordinator (when one is established). Your system should be able to send a signal to the monitoring facility indicating a power outage at your home or business.

• Avoid false alarms by not reentering a building whose alarm is still on. Program door alarm sensors with at least a 45-second activation delay. Do not leave balloons floating in a building or residence. Do not allow pets to run loose in areas where they could activate the alarm. Motion sensors should have a second sensor to verify the first one.

• Panic buttons, used to indicate any life-threatening or emergency situation (fire, medical or a need for law enforcement), should not be accessible to young children who might push them out of curiosity.

• Cancel all false alarms immediately. Find out what caused the false alarm and take steps to rectify the matter.

To learn more about the city’s alarm ordinance or to register an alarm, visit.maricopa-az.gov/city_hall/ordinances.php.

Margate, NJ, Looks to Toughen Alarm Ordinance

Margate, NJ, city residents, spared from a sleepless night caused by a neighbor's incessant home alarm, may have former state Sen. Bill Gormley to thank.

City commissioners are set to introduce an ordinance that will allow the city police chief or a person he selects to disconnect audible burglary, smoke or similar alarms with broken timers that are "disturbing the public peace."

City ordinances already require audible alarms to have timers that turn them off after 15 minutes.

The ordinance would also lower the limit of legal false alarms from five to three in a calendar year, while increasing the penalties.

The city currently fines people $25 for each false alarm past the five-alarm limit. This proposal would fine a person $50 for the fourth alarm, $100 for the fifth, and $200 for each subsequent alarm.

At their Jan. 21 meeting, officials said the city was drafting the ordinance after hearing a complaint from Gormley and his wife regarding a neighbor's alarm. The alarm was going off throughout a recent night, officials said, but no one was authorized to turn it off.

"Let's just say no one slept well most of the night," Gormley said Wednesday.

Gormley, an attorney who lives in Margate, is an influential former state official who served as a Republican assemblyman from 1978 to 1982 and as state senator from 1982 to 2007.

He downplayed his role, saying he merely brought something to the attention of local officials, who were to be complimented on taking them seriously.

Police Chief David Wolfson said most newer alarms silently notify police or other security about a possible problem. He acknowledged that these older alarms could be a real nuisance, especially if they are sounding off in the middle of the night, and that police were aware of the problem.

Wolfson said the ordinance was not drafted because of Gormley's complaint.

"There's been complaints in the past that have gone by the wayside," he said, "so this is not the first time we have heard about this."

Similarly, Mayor Michael S. Becker said he had heard complaints through his daughter, a municipal police officer, for several years, but city officials have not acted on them before now.

"I know it's an issue that has been talked about for quite some time," he said.

Frisco, TX, Alarm Ordinance in Effect on March 1, 2010

Beginning March 1, the Frisco, TX, Police Department will begin enforcement of the city's new residential and business burglar alarm ordinance. 

The city council passed the ordinance late last year, but officials held off on enforcing it to give residents and business owners time to comply.

The new ordinance requires a $35 annual fee for residential and business alarms and establishes a new fee schedule for excessive false alarms. In 2009, the Frisco Police Department responded to 9,841 alarms and 99.6% of those were false alarms, city records show. 

To help mitigate the cost of responding to false alarms, residents will now have to pay up to $100 for excessive false alarms in a 12-month period. And alarm permit holders are required to give their alarm companies the names and telephone numbers of three contacts who are able to respond to a false alarm. Failure by the alarm permit holder or the three contacts to respond within 30 minutes of a false alarm may result in a $50 fine.

Alarm Ordinance Discussed for Tiffin, OH

Possible fees for alarm permits were discussed at a recent Tiffin, OH, City Council Law and Community Planning meeting.

City Administrator Wayne Stephens and Fire Chief Bill Ennis have been working to update procedures for alarm permits in private residences and business, last updated in 1993. Permits, issued for smoke detectors, fire alarms, burglar alarms and the like, are required if property owners want the city to monitor the alarms.

Stephens said the biggest change includes the addition of a $25 annual permit fee.

"For all the years that we've issued alarm permits, we've never charged a fee," Stephens said. "We have over 280 alarms, and I can tell you, that creates a lot of work."

The city does not charge to monitor the alarm systems and a fee would help cover costs.

Another change is an increases in fees for false alarms. Previously, a third false alarm fee was $20, a fourth was $30, a fifth was $40 and a sixth was $60 and permit revocation. The changes would double the fees.

While the city does not want to revoke permits, Stephens said that after six offenses, the property owner needs to address the reason for frequent activation.

"Obviously we don't want people to have their permit revoked, so we have them educate their employees or fix their equipment, because typically a false alarm is caused by employee error or faulty equipment," Stephens said.

In addition, charges are to be increased if firefighters or police have to wait longer than 30 minutes for a response from the business or home owner. Originally, $15 was charged if the wait was longer than 20 minutes, but the fee is to increase to $30 for the first half hour and $30 for every half hour after.

Ennis also suggested a fee if police or firefighters are unable to contact any of three individuals provided as contacts by the property owner in the case of an alarm.

The committee approved the changes to the alarm procedures and authorized Howard to create legislation based on Ennis' draft.

US Senate Bill on CO Detectors Advances; State Laws Urged

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation moved forward on a bill that will address carbon monoxide poisoning cases.

The CO bill is S. 1216. The Residential Carbon Monoxide Safety Act would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt ANSI/UL 2034-2005, the American National Standard for Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms, as a mandatory standard. 

Manufacturers of residential CO detectors made more than a year after the date of the enactment of the law would have to clearly mark on the detector and its container that it conforms with the standard.

Also, the bill would direct CPSC to set up a grant program to help states carry out CO alarm programs. 

To be eligible for a grant, a state would have to have in place a law or rule mandating approved carbon monoxide alarms be installed in accordance with NFPA 720 in all commercial residential dwelling units and all new dwelling unit construction. A state receiving a grant could use the money to train fire code enforcement officers and to create training materials, hire instructors, and pay any other training cost associated with the program.

