Burglar Alarms: Do they really work? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Burglar Alarms: Do they really work?

May 19, 2003

Dougherty Co.-- One in five homes in America now has a security system, and the billion dollar home security industry is seeing record growth.

But Police Departments say false alarms from home security systems can be a big waste of manpower and tax money. They could even be a danger.

A security system at a church alerts a monitoring center of trouble. The alarm at a back door has been triggered. They alert Police. Officer Bill Smith responds to the alarm, backed up by two other officers. They check the door, and then all around the building. They check the cars parked behind the church. It turns out to be a false alarm.

South Georgia Police repeat this scene dozens of times every day. Lt. James Harris says "Nine out of every 10 alarms we answer are false alarms."

But so many false alarms could be deadly for officers. "They are some of the most dangerous calls that you can answer," said Harris.

Sgt. Julius Phillips says "You try to treat every call like the real thing, never drop your guard."

Officer Bill Smith says "You have to treat each call like the real thing, because that one could be."

Home security companies are busy in South Georgia. Charlie Callahan of Central Monitoring Services says "Our business is growing weekly, about 20 new accounts in Albany every week."

One reason home security systems are so popular, they work. This home has three features to protect a patio door off the back yard. Callahan says "We have a door trip so that if the door is opened, an alarm will sound. This is the glass break monitor. Any sound of glass breaking will set it off. And on the wall there is a motion detector, so that any movement will trigger the alarm."

Some alarms are connected to monitoring businesses like Central Monitoring. Their customers systems are monitored around the clock. Lynda Wolters shows the computer, and says "We can know exactly which alarm is going off. We know if it is the back door or window."

The monitoring center then calls the home to decide if Police, Fire, or EMS need to be dispatched. The home security industry is trying to cut down on false alarms. Many cities, like Albany, fine homeowners if they have too many false alarms. The three most common causes for false alarms, are faulty equipment, faulty design, and user error.

User error is by far the most common. Wolters says "Some people think they can open and shut their door quick enough, but you can't do it. The alarm is quicker." Improved technology is also cutting down on false alarms.

The system installer says "This is a glass break detector. It takes both vibration and sound to set off the alarm." nat sot of setting off alarm. Sgt. Phillips says "They do deter crime. I have one myself."

Lt. Harris says "They work good, but when the weather is bad, they might go off five to six times in 10 minutes." Officers have to check those calls, never knowing if it is a false alarm or not.

Lt. Harris says "Everytime we respond, our hearts are pounding."

A dangerous time for Police, but security systems offer what people want. Wolters says "It's peace of mind, you can sleep safely." Despite the false alarms, the police are glad security systems are becoming more common. Sgt. Phillips says "It makes it harder for the bad guys, so that helps us."

Home security experts say false alarms can be reduced by making sure everyone in the home knows how to properly operate the system. The systems should be tested at least once a month.

posted at 12:15PM by dave.miller@walb.com