How Monitoring Centers Can Reduce False Alarms

by Josh Tafoya, Technical Trainer

We are all in the alarm business. Here at Bold, we provide software and services to the monitoring center. There are commercial monitoring centers, from very small to very large. There are proprietary monitoring centers serving their own clients. There are governmental organizations and law enforcement agencies. The entire extended Bold family is over 590 monitoring centers strong.

The one issue we all must manage is false alarms. I can’t think of a monitoring center that doesn’t have to contend with them. To some, false alarms are a minor annoyance. For whatever reason, they have little impact on the monitoring center. This isn’t related to the size of the monitoring center or even necessarily to the type of customers.

But for most monitoring centers, false alarms can cause (in no particular order), angry customers, angry dealers, and fines from Police and Fire Authorities. Even worse, if they become excessive, they can cause the operators to become complacent. The panel that cries wolf far too much is less likely to be believed as an actual alarm when it does happen.

So, what causes false alarms? Obviously, I won’t come up with an exhaustive list here, but anecdotally, I know the following items have been discussed as causes: Pets or pests setting off motion sensors, wind causing branches, curtains, or other items to set off motion detectors, outdated or faulty equipment incorrectly reporting a trip, and of course, user error.

I can’t offer solutions for every situation, but there are some things a monitoring center can do to help reduce false alarms:

  • The first thing is resolution codes. If you aren’t requiring them, and you have excessive false alarms, start requiring them now. At the very least, you will be able, after a short amount of time, to view statistics based on the number and type of resolution codes. If you are using them, but haven’t revisited the list in a while, take a moment to do that. Make sure all the codes are still valid. Run some reports and gather some statistics, and work with your operators to make sure the proper codes are being used in the appropriate situations. Just a quick reminder… it is possible to go back and amend a resolution code, even if one has already been chosen. By keeping an eye on the cause of the alarm, as reported by the operator at the end, you will have a better big-picture view.
  • Other verification tools may also help improve false alarm dispatches. Video cameras viewing a triggered zone allow the Monitoring Center to look at video from the time of the alarm, and identify pets, pests, weather, or if in fact there is an actual crime being committed. The police are much more likely to dispatch with priority if there is video from the time of the event.
  • Two-trip programming can also assist in situations where there are known to be a likelihood of false alarms. For example, if a motion sensor inside a room is often false, two-trip programming can be used to tie the alarm on the motion sensor to the door nearby.

Hopefully, this short list can offer you some solutions to reduce false alarms, or at the very least, some ideas on how better to manage and mitigate them. I hope we can stimulate discussion and continue to improve the situation for everyone.