Alarms In The Workplace

Written By: Joel Council
A large number of us working in facilities such as offices, suites, or buildings, have electronic alarms that safeguard the location. Alarms are an excellent way to guard a facility and deter burglars by monitoring the situation and notifying an alarm response agent or the local police department. In 2013, the Ventura County Sheriffs reported 210 commercial break-ins. While alarms are an excellent way to combat commercial burglary, care and caution must be taken in properly handling these systems. This note focuses on your becoming more familiar with your system, alarm procedures and response, and cutting down on the opportunities to create costly false activations.

False activations
A False activation is where an alarm is tripped unnecessarily when there is no criminal or suspicious activity. About 98% of Ventura County burglar alarm activations are false due to such factors as animals, power outages, and employee mistakes. Response can be costly if the false alarms start piling up. Alarm response from an agent will normally be a set amount per visit. Alarm response from a local police department is usually billed to the facility in a tiered system, and can run into hundreds of dollars per visit if the alarm is activated under careless circumstances. Historically, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark have used the disconnect list, placing locations on this list after a number of false alarms have been accumulated in a year; and Oxnard and Ventura have required the use of a permit to operate an alarm system with businesses becoming subject to fines and misdemeanors if they fail to fix a faulty alarm. Annually, authorities waste hundreds of thousands of dollars in responding to false alarms each year.

Know your system
If you work where there is an alarm, and you are authorized to use the system, get to know it. Sometimes you may be the last one out or the first one there. Maybe a fellow worker or a custodian accidentally trips the alarm. Sometimes the building will be armed while there are still people working. Whatever the reason, you need to know the procedures for the system. This will usually include an alarm company phone number, unique employee ID, a code, and a password used in verifying your authorization.

Keep the system secure
Alarm system information is highly confidential and should not be written or recorded in a location where anyone can access it. This is like leaving a key under your doormat. Anyone, including criminals and unauthorized employees, could access your facility if you leave this information unsecured.

Know your emergency procedures
If the alarm system has been accidentally tripped, you will want to contact the alarm company immediately. Providing employee ID and password information will usually suffice to identify you to the alarm company and cancel alarm response. If you are unable to contact the alarm company or properly identify yourself, it is assumed you are an intruder and response will occur.

In the event an alarm agent or police officer shows up, make yourself available. Do not hide in the facility. If you are unable to stay, notify your facility responsible party of the situation. It is better to take responsibility for the activation than to try to cover it up. Alarm agents either work directly for the alarm company, or will be a locally contracted security company with an armed / unarmed patrol driver. They will want to identify who you are. They should ask for your ID, take down your information, and verify that you are an actual employee / authorized party of the facility. Keep in mind they do not know who you are, and have a job to do in securing the safety of the facility.

Stay safe
If you are an authorized party who receives notification in the event of an alarm activation, use caution. The majority of alarms are false, but there is a chance it is a crime in progress. The last thing you are going to want to do is charge into a building and come face to face with an armed assailant. If you respond to the location, look around carefully including the area surrounding your facility. Look for such things as people or vehicles hanging out in the area, signs of vandalism or forced entry, open or unsecured doors, etc. Even if the facility appears to be undisturbed, criminals a lot of times like to come in through the roof. It is important to make sure that ladders and access points are kept secured. In almost all cases, especially if something unusual is found, it is best to call the local police. They have weapons and dogs and will clear the facility for you. Do not put yourself at risk.

Use your system
While I was on patrol one night, I was listening to the police scanner. An alarm call went out for a local school after a motion alarm in the Admin building had been set off. Police responded to the location and discovered arson in progress. A criminal had started a fire in the Admin building and was still at the scene. Fire was called, the blaze was put out, and the criminal was arrested. Alarm systems are great tools in securing a facility, but are useless unless you turn them on. If the alarm had not been activated in this situation, the school could have burned down, and the criminal gotten away.
In addition, a lot of alarm key pads and systems are set up with an emergency button that can be silently pressed to request help from the police. If you encounter a potentially dangerous situation such as a belligerent subject or strange people hanging outside the door, this alarm option can be used. Find out what additional features your system may employ to guard your safety.

Finally, responsible parties need to ensure that the system is tested regularly, that it is working properly, that authorized party lists are kept current, and that the system is activated when the facility is not in use. If you observe anything with the system not working properly, notify your responsible party immediately.

Types of activations
Some of the different types of activations you could run into include activations from motion alarms, burglar alarms, weather, and opening / closing alarms.

Motion Alarms
Motion alarms are set off by, you guessed it, motion. Alarm systems are sensitive and depending on this sensitivity, can pick up movement from something much smaller or different than a human. Things to consider with motion alarms are situations such as rodents and air conditioners left on. Air conditioners left on can blow around objects such as balloons and streamers, causing multiple alarm activations. An exterminator should be called if there is a rodent problem. Limit the movement that can be prevented in a false alarm.

Burglar Alarms
Burglar alarms can be activated by either motion, glass break, or some other form of entry. If receiving notification of a burglar alarm, the party should be especially careful in dealing with the situation. Do not hesitate to call the police for assistance.

High winds and inclement weather are notorious for causing alarm activations. Different situations such as water leaks, jolting of doors and windows, breaking of doors and windows, etc. can all trip the alarm. Be aware of this and pay attention to the weather conditions.

Opening / Closing Alarms
A lot of facilities will provide opening and closing times to their alarm company. This means that if someone comes in too early, or stays too late, an alarm will be activated. Be aware if you have set times you are authorized to be at your facility. If you are working other than these times, you will most likely need to receive permission from your facilities responsible party. Make sure this responsible party follows up with the alarm company if different working hours are required.

Exercising care and caution with your alarm system, getting to know it, and reacting correctly in an activation or emergency will go far to cut down on the number of false activations and ensure your facility is properly guarded in combating commercial burglary.
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