False alarm: too many calls to your local police can cost you money

Many a homeowner resting safe and secure has been awakened by the deafening sound of his or her home's security system. "It scared me half to death," says Ann Marie Sutherland of Martinsburg, West Virginia, recalling the ear-piercing sound that woke her from her sleep. She lived alone in a newly built home.

"The monitoring center verified that the alarm was triggered by entry through the garage door," Sutherland recalls. "There were no footprints in the snow, no sign of forced entry, no perpetrator, no answers." Luckily for her, it was a false alarm.

Although installing an alarm system in your home is certainly beneficial (homes with an electronic security system are roughly two to three times less likely to be burglarized than homes without one), false alarms have stretched police resources thin, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In fact most alarm calls made to police are false.

"False alarms are very rarely caused because of faulty equipment. They are most often triggered by users who forget to lock windows and doors that are then blown open by the wind," says Stan Martin, executive director for Security Industry Alarm Coalition in Frisco, Texas. "Or they open a door to let the dog out, forgetting that the alarm is on, or leave a motion detector on with an animal in the house." The bottom line is that everyone who will operate the system should have thorough training, says Martin.

The question of how to make the system (which includes the relationship between the security industry, consumer, and law enforcement) more effective remains open. A coordinated effort among local, government, and business entities in the alarm service industry have devised the Model States Program in an effort to reduce the n u tuber of false alarms. States like California, Illinois, Florida, and Washington have tested the program. The following solutions were recently introduced nationwide:

* Enhanced call verification, which requires the alarm company to attempt to contact a homeowner at more than one telephone number before dispatching the police call. Martin says this has resulted in a 50% decrease in false alarm dispatches over a six-month period.

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