The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday June 6th

Town Council cracks down on false alarms

Chapel Hill police and fire departments want to crack down on false alarms, and they got help from the Chapel Hill Town Council Monday night.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance that will fine all Chapel Hill buildings and residents after a third false alarm call causing fire and police dispatch.

In other news

During its meeting Monday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council:

  • Received an update from the UNC Assistant Vice Chancellor of Facilities Operations, Planning and Design Anna Wu and UNC Healthcare Senior Vice President Mel Hurston on the Carolina North project
  • Approved two special use permits for a five-story hotel and an apartment complex. The Council also approved a multiuse permit for the village core in the Southern Village development
  • Received the Main Campus Development Report from UNC

“Accidental alarms can be the result of alarm malfunctions, as well as human and environmental errors,” said Fire Chief Dan Jones.

“Depending on the size of the building, around three to four fire vehicles and 12 firefighters are dispatched. This ties up our city’s resources when our officials have to respond to false alarms.”

Council member Donna Bell said false alarms are issues that Chapel Hill will have to deal with as long as the technology is as vulnerable to human error as it already is.

Although fire and police officials want the approved ordinance to encourage repeat offenders to fix the problems with their alarms, they don’t want to discourage business owners and citizens from using alarm systems, Jones said.

The council also addressed the extent to which UNC would be held responsible under the ordinance.

Jones said UNC will be treated the same as all other commercial businesses in town, meaning the University will also be subject to the fines.

Council member Lee Storrow asked if the University would be fined when alarms go off in unnecessary circumstances, such as when popcorn is burned and there is no eminent threat to safety.

“These circumstances are always regarded as good intent alarms and not false alarms because actual smoke caused the fire head to go off,” Jones said. “However, if someone pulls the fire alarm as a prank and firefighters are dispatched, it will be considered a false alarm.”

Storrow asked how multiple alarms going off in one building would count towards the first three unpenalized false alarms.

“Alarm systems have to be set up for the entire building,” Jones said. “Sometimes they are sectored off but they still have to act as one alarm for the entire building.”

Jones said the fire department talked to University officials about reprogramming the fire alarms to alert only the students in the dorms rather than alerting the fire department when just one head is set off, such as when a blow drier causes an alarm to sound.

This would reduce the number of fire dispatches from the University, which is around 1,200 each year.

“If a single head is activated, it will only alert people in the immediate area. If a second head goes off, it will alert us and we will come.”

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