Although false alarms may be seen as merely an inconvenience or a nuisance, the truth is that they have a very real cost. Just look at Hawaii, where residents were sent into hysteria after receiving a false missile alert on their mobile phones earlier in the month. Hawaii is now working to fix its alarm monitoring and alert system but, aside from causing widespread panic, false alarms can have a detrimental impact on resources.

In some areas, false emergencies account for around half of all incidents attended by fire services. These occurrences can not only be a huge drain on fire department resources, but can also take vehicles and personnel away from genuine emergencies. So what causes these false alarms, what is the true extent of their cost, and what can be done to reduce how often they occur?

What causes false fire alarms?

False fire alarms can occur for a whole host of reasons. Some of the most regular causes include a fire-like phenomenon (such as a cigarette) triggering a smoke detector, accidental damage to the detector and where system has not been maintained for some time. This can lead to issues in a working environment where staff may not have been adequately trained in fire safety. Many incidents also occur as a result of deliberate vandalism. 

How much do falsely triggered fire alarms cost?

The most obvious cost of false alarms is to fire brigades; each call-out takes a fire engine and a number of firefighters out of service. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), each callout costs £1,970 on average to a local fire department.

Many regional services have reported staggering budget wastes because of this. Such callouts cost Yorkshire Fire Brigade Union around £8m a year, with roughly 23,000 false alarms being set off in the area during the 2015-16 financial year. Meanwhile, fire services in the Highlands reported a five year cost of £17.5 million, and firefighters in the North East and Cumbria responded to more 28,000 false calls over two years, at a cost of £11 million.

With government cuts already hampering the resources of such a vital service, the added cost of these incidents can be detrimental. This is especially true when you consider that these calls can also interrupt staff from going on training days or attending community safety initiatives.

However, what is most frightening about the prevalence of false alarms is the danger that they pose to the public, as they can prevent firefighters from reaching those who genuinely need help. Furthermore, it needlessly increases the chance of a traffic incident occurring as a result of fire engines speeding to an emergency. Undeniably, more needs to done to prevent these incidents from taking place so frequently.

 What can be done to prevent false alarms?

 Although fire services now have the power to charge those who persistently raise false alarms, the onus is on property owners to ensure that such incidents do not occur. Here are some of the ways that this can be achieved:

  • Only use accredited installers and suppliers of fire safety equipment.
  • Ensure that your fire alarm is regularly checked and maintained, and keep records of when this last took place
  • Consider investing in an alarm monitoring service, which can provide fast response to any security systems being activated and can then inform the fire services if there is a genuine fire. This prevents fire services from attending a property in the event of a false alarm.
  • Make sure that fire alarms aren’t positioned near to smoking areas.
  • For businesses, make sure your company’s fire and security regulations are up to date, assigning a designated person to be responsible for fire safety, and that all employees are educated in proper fire safety management.
  • Keep manual alarm call points covered, to reduce the chance of an activation, accidental or deliberate.

False alarms go way beyond being simple nuisances, and can have truly damaging consequences for fire brigades, disrupting the vital service they provide for the public. This is why it pays to ensure that the risk of these incidents is reduced.