The first half of 2016 has seen a significant decrease in the number of accidental alarms responded to by Chapel Hill Fire and Police departments.
In October 2013, the Chapel Hill Town Council passed an ordinance aimed at reducing the number of accidental security and fire alarms by increasing penalties, encouraging people to register their alarms and improving public education on the issue.
With 95 percent of calls to public responders in 2012 classified as accidental, the police and fire departments combined responded to 4,880 alarms at a cost of $197,613. During the first two quarters of this year, the town reported 413 and 468 accidental alarms, respectively, totaling 881 calls between both departments. This is an 11 percent decrease compared to 2015, according to the town’s website.
Despite the slight increase in calls in the second quarter, the overall decrease is positive for the town.
“We feel that the accidental alarm program has made some impact on reducing our response and costs associated with unnecessary accidental alarms,” Deputy Fire Chief Matt Lawrence said. “We anticipate that over time, this trend will become more apparent.”
Responding to an accidental alarm places a large strain on the already limited resources the town has to respond to a real emergency, he said.
“Any one false or accidental alarm commits and ties up half of all of our town fire resources,” Lawrence said. “Our goal is to have our fire companies in their response areas, ready for quick response to any true emergency call within Chapel Hill.”
Lt. Mitch McKinney, a spokesperson for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said the first three false alarms at a particular address do not result in a fine. After that, the fines increase with the number of alarms.
For four or five accidental alarms, there is a fine of $100. Six or seven alarms is a fine of $200, and eight or nine alarms results in a $300 fine. Ten or more alarms leads to a $500 fine for each additional alarm.
“We sometimes have an uptick during the beginning of fall semester or spring semester with college students as they are moving into town,” McKinney said.
Construction and special events like Halloween can also increase accidental alarms, he said.
UNC junior Andy Logan agrees that fining residents for multiple accidental alarm calls is reasonable.
“It makes sense because it wastes emergency services’ time if they’re responding to false alarms,” he said. “Residents should pay close attention to when their alarms are set.”