Quiet-List 1997

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Strategies for False Burglar Alarm Noise

========== disclaimer follows message, please read ====================

On Sun, 25 May 1997 06:24:54 -0400 (EDT), 
Sorrento95@aol.com  <Sorrento95@aol.com> wrote:

>At the time I am starting to write this
>note, it is 5:05 AM Central Time. I  have
>been awake for more than an hour, and
>will not be able to sleep in my house
>possibly for the remainder of the weekend.
>This is because of a loud faulty burglar alarm... 

  I have to get in on this one.  But I'd like to shift the focus 
slightly to keep the emphasis on ideas for action.  I hope 
"quiet-list" can be a resource for ideas as well as a sympathetic 
sounding board about noise pollution.      
  First off, here are my three personal experiences with false  
burglar alarms.  Two at businesses, one at a residence.
  When I lived in Staten Island, New York, I deliberately moved near a 
hospital in hopes that the quiet zone (a sign on the corner read 
"QUIET ZONE: $125 PENALTY FOR HONKING") would make for a quieter 
neighborhood.  To some extent it did.  Between my apartment and 
the hospital was a small clinic with a burglar alarm which would go 
off just about every other weekend at around two o'clock in the 
morning.  The first couple of times, I let it go.  I didn't presume it 
was a false alarm.  But when it kept happening I decided to act.  The 
first thing I did was to find out *exactly* where the alarm was.  It 
was easy enough to follow it to its source.  Then I got their phone 
number and called during business hours to make a complaint.  My call 
was given to a building maintenance supervisor.  At first he seemed 
puzzled as to why I was concerned, but (thankfully) it came to him.  
"Oh, I see.  You're a neighboor.  Well, we want to be a good 
neighbor if we can."  He then gave me the phone number of their 
security company and asked me to call if it happened again.  Of 
course, it did.  When I called the security company said  "Thank You.  
We'll look into it."   Well, the false alarms continued with the same 
regularity. I continued to call the security company every time and 
kept getting the same answer.  On one particular false alarm I decided 
I'd go down to see if anyone would actually show up to check it out.  
Pretty soon a Staten Island precinct squad car did arrive.  Of course 
I was immediately a suspect, but once we got past that, I explained 
that these false alarms had been going on for a long time, how 
annoying they were, how it must be a nuisance to them as well, what I 
had been trying to do about it and did they have any advice?  But they 
didn't seem to grasp the idea that there was anything wrong.  Perhaps 
they had become so accustomed to this routine that it seemed "normal" 
whereas my behavior seemed "abnormal".  
  The next (and last) time there was a false alarm I again called the 
security company, but this time I was blunt and to the point.  After 
reminding them how many times I had called and how patient I had been, 
I said I was fed up and if it didn't stop I was going to do something 
drastic.  That finally did it.  
  My second encounter with false alarms came after I moved to 
Michigan.  The alarm at a realtor's office a quarter-mile away 
kept going off.  One Sunday afternoon there was a false alarm and I 
rode my bike down to check it out.  I found a squad car with a few 
people standing around it.  Here you get a certain number of "free" 
false alarms before you get fined, but I'm sure its fewer than ten 
every six months.  But regardless, I knew that unless there was a 
*record* of every false alarm, there wasn't going to be any fine and 
the false alarms weren't going to stop.  So I insisted the officer 
make an incident report which I could follow up on.  I discussed the 
noise issue with him as I had with the police on Staten Island, but he 
maintained that the only reason for the false alarm fines was out of 
consideration for the police!  That is, to cut down on time wasted 
responding to false alarms!  He seemed oblivious to the fact that 
the people standing around his car had shown up from all over the 
neighborhood because of the noise.  He must have thought they were 
simply attracted by the presence of a police car and were just curious 
to find out what was going on.  An hour or so later I went by again 
to get the address and company name.  I saw someone up on a ladder 
apparently disconnecting the alarm.  It may have been the owner, but I 
doubt it.  At any rate, there were no more false alarms. 
   My other experience was with a neighbor a few houses down.  The 
alarm went off about 8:30 am.  I went there and found a very shaken 
cleaning woman who had set it off and didn't know how to stop it.  We 
put our heads together and decided to call the owner at work who then 
talked us through the procedure for turning it off.  The owner was 
grateful for my assistance, and it never happened again. 
  On the whole, I doubt there is ever any malicious intent with false 
alarms.  Perhaps "arrogant apathy" in a few cases, but more likely 
carelessness and neglect.  I feel certain that if even a fraction of 
the total number of people who were annoyed by the false alarms could 
and would just communicate their annoyance to the owner, that alone 
would take care of most cases.  So, turning "could" and "would" into 
"can" and "will" seems to be the key.  On the surface, that implies 
empowerment and motivation, but I think it also means we need to 
become more involved with our neighbors.  T.V. and our consumer 
society have so distanced us from one another that we are lucky if we 
know more than a few of our neighbors.  When you know your neighbors 
you can discuss things from the basis of a prior understanding.    
   Awhile back the opening to a David Letterman show had Dave's 
monologue interrupted by a false car alarm.  With camera's following, 
he left the studio, went down to the street and located the car.  
Then he borrowed a gun from somebody, perhaps a policeman, and shot 
through the hood until the alarm stopped.  The punch line was "Don't 
you wish it worked that way in real life?".
   Now I wouldn't endorse Letterman's method, but I think it shows 
that many people *are* fed up with noise from false alarms, if they 
would only make themselves heard.
   Based on my experience, I would offer this advice to anyone 
wanting to deal with false burglar alarm noise.  

   (1) Find out *exactly* where the alarm is and go there.  Note 
       the street address, business name if any, location of the 
       alarm on the building, make of alarm, etc.  Try to remain 
       anonymous if possible, in case (only as a last resort) 
       extreme action is required.          

   (2) Make a complaint, anonymously if possible.  A phone call or
       an unsigned letter with no return address are a couple of 
       methods that come to mind.  Be polite but firm.  Avoid 
       profanity or insulting language as this may limit your options
       if further action is required.  

   (3) Encourage others to complain, but continue to remain anonymous
       unless you can find at least one other sympathetic and        
       committed person who will stand with you.  Empower others 
       to complain by supplying them with contact information on  
       the alarm owner such as address and (if possible) phone 

   (4) Press your local government for laws and the necessary         
       enforcement.  Be prepared for a long wait.

   (5) Extreme action (last resort).  Personally, I've never had to
       go this far, but there are times I've considered it.  With 
       a recalcitrant owner of a persistently false burglar alarm, I'm 
       basically talking about sabotage.  This can, of course, be 
       extremely dangerous.  Not because of possible legal penalties 
       (I doubt any authority or owner would bother to prosecute 
       without actual evidence of intent to commit burglary)        
       but because of the potential for violence from the owner.  
       In this regard, businesses will probably be easier to deal 
       with than residences.  Choose a method using the least 
       possible violence.  Act during daylight if possible and don't 
       hang around.  Remember, these are burglar alarms and aren't 
       supposed to be easy to disable.  My favorite fantasy is 
       a squirt of expanding quick-drying foam insulation into the 
       speaker grill.  

David Staudacher - quiet@igc.org

   The preceding opinion is entirely my own and not necessarily that 
of Right to Quiet or any other subscriber on this list.

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