Carolina homeowner’s terrible experience underscores the importance of avoiding
home security system false alarms
In what he calls “one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,” a Raleigh homeowner learned the hard way how badly a home security false alarm can go when he was handcuffed by police and detained in his underwear outside his home.
A friend who had stayed the night accidentally triggered Kazeem Oyeneyin's home security alarm on Aug. 17—a situation many homeowners have experienced. So, the North Carolina man sleepily stumbled downstairs, shut off the alarm, and stumbled back to bed. Minutes later, he was in handcuffs after Raleigh police entered his house through his unlocked front door and forced him outside while they cleared every room.
The situation at Oyeneyin’s home escalated after he announced he was holding a firearm. He later told news outlets that he grabbed his legally owned handgun when he went to investigate who had entered his house. He dropped it instantly when ordered to do so by the police.
In footage from his security system, the homeowner is heard demanding: "What have I done wrong? I haven't done nothing wrong!" In the end, he spent about seven minutes handcuffed outside until police officers confirmed he was indeed the owner of the house.
Watch this news clip to view the home security footage of the event:
“crying wolf” can lead to home security false alarm fees
Oyeneyin’s experience may be an extreme example, but false alarms are a problem for police departments, homeowners, and neighborhoods. Not only can they annoy neighbors, but reoccurring issues can make homeowners leery of turning their home security systems on—leaving their property vulnerable to crime. Even worse, false alarms can prevent residents from taking alarms seriously, causing them to potentially ignore an emergency.
Responding to nuisance alarms diverts police resources from more urgent matters and costs police departments an estimated almost $2 billion annually. Many cities require homeowners to share the burden by paying fines—and in some cases, the police will no longer even respond to an alarm unless the security system is registered so the city can charge false-alarm fees.
It’s vital for homeowners to be aware of local laws—and to choose a good security system that avoids false activations and subsequent calls to the police. Fortunately, the best security monitoring companies may help identify and stop false alarms by contacting a homeowner to verify an emergency.
Most jurisdictions don’t assess a fine for a first offense or only charge a nominal $25 to $35 fee. But the price tag quickly climbs for multiple infractions.
For instance, the city of San Francisco doesn’t penalize individuals for the first false alarm. But it doesn’t mess around with subsequent false alarms: charging $100 for the second infraction in a calendar year, $150 for the third, $200 for the fourth, and $250 per instance for five or more. Forgot to register your system? You’re looking at an additional $250 non-licensed-alarm fee for every false alarm that’s called in.
Other jurisdictions crack down even more on repeated infractions. In South Brunswick, NJ, for instance, homeowners face a $500 fine per incident for more than 10 false alarms per calendar year. Homeowners face fines as high as $1,000 and a mandatory court appearance for every incident that exceeds 20.
Some homeowners consider self-monitored home security systems to lower their chances of false-alarm fines since first responders will only come if homeowners call them. But here’s what owners need to weigh: With a system that’s professionally monitored, 24 hours a day, an unresolved alarm prompts investigation from a monitoring service who will attempt to verify that the alarm is real by contacting the homeowner.
leading cause of home security false alarms: human error
The rise of smartphones and smart security systems could help reduce the number of false alarms, enabling homeowners to keep real-time track of their security systems, shut down problems remotely, and immediately respond to alerts from monitoring services. Some states have also cracked down on false alarms by requiring monitoring services to attempt to reach homeowners at two different numbers before alerting the police—although the best security companies have long maintained a two-call policy.
But despite modern technology, false alarms can happen. The single biggest culprit—causing between 85 and 90 percent of false alarms—is user error, such as the homeowner forgetting to give a passcode to a visiting family member or work crew.
simple tips for avoiding home security false alarms
1. Take advantage of smart
security system technology
Smart security systems are full of interactive features such as remote arming and disarming, text and email notifications, and on-demand video surveillance that help homeowners avoid false alarms resulting in a dispatch.
These systems take the guesswork out of alarms by providing users with real-time updates if sensors are tripped—and then enabling them to tap into real-time video clips to confirm whether there is or was a real threat. For instance, Frontpoint’s Outdoor Cameras, Premium Indoor Cameras, and Doorbell Cameras can be accessed on-demand and automatically record when motion is detected, sending homeowners an email or text message when a new video clip is available. All of the cameras also start automatically recording when an alarm is tripped by intrusion sensors. Clips are saved and stored so they can be viewed at any time via the Frontpoint app.
