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False alarms waste precious time

If you want to know how big a problem false alarms are for police and fire departments, listen to a scanner for a few days. A constant stream of automated alarm calls from residences and businesses comes in to dispatch, and almost all of them are triggered errantly. It’s a drain on resources that even small towns like South Lake Tahoe must grapple with, at the same time resources have spread fire and police staffing thin.

In resort towns, the problem is amplified with the number of second homes protected by fire and burglar alarms. A proposed alarm ordinance that would fine home and business owners for multiple false alarms is a sensible solution that will help cut down on false alarms, and give emergency personnel back a lot of the response time lost on bad calls.

According to the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, officers responded to 1,396 burglar alarms in 2003. Just 16 of those calls involved suspected criminal activity – that’s .01 percent. Police conservatively estimate each call costs the department $33.63 per alarm, or $41,800 a year.



The ordinance, if approved by the South Lake Tahoe City Council next month, would levy fines of $50 for a third false alarm in a 12-month-period, $100 for a fourth, $150 for a fifth, $250 for a sixth and $275 for the seventh. The fines are not designed as a revenue source for the department, but rather an incentive for home and business owners to fix the problems that lead to false alarms. Circumstances beyond the control of a home or business owner that trigger alarms (such as stormy weather) would not be fined.

Automated alarms are a safe way to protect homes and businesses, especially for absentee owners, but false alarms threaten everyone’s safety by diverting limited resources. Passing the ordinance will help to ensure emergency workers are not wasting precious time.


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