John Andres, engineering director for Kidde's Residential and Commercial Division of Mebane, N.C., testified Dec. 17 at a Senate Transportation subcommittee hearing that Kidde supports the bill. 

He said S. 1216 "would focus much-needed federal attention and resources toward ending accidental carbon monoxide poisoning" and added that the grant program is especially important. Twenty-three states have laws requiring CO alarms in residential dwellings, but states, consumers, and manufacturers need a consistent standard defining what constitutes an "approved" alarm, Andres said.

Baltimore County, MD, Cuts CO Detector Deadline to August 2010

Owners of rental properties in Baltimore County, MD, will have four months less than they might have thought to comply with a newly passed law requiring carbon monoxide detectors. 

The new deadline for installation is August 2010.

The seven-member Baltimore County council unanimously passed an amended version of the carbon monoxide bill in a voting session in Towson.

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder said before the meeting that he planned on sponsoring an amendment to shorten the grace period for installation from 12 months to eight months. The law is expected to take effect in February, making the new deadline October

“This is a public safety issue,” said Bartenfelder.

The law requires owners of rental units with gas appliances or an attached garage to install at least one carbon monoxide detector in common areas outside bedrooms.

Prince George’s County and Ocean City have similar laws on the books. State law already requires the monitors for rental units built after Jan. 1, 2008. 

Officials said Baltimore County firefighters responded to more than 1,300 incidents carbon monoxide poisoning last year. The department projects it will be called to about 1,400 incidents this year.

“I want to hold the industry’s feet to the fire to come into compliance,” Bartenfelder said Monday. “I’m getting tired of watching the news and seeing people get carted off on stretchers.”

Before Monday’s meeting, Kathy Howard, a lobbyist representing the Baltimore-based Maryland Multi-Housing Association, questioned the need for Bartenfelder’s change to accelerate the timetable.

“It’s going to make it difficult for complexes to meet the deadline,” she said.

Howard and the association worked with County Executive Jim Smith to craft a bill that wouldn’t require rental properties in the county to install the detectors until next December, after a new executive and council are sworn in. But Bartenfelder said that’s one reason he wanted it done sooner.

“This is a public safety issue that has to be dealt with,” Bartenfelder said. “If there’s an issue, this council will still be there to deal with it rather than a new council and a new executive.”

The bill includes the 15,000 properties in the county rental registration program, as well as all apartment complexes. Rental property owners would have to have the units installed by October. 

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz recommended that Bartenfelder add provisions allowing owners to seek a 60-day extension. That provision was also added.

The county Department of Permits and Development Management, which is responsible for ensuring compliance, will be required to draw up regulations establishing criteria for getting an extension.

The detector can be combined with a smoke detector — but must be either wired into the electrical system or plugged into an outlet that is not controlled by a wall switch. The units must also have a battery backup.

The property owner would have to provide certification of installation to the county and product information to at least one adult per rental unit. Residents would be responsible to replace batteries and would not be allowed to disable the detectors.

The county would enforce the law through its rental registration program, as well as by making spot checks of rental properties. Violations would be subject to a fine of $200 per day.

Spanish Fork, Utah PD Wants Alarm Ordinance

False alarms are costing taxpayers far too much, Spanish Fork, Utah Police Chief Dee Rosenthal says, and he's asking city leaders to consider charging repeat offenders up to $200 for each incident.

The police and fire departments respond to hundreds of false alarms annually, Rosenthal said, costing the department an estimated $79,000 a year. False alarms increase liability for the emergency responders and have resulted in accidents.

Under a proposed new ordinance, police would start keeping track of false-alarm repeat offenders, something they don't do now.

"We know who they are," Rosenthal told the City Council on Tuesday. "There's about eight if them."

The ordinance, similar to one passed in Orem, would require alarm companies, businesses and residents to register their alarms with the police department. The first three false alarms in a calendar year would get off with a warning. The fourth false alarm would cost the owner $50; the fifth, $75; and the sixth through the ninth, $100 each. Ten or more false alarms in a year would carry a fine of $200 each, Rosenthal said.

Repeated false alarms at the same establishment create a complacent attitude among responders, he said.

"We're not supposed to be complacent, but it puts the responder in jeopardy," Rosenthal said.

Los Gato, CA, Requires Businesses to Register Alarm Systems

In California, Los Gatos’s new commercial burglar alarm ordinance has gone into effect. 

According to the law, business owners must now register their alarm systems with the city at a cost of $50. Registration and fees can either be made via snail mail or online at a registration site set up by the town. 

Failure to register the alarm can result in a $100 fine.

Danvers, MA, Alarm Ordinance Reduces False Dispartches by 29 Percent

Stricter penalties for false burglar alarms in Danvers, MA, saved the police hundreds of man hours last year and raked in $48,000 in fines.

Officers responded to 1,402 false alarms at businesses and homes — nearly four a day — down from the typical average 1,988, police Chief Neil Ouellette said. That works out to nearly 11/2 fewer alarms each day, a 29 percent drop.

Fewer false alarm calls meant 488 man hours saved. On average, it takes two officers 20 minutes and a dispatcher 10 minutes to handle each call and write up reports, Ouellette said. The time saved adds up to nearly $12,688 in wages, based on a rate of about $26 an hour.

That time allowed officers to follow up on investigations, do more patrols or solve problems in the community, "instead of being like a pingpong ball," Ouellette said. 

Police must respond to every alarm call, but more than 99 percent of burglar alarms are false, Ouellette said. 

Thanks to the fines, the department also realized a big jump in revenue.

As of Nov. 12, the department had billed $48,000 in fines. In all of 2008, the department collected $6,515 from false alarms. 

Town Meeting approved a new alarm bylaw in 2008. Under the old bylaw, the fine for businesses was $25 after two false alarms, $50 after 12 and $100 after 20, all in a year.

