False alarms can have a negative pyschological impact on the homeowner, either by providing unwarranted fear or by making them immune to subsequent warnings. They also carry a hefty price, in terms of time, money and resources for emergency response follow up.

For example, in 2002, more than 80% of calls to the City of Cincinnati Police Department in Ohio were false alarms, equating to 24,000 incidents. These false alarm responses cost the city more than $500,000 per year—money that could have been earmarked for other safety initiatives. To alleviate the expense, the city started fining repeat offenders for false alarms. This reduced incidences by at least 3,500 and brought $26,000 in revenue from fines, but it hasn't solved the problem.

The good news is that in many cases, false alarms are avoidable with proper security system installation, training and use. We encourage you to do your fair share to prevent false alarms by following these three pointers.

1. Choose the Right Security System

Select a home security system that is designed with your family, lifestyle and home layout in mind. This is often best achieved through an assessment of your needs. In particular, plan with the following in mind:

  • Pets: It's common for pets to accidently trigger home security motion detectors. If you have a pet in the home, make sure that your system is configured to accommodate. Speak with your security specialist for specific options.
  • Small Children: Do you have small children that wander at night—perhaps to climb in bed with mom and dad? Similar to pets, your kids can trigger motion detectors as well.
  • Sensor Placement: Point motion detectors away from vents, windows, fans, etc., which may set them off. Also, don't hang objects (that may fall) above these sensors. While your provider will likely help you with the
  • Verified-Response Monitoring: Choose a provider that verifies each alarm with you prior to notifying emergency response teams. This gives you the opportunity to stop police dispatch if no real threat exists. Just be sure that you keep your contact records with your security provider up to date, and list alternate contacts in case you are unavailable, since emergency services will be sent if you don't respond.

2. Know How Your Security System Works

Read your owner's manual, and understand the nuances of your particular system. Make sure that everyone in the house is knowledgeable on how the system works, including how to arm and disarm it, and how to ward off authorities if an alarm is accidently triggered.

Make sure to provide key codes to everyone who has a key to the home so that they can identify and authorize themselves upon entering. Also, brief babysitters and caretakers on the system prior to leaving to prevent them from unintentionally triggering it.

3. Maintain Your Security Equipment

Sometimes, false alarms are a result of faulty or outdated equipment. Test your system on a monthly basis to guarantee that it is in working order, and be sure to replace batteries as needed. As a reminder, alert your security provider in advance of the tests so they know not to send authorities.

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