If the house is undisturbed, homeowners can quickly cancel false alarms using remote access via their smartphones. Remote arming and disarming further minimize false alarms by enabling homeowners to easily let people like babysitters or contractors in and out of the house without having to dole out passcodes or requiring visitors to fumble with unfamiliar security systems.
2. Mistakes like entering the wrong passcode set off most
home security false alarms
The best modern home security systems are highly intuitive and very easy to use. But false alarms can be triggered by a mistake, like entering the wrong passcode too many times.
Be sure to create an alarm code that everyone in your house can easily remember but that a burglar can’t easily guess. Then take your time entering it to ensure you key it correctly, and double-check temporary passcodes that you provide to outsiders. Make sure everyone in your family can also easily rattle off verbal back-up passwords that will de-escalate the situation if an alarm is falsely triggered and the monitoring service contacts you for confirmation.
Frontpoint also provides a tool to minimize false alarms with its Keychain Remote; homeowners can disarm and arm the system with the click of a button instead of using a keypad if their hands are full with small children or groceries.
Anyone who you expect to use the system—from the dog walker to the babysitter—must be told how to operate it or you can just remotely activate and deactivate the system for them. And don’t forget to warn any houseguests when the alarm is turned on.
Another mistake is leaving a door or window open just enough to trigger a false alarm. Make it a habit to close all doors and windows tightly before arming your system—not just to avoid false alarms, but so you don’t give potential intruders a way to get in. For repeated false alarms triggered by sensors, try this simple test: If you can move doors or windows two inches past the frame or pane after they’re locked, home repairs might be needed.
4. Poor sensor placement can
set off home security alarms
Careful placement of security sensors is essential to preventing false alarms. For instance, installing smoke and heat sensors too close to heat sources or the high humidity of bathrooms can trigger alarms.
Some motion sensors require the presence of motion and heat to go off, whereas others are more sensitive because they are triggered by motion alone. Homeowners experiencing false alarms should also consider the area around the motion sensor to determine what might be setting it off, and whether relocation or adjustment is needed—or whether a better-calibrated sensor altogether will avoid any issues.
Avoid pointing motion sensors toward windows or HVAC vents that can cause nearby objects like curtains or plant leaves to flutter. Keep the area near sensors free of clutter and secure anything that could be blown around by the HVAC system. Birthday balloons are notorious for causing false alarms on oversensitive, out-of-date motion detectors when they float by.
Motion sensors are also generally not recommended in areas frequented by pets bigger than 40 pounds—unless you have pet-friendly sensors that aren’t sensitive to creatures smaller than 80 pounds. The most advanced sensors rely on a combination of several different technologies to rule out household pets by determining the mass, speed, and movement patterns of any moving object, plus by reading its temperature and detecting infrared emissions.
5. Replace batteries
In some instances, low or dead sensor batteries can trigger false alarms by making the control panel believe that the sensor was breached. Changing the system’s batteries regularly is good practice, and smart home security systems will warn homeowners when their batteries become weak. It’s also wise to check with your security company to see if they recommend regular battery tests.
6. Keep home security alarm equipment in good shape—and
choose the right company and equipment
Malfunctioning components can wreak havoc with home security systems. It’s critical for homeowners to keep up with any regular maintenance (like changing batteries). But if owners suspect that faulty equipment is behind a false alarm, they should contact their home security company right away—or find a better company. Make sure that your security company provides a warranty on all equipment, and verify its specific terms.
Choosing a reputable provider that uses state-of-the-art equipment goes a long way toward preventing false alarms. And home security systems that rely on wireless sensors and arrive pre-programmed also have several advantages over other systems. No wired connections mean fewer physical elements that can fail over time. And preprogrammed systems are specifically designed to avoid improper sensor placement and to only detect real events—such as a shattered glass door or a human being moving through the home—that can trigger an alarm.
comes to minimizing home security false alarms, practice—and a quality system
and monitoring company—makes perfect
It’s recommended that homeowners practice dealing with false alarms, so they instinctively know how to efficiently defuse them before authorities are contacted. But at the end of the day, the most effective way to prevent false alarms is by choosing a high-tech home security system, employing a well-trained monitoring service, and using the system consistently.
By learning how to operate the system and doing so on a regular basis, you and your family will become comfortable with its components and how it works—vastly reducing the chances of making a mistake that triggers a false alarm.
And if an error does happen, having a system that immediately notifies you of an alarm—and can be immediately be shut off, whether you are at home or 3,000 miles away—is a must.
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