What causes false alarms in security systems and how to avoid them?

Installing a security system provides companies, the owners of buildings, as well as private persons the assurance that their property is protected. However, we have probably all encountered a situation in life where, for example, the alarm goes off in a shopping centre, office, or at home. A moment later, it turns out to have been a false alarm. This is unpleasant and creates pointless stress.

False alarms are an inevitable part of the technical surveillance service. Forus deals with false alarms on a daily basis. The percentage of false alarms in our company is about 30%.

Technical false alarms and the so-called nuisance alarms

Any interference not directly related to an intrusion or fire alarm is mistakenly called a false alarm. In fact, a distinction should be made between false alarms and nuisance alarms.

False alarms are primarily alarms caused by the system without a clear cause. Nuisance alarms have a clear cause and the system reacts to certain conditions as set, but the cause of the alarm is not directly an intrusion or fire.

It is very difficult to distinguish between the two, but the solutions to minimise each are very different in nature.

However, not every alarm automatically means a callout, meaning that a large part of false or nuisance alarms can be distinguished by technical means, through human experience, via video, etc. A patrol is not automatically dispatched to every alarm of this kind, so the alarm does not always create a callout.

The most common questions about false alarms are answered by Rasmus Peterson, the head of our control centre.

What are the most common causes of false alarms?

The main cause of false alarms is equipment that is incorrectly installed or substandard, faulty, and unmaintained. When installing a security system, it is important to choose the suitable equipment and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations during installation. A properly selected high-quality and regularly maintained security system usually sends a very small number of false alarms.

The main causes of the nuisance alarms are weather, animals/birds, people themselves, and incorrect system settings (sensitivity, operating area, etc.).

The human factor plays a rather large role in false alarms: it is important to make sure that the doors/windows are closed and that there are no moving objects in the field of operations of the sensors when arming the security system on a guarded site. Often, the cause of the alarm is also a human error, where the user enters the wrong code, forgets to enter the code when entering the secured area, or does not leave within the allowed delay time after arming the signal.

Forus approaches each client personally. Before installing the surveillance system, we thoroughly map the guarded site and help our client choose the most suitable solution and the best equipment.

How to avoid false alarms most effectively?

The most important thing for avoiding false alarms is the timely maintenance of the surveillance systems. We recommend that you service the equipment at least a couple of times a year. For example, an automatic fire alarm system (AFAS) must be maintained quarterly, as required by law.

During the maintenance, all parts of the security system, their working radius, as well as the correct and accurate transmission of signals to the control centre are inspected. In addition, the maintenance specialist assesses the general operating procedures of the surveillance system and gives recommendations for the use of the surveillance system or proposes to replace some equipment. As a customer, it should be taken into account that no device is permanent and it is often more expedient to replace the system than to repair the old faulty system.

For our part, we always support the client with the best knowledge. False alarms are monitored on a daily basis, where we and the client can find quite efficient solutions for keeping the false alarms under control. The keyword is customer communication.

In addition to dealing with the system, it is important to be diligent as a user on a daily basis and, for example, when securing outdoor areas, to keep the operating area of the sensor clean of snow, high hay, and shrub, and to avoid moving objects and flying debris in the secured area. In indoor conditions, for example, when making food, use a fan to prevent the generated steam or smoke from entering the operating area of the sensor. In addition, be careful when entering and exiting, i.e. properly arming and disarming the object.

Is it possible that the alarm will not work due to unmaintained systems?

The peculiarity of an unmaintained system is that the guarded object may transmit large amounts of false alarms due to a malfunctioning device or that the system no longer sends any alarm signals at all. Unfortunately, there have been a few real loss events in the practice of Forus where, due to unmaintained equipment, the surveillance system did not activate when it should have. Situations where the signal for a fire alarm does not activate or does not sound are especially dangerous, as human lives may be in real danger.

How should the customer maintain their security systems?

We always recommend using specialist support to maintain the security system. A faulty device or other component that the customer might not be able to identify could be detected during maintenance. Not all ordinary users have the knowledge or resources to carry out regular maintenance tasks. From the customer’s point of view, it always makes sense to have both the security and maintenance solutions supplied by one service provider. This is to see the full picture and identify and resolve malfunctions in the shortest time possible.

How much does a callout caused by a false alarm cost the client?

As a rule, all patrol calls due to false alarms are paid for by the client. The exact cost of the call depends on the specific object and the contract. Usually, the price of the callout is 25 euros (with VAT added for private clients and VAT added for business clients).

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