The new bylaw carries an $80 fine after the third and each subsequent offense in one year for homes. Business and "panic alarms" carry a $120 fee for the third and subsequent offense. 

"We've had many violators tell us they were having their (alarm) company come in because they didn't want to suffer" the fines, Ouellette said. Businesses also wanted to make sure police knew they were working on the problem. 

Most false alarms are caused by defective equipment or operator error. Homeowners are not the problem, but big box retailers and some businesses Ouellette described as "habitual offenders." 

One former business on Cherry Hill Drive used to rack up hundreds of false alarm calls, with employees setting off the system like clockwork every morning at 8, Ouellette said.

"Every morning, two cars (would respond)," Ouellette said. "They paid their (fines). They must have thought it was the cost of doing business."

So far, downtown businesses are not alarmed by the alarm bylaw.

"There hasn't been any grumbling," said C.R. Lyons, chairman of the Downtown Improvement Committee. 

He said the topic came up at a meeting a few months ago in relation to questions about how businesses could update alarm contact information with police. The conversation was positive, Lyons said.

The town charges a $10-a-year registration fee for homeowners and a $25 fee for businesses. The purpose of the fee is to make sure police have the most up-to-date contact information. The department raised $2,485 in registration fees last year.

The Police Department's criminologist, Chris Bruce, said some businesses improved in 2009, including Endicott Liquors in Endicott Plaza, which went from 28 false alarms in 2008 to five in 2009; The Home Depot on Route 1, which went from 25 alarms in 2008 to five in 2009; and Costco, which dropped from 15 to four.

Cristian Giumba, the proprietor at Endicott Liquors, declined comment until he learned more about what his store was doing. A manager at The Home Depot said he was too new to say why the store improved.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse improved its false alarm rate, going from 39 in 2008, the top offender, to 15 last year, Ouellette said. 

Top false-alarm offenders in 2009 included Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Andover Street, with 29, and Danvers High, with 18, Ouellette said.

School Superintendent Lisa Dana chalked up the alarms at the high school to human error, with more than 100 people who work in the sprawling complex on Cabot Road. 

Often, staff or sports teams come in on a Sunday and enter an area that's alarmed without realizing it. 

She said school officials try to identify the causes of false alarms during weekly "cleaning meetings" with custodians, who work for the Department of Public Works.

"If they see there is a couple in a row, or one group that continues to make a mistake, they will address it with that group," Dana said.

Leslie's Swimming Pools Supplies on Route 1 had a sharp rate of increase in false alarms in 2009, going from one in 2008 to 11 last year, Bruce said. 

Leslie's local manager referred questions to its corporate office.

Pleasant Hill, CA, Councilman Balks at Alarm Registration Fee

Chuck Escover is a former police officer, so he understands that responding to false burglar alarms wastes departments' resources. 

So Escover, also a former Pleasant Hill, CA, councilman, supports the city's 2007 decision to fine residents $100 for each false alarm after the first one in a calendar year. What he does not understand is why the city is charging every residential and commercial burglar alarm user in the city an annual $27 registration fee. 

"Basically, we call it a penalty for having an alarm," Escover said. "If the alarm company has contact information, it's redundant for the city to have it, too."

Police Chief Peter Dunbar said that the city's burglar alarm registration is akin to the state's requirement that motorists register their vehicles every year, at a cost.

"There may not be new information, there may be new information, but you're still paying a fee," he said. "We really don't know until we get these (registrations) back from people."

About 1,165 alarms are registered in Pleasant Hill, he said. 

Dunbar said that the fee covers the cost of processing the registration forms, which include the location of the alarm, name of the customer, phone numbers for those who police should call if the alarm goes off, and the name of the alarm company.

"I just don't see a need to change because it seems to be working the way it is," Dunbar added.

Pleasant Hill adopted the alarm ordinance to reduce the 97 percent false alarm rate, which was costing the city an estimated $300,000 a year in officer time and administrative costs. From March to December, Pleasant Hill fined seven residents and 50 businesses for false alarms, Dunbar said. 

Several Contra Costa County cities, including Walnut Creek, Martinez and Richmond, also levy fines for false alarms. A few charge for a permit for a new alarm. However, Pleasant Hill appears to be the only city in the county to impose an annual registration fee. 

Mayor Karen Mitchoff, who was not a council member when the alarm ordinance was passed, thinks the fee is fair. The city is recouping the cost of maintaining its records, she said, not turning a profit.

"If this was a large amount of money that would be one thing, but $27 every year to make sure we have the most updated information I don't think is unreasonable," Mitchoff said. 

Escover, who wants the council to reconsider the fee, suggested charging only those burglar alarm users who need to update their contact information or fining residents with incorrect information on file with the city after police respond to an alarm. 

"It is a lot of money when you think about your property taxes are going to go up, and the (Pleasant Hill) Recreation and Park District was successful with their bond, so that's going to add money to your property tax bill," he said. "Every little bit hurts when you add it up."

American Canyon, CA, Wants to Fine for False Alarms

Too much American Canyon, CA, police department time and manpower is used to respond to false burglar alarms at homes and businesses, and city officials say fines may be the logical answer.

Vice Mayor Ed West asked city staff to research how other cities address the issue so officials can decide on an appropriate approach.

"We had more than 1,000 false alarms last year, and that seems excessive," West said. "It's a common problem in cities, but eventually, most respond by charging the alarm owners for the impact on city resources of responding."

False alarms can have many causes including stormy weather, Police Chief Brian Banducci said.

"We've been responding to four or five false alarms a day since this storm started," he said. Banducci said calls from locations with a history of false alarms are taken less seriously.

Gaining a reputation for triggering false alarms "discredits the integrity of the alarm," and can contribute to an erosion of the attitude needed for effective police response, West said.

Vallejo Police Department Support Services Manager Bill Powell said he agrees that 1,000 false alarms in a year is excessive.

