Alarm Ordinance in Sandy Springs
Effective June 19, 2019, monitoring alarm companies must provide True Verification through audio, video or in-person verification, and prior to calling 911. This change affects intrusion (burglar) alarm activations only. Automatic response remains for fire, duress, panic button, holdup, and medical alarm activations.
What Does Verify Mean:
"Verify or verified means visual or audible confirmation of an attempted or actual crime, fire or other emergency situation at the alarm site by means of:
a. Confirmation by the alarm user at the alarm site or via self-monitored audio/visual equipment;
b. Confirmation by a private guard responder at the alarm site;
c. Audible and/or visual evidence provided by a monitored alarm system, provided that such audible or visual evidence shall be made available to the emergency communications center prior to dispatch of the city's public safety department(s). Source: Sandy Springs Municipal Code
The verification requirement is when the building is unoccupied and can be accomplished by audio, video or in-person verification. There are varieties of systems that range from low to high cost. You may choose a self-monitored system where you maintain your traditional alarm system and pair it with a self-installed/self-monitored video system. These systems are substantially less expensive and can be monitored directly by you or a family member.
Why the Change to True Verification?
The City adopted its first alarm ordinance in 2012, with the goal of reducing the large number of false alarm calls into the 911 Center, using valuable public safety resources both in the 911 Center as well as Public Safety personnel required to follow up on false alarm calls. The original ordinance fined alarm customers for false alarms. While there was a decrease during the first year of the ordinance, subsequent years did not show any substantial decline in call volume. In 2017, with false alarm calls still averaging 10,000 per year, the City Council revised the alarm ordinance, placing fines on the alarm companies as it is the alarm company which is placing the call to 911 requesting public safety dispatch. The trend of high call volume with 99.5% of alarm calls false alarms continued. Research into cities with success at reducing false alarms showed that True Verification provided substantial reductions in false alarm calls. In June 2018, the Council revised the ordinance, requiring True Verification, providing the alarm industry with a full year to prepare for the change.
Alarm companies with customers in Sandy Springs were notified by certified mail, by email, and mention of the ordinance change is included in all correspondence sent to alarm companies related to violations of the current alarm ordinance.
The main objective of the ordinance change is to enhance the safety for all who live and work in Sandy Springs.
What Do Alarm Users Need to Know | How to Prepare for the Ordinance Change
Understand all of your options. If your current alarm provider is offering excessive charges to add video or audio monitoring or guard response, you have the option to shop other providers.
The column to the right includes a link to PC Magazine’s recent review of the Best Smart Home Security Systems. Below are a few local price comparisons. Note that the City does not endorse one product over another. Select the option/s that work best for your situation.
- UAS Security provided a quote of $20-50 per activation for guard response service.
- Ring Video Doorbells are available at Costco for $149.99. You can purchase a 10-piece Ring Alarm Wireless Kit for $239.99, which includes the base station, keypad, motion detector and 6 contact sensors. 24/7 monitoring is $10 per month.
- Nest Cameras are available for $397 at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which includes 3-indoor WiFi cameras with Google Home mini. They also offer the Canary all-in-one System for $169, which includes free cloud storage for your video and works with Alexa devices.
- Home Depot and Lowe’s also offer a variety of home security systems
(*Rates above were observed on April 5, 2019)
Answering Your Questions
The questions below originated from calls and emails to the City, with responses provided by Sandy Springs Police.
Will implementing True Verification delay police response?
- Currently, calls from alarm companies are placed as a low priority response because of their consistent false alarm rate (99% false). Under True Verification, calls will be prioritized since there will be evidence of a possible crime.
- Please be aware that there is no need for verification on an alarm when you are at home. Police and Fire personnel will ALWAYS respond to your alarm if you press the panic button, enter the duress code, have a fire alarm, or dial 911 from your home. The verification requirement is only in effect when the home is unoccupied.
My alarm company said the police are no longer responding under True Verification. Is this true?
- In talking with residents, we've heard about notices from alarm companies to contact their provider immediately to ‘ensure the police will continue responding to your alarm system,’ and that after the ordinance goes into effect, the police department 'will no longer respond to your alarm system unless you have ‘enhanced technology’ installed. This is not true.
