Chapel Hill to require permits for alarms

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

  • Need to know

    Chapel Hill will roll out new security and fire alarm rules Jan. 1. A six-month grace period will give property and homeowners time to register and check that their systems comply with the rules before the town starts to levy fines for false or accidental alarms.

    In part, the rules state:

    • Alarm users must get a town permit by Jan. 15, 2014, for new alarms and, thereafter, within 10 days of activating a new system

    • Registration must include user identification, alarm system specifications and the names of two people who can respond if the alarm is activated

    • If the property is sold, the new owner must get a new alarm system permit

    • Audible security alarms must automatically reset after 15 minutes; it does not apply to fire alarms

    • Responding officers will determine if there is a violation and alert their commander and the property owner; town staff will handle appeals

    • A graduated series of fines, starting at $100, will be levied for four or more false alarms within a 12-month period or failing to respond to an alarm within 30 minutes

    • Alarm users who do not register their system with the town face a civil penalty of $100

    • If fines are not paid within 30 days or a user has more than 10 false alarms in 12 months, the Police Department will stop responding except in cases of robbery, hold-ups and panic alarms

— The town will require business and property owners next year to register and get a town permit for their fire and burglar alarms.

Under new rules approved Monday, the town also will fine people with four or more false alarms in 12 months.

The Town Council unanimously backed the move to reduce the number of false and accidental alarms. About 95 percent of the 1,200 fire and 3,600 burglar alarms the town responds to each year are false, accidental or unfounded, Police Chief Chris Blue and Fire Chief Dan Jones said. The calls cost the town roughly $200,000 last year, officials said.

Security alarms require two police officers to respond, while the Fire Department musters up to 10 firefighters and three or four trucks – about half of the town’s on-duty force at any one time – to answer a call. Each call takes about 17 minutes to answer on average, officials said.

Registration is free and will begin by Jan. 1, Blue said. An official rollout will start soon with information about how to register, he said. They don’t know yet how many people will be affected, he said.

The register will help police and firefighters locate alarm owners and identify systems with more problems than others, Blue said. The findings could be shared with the public in a future report, he said.

Jones said roughly 128 UNC campus alarm systems generate a significant number of false alarms. UNC buildings will face the same rules and fines, and UNC officials are working to head off potential problems, he said. In two years, they have cut the number of false calls by roughly 20 percent through upgrades and education, he said.

There’s also a lot of repeat offenders, he said.

“Someone can have a legitimate problem; they get it fixed, it’s over with,” Blue said. “It’s the ones that keep going off, going off. They’re not getting it fixed or they’re not coming back at night to check their business when a police officer or firefighter is having to stand by to wait.”

The program will need a full-time manager for at least the first year but will not cut the town’s required fire and police staffing needs, officials said.

Grace period

Everyone will get a six-month grace period – until July 1 – to register their alarms and learn about the new rules.

Those who don’t register or who rack up four or more false alarm calls in 12 months will be fined $100. Additional false alarms will bring higher fines, and police could stop responding, except in certain situations, to properties that have more than 10 calls in 12 months.

Several North Carolina towns have implemented false alarm rules and fines in the last decade.

Durham’s 2005 ordinance is one of the few that requires residents and businesses to register their alarm systems. More than one false alarm a month can bring fines, and the police chief can disconnect a system, revoke its permit or require repairs and an inspection if there are more than four calls in a month. The charge is $10 if an alarm system has not been registered.

Raleigh approved similar rules in 2004. The city does not require property owners to register their alarm systems, but two false alarms in one year can bring a fine and a required inspection. After four false alarms, the alarm company must modify the system or provide more user training. After eight alarms, or if the property owner fails to pay previous fines, police can stop responding to all but panic-button alarms.

Jones said anyone installing or upgrading their alarm system should be sure their company can meet the new standards, which includes a 15-minute automatic reset. The reset clause does not apply to fire alarms.

“We don’t want to make this so punitive that it discourages the use of alarms, because they do serve a purpose in the community,” he said. “We felt if we were too restrictive or too penalizing, it would actually make people think secondly about having a system.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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