"We get about 6,400 a year, so, for their size, yes, that's a lot," he said.

Powell also agrees that false alarms are a common problem.

"No matter how many alarms you get, 97-plus percent are going to be false, and that's always been the case," he said.

In Vallejo, alarm owners are fined for excessive false alarms, Powell said.

"We've been successful with the fines and with not responding to egregious offenders," he said. "Fremont doesn't respond without verification of a real emergency, and they've been successful with that. And there are cities in (Southern California) that don't respond at all. Private security responds, and if there's a real problem, they call police."

In Vallejo, false alarm fines range from $155 for an intrusion alarm to $311 for a hold-up alarm, Powell said.

"The difference is in the seriousness of the call," he said. "A hold-up alarm is supposed to be triggered when someone comes in with a gun and tries to rob a place, so we send four officers, set up a perimeter and expect to confront an armed person."

False alarms can also come from a lack of proper device maintenance or forgetting to re-calibrate if changes occur, Powell and Banducci said.

"Dust near the sensor can set them off. So can dead batteries," Powell said. "A new pet or family member of a different height. Lots of things. We had a government office here that was having lots of false alarms, and after extensive investigation, we finally determined that the heavy trucks driving by were setting it off."

The Vallejo Police Department also offers a false alarm awareness class that can be completed online in about 20 minutes, Powell said.

Vallejo Municipal Code allows those who successfully complete the course to submit a certificate in lieu of paying a false alarm penalty.

Fines might help mitigate the problem in American Canyon, Banducci said.

"Maybe assessing fines would provide people the incentive they need to keep the equipment properly maintained," he said.

Waynesboro, VA, PD Wants Alarm Ordinance

The Waynesboro, VA, Police Department is trying to reduce the number of false emergency alarms that officers get called to in the city.

Waynesboro police responded to 633 false alarms this past year. Each call averaged about 14 minutes and usually required two officers.

That means officers spent 290 hours and $5,000 responding to false alarms last year.

Nationally, nearly 99 percent of security alarm calls are false alarms, and most are due to human error.

Waynesboro police are considering fining homes and businesses if they have three false alarms, or letting them take an "alarm training" course.

"To teach people how their alarm systems work and how not to have false alarms. And when it comes to businesses, the high turnover rate in businesses is where most of those false alarms come from," says Chief Douglas Davis with the Waynesboro Police Department.

The educational course would take the place of a fine, and police say it would make the department more efficient.

"It would reduce our response to false alarms, and by reducing the number of false alarms, it frees up our resources for other things," says Davis. 

Glen Mowrey works for the non-profit Security Industry Alarm Coalition that is working with the police department.

He says cutting down false alarms with this ordinance will also help with officer safety.

"When an officer continually responds to the same call over and over and over, after a while, a complacency sets in and they can drop their guard when they walk in. When they do, it may be a real alarm, and if that's the case, it could be a real problem," says Mowrey. 

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police passed a model alarms ordinance last year, and Waynesboro could become the first city to follow suit.

"They're very successful and we've got agencies across the country that have dropped their alarm calls anywhere from 40 to 50 to 60 to 80 percent in sustained reductions in those programs," says Mowrey.

Wednesday night was just an informational session for the city council.

The council was mostly in favor, but did raise a concern about one part of the ordinance that would stop police response after a property had eight false alarms.

The council also plans to discuss requiring a permit for security alarms.

New Alarm Ordinance in Kettering, OH

If you have more than three false alarms from your Kettering, OH, home security or business security system within a year, expect to receive an administrative nuisance abatement fee.

The city recently passed an alarm ordinance, now in affect, that changes when a fee will be issued to alarm owners.

“It’s our service to respond to alarms,” said Kettering police Officer Michael Burke.

“We find that nearly 98 percent of them are false alarms, and it’s just imperative that the alarm owner has the alarm system operating properly and knows how to operate it to prevent these false alarms.”

The ordinance notes when multiple false alarms occur within a 24-hour period, beginning with the first alarm, it may be counted as one false alarm, unless the alarm user already had three or more false alarms during the same calendar year, Burke said.

City officials decided this new ordinance was more suitable than the previous one, which had been in effect since 2003, Burke said. The old ordinance said the alarm owner would receive a $100 fee for three false alarms within a six month period and a $200 fee, per alarm, for every false alarm afterwards.

The police department is asking anyone who has installed an alarm in their residence or business and has not registered with the Kettering Police Department, to register. That can be done by downloading a registration form at www.ketteringoh.org or by contacting Officer Jennifer Smithhart at (937) 296-3238.

Owners will have a one-time registration fee of $10 and will be asked to renew the registration every two years.

Greeley, CO, Has New Alarm Ordinance

A substantial change in the Greeley, CO, False Alarm Ordinance went into effect and it will cost $75.00 for every false alarm activation that exceeds two in a calendar year. 

The alarm subscriber will be charged for each alarm considered a false activation, malfunction of device and/or accidental or negligent activation. Medical emergency alarms are exempt from false alarm charges. 

The Greeley City Council recently passed an amendment to the ordinance (Section 6.12.090) to increase the amount of the fee for false alarms exceeding two per calendar year in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms to the Police and Fire departments. The ordinance in effect prior to the amendment allowed six false alarms per calendar year before charging fifty dollars for each additional false alarm. 

Chief Jerry Garner said, “About 99 percent of our alarms are false. Responding to those alarms consumes a huge amount of time and resources from the police and fire departments, not to mention the cost to taxpayers. Responding as a priority to the same locations time after time also creates an unacceptable safety hazard for our employees and the public in general. That’s why it’s important to use every tool we can to reduce false alarms. We believe that this ordinance change will help do that.” 

Under the new ordinance the City will notify the residential or business alarm owner of the false alarm in writing. An appeal process is available if the notice is contested. 

Additional information can be obtained at www.greeleygov.com.

