Police and fire officials are reminding the community that it’s time to register all alarm systems, both residential and commercial, in Chapel Hill, per a new town ordinance.
It’s free to register, but if you don’t by July 1, you’ll have to pay a penalty. Too many false alarms will equal fees as well.
“Legitimate alarms, of course, we want to go to. It is the accidental alarms that take up a lot of our time and tie up equipment and people unnecessarily,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
The goal of the program is to track the number of accidental alarms, which have caused public safety officers problems in the past.
Blue said that research revealed Chapel Hill police officers and firefighters were responding to about 5,000 alarm calls each year. About 95 percent of those calls were accidental alarms, which were proving to be costly for local law enforcement and more importantly, tying up public safety resources.
“Educational campaigns and problem-solving efforts to reduce those activations has not been effective,” Blue said. “We’ve reach out to people. We have tried to help them mitigate their problems, but we still see numbers in the thousands [of false alarms] every year.”
That’s why Blue worked with Fire Department Chief Dan Jones to establish the ordinance, which was passed by the Town Council in October of last year.
The Town will begin tracking the number of accidental alarms on July 1. Fire and Police alarms will be tracked and counted separately.
People who don’t register their alarm systems by the July 1 deadline will face a $100 penalty.
If a registered alarm user has four or more accidental alarms during a 365 day period, it will result in a series of graduated fines, ranging from $100 to $500 for each violation.
Fee schedule for accidental alarms:
1 – 3: No fine
4 & 5: $100 each
6 & 7: $200 each
8 & 9: $300 each
10 + : $500 each
“The goal here is not to send bills out or to generate revenue. The goal is to reduce emergency response unnecessarily,” Blue said.
Matt Lawrence, CHFD Deputy Fire Chief, said that this ordinance does apply to UNC.
“We’ve work very closely with both the University and the hospital to work through their interests and what their concerns were and moving toward solutions to make our response to their locations better,” Lawrence said.
Blue said that the fees from the program will help to offset the cost of the third-party vendor, Cry Wolf, which will handle the registration process and track the number of false alarms through its software. Municipalities such as Durham and Burlington already have similar programs.
“The good news is other than the staff time to do the research on the ordinance, there really haven’t been any significant costs,” he said.
Notable: In 2012, the Police Department responded to 3,630 alarm calls at a cost of $75,213, per the Town’s research. In 2012, the Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to 1,250 alarm activations at a cost of $122,400. Police Department routine alarm responses include at least two officers while Fire Department response include three to four fire apparatus with up to 10 firefighters.