Dozens of false alarm calls for fire, police and emergency services have resulted in the city of Humble setting a new penalty schedule.
While homeowners 65 and older are exempt, others in the city will see a first-time repeated offense bring a $50 fine. Repeated false alarms will cost up to $200 each.
City Manager Jason Stuebe told council members at the June 24 meeting that calls for service have shot up to a nearly 100% false rate.
“In 2020, the firemen responded to 290 calls; however, 284 were false alarms. Also, emergency response personnel also responded to 1,900 burglaries, holdups, or general panic situations, 1,417 of these numbers were also false alarms,” Stuebe said.
After looking at the data, council members agreed to ordinances to mitigate future false activities by billing insurance companies and charging residents based on a modified number of false alarms in a one-year period in hopes of changing trending numbers.
Stuebe added, “Modifying these ordinances will allow us to get a better grasp on these situations and enable us the ability for improved tracking. Therefore, leading to overall improved service to the community.”
“Nearly every (if not every) city in Harris County and really nationwide has both alarm permits and charges for excessive false alarms. We always have as well, we are simply reducing the maximum number of false alarms before penalties get issued,” he said later.
Is this false alarm rate similar to other towns?
Stuebe said later that the national average of false alarms is right around 98%.
“We are right in line with that on the fire side and a little below that on the burglar/panic/hold-up side,” he said.
The false alarms Stuebe addressed with the council are only those alarms which are electronically generated by permitted alarm systems. They do not include false alarms due to 911 calls / misuse of the 911 system.
Stuebe said the city will continue to give free grace alarms before the penalties begin.
“Under the new ordinance, you receive three “free” false alarms per year; previously this number was five. The new number is more aligned with other cities and norms. After the third alarm, it is a tiered penalty depending on both the type of alarm generated and the number of alarms in a 12-month period,” he said.
The city manager acknowledged the high cost to the city budget that results from hundreds of false alarms.
“There are several studies out there with regard to the costs of false alarms but a good point of reference is the City of Houston, which estimates that on the police department side, a false alarm costs approximately $131 and $300 on the fire side. More importantly, in my opinion, are the non-monetary costs of false alarms. In regards to false burglar/hold-up/panic alarms, it is more about taking a unit effectively out of service as it responds to a false alarm when it otherwise would be patrolling or responding to other calls — thus potentially increasing call response time, etc. The same could be said for fire — though I would add, fire apparatus in and of itself is quite expensive and rolling that equipment out unnecessarily increases wear and tear on the equipment,” he said.
The fees are not new to Humble.
“The only other comment I would add is, this is nothing new — we have had alarm permits and have been charging for excessive false alarms since the early 1990’s. It was just dated and needed updating,” Stuebe said.
The council voted to amend its current policy of implementing penalties after five false alarms in one year, to now three false alarms in a single year.
According to Stuebe, after three false alarms, the following penalties will be implemented effective immediately:
Burglary-related residential and commercial false alarms response: 1-3 false alarms are $50 each; 4-5 $75 each and 7 or more will be $150 each.
Fire-related residential false alarms and holdup or panic-related residential and commercial alarms response: 1-3 false alarms will be $75 each while 4 or more have a $150 fine.
Fire-related commercial false alarms response: 1-3 false alarms will be $150 each and 4 or more $200 each.
Permits for residences will now be $25 annually, although waived for those 65 and older. Commercial permits will be a $50 annual fee.