03/29/2010

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How to buy false alarm management products

By Tim Dees

Most law enforcement agencies list responding to alarms among their most common calls for service. Most of these are false alarms that waste resources, and absent a penalty, the alarm system owner has little incentive to fix a chronic problem. The most effective solution is a false alarm ordinance that penalizes owners of systems when the alarms are triggered by mechanical malfunction or employee error.

Few agencies are set up to track false alarms, and false alarm management systems (FAMS) handle these tasks. False alarm ordinances are generally based on one of two models:
• Alarm system owners are fined for each false alarm that exceeds a limit over time, e.g. more than two false alarms in a 30-day period
• Alarm systems are licensed by the city. Licenses are suspended or withdrawn when the number of false alarms exceeds a limit over time.

Owners of unlicensed systems are fined, or the city refuses to respond to alarms from those systems.

FAMS automate the tasks associated with both models. They create and maintain a database of alarm systems, including disarm codes, sensor locations, and contact information for owners. They issue billing and warning notices, track the payments, and maintain a count of false alarms at each premise. Most cities have hearing and appeal systems, and FAMS keeps track of those processes as well.

Some FAMS require false alarm information to be entered manually, and some interface directly with CAD software and extract it from call for service data. The latter model saves time only if the interface is reliable and bug-free. If you opt for this, ensure your CAD system is one supported by the FAMS, and insist on a real-world test.

Many FAMS are Web-based, meaning that alarm owners can log onto the system from their businesses or homes and log changes, pay bills, and see how many false alarms their system has generated. These are great when they work, but if there are glitches, your agency will incur the anger of the dissatisfied citizen. Contact other FAMS customers to get a sense of how reliable the FAMS is, and how quickly the company moves to fix problems.

A few FAMS providers will completely outsource the false alarm function, keeping a percentage of the proceeds and forwarding the rest to the city. This all but eliminates the load on your personnel, but performance is even more critical. Be cautious when selecting this option, and periodically check performance by making a call or two on behalf of an alarm owner. Satisfy yourself that the FAMS representatives are courteous, knowledgeable, and efficient at fixing whatever problem is at the root of the call.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at tim@timdees.com.

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