What responsibilities do alarm users have to reduce false alarms?

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Why are false alarms a problem? 

False alarms take police and firefighters away from real emergencies. In 2005, the Appleton Police Department responded to over 1000 false alarms. While legitimate alarms have, on occasion, helped with the apprehension of criminals, the Appleton Police Department has NEVER apprehended a criminal while responding to a FALSE alarm. While most business and homeowners with alarm systems are responsible and take steps to eliminate unnecessary police response, in 2005 there were 19 locations with nine or more false alarms. Over 95% of all alarm activations are false. 

Some communities require that alarm users obtain permits for their alarm system. Is this required in Appleton? 

Probably not. The only alarm users that need to obtain a permit are those do-it-yourselfers who install or use their own alarm systems and have contracted with a central alarm monitoring station, without using another alarm business, or have the alarm set up so that passerby’s will notify the police when they see or hear the alarm signal that was activated. The ordinance is designed to place the responsibility on the alarm businesses to ensure that the equipment they install will not result in false alarms, that the business representative provides verbal and oral instructions to the alarm user on how the alarm system works and how to prevent false alarms, that the central alarm monitoring station meets professional standards and uses enhanced call verification procedures, that the central alarm monitoring station has accurate and current information on how to contact the right people who can determine the validity of an alarm prior to police dispatch, and that the central alarm monitoring station has accurate and current key holder information. 

Will I get in trouble if I contract with an alarm business that does not have a permit with the City of Appleton? 

No, the responsibility is on the alarm business to have the proper permit. However, if you have installed or use your own alarm system and have contracted with a central alarm monitoring station, without using another alarm business, or have the alarm set up so that passerby’s will notify the police when they see or hear the alarm signal that was activated, then you need to obtain a permit from the City. 

What are my responsibilities as an alarm user? 

It is important that you work closely with your alarm business to prevent false alarms. They will provide you with information and training on how to properly activate and deactivate your alarm system and most likely will set up a pass code that you will use when contacting the central alarm monitoring station. It is important that ALL employees or family members at the alarm site know the correct alarm procedures. 

Another responsibility you have is to make sure that your alarm business has current and accurate information of how to contact one or more responsible individuals in the event that the alarm does go off. With enhanced call verification, the central alarm monitoring station will try to reach someone at the alarm site to determine if there truly is an emergency or if the alarm is false. If they can’t reach anyone at the site, they will attempt to call others on their list prior to requesting that the police are dispatched. Enhanced call verification can only be effective if the central alarm monitoring station can reach a person responsible for the alarm site 24 hours a day. A cell phone number for the business owner or manager, or the homeowner, may provide the best means for reaching a person responsible for the alarmed premises. 

You also are responsible for providing your alarm business with information of key holders for the alarm site. This may be a business owner, manager, custodian, homeowner, neighbor, or other responsible person who has a key and access to the building and is willing and able to respond to meet the police at the alarm site to determine if there has been criminal activity or other reasons that the alarm was activated, and then to reset the alarm system. If no key holder responds within a reasonable period of time and there does not appear to be any problem at the alarm site, the police will not remain on the scene. 

What is Enhanced Call Verification? 

Under enhanced call verification, also known as multiple call verification, the central alarm monitoring station operators call the customer premises and then, if necessary, a second customer-provided phone number, such as a cell phone, to attempt to verify an alarm before law enforcement is called. Communities that have implemented this procedure have seen significant reductions in false alarm dispatches. This is also a good way for business or homeowners to prevent needless requests for police services, thereby avoiding unnecessary false alarm fees. 

Currently, most central alarm monitoring stations make only one call, usually to the alarm premises, before calling the police to dispatch. Many false alarms are generated when employees arrive for work in the morning, but they don’t answer the business phones that early so a call from the central alarm monitoring station will go unanswered. Also, when an alarm is activated by an employee or homeowner leaving as they lock up the building, the central alarm monitoring station will call the premises, but of course there is no answer because there is no one left on the premises. 

By making a second phone call, preferably to a cell phone, the employee or homeowner can to contacted to verify that the alarm is false and the police are never dispatched. 

