Avoiding False Alarms

Why Worry About False Alarms?

The three main causes of false alarms are user error, installation or service errors, and equipment failure.  More than 80% of all false alarms are caused by user error.  There are easy steps you and your alarm dealer can take to prevent false alarms.  False alarms present a serious threat to the effectiveness of our local police, fire and EMS departments, as well as public safety.  False alarms are costly and dangerous by taking police off of patrol where they can answer actual emergency calls.

Before You Activate Your Alarm System


  • Provide your alarm permit number to your alarm monitoring company.
  • Ensure that you and others who use the security system are fully educated on its proper operation.  This may include domestic or cleaning crews, children, neighbors, caretakers, employees and temporary staff.
  • Securely close and lock all protected doors and windows.
  • If you are leaving your home or business, close the door tight.  
  • Keep pets, balloons, fans, heaters, etc. away from motion sensor areas.

  • Know and rehearse the process to cancel an accidental alarm.  Anyone with your key should know this process.  If you give them your key, give them the code.
  • Know how much time you have to leave after you arm your system and to disarm your system when you enter.

What if You Accidentally Activate the Alarm?

  • Do not panic.

  • Carefully enter your disarm code to reset your system.

  • Wait for your alarm company or central monitoring station to call, and give them your password or ID card number.

  • Do not leave your home or business until you have talked with your monitoring station. If they do not call you when the alarm activates, have their number posted by your control panel and contact them to cancel the police dispatch.
  • DO NOT call 911 or the Sheriff's Office Alarm Unit to cancel an alarm activation - you must call your monitoring station.

  • You can arrange to have your alarm monitoring station call you or another designated person first, before the police are called, whenever your alarm is activated.

  • If you are aware of a problem with the system, you can prevent police being dispatched by contacting your alarm monitoring company and providing the proper password.

Customizing Your Alarm Services

Always put your instructions to your alarm company in writing.  Also, consider these options that can save you time and false alarm fines.


Enhanced Call Verification
The Washington County Alarm Ordinance requires all alarm monitoring businesses to employ Enhanced Call Verification on all monitored properties in its jurisdiction (8.12.110).  Request your alarm monitoring company to call more than one person on your contact list before requesting emergency dispatch.  This has been shown nationally to reduce false alarms by over 50%.


Cross Zoning
Do you only want the police notified if both an exterior and an interior zone are activated?  This is called "Cross Zoning" and can be an effective false alarm reduction tool.  For example, a perimeter and an interior motion alarm would both have to trip within a specified period of time in order to summon a public safety response.  If an interior motion trips but the perimeter does not, the alarm company will not request police dispatch.  Cross Zoning is based on the idea that an actual burglar at the alarm site will trip more than one zone, whereas a loose pet, decoration, balloon or insect may not.


Common False Alarm Triggers in Homes


  • Unlocked, loose-fitting, or open doors or windows.  Always keep doors and windows locked when the alarm is activated to reduce the chance that friends, neighbors or customers will enter and accidentally set off the alarm.

  • Unsupervised pets - If you have pets, take special care to purchase an alarm system that is tolerant of pets.  You may not want to purchase motion detectors if your pets have free run of the house when the alarm is on.  Also, sometimes barking dogs can activate glass-break detectors.

  • Balloons that move and cause motion sensors to go off.
  • DO NOT call 911 to cancel alarm activations - you must call your monitoring station. 

  • Moving air (AC, heat, or drafts) can cause plants and curtains to move and set off a motion detector system.

False Alarm Considerations for Businesses


  • Swinging doors or windows
  • Banners, signs or balloons that move

  • Plants or curtains caught in drafts

  • Stacked items, such as boxes, can fall and set off motion detectors
  • Untrained, unaware or uncaring employees
  • Locate your alarm equipment so that it does not interfere with daily business, such as forklifts or loading areas


Contact Your Alarm Company When You Make Changes


  • If there are changes in contact names, responsible parties, or new phone contact numbers.  This will reduce unwanted police dispatches.

  • If you plan home improvements or renovation projects, such as switching phone systems, changing the configuration of a room, adding a wall, rearranging cubicles. installing skylights or ceiling fans, or even fumigating.

  • If you plan on being away from home for a given period of time (on vacation for example), be sure to inform the alarm company of the dates and who to contact in your absence.

  • If you plan to change your alarm system batteries causing an interruption in your systems power supply.

  • If you acquire a pet or hire domestic help.