Westminister, CA, Alarm Ordinance Goes into Effect in March

Westminister, CA, residents and business owners in the city who own or operate security alarm systems will be required to obtain a permit for operating such a system or face a $500 fine.

The city is allowing a grace period until March to allow residents or businesses to get the periods, which must be renewed annual.

Officials say the requirement will reduce the number of false alarms and save valuable time and resources.

According to city staff reports, Westminster police responded to about 9,575 alarms from 2006 to 2009. Out of these, only 239 calls (2 percent) were legitimate alarm calls. This is consistent with other studies, which show that 98 percent of alarms that police respond to are false, officials said.

Spokane, WA, Ordinance Cuts False Alarms by 80 Percent

In 2008 Spokane Valley Police responded to more than 1,000 false alarms, wasting valuable time in the process. With a new alarm ordinance in place, police are hoping to reduce the alarm calls and spend more time patrolling the streets.

Each alarm call requires at least two officers. "We can't predict what he'll find when he gets there," said Lt. Bill Rose. Even if an alarm turns out to be false, it takes from 30 to 45 minutes for officers to respond, check the premises and then do paperwork for the call. It all depends on how far away the officers are, the weather and the size of the building to be checked, Rose said. "It can also take more time. Those two guys are out of circulation."

The reason for a false alarm can be anything from a person accidentally setting it off, to faulty batteries. Alarm systems with motion detectors are susceptible to something as simple as helium balloons set swaying by a forced-air heating or cooling system, or pets. "I've been to a lot of those," Rose said. 

The police department looked to the city of Spokane, where a similar ordinance reduced false alarm calls by more than 80 percent. "It's been very successful," he said. "That's hard to argue with."

Under the old system, the first and sometimes the second false alarm were free; then the city would start charging an ever-increasing fee for subsequent false alarms. Under the new system there are no free false alarms, but the fines of $85 for residential alarms and $165 for businesses is a flat fee. The new program will actually be cheaper for someone with multiple false alarms. 

The new ordinance also requires that homeowners and business owners register their alarms for an annual fee. That gives police and alarm companies a way to make sure contact information for owners is up to date. That's not always the case now and there's nothing more frustrating than responding to a real burglary and the alarm company doesn't have current contact information, Rose said. "We need that information and we need it to be accurate," he said.

There will not be a fee if the alarm is genuine and there has been a break-in. The new ordinance does not apply to fire alarms, personal safety alarms or car alarms. 

There is a bit of leeway in the alarm ordinance that can save someone from a fine. A person will not be charged for a false alarm if police response is canceled while the officer is en route, even if he is literally getting out of the car, Rose said. Under the old system people were charged if police had been en route for more than 10 minutes. 

Rose said he will be happy if the new ordinance doesn't result in a lot of fines. The new ordinance is more about encouraging responsibility. "It's to make sure they just don't blow off a false alarm," he said. "If it doesn't impact us we have a tendency to ignore the problem. Consequences are what really keep us in line."

People with alarm systems have been getting letters telling them about the new ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 and the registration requirement. People can register online at www.spokanevalley.org. 

Some people have been complaining about the registration fees, but they cover the cost of the new program, Rose said. The city has contracted with The Cry Wolf program run by Public Safety Corp. "This isn't a money-making proposition despite what people may think," said Rose. 

The company also will handle all the paperwork associated with a false alarm call, freeing up the officers and dispatchers who used to have to do it. "It really is a good deal for our taxpayers," he said. "It's freeing up our time so we're better using the taxpayers' dollars."

Liberty, TX, Now Requires Alarm System Permits

The City of Liberty in Texas now has a city ordinance for alarm permits. While it was enacted over a year ago, the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and a change in police department administration stalled the implementation of the new ordinance. 

But as of December 1, 2009, alarm systems within the city limits of Liberty must now have an alarm system permit. The application fee for an alarm permit is $25.00 per year.

In addition to permits, the city ordinance also covers operation and maintenance of alarm systems, permit denial and revocation process, appeals process, and fees and penalties. After December 1st, there is a fee of $100 for police or fire department response to an alarm without a valid permit. That fee can be waived if the person or business responsible for the alarm obtains a permit within 10 business days of the initial alarm call. Non-payment of fees or failure to comply with the provisions of the alarm permit ordinance is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a Municipal Court fine of up to $500.

The city’s alarm ordinance also covers false alarms. The police department notes that well over 90% of alarm calls are false, resulting in a disproportionate use of patrol resources. Outdoor “noisemaking” alarms are included in the ordinance. Under the new ordinance, if an alarm system has more than 5 false alarms in a twelve month period, the fee is $50. False alarms do not include accidental triggering by severe weather, power outages, or installation and repair testing. 

All of the information on the new alarm ordinance, and a downloadable application, can be found on the City’s website at cityofliberty.org. Click on the City Services tab, then Police, for alarm permit information. Applications can also be obtained at Liberty City Hall.

New Haven, CT, Alarm Ordinance Goes into Effect on Feb. 28, 2010

If the new New Haven, CT, alarm ordinance were in place last year, one downtown bank branch alone would have had to shell out more than $14,000 in fines to the city for about 60 false alarms to which police responded.

It wasn’t, but starting Feb. 28, the Police Department, armed with a new law and computer software, will start billing repeat offenders in an effort to reduce the thousands of hours each year that it says officers spend “chasing ghosts.”

This is what people and merchants with alarms need to know: Anyone with an existing system, whether or not it has been registered with the city in the past, will be required to re-register — for free — with the Police Department. The deadline for submitting the forms, which are available at any police substation and on the city Web site, is Feb. 19.

“The point here is, nobody has had any incentive to get their alarms fixed,” said department spokesman Officer Joe Avery, who helped craft the new ordinance and its stiffer new fines.

Alarm industry officials say most false alarms are caused by user error. Others are tripped by malfunctioning equipment that has never been serviced, police say.

That means virtually all are preventable, Avery said. Though the previous law allowed for fines, a lack of enforcement and subsequent computer meltdown left consumers with no consequences.