Enhanced call verification or verified response procedures are not required for hold-up, duress, panic, or fire alarms. 

What is Verified Response? 

Verified response means the alarm business or its representative has verified the legitimacy of an alarm at the scene through independent means such as witness verification, live listening devices or live video monitoring. The most common example of verified response is a business or homeowner that has contracted with a private security firm who will send trained employees to the alarmed premises when an alarm is activated. They will only contact the police department when they visually verify that criminal activity has occurred or is presently occurring. The Appleton Police Department does not recommend or support private individuals who do their own building checks in response to an activated alarm. This is a dangerous activity. 

Verified response is an acceptable alternative to enhanced call verification, but is not required. 

Will I be charged a fee for a false alarm? 

Yes, if the police department responds to a false alarm you will be charged the following within a calendar year: 

First two false alarms... no charge 
Third, fourth and fifth false alarms... $75.00 
Sixth, seventh, and eighth false alarms... $150.00 
Ninth, tenth, and eleventh false alarms... $300.00 
Twelfth and subsequent false alarms... $600.00 
Furthermore, in cases where the alarm user has 12 or more false alarms within a 6 month period the Police Department may suspend response until the user submits written confirmation to the Chief of Police or designee that the alarm system has been inspected and repaired, if necessary, and/or additional measures have been taken to reduce the number of false alarms at that location. 

Under what circumstances would a fee not be charged if my alarm goes off? 

No fee would be assessed if the alarm was set off due to criminal activity, some other legitimate emergency (i.e. someone has a medical emergency and their only way to obtain help is to activate the alarm system), a power outage over four hours, or damage to the building caused by weather (i.e. during a severe storm, a tree falls on the roof and sets off the alarm). Your alarm system should have a battery backup and other protection that prevents false alarms during electrical storms and brief power outages. 

How do I appeal an alarm fee if I believe I should not have been billed? 

You can contact the Alarm Administrator, in writing, at the Appleton Police Department. 

Once officers are dispatched to respond to a false alarm, a false alarm form/bill will be generated. If the alarm is cancelled prior to the time that the officers arrive, they have no further obligation to respond. The bill for cancelled alarms may only be appealed with proof that enhanced call verification or verified response procedures were properly used. Your alarm business should be able to provide you with this written documentation from the central alarm monitoring station. All alarm appeals must be received within 10 business days after notification of the assessment of a fee. The current Alarm Administrator is: 


Lt. Kelly Gady

Appleton Police Department 

222 S. Walnut St.

Appleton, WI 54911 
920-832-5553 (fax) 


What if the bill for an alarm fee is not paid? 

Any fees payable to the City that are delinquent may be assessed against the property and will show up on the property tax bill. 

How can I reduce false alarms? 

Work closely with your alarm installer to purchase a system that meets your needs. For example, a home with pets may not be a good fit for a system that uses motion sensors. Be sure to read and understand the owner’s instruction manual for the alarm system and share the information with all employees or family members who have access to the alarmed building.

Other tips to follow include:

  • Educate all users on how to properly activate and deactivate the alarm and make sure they know any pass codes. Businesses and schools should train new employees and provide frequent refresher training.
  • Routinely check the battery back-up system and perform any other needed maintenance.
    Keep operating instructions near the keypad.
  • Secure all doors and windows.
  • Remove moveable objects from the field of detection of motion detector sensors. Advertising banners, balloons, paper blowing due to ventilation systems, rodents, and flying insects have all been causes of false alarms.
  • Keep your contact information current with your alarm company so that the central alarm monitoring station can call you or someone else from your contact list to determine if the police should be dispatched.
  • If you do set off your alarm by accident or even think you set off your alarm unintentionally, call your central alarm monitoring station immediately to cancel the alarm. Do not call 911.
  • Have your alarm business check the sensitivity of all alarm sensors and perform periodic maintenance on your system.
  • Contact your alarm business if your alarm goes off for no apparent reason.
  • Additional tips can to obtained from your alarm business or checking websites, such as the False Alarm Reduction Association, www.faraonline.org.