False Alarms: Their Causes and Prevention

Translated from German by Abha Vardhan (2019)


With the increasing incidences of mishaps and burglaries, it is no wonder that people are dependent on the alarm system to protect their homes and loved ones. However, false alarms are becoming one of the constant worries for people as they cause unnecessary panic and havoc.

The fact is that false alarms do occur and the best way to counter them is to become familiar with their causes and how to avoid them.

A false alarm is also referred to as a nuisance alarm as it causes needless fright among the masses and calls for emergency services when they are not required. A false alarm is triggered by something besides the expected trigger-event. It can occur because of residential burglar alarms, industrial alarms, smoke detectors, and signal detection theory.

Sometimes, the alarm is not false and might have been activated by an expected situation; however, it is termed ‘false’ because the situation didn’t demand the arrival of the emergency team. Thus, false alarms are called nuisance alarms.

Negative Effects of Fire Alarms

There are several negative effects of false alarms including havoc, panic, fear, disturbance of emergency services, and a waste of resources. It can also affect the health and safety of people as it can cause panic and encourage people to run either towards the alarm or away from it, causing accidents. 

False alarms have the capacity to distract the attention of the emergency team from valid disasters which can eventually cause loss of life and property. In several situations, recurrent false alarms in the same location may cause residents to develop alarm fatigue where they start to overlook most alarms, thinking that each time it will actually be deceitful. This is referred to as a ‘Cry Wolf Effect’ which causes the people to snub valid alarms.

Why Do False Alarms Occur?

The security technology is changing and getting better with time. Old types of alarms like smoke alarms and ionization sensors can cause fire alarms. If there are frequent incidences of false alarms from an older system, it is best to have it inspected. 

There can be several causes for false alarms:

  • False Alarm: False signals caused by external influences and non-damaging effects on fire detectors. For instance, cigarette smoke, steam, dust, insects, temporary work with smoke and heat, and electrical noise.
  • Raid and Burglar Alarm Systems: Raid and burglar alarm systems trigger the false alarm if an attack occurs or if the object monitored by the system is broken into. So, all alarms that are not due to a robbery or burglary are false alarms.
  • False Alarms to Conceal an Attack: Sometimes burglars try to cause fire alarms to distract the attention of people from a real attack. They cause false alarms so that the people rush to the safety site without paying attention to the actual location of burglary. This reduces the risk of the attacker getting caught at the actual crime scene.

The Causes of Residential False Alarms

According to the latest statistics, about 94% to 98% of all burglar alarms in the United States are activated falsely. There can be many reasons for false residential burglar alarms, and it can be caused due to incorrect systems, pets, weak batteries, unsafe doors and windows, and power outages.

The data indicate that in America, false alarms render about 6.5 million personnel hours of emergency services useless. A study conducted in 2002 shows that false alarms cost more than 1.5 billion dollars because many states now need licenses for using burglar alarms. There are also penalties for unnecessary false alarms.

Incorrect Arming and Disarming of the System

A false alarm may activate when a person takes too long to enter the passcode or when they enter the wrong passcode. One can avoid this by investing some time to disarm systems and going inside a house while properly disarming the system with one hand. 

Inexperienced Users

A false alarm can be triggered when inexperienced people get inside the home without having adequate knowledge of the system. Such inexperienced people include babysitters, maids, cleaning staff, handymen or dog walkers.

Making these people familiar with the residential burglar system will avoid triggering false alarms, so train everyone who will need to use the alarm system. Experts suggest running monthly alarm drills to ensure everyone remains prepared to operate the security system.

Power Issues

A false alarm can be activated when a power outage happens in a system with weak batteries. Homeowners can avoid these types of false alarms by regularly changing the backup battery.


Sometimes alarm systems are activated when pets hover around the house. Homeowners can check this issue by installing motion detectors that don’t respond to infrared signatures that are less than eighty pounds. You can also get in touch with your security company that specializes in pet sensors. This is becoming a common feature in many alarm systems. Another alternative can be to limit the access of pets in rooms with motion sensors.

·Unsecured windows and doors

If doors and windows are not properly secured, they can cause the misalignment of alarm contacts, which can cause a false alarm. To avoid this, it is suggested to keep doors and windows properly secured.

Smoke Detectors

False alarms frequently occur due to fire alarm systems and smoke detectors. Sometimes smoke detectors can activate false alarms even when the fire is not dangerous. Cooking at high temperatures, fireplaces, cigarette smoking, and wood burners are some causes of false alarms. With an ionization smoke detector, steam can also cause false alarms.

Improper Maintenance

Just like any equipment or appliance, it is important to take care of your security system so that it operates as intended. Dirty sensors and weak or old batteries can lead to false alarms. To avoid false alarms caused by these reasons, one must test the batteries frequently and replace them when indicated.

Make sure to remove dust from all sensors including cameras and motion detectors. Always cover your security equipment when dusty projects are happening around the house such as construction and renovations.

Improper Installation

It is vital that the security system is properly installed to keep it working properly. Improper installation of a security system such as misaligned sensors and poorly located detectors can weaken the security and cause false alarms.

It is easy to fix false alarms caused by improper installation. When installing the system by yourself, make sure you thoroughly go through the instructions. Ensure that motion sensors are not installed near air vents. You should keep smoke detectors away from heat sources. If you are unsure of installing it yourself, get it done by a professional.

Environmental Issues

In several cases, changes in weather inside your home can activate a false alarm. The presence of objects such as decorations and balloons near motion detectors can cause false alarms. Other causes include electrical storms such as thunder and lightning and heavy winds that rattle windows and doors.

You can avoid this by keeping balloons tied to one place so they don’t float near detectors. Avoid placing motion sensors near curtains that can interrupt with suitable detection.

What to Do When a False Alarm Occurs?

If you experience a false alarm, it is crucial that you stay calm and disarm your system. You can call the monitoring center and update them about the false alarm. They will try to cancel the arrival of emergency services.

To find out the underlying cause, you need to get in touch with your security system company and update them about on-going false alarms. The company will be able to help you find the reason for the false alarm.

If the false alarm is caused due to untrained users, you can avoid this by training people on how to use the system. You can contact the alarm company to inform people and provide them with adequate training.

Simple Tips to Avoiding False Alarms

Here is a list of ways to avoid false alarms:

  • Educate and train house guests.
  • Use pen immune sensors or keep them away from sensors.
  • Know your codes.
  • Keep all windows and doors locked and secure.
  • Get the batteries replaced regularly.
  • Keep a watch for wandering objects near motion sensors.

Number of False Alarms

The Cologne study reported in 2011 that for the cities of Cologne and Leverkusen, about 3500 emergency trips were made due to false alarms. According to the findings of the Cologne police, the reason for false alarms was a generally faulty quality of the system components, DIY installations, neglect of the recognized rules of electrical engineering, improper operation, and faulty system designs.



Source: secupedia.info

Written by: Thomas L. and others

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