“We haven’t billed for a false alarm in probably five years,” Avery said.

New computer software will track false alarms and automatically print warning letters and bills to alarm consumers.

According to police, in a typical year, the department responds to 10,000 to 12,000 alarms, and 96 percent end up being false. The majority are at commercial businesses. One bank, police say, was one of the top offenders in the city, with more than 60 activations in 2009.

“I wonder if they think it is the cost of doing business,” Avery said, who noted the idea behind the ordinance is not to generate revenue but to make that “cost of doing business” prohibitive enough that consumers will maintain alarm systems and learn how to use them.

One other change in the ordinance is an “enhanced call verification,” where alarm monitoring companies must make two attempts on different phone numbers to reach the consumer before calling police.

At police headquarters, the information on the registration forms will have to be put in manually to reconstruct the database.

“It’s going to be labor intensive,” said Gerald Mallison, of the alarm ordinance unit. He estimated there are thousands of alarm forms that will have to be entered.

Avondale, AZ, Considers Verified Response Policy

The Avondale, AZ, Police Department wants to cut back on costs incurred from false burglar alarms by shifting the alarm-verification responsibility to alarm companies.

Currently, at least two officers are dispatched when burglar alarms are activated. But under a new proposal, police would respond only when they receive verification of suspicious activity. This verification can include multiple trips of the alarm, such as motion-detector and glass-breakage alarms, or a neighbor calling 911. 

"What a verified response does (is) it places the responsibility for the alarm verification with the alarm company themselves . . . and it allows the Police Department to utilize our discretion, our experience, our training and our common sense to evaluate the need to respond to these various alarm types as we see fit," Assistant Police Chief Lynn Parkin said. 

Avondale looked to results from other police departments, including Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and several in the Denver area, that have implemented similar programs, Parkin said. Those departments saw about a 90 percent decrease in false-alarm calls, which improved police-response times to other types of calls.

Parkin called the current system "expensive and inefficient," a burden that ultimately falls on taxpayers.

Parkin emphasized the new plan only would affect calls from burglar alarms on homes and businesses. Officers still will respond to all regular 911 calls.

"Any robbery or panic-duress alarms - and these are alarms that are activated by an individual - will always remain a high priority with the Avondale Police Department and we will respond to them no differently," she said.

But some alarm companies said this "non-response" policy is ill-advised because it could send the wrong message to criminals.

"It can tend to leave homes and businesses vulnerable to criminal acts," said Ann Lindstrom, a spokeswoman for Florida-based ADT Security Services. 

"Criminals act quickly and they're opportunistic, and alarm systems have proven to be very effective in deterring crime, and the problem with a (policy) such as that is that it sends a signal to the criminals that one more barrier to committing criminal acts has been removed or delayed."

The Avondale Police Department presented its plan to the City Council during a Dec. 14 work session. The council agreed to move forward with the proposal.

New York State Law Requires CO Detectors after Feb. 22, 2010

On February 22, a New York state law will go into effect requiring carbon monoxide alarms be installed and functioning in homes.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that can emit from a heating source that is not properly vented. This could include a gas or wood stove, a gas water heater, a gas or oil-burning furnace, generators and fireplaces. Symptoms from carbon monoxide poisoning includes headache, dizziness and nausea and can turn deadly within minutes, according to the Web site WebMd.com. 

The law — also known as “Amanda’s Law” — requires new homes built after Jan. 1, 2008 to have a carbon monoxide alarm hard-wired into their electrical unit. Battery-powered alarms will be allowed in homes built before then. Previously, all new buildings built or bought after July 30, 2002 required carbon monoxide alarms. 

Herkimer, NY, Fire Chief John Spanfelner said the law is a good one and that carbon monoxide calls are “fairly common.” 

“A lot of people still don’t have the alarms in their house,” he said. 

Spanfelner said they had a call last week about a possible carbon monoxide leak at a residence. He said the carbon monoxide alarm was beeping in the resident’s basement, and people inside the building displayed symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. He also said the dog was “going crazy.” He said they had to shut down the water heater.

Both Spanfelner and Deputy Fire Chief Dave Kuehnle said people should evacuate a building if they suspect a leak, but to also not open the doors and windows. Fire officials need to test the carbon monoxide levels inside the unit and cannot do so if the house has been vented. 

Amanda’s law is named after Amanda Hansen, a 16-year-old West Seneca girl who died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective boiler while sleeping over at a friend’s house last January.

Gov. David Paterson said on his Web site that “Amanda’s Law will prevent future tragedies like the one that took Amanda Hansen’s life far too soon. This legislation will create safer homes for New Yorkers, and I encourage all New Yorkers to check install these devices and regularly check to make sure they are working.” 

Carbon monoxide alarms can be found in any hardware store.

“It is for the well-being of everybody,” said Kuehnle.

Marietta, GA, Police Chief: Alarm Ordinance Works

Marietta, GA, Police Chief Dan Flynn says the city's alarm ordinance adopted a few years ago has paid off by freeing up his 138 officers to fight crime. 

The problem was that 99 percent of all alarms going off in the city were false alarms. And about 10 percent of all calls for police service were alarm calls, he said. 

Whenever an alarm goes off, safety protocols dictate two officers respond. And because most false alarms are from schools, churches and businesses, which are typically closed at night and on weekends, a single alarm call can tie up two officers for about an hour.

At the request of the police department, the City Council adopted an alarm ordinance in July 2007 that contained progressive fines for violators to cut down on the false alarms. 

In a report compiled for the council this month, Flynn said alarm calls in Marietta fell from 9,287 in 2006 to 8,667 in 2007, and from 4,994 in 2008 to 3,254 in 2009. 

Councilman Van Pearlberg called that a terrific response to the ordinance. 

"The citizens of Marietta should be applauded and complimented for their observance of the ordinance which permits the police department to be more efficient and effective in enforcing laws and protecting the public," Pearlberg said. 

