False Alarms and Alarm Fatigue

We are living in a very edgy world right now. COVID-19, especially in the U.S., has turned everything upside down. Demonstrations are happening in our streets and the upcoming election is sure to produce more passions and tensions throughout the country. false alarms

Adding to the edginess is something many people may not be aware of: more and more people are starting to experience what is now referred to as “alarm fatigue.”

Alarm fatigue is caused by nuisance and false alarms.

Those most impacted are working in hospitals (probably the edgiest places in the country right now), research