For many property owners in South Africa, an alarm system isn’t an option. Not only are they a decent deterrent against would-be burglars, but most insurance policies insist on them, and a non-functioning alarm could affect your chances of a successful claim should the worst happen.
You’d be forgiven, however, for wanting to turn yours off if it’s constantly going wrong. Or wanting to rip the neighbours’ from the wall if it never shuts up.
Like any technological device, alarms are prone to a few glitches. But aside from the general discomfort caused by an errant siren, the South African Intruder Detection Services Association (SAIDSA) warns that nuisance alarms waste the time of security providers who may have a real emergency to go to, and undermine faith in alarm systems themselves so the public sees them as optional.
In many countries where alarm systems are connected to police services rather than private response teams, too many false alarms over a period of time will see a system cut off from support. In South Africa the situation is more nuanced; security firms don’t want to turn customers away, and they don’t generally report the number of false alarms that occur, because that might imply that their equipment is at fault.
There are a few reasons why alarms go off falsely. A common one is the restoration of power after an unscheduled (or scheduled, for that matter) power outage in an area. Often when power returns, the surge sets the alarm off – which can be a sign of a faulty battery. But issues can also be caused by changes in the house layout itself, such as reflections from mirrors onto infrared sensors, or worn-out wiring.
“Generally, the main cause of false alarms is either poor installations that aren’t thought through, or user error,” says Sean Jammy, CEO of armed-response outfit 7Arrows Security.
Weather and environmental factors also play a role, Jammy says.
“This largely depends on the type of property, time of year and quality of the alarm system installed. Outdoor detectors in leafy gardens are prone to false alarms – especially during the daytime in winter – but internal detectors in smaller premises should never set off false alarms. Of course, electric fences will often alarm during storm conditions, too.
“Any alarm or other security system that false-alarms more than once a week should be seen to,” Jammy adds.
And one should never discount the possibility that repeated false alarms may have a more sinister cause, especially if it’s an electric fence or perimeter alert. It’s not hugely common, but some intruders will trigger false alarms to see how fast security companies respond, what your movements are, and for other information which can be useful to them.
Better safe than sorry
Sean Jammy of 7Arrows Security offers the following advice for when a false alarm goes off on your property:
If you cannot pinpoint the source of the alarm, and are not 100% sure that it is indeed false, request that your armed-response company respond. Wait for your armed-response company to arrive and thoroughly secure your premises. For this reason, it is important that your response company has full access to your premises.
However, if it is a false alarm, make sure your company knows to stand its responders down, to avoid any dangerous situation.