Total calls for police service have also dropped from 93,054 in 2006 to 69,229 in 2009. Flynn cautioned against linking the alarm ordinance directly to crime reduction, since crime is impacted by multiple factors from population changes to the economy. But freeing officers from dealing with false alarms has certainly helped crime reduction, he said. 

Besides diverting officers from tackling crime, false alarms contribute to the problem of police complacency. When 99 percent of alarms are false ones, an officer may let his or her guard down, he said. 

As city alarm calls and total calls for police service continued to drop from 2007 through 2009, Marietta police officers have been trained and instructed to use their additional patrol time for proactive crime prevention. 

"With a new departmental emphasis on the use of field interview cards and photos of individuals engaged in articulated suspicious behaviors, there has been a gradual shift from officers being incident-driven, i.e., primarily responding to calls for service, to being analysis-drive, i.e., conducting proactive crime prevention activities in areas with higher crime trends," Flynn writes in his report. 

There is no fine for the first two false alarms that occur in a calendar year. The third time it happens, there is no fine if the violator takes a short course from the police department on alarm usage and maintenance. A $50 fine is issued for the fourth and fifth violations, and those fines progress up to $500. A waiver can be obtained if the alarm was caused by severe weather or power outage, City Manager Bill Bruton said. 

Revenue from alarm fines dropped from $223,050 in 2008 to $94,800 in 2009.

False Alarms Targeted by Oklahoma Cities

In 2009, the city of Yukon, OK, began testing a revised ordinance on false alarms. 

Now the grace period is over, Police Chief Gary Wieczorek said. 

Yukon dispatched officers on 512 burglar alarms in 2008. By the end of November 2009, they had sent officers out on 632 burglar alarms. Of those 632 alarms, 582 were listed as false, Wieczorek said. 

In Edmond in 2008 there were 5,864 burglary alarm calls for Edmond police, said Jennifer Hunt, that city’s alarm and information specialist. Of those, 3,577 were false alarms. There were 110 citations issued for violation of the Edmond false alarm law in 2008. 

Jennifer Newell, Norman police spokeswoman, said a city law that went into effect in 2005 was needed "because 99 percent of the alarm activations were false.” 

Wieczorek said false alarms can lead to several problems. 

"It requires two police officers to respond under semi-emergency conditions,” he said. "You have to take it as the real thing and then once you get there you have to find out what occurred and walk the building and make sure everything looks fine. One officer has to stay until a key holder arrives to verify everything inside the building is OK. It can be 10 minutes or an hour. Another thing is that you have a police officer driving through traffic in semi-emergency conditions.” 

Entering the final month of 2009, Edmond had more than 145 residents/businesses on its chronic false alarm list. 

That city’s False Alarm Ordinance went into effect March 23, 1998. 

"The purpose of the ordinance is to encourage alarm users and alarm businesses to maintain the operational reliability of, and properly use, alarm systems, to reduce or eliminate false alarm dispatch requests,” Hunt said. 

Alarm sites where three or more false alarm dispatches have occurred within a six-month period will be identified as chronic false alarm locations. Alarm sites identified as chronic are required to obtain a chronic false alarm location permit, which is $20 and is good for one year from the date of issuance. If the site has had no further false alarms through the end of the year, the user will not be required to obtain another permit. But, if the site still is having problems with false alarms then the user will be required to obtain another permit. 

Each false alarm dispatch after five false alarm dispatches within a six-month period brings a $249 citation. 

In 2009, Yukon added a new software system that has an alarm tracking component that will generate letters to those who have a false alarm who are not registered and those who have exceeded limits. 

"We tried to work cooperatively with businesses and residents this year to explain the ordinance,” Wieczorek said. 

The old ordinance allowed five false alarms per year with no citation. With the new law, that dropped to two per year. In the past it was a $50 fine after five. Now it is $50 for the third and fourth false alarms and $100 for the fifth and any subsequent false alarms. 

In Norman, false alarm fines include $25 each for four or five; $50 each for six to eight; $150 each for nine to 12; and $300 each for more than 12. 

The law seems to be helping, officials said. 

"We are getting more businesses and residents to register their alarm,” Newell said. 

She said there have only been 80 citations written since February 2005. 

"As for renewals, when they see their bill is more than $10,” she said, "they usually call immediately to see what can be done.”

Anderson, IN, to Enforce False Alarm Ordinance

The City of Anderson, Indiana, will join a host of communities who already enforce nuisance alarms. 

“False alarms have become an enormous concern for law enforcement agencies everywhere. Millions of dollars and man-hours are spent chasing "burglars" which turn out to be nothing more than floating birthday balloons, unrestricted pets, or paper falling from a fax machine," said Chief of Police Darron Sparks. 

False alarms place the lives and property of community members in jeopardy. While police are responding to alarms that turn out to be false, they are not available to respond to alarms and other emergencies that are valid. In addition, the occupants and police are less likely to believe in a system plagued by repeated false activations. 

In August, the Anderson City Council approved ordinance 23-09 regulating false alarms and any resulting nuisance penalties. However, Sparks cautioned that the intent of the ordinance is to reduce alarms and not to collect fees. 

“Our goal is to encourage the alarm owners to maintain their systems so that they are reliable and have minimal false activations. The purpose of the ordinance is not to make money. In fact, the cost-recovery measure falls shy of the false alarm related costs to the city,” said Sparks. “The overriding objective of the false alarm ordinance is to make Anderson a safer place to live for all citizens, whether they own a security system or not.”

As per the ordinance, violators will be charged $50.00 for the second false alarm in a calendar year, $100.00 for the third false alarm and $200.00 for the fourth. Each successive false alarm (over four), will be accessed a fine of $300.00.

Lincoln County, NE, Enacts False Alarm Ordinance

Last month, the Lincoln, Nebraska City Council enacted a new ordinance on false alarms--a piece of legislation that had been in the pipeline for well over a year. 

