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What’s the Difference Between a False Alarm and A False Dispatch from my Fire Alarm Monitoring or Commercial Security Alarm System?

police fire false alarms security alarm systemAt FMC we receive thousands of signals on a daily basis from our fire alarm monitoring and commercial security alarm monitoring systems, and are required to make calls to customers and the relevant police and fire departments as a result.  In the course of our day dispatching alarms from commercial security alarm systems and fire alarm monitoring systems, it becomes clear to us that the term “false alarm” and “false dispatch” are terms which are synonymous to most of our customers.  To us, though, these terms are two very distinct terms with very distinct meanings when speaking about your commercial security alarm monitoring system or fire alarm monitoring system.   We’d like to break these terms down for you so we can communicate more effectively:

False Alarm

A false alarm from a security alarm monitoring system or commercial security alarm monitoring system is an alarm generated from the system which did not have a valid cause.  In the case of a security alarm monitoring system, this can include events such as a motion detector being tripped by an animal or environmental condition, a door which maybe improperly secured, or an improper disarming of the commercial security alarm system.  All of these events generate signals to our monitoring station which our operators must act upon.  This is in contract to a signal from your commercial security alarm monitoring system which was generated from an actual intrusion event or break-in attempt.  In these instances, the alarm signals aren’t “false” as they’re performing the action that they were intended to perform.

A false alarm from a fire alarm monitoring system can be generated from a system which is improperly maintained (either the fire alarm monitoring system OR the fire alarm system/sprinkler system), someone activating a pull station as a “prank” in a building, so work being performed in the building which accidentally trips the fire alarm system.

So, when we’re talking about a “false alarm”, we’re talking about the actual signals which are generated from the fire alarm monitoring or commercial security alarm monitoring system and received at our ULC-listed Signals Receiving Station.  Next, we’ll deal with the idea of “False Dispatches”.

False Dispatch

A false dispatch is the action performed when  one of FMC’s operators act on a false alarm from your fire alarm monitoring system or commercial security alarm monitoring system and dispatch the relevant authorities to your facility.  Thus, where a false alarm is the receipt of a signal from your system, a false dispatch is the dispatch of the relevant authorities as a result of a false alarm to your site.

For your commercial security alarm monitoring system, this mean the dispatch of police to your location for an alarm which is not valid. False dispatches from your commercial security alarm system can come as a result of improper call procedures, improper or outdated call lists. At FMC, our goal is to mitigate the dispatch of police to your location wherever possible to those security alarms which may be valid. We do not wish to waste the police’s time with alarms which are not valid, and create a “boy who cried wolf” type of scenario with our commercial security alarm monitoring systems. We want police to be doing what it is they are good at – Serving and Protecting, versus attending to false alarms from commercial security alarm systems. We encourage our customers to utilize “Enhanced Call Verification” on all typical security zones, which involves an attempt to verify the alarms on site prior to the dispatch of police.  Enhanced Call Verification has been shown to reduce false dispatches of police by up to 60%, and this is significant, when you consider that upwards of 98% of all police dispatches to security alarm systems are false.

For fire alarm monitoring systems, the prevention of false dispatches is trickier, as there is no ability for FMC to verify alarms prior to dispatching.  CAN/ULC-S561 states that all fire alarms received (when not placed on “test” beforehand) must be dispatched within 30 seconds without verification.  OPEN ACCESS™ can be used to satisfy this time requirement, as well and reduce response times from your fire alarm monitoring system by upwards of 2 minutes.  There are a couple of ways to mitigate the receipt of false alarms, however.  One would be to regularly maintain your fire alarm, sprinkler system and fire alarm monitoring system in accordance with relevant codes, including regular annual inspections of the fire alarm monitoring or fire sprinkler monitoring system.  As well, ensuring that systems are placed on test prior to commencing any work on site will help reduce the likelihood of a false dispatch of the fire department (in this case, while on “test”, any valid alarms would need to be called into the fire department by those on site).

We have compiled 8 Ways to Reduce False Alarms in this blog post, and have more detailed information on Enhanced Call Verification in this blog post.

We hope this clears up some confusion over the terms false alarm and false dispatch from your commercial security alarm monitoring system and fire alarm monitoring system.  If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!

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