Reducing False Alarms
Failure to take meaningful action may have disastrous consequences
- By Jamie Paul
- Jan 27, 2022
False fire alarms continue to increase in communities throughout the world. As the trend persists, numerous jurisdictions have attempted to mitigate the issue, often with less than acceptable results. Nuisance false fire alarms are a problem for the fire service, schools, universities, hospitals, nursing homes, stores, hotels, businesses and the public. Most buildings often indicate false fire alarms are among their biggest fire safety challenges.
Posing a Problem
Fire personnel and services nationwide also claim false fire alarms pose a problem for their departments. Their responders are unavailable to assist in real emergency situations, which decreases reaction time and could possibly cost the lives of people needing real assistance. False calls also put the lives of first responders in danger by creating the possibility of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents while rigs rush to attend fallacious emergencies.
Fire departments responded to 2,889,000 false fire alarms in 2018.* (. Malicious false calls increased by 22% from 2017, accounting for 171,500 of all false calls.
Those numbers are unacceptable. Failure to take meaningful action could have disastrous consequences for citizens, building owners and security officers. Officials are convinced that the false fire alarm problem may well be the worst enemy facing the fire safety industry today, and make them question whether they need to increase staff and resources to respond and prevent these chronic false alarms.
With fire safety being a main concern in today’s world, it is vital to have minimal interruptions. Businesses have a responsibility to keep staff, employees, students and visitors secure. A failure of that obligation can put everyone involved at risk.
Here are seven important reasons to reduce false fire alarms:
Cry wolf syndrome. To cry wolf is to sound an alarm frequently when nothing wrong is occurring. If a false fire alarm is regularly sounding, people become unconcerned and do not heed the threat against their safety. The epidemic of frequent false alarms erodes the credibility of fire alarm warning systems and the trust and confidence many building occupants have in the fire safety systems. Loss of trust could cause residents to not evacuate a building that is on fire and put them in grave danger when a real alarm sounds, resulting in disastrous consequences.
Lost revenue. If a false fire alarm is activated, a building must be evacuated. This causes a loss of productivity from employees, staff and students, or a possible shortfall in retail sales from customers that may be missed going forward. The building owner may also incur a charge from a municipality for the expense of the fire department responding to a false alarm when they were needed somewhere else for a true emergency situation.
Disruption. False alarms cause unnecessary disruption and loss of productivity to school and business effectiveness, efficiency, profitability, and services. When a building is clear, the potential of students, patients, employees, staff, customers losing focus, or wandering off or permanently leaving, is increased.
Inconveniencing the fire department. The fire department is detrimental to public safety. If they are responding to a false alarm, they are unavailable to help in a real fire, emergency or rescue situation. This may come at the expense of a lost life, lost reaction time, endangerment to the responders or prevent department resources from arriving on a scene where they are a legitimate need. It also places a considerable drain on the fire authority’s resources, increases safety hazards to emergency staff and the public, and disrupts other activities such as training and community fire-safety work.
Unnecessary risk and/or panic. A false call puts the lives of brave emergency responders at further risk, and creates the possibility of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents while rigs rush to attend false alarms. It also causes panic on the road or in a building, which can lead to unnecessary injuries or health issues.
Causes complacency. Some departments report they still respond to one or two false fire alarms a day. False calls tie up valuable resources and, in some cases, cause a sense of complacency that will eventually cost lives. If people become desensitized to fire alarms—because so many are being called unjustly—they may not react, putting their lives and the lives of others, in danger. This reduces the confidence of the public, which is dangerous.
Communities depend on you. Become a better community member because it is the conscious thing to do. Display respect towards society and authorities by not pulling false fire alarms, reporting any suspicious activity, and leading by example. Children, teenagers and even adults, are always watching, learning, and imitating others’ actions. If you set a high standard hopefully they will imitate, and will teach someone, who passes it on to another, and so on. Always think about your safety and the safety of the people around you, just as you hope other individuals are equally as considerate.
Many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) recognize that the false fire alarm situation is indeed a multi-faceted problem rising to epidemic proportions and is causing many people to take drastic measures, such as disconnecting manual pull stations, to eliminate the problem. Corrective measures should be implemented immediately. This solution should take a comprehensive approach. Failure to take meaningful corrective action to respond to these chronic false fire alarms will have disastrous consequences for citizens.
Make false fire alarms something of the past.
Building owners need to be proactive about preventing malicious activation. One immediate and sufficient way to help drastically reduce false fire alarm risks—and sometimes completely eliminate them—is to install high quality and dependable protective polycarbonate covers approved by fire marshals or Underwriter Laboratory (UL Listed).
Cost-effective clear covers within the industry are use-proven and mount directly to the wall over existing manual pull stations, and help discourage someone from triggering a false alarm. The covers professionally designed do not restrict a legitimate alarm from activation. When raising the cover to gain access to the actual alarm, a piercing self-contained warning horn will sound locally.
Immediate attention is drawn to the area and the prankster, who will run or be caught before a false alarm is pulled or wrongfully reported. The covers also offer protection against accidental activation, physical damage (both accidental and intentional), dust and grime as well as severe environments inside and outside. Available in a wide range of sizes and mounting options for indoors or outdoors, the covers are easy to install before a building is occupied or retrofit while in operation.
Another option to help quell false fire alarms is to implement strong and durable protective polycarbonate or wire guards over vulnerable devices such as smoke detectors, horns, strobes and speakers. The covers and cages help prevent false activation caused by vandalism, accidental damage, misuse, environmental harm and more, while ensuring the fire safety devices remain protected and operational when needed for a real emergency.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2022 issue of Security Today.
Jamie Paul is part of the marketing communications staff at Safety Technology International.