7 Steps to Reducing False Fire Alarms

Education, technology, regular maintenance and the appropriate discipline of pranksters are just some of the ways you can begin to address this problem.

False/nuisance alarms continue to be a thorn in the sides of university, school and hospital protection professionals. Whether false/nuisance alarms are caused by burned popcorn, shower steam, lack of maintenance, poor system design, careless contractors or pranksters playing a practical joke, there is nothing amusing about them. Campuses that don’t address this issue run the risk of wasting precious public safety resources each time an officer is dispatched to check on yet another red herring. Additionally, students, patients, faculty and staff stop taking fire alarms seriously when a fire alarm system regularly goes into alarm needlessly.

Here’s how you can reduce the number of false and nuisance alarms on your campus.

1. Appropriately discipline pranksters: Because 8.5 percent of false U.S. fire alarms are malicious or mischievous (NFPA 2008), addressing this matter can have a big impact on the overall number of false alarms. Having clear and fair discipline policies is the first step. During orientations, students should be informed of the penalties of malicious false alarms.

Paul Martin, who is chief of fire prevention for the New York State fire marshal’s office and president of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, believes in a zero tolerance approach for colleges. “If you find someone guilty, deal with them through a judicial affairs program on campus, but don’t downplay it.”

Some universities widely publicize the arrests of those who maliciously activate fire alarms. This is done to warn others who might be inclined to pull similar pranks.

For K-12 schools, the type of discipline imposed depends on the age of the culprit. “Every time we have an alarm pulled, that person is turned over to the fire department, and the age and cognitive abilities of the child determines whether they are charged criminally or if we put them in one of the fire safety diversion programs,” says South Western City Schools REMS Grant Project Director Gary Sigrist Jr.

2. Apply peer pressure to discourage bad behavior: Martin says schools that are most successful at eliminating malicious false alarms are those that have rewards programs for students who self police. After all, it’s the students who suffer most as a result of these pranks – they are the ones who must evacuate class while taking an exam or are awakened in the middle of the night.

“Make sure [pranksters] realize that their peers won’t tolerate it, let alone campus administration,” he adds. “Peer pressure can be so helpful in modifying those behaviors.”

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass), for example, gives a $500 reward to students who turn in classmates who have maliciously set off an alarm.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety HQ