The Alarm Wasn’t On Because I Had Too Many False Alarms

Security Industry Association (SIA)

Since 1968, every job I have held—that’s 100 percent of my working life beginning as a police officer, as director of security for a fast food chain, and as the owner of two alarm companies and now working for SIAC—has been dedicated to the effort to protect lives and property.

While working for the industry these last 16 years, I have fought the urge not to be one-sided and even questioned my views on the issue of nonresponse. That was until Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City, Utah, was ripped from her family home in the middle of the night.

Roughly 48 hours after this horrendous crime, the family was holding a press conference in front of their home. A family uncle was tasked to be their spokesperson and posed, obviously uncomfortably, in front of a gaggle of microphones, cameras and reporters. The nation was tied to their televisions and several minutes into the conference a female reporter asked: “Didn’t the family have an alarm system?” I literally came out of my chair when he replied, “Yes but it wasn’t on because we’ve had too many false alarms.”

Over the years, those words stayed with me, tattooed on my subconscious. As a parent, I thought about the feelings of guilt there must be because they hadn’t turned the alarm on simply because they had too many alarms. But how does this translate into the larger picture? Currently, I am working in several cities where nonresponse is being considered, and those words came back to me. “Yes, but it wasn’t on because we’ve had too many false alarms.”

One issue that is always part of any effort to deny response to alarms is the claim that they seldom result in an arrest. This is a misconception and an exaggeration. ALARM SYSTEMS DO THEIR JOB BEST WHEN NOTHING HAPPENS!

So I asked myself: Why isn’t this the perception of those that propose nonresponse? Is it because we haven’t delivered the message effectively? Or is it that people who are invested in only one side of an issue become so myopic that they can’t see the other side? Or perhaps it is simply a case that they are only looking at numbers and don’t correlate this to lives.

Our industry is approaching 40 million monitored alarm systems. With all of those possible targets out there, how many Elizabeth Smarts will we never hear about because the alarm systems were on? How many lives were not altered because nothing happened? How much property was not reported stolen because the alarm system was on?

Does this mean that we don’t have to continually work to reduce unnecessary dispatches? Of course not! Or does this mean that we shouldn’t be working on technological solutions such as monitored video? Of course not! We must continue to reduce dispatches by every effective means possible.

We all need to readan AIREF-funded Rutgers study that proves that alarms are an extremely effective tool for the entire community. We need to use this empirical data to demonstrate to elected local officials that there is a cause and effect—but most of all, these aren’t just alarms; they are people.

Finally, as you reflect on your chosen career, think about everything that didn’t happen this year because you were there to prevent it—and oh yeah, share this message with everyone in your company.

Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), has worked at SIAC for more than 10 years, and he writes regularly for state and national newsletters on security-related issues.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Security Industry Association (SIA).