Modeled on Omaha's ordinance, the new law creates a system of fees for excess false alarms, replacing the current criminal citation that a business or homeowner receives when they have more than 4 false alarms in a 12 month period.

The new ordinance has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2010. We will be working in the next few months to set in place the infrastructure that will be necessary to effectively enforce this new law. Several changes will take place: alarms must be registered (both business and residential), so that system will have to be established; we will have to come up with a mechanism for handling billing and accounts receivable, since the fees will go to the City; and we will need to tweak our system for tracking false alarms, since the new ordinance replaces a rolling 12 month period with a fixed two-year registration period.

Although false alarms are comparatively low and have been falling steadily in Lincoln (3,279 in 2008, and they will be even lower this year), I predict that the enactment of this ordinance, will cause another drop. My hope is that false alarms can be reduced without negatively impacting our ability to catch burglars in the act.

Pennsylvania May Require CO Detectors

Legislation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in existing homes, apartments and all new construction came out of the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee recently, and state Rep. John Siptroth, D-189, of Monroe County called for a vote as soon as possible.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the country, and Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of carbon monoxide deaths," he said in a news release. "We have seen tragic results from carbon monoxide poisoning here in the Poconos." 

Four young men died in a home in Marshalls Creek after a generator was left running in a garage overnight in 2008. The home did not have a carbon monoxide detector.

Siptroth is throwing his support behind House Bill 1445. Leshko and other area fire chiefs also support the bill. He traveled with Deputy Chief Brian Mandak to Harrisburg in May when the Pennsylvania Safe Homes Coalition urged its passage.

"Everyone is very excited that it's out of committee," Leshko said. "This is a law that could save your life."

Hazleton firefighters have responded to numerous calls in which they've found high carbon monoxide levels, Mandak said. Some of those homes had detectors and others didn't, he said.

But most people who have had a carbon monoxide scare buy a detector the same day, Leshko said. They cost as little as $20, while other models could cost between $30 and $40, making them affordable for most homeowners, he said.

Many people have moved toward more energy efficiency in their homes - installing new windows, additional insulation and weather sealing, but those energy- and money-saving moves may have put them at greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, said Hazle Township Fire Chief Scott Kostician.

Years ago, more air circulated through homes due to their inefficiency, allowing gases like carbon monoxide to escape, he said. Today's homes trap carbon monoxide inside, making the detectors that much more important, Kostician said.

He, too, has seen his share of calls in which carbon monoxide levels put people's lives at stake, he said. A Green Ridge home had levels near 800 parts per million, and a row home in Jeddo Japan had levels at 200 ppm when firefighters arrived.

The carbon monoxide levels inside the Hello Again building last week were 1,000 ppm - a deadly level, Leshko said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control considers levels above 50 ppm toxic, and exposures between 70 ppm and 100 ppm will cause people to become ill. Exposures above 400 ppm can result in unconsciousness, brain damage and death, the CDC reports on its Web site.

Kostician supports the legislation, but doesn't know how it will be enforced.

"You can't force your way into people's homes," he said, which means firefighters won't find out whether a home has a detector until after an incident.

Leshko agrees, but said continued advocacy is raising awareness and getting more people to install them.

A recent scare at a Locust Street apartment building that was home to 23 people prompted the property manager to buy a detector for every apartment, Leshko said. A tenant's carbon monoxide detector had alerted the rest of the building to the problem, he said.

Numerous people have stopped to tell Leshko they installed detectors in their homes since he began his campaign locally, he said.

Wisconsin May Require CO Detectors in All Homes

Richard Jarosinski couldn't see the hairline crack in his hot water heater and he couldn't smell anything wrong in the air.

But three weeks ago, Jarosinski could certainly hear the danger.

Jarosinski's carbon monoxide detector shrieked so loud that he could hear it outside his house in Arkansaw, a small community in western Wisconsin.

Jarosinski credits the detector for saving his life.

"It should be mandatory in every home," he said.

State law may soon make that happen. The Legislature this past week passed a bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in single-family homes and duplexes. If signed by Gov. Jim Doyle, it would take effect in February 2011. His staff, reached late Friday afternoon, did not know what action he would take.

There won't be any carbon monoxide police writing tickets for noncompliers. The bill doesn't carry any fines for violations.

"The goal was to propose a soft mandate to encourage as much compliance for the high percentage of places that are most likely to be impacted," said state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, the bill's author.

Hintz said the bill builds on legislation passed last year that applies to other structures, like apartment buildings. This bill applies to single- and two-family homes.

Detectors would be required on every level of a home, except attics and storage areas. Home inspections would check for the detectors during the sale of a house.

"We are doing something that is preventative," Hintz said. "A lot of time in Madison, there's legislation that's proposed after an awful accident or incident and is reactionary. We have had incidents, but this isn't being proposed because of something that happened a month ago."
Hintz said the bill essentially matches language in a smoke detector law that's been on the books since 1977.

"The goal is compliance," he said. "Most people who have smoke detectors don't even realize that it's law."

State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 2,000 people a year and sends 40,000 more to the hospital.

"We have the opportunity to save lives and protect families," he said.

A state Department of Justice spokesman said his agency, which includes the state fire marshal, has not taken a position on the bill.

Larry Plumer, president of the Wisconsin State Firefighters Association, said he thinks the bill sounds like a good idea. He said the detectors, which can be purchased for as little as $15, can save lives.

"I think (the bill) is going to save lives," he said. "But I don't know if forcing somebody to do it is the correct answer until I study it some more."

Brian Noel, an Appleton fire inspector and investigator, said his agency is implementing the multi-family requirement passed last year that takes effect in April.

"We're always recommending them," he said. "They are very good to have in one- and two-family (homes)."

Since his carbon monoxide scare, Jarosinski has purchased a second detector for his home. He said people should purchase the devices, regardless of the law.

"You are doggone right," he said. "I highly advise it."