This article originally appeared in The Call.
Unverified alarm notifications are plaguing law enforcement and other emergency-response agencies nationwide—but a new approach to analyzing them offers a potential solution.
By Frank Fernandez, President of Blueprints 4 Safety (B4S) Strategies Group, and John Chiaramonte, ENP, Consulting Division President of Mission Critical Partners
For more than a century, since the earliest pioneers in alarm monitoring began connecting their customers to public safety agencies, the task of separating false alarms from real emergencies has been a persistent challenge. On one hand, thousands of lives and millions of dollars in property are saved every year because of public safety’s response to monitored alarms, ranging from structure fires and carbon monoxide incidents to home/business invasions and burglaries/robberies. On the other hand, most alarms are unverified, and many turn out to be false. That creates a serious conundrum for the public safety community—respond or not?To answer this vital question, the public safety community traditionally has erred on the side of caution by responding to unverified alarms. The theory is that it is far better to respond and not need to save a life than to not respond and lose one. However, public safety agencies today receive more 9-1-1 calls and operate with fewer staff than at nearly any time in recent history. Continuing to support communities with high rates of alarm notifications that may turn out to be false alarms is becoming more problematic. Consequently, some agencies have stopped responding to unverified alarms.
Most agencies, however, still respond to alarms without any additional details or verification. This is distressing not only from the perspective of responder effectiveness but also safety and operational efficiency. When officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are dispatched because of a false alarm, they are placed at unnecessary risk. For example, vehicles responding to an incident occasionally are involved in accidents; in some cases, first responders (or even civilians) have been seriously injured or killed. This exposes the agency and the municipality it serves to liability-related lawsuits totaling millions of dollars.
In addition, responders have been conditioned to think, based on experience, that when they are dispatched to an alarm call, that no "real" incident is occurring (i.e., a false call). The result is that a level of complacency sets in—which is exactly the wrong mindset to have while en route to a potential emergency. It is imperative that our responders are prepared and focused upon arrival.
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