- Sandy Springs Police will always respond to panic, duress, hold-up, medical, and fire alarms as well as 911 calls from a location. The verification requirement is when the building is unoccupied and can be accomplished by audio, video or in-person verification. There are varieties of systems that range in cost. You may also choose a self-monitored system where you maintain your traditional alarm system and pair it with a self-installed/self-monitored video system. These systems are substantially less expensive and can be monitored directly by you or a family member.
Do outside cameras satisfy true verification? I don't want the intrusion of cameras where I have motion detectors. I can turn cameras off when I am home, but then I am not protected.
- The ordinance does not require cameras to be installed specifically inside, outside or located in a specific location. The requirement is the verification of evidence of criminal activity. Cameras are one method of verification.
- Depending on the features of the property and the desires/needs of the property owner, cameras, if chosen as a verification method, may be placed wherever they will allow someone to monitor activity in and around the property. Many cameras are motion activated, so they can replace traditional motion sensors. A system that pairs cameras (with or without motion detection) and perimeter sensors are also a good combination. Choose what works best for you and your situation.
How does audio verification work?
- When a motion detector or door alarm picks up motion in the house, the monitoring company can ask the homeowner through an audio system if everyone is ok. If the monitoring company does not get the desired response but hears noises such as breaking glass, footsteps, whispering, thumping/rummaging around, etc., that is considered a verified alarm. Dead silence does not fit the definition of verified because it would not be possible for a burglar to be completely silent.
The mailer I received says fire alarms have to be True Verified - is that correct?
- The fire department will always respond to residential fire alarms. General Commercial Fire Alarms or Unknown alarms with NO keypad pull station, water sprinkler activation, water flow, CO/Industrial alarms will require true verification.
Won’t the added requirements hinder my alarm company, jeopardizing my safety?
- An activated intrusion (burglar) alarm is not an indication of a burglary, since more than 99% of these activations are false – a nationwide statistic. Burglary rates are impacted more by the lack of time officers have to engage in proactive police work than an alarm response program. By adding audio, visual, or in-person verification, you and your alarm company will be better able to determine if the alarm activation was the result of a potential break-in or simply the cat walking across a windowsill.
- Importantly, the technology for audio and video verification is available today, even for the individual homeowner to secure and place on his own. In fact, many alarm companies already offer these services.
The goal of true verification is to reduce the number of false alarm calls made to the 9-1-1 center. If public safety spends less time responding to false alarm calls, they will be able to focus on responding to actual crimes, patrolling neighborhoods, and working within the community – enhancing the community’s safety.
To have complete coverage means multiple cameras, which means a large added expense.
- Each location is different and will have different needs. There are many options to accomplish the goal of reducing false alarms. Many alarm companies are quite adept at designing effective systems without creating unnecessarily high expense. You also have the option to use a self-monitored video system, such as Ring or Nest. You are encouraged to work with your alarm provided to find a solution that will work for your situation.
Has the current ordinance been in place long enough to make the True Verification decision a necessity?
- The City of Sandy Springs adopted an Alarm Ordinance in late 2012, with the Ordinance going into effect in 2013. The expectation was that the Ordinance would reduce the very large number of false alarms necessitating a response from Sandy Springs Police and Sandy Springs Fire. In the first year, there was a decrease of approximately 17%; however, that rate of decrease slowed substantially in the following years and leveled off - no further substantial decreases. The call volume remains quite high - about 18% of ALL calls to the emergency 911 center are false alarms. Additionally, the false alarm rate is currently consistent at 99.5% false. The issue of false alarms is not limited to Sandy Springs. It is a nationwide problem that the alarm industry does not dispute.
If criminals know that police are not coming without confirmation, won't it attract more criminals to our area?
- Studies show that the mere presence of an alarm system - usually indicated by some type of signage - is an effective deterrent. Also, the criminal does not know if someone has heard the alarm siren and called the police, or if a private guard responder service is being used. Typically, burglars stay inside a home for 2-5 minutes, then flee. Under our current system, the average time to handle a call from a monitoring company is 4 – 8 minutes, and because 99+ percent of calls from monitoring companies are false alarms, they are low priority calls, meaning police may not arrive at an alarm activation site for 20, 30 minutes or more. With True Verification, the crime in progress is verified with those calls receiving top priority.
The City Council has changed the policy since the Ordinance was first adopted. What is not working?
- The original 2012 Ordinance followed recommendations from the alarm industry, with the City assessing fines to alarm users for false alarms. In 2017, the Ordinance was changed to no longer fine alarm users for false alarms, but to fine alarm companies (a practice common in some western U.S. cities as well as in most parts of Canada). Because of the historically high false alarm rate, the alarm company has the duty to verify an activation as an indicator of a bona fide crime, rather than just a sensor activation, before requesting public safety response. Additionally, the ordinance put in place fines to the alarm companies for failing to abide by a 2013 State Law requiring that alarm companies must at minimum, attempt to verify an intrusion alarm (panic, duress, hold-up, and fire alarms are exempt) by calling two phone numbers to the alarm owner prior to requesting police dispatch.
- Although we saw a slight reduction in alarm calls immediately after the change, false alarm call volume remains high, and the false alarm rate remains at more than 99%. In response, the alarm ordinance was later further amended to require intrusion alarms to be "verified" by audio, video or private guard response. An unverified alarm is not eligible for police response. Panic, Duress, Hold-up, Medical, and Fire alarms do not have to be verified. This change reflects a model that several cities in the western U.S. have implemented with success. Cities like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City have had verified response policies in effect for many years. In these markets, there was a drastic reduction in false alarm response - in some cases, as much as 90%, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing public safety to spend more time in areas where crimes are occurring - all without an increase in the burglary rate.
I pay taxes, so shouldn’t police always respond to my alarm calls?
- Public Safety will always respond to any individual who calls 9-1-1 to report an emergency. However, having a monitored alarm system is a personal choice and a private contract between the alarm company, a for-profit company, and alarm user for a private service. Less than 20 percent of homes within the city use monitored alarm systems, meaning 84 percent of the city’s homeowners are subsidizing a minority number of homeowners with an extra police service that they themselves do not receive. It can be easily construed that the alarm industry, by default, is contracting government services without approval. The alarm company is not able to promise public safety response for an intrusion alarm sensor activation.
- In addition, alarm companies experience a 99+ false alarm rate, which diverts public safety personnel from focusing on true crime and public safety initiatives, not a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Won’t these changes make my alarm fees go up, possibly preventing me from being able to have an alarm system?
- Technology advances have progressed making it possible for individuals, as well as alarm companies, to add audio and/or video capabilities as part of home and business monitoring services. These tools help alarm users distinguish a sensor break as a faulty sensor or real emergency, and many alarm companies already advertise these capabilities. Property owners have choices related to self-monitoring or using an alarm monitoring service. As evident in other markets which have employed true verification, the marketplace adapts to the needs of the community.
Alarm Services & Monitoring
A basic alarm system typically consists of motion sensors placed within a building. A break in one of the system’s sensors sends a signal to the primary control panel. “Monitoring” is a secondary add-on service which is intended to report malfunctions or abnormal conditions for alarm company repair and services.
Alarm systems are often used in residential and commercial properties for what customers perceive as detecting intrusion or unauthorized entry. More than 99 percent of calls from monitoring alarm companies are false alarms, a statistic that is consistent across the country. An estimated 18 percent of all calls into the City’s 9-1-1 center come from alarm companies. This high percentage of false alarms results in a financial cost to the public and threat to public safety by the unnecessary diversion of public safety resources.
We understand that by using an “alarm system,” you are looking out for those you care about. Advances in technology now make it possible for audio and/or video activation, which enable the ability to better assess whether an intrusion alarm activation is a burglar in the building or simply a faulty sensor in need of repair. In addition, systems today can be self-installed and monitored; installed and monitored by a third-party company, or a combination of both.
The main objective of the ordinance change is to enhance the safety for all who live and work in Sandy Springs. Following a model used by cities including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Detroit, adding the requirement to provide either audio, video or in person verification has drastically reduced the false alarms reported into 9-1-1.
What Can You Do to Help Reduce False Alarms
Major causes of false alarms:
- Unlocked or loose doors/ windows
- Children, Neighbors, and Visitors
- Cleaning Crews/ Repairmen/ Pet Sitters
- Pets or other wildlife
- User Error
- Equipment Malfunction
Before you activate your alarm system:
- Are you and others who use the security system fully educated on its proper operation? This may include domestic/cleaning crews, children, neighbors, caretakers, employees and temporary staff.
- In determining the two contacts required by the State of Georgia for Enhanced Verified Response, consider carefully those contacts – who is the best person to help your alarm company determine if an activation merits a police response. Also, be sure to have your monitoring company’s phone number saved in your phone, so you recognize the number should they call you.
- Make sure you securely close and lock all protected doors and windows.
- If you are leaving your home or business, make sure the door you leave by is closed tight.
- Keep pets, balloons, fans, heaters, etc. away from motion sensor areas.
- Know and rehearse the process to cancel an accidental alarm. Anyone with your key should know this process.
- Know how much time you have after you arm your system to leave and to disarm your system when you enter.
Know what to do if you set your alarm off accidentally:
- First, don't panic. Carefully enter your disarm code to reset your system.
- Wait for your Alarm Company or central monitoring station to call, give your password or ID card number.
- Do not leave your home or business until you have talked with your monitoring station! If they do not call you, have the number posted by your control panel and contact them to cancel the police dispatch.
- You can arrange to have your alarm monitoring station call you or another designated person first before the police are called whenever your alarm is activated.
- If you are aware of a problem with the system, you can cancel the police dispatch.
DO NOT call 911 to cancel alarm activations--you must call your monitoring station.
Avoid objects that trigger your alarm:
- Unlocked, loose-fitting, or open doors or windows. Always keep doors and windows locked when the alarm is in an "ON" mode to reduce the chance that friends, neighbors or customers enter and cause the alarm to activate.
- Unsupervised pets - If you have pets, take special care to purchase an alarm system that is tolerant of pets. You may not want to purchase motion detectors if your pets have free run of the house when the alarm is on. Also, sometimes barking dogs can activate glass break detectors.
- Balloons that move can cause motion sensors to go off.
- Drafts that move plants and curtains.
At your business:
Watch for these pitfalls that may activate your alarm:
- Swinging doors or windows
- Banners or signs
- Mylar balloons
- Plants or curtains caught in drafts
- Stacked items, such as boxes, which may fall, setting off motion detectors
- Unsupervised guests
- Untrained, unaware or uncaring employees
- Alarm equipment, such as motion sensors or overhead door magnets, being hit by forklifts
Enhance your alarm system’s potential:
- Ensure that anyone authorized to use your alarm system is properly trained in its usage.
- Use deadbolt locks.
Contact your alarm company:
- If you plan any improvement or renovation projects, such as changing phone systems, reconfiguring a room, adding a wall, rearranging cubicles, installing skylights or ceiling fans, or even fumigating.
- If you plan to change your alarm system batteries. This can cause an interruption in your system’s power supply which may trigger an alarm activation.
- Also, alert your alarm company if you hire domestic help or acquire a pet.
CryWolf Services, Inc. is the alarm administrator for the City of Sandy Springs. An Alarm Company can register the company or any of its customers by calling 1-855-725-7101. Under the City of Sandy Springs False Alarm Ordinance, the Alarm Company is responsible for registration of its customers. Alarm Companies are defined as individuals, companies or other entities engaged in the business of planning, installing, servicing, maintaining, repairing, and/or monitoring alarm systems.
Under the False Alarm Ordinance, alarm companies working with customers located within the City of Sandy Springs must be registered with the City. In addition, the Alarm Company must complete an alarm permit registration application for each of its customers.
Companies which monitor alarm systems, but do not install alarm equipment, are considered Alarm Companies and must register its customers in accordance to the Alarm Ordinance.
In accordance with State of Georgia law, Enhanced Verification is required, meaning the alarm company has attempted telephone verification using the two resources provided by the alarm company's customer. Alarm Companies are required to maintain a record of all calls to the 911 Center, including the date, time of the call, the location of the alarm, and the name, address and phone number of the alarm user.
Violations of the Alarm Ordinance & Fines
Fines for false alarms are assessed to the Alarm Company, not the individual alarm user.
Alarm Companies are billed directly for all false alarm fees. The fee structure is designed to recover the costs of public safety dispatch and response by the City.
Administrative Fines include failure to register an alarm company or alarm system and improper paperwork. A full list is below.
False Alarms are those calls made by an Alarm Company to the 911 Center in which public safety personnel are enroute to a property location in which the call proves to be unfounded. Cancelled alarms where the alarm is cancelled, but the officer has already checked the premise, are also considered false alarms. An alarm which is cancelled prior to the officer being sent to the premise is not considered a false alarm.
Calls made to request public safety dispatch without state-mandated verification conducted prior to the request for dispatch are administrative violations which disqualifies an alarm for response in addition to a fine to the alarm company.
Alarm Companies are not restricted from passing along false alarm fines to its customers. Alarm users are encouraged to understand their Alarm Company’s policies and procedures related to false alarms and assessment / payment of fines when entering an agreement with the Alarm Company.
The following are the false alarm and administrative assessments:
1 False Alarm
2 False Alarm
$150.00 per occurrence
3 False Alarm
$250.00+ property address is placed on non-response status for 12 months
False Alarm Fine for Automatic Response to Panic | Duress | Hold Up | Fire - $250 per occurrence
Failure to register alarm company and/or provide the City with a list of all current alarms in operation within city limits
Failure to notify City prior to putting an alarm in operation
Failure to timely notify alarm administrator of changes to list of alarm users
Failure to verify activated intrusion alarm
Failure to maintain or present records
Installation of non-recessed holdup alarm button
Response is always provided for panic, duress, hold-up and fire alarms.
Alarm Companies may appeal an assessment of a false alarm fine or permit suspension to the Alarm Administrator by submitting in writing the reasons for the appeal within 30 days of the date of the notice sent.
Appeals should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to: PO Box 102117, Atlanta, GA 30368-2117.
Please include alarm company name and permit number, the alarm customer’s name and permit number, alarm location, date of the false alarm, reasons for the appeal, and any supporting evidence. An appeal form is available for the alarm company to use in filing by the City’s administrative vendor, CryWolf.
Alarm users assessed fees by their alarm company need to appeal those fees directly to the Alarm Company. An alarm user can work in cooperation with its alarm company by providing information which can be used in the appeal filed by the alarm company. It is suggested that the alarm user check with the alarm company regarding false alarm policies, including a non-payment policy, pending an appeal of a false alarm.
Click here to view the Appeals Flow Chart
On June 19, 2018, the Sandy Springs City Council approved changes to its False Alarm Ordinance as indicated in the attached document. The changes update the definition of “verified” to mean visual or audible confirmation of an attempted or actual crime, fire, or other emergency situation at the alarm site by means of: 1. Confirmation by the alarm user at the alarm site or via self-monitored audio/visual equipment; 2. Confirmation by a private guard responder at the alarm site; or 3. Audible and/or visual evidence provided by a monitored alarm system, provided that such evidence shall be made available to the emergency communications center prior to dispatch. This change in definition will move the City to a model of full, confirmed verified response through audio, video, or in-person verification.
The ordinance provides that the definition change becomes effective on June 19, 2019 to allow alarm users and alarm companies time to adapt to the new model. All other provisions of the attached ordinance would became effective immediately upon adoption.
Other changes to the ordinance requires alarm companies to notify an alarm user when the user’s system has been registered, to provide users with the appropriate permit number, and to require alarm companies to copy the city on notifications to alarm users when service is suspended for an alarm company’s failure to meet the requirements of the ordinance.
On May 1, 2018, the Sandy Springs City Council approved a change to Section 18-36 of the City’s Code of Ordinances related to Alarm Permits. When an alarm company has its permit suspended for noncompliance with the Ordinance, the alarm company MUST PROVIDE WRITTEN NOTICE TO ITS CONTRACTING ALARM USERS, notifying them that the alarm company is no longer entitled to request public safety department response to activated intrusion alarms. Failure of the alarm company to notify its customers as provided shall result in a suspension of the alarm company’s permit for a total of three (3) months following the alarm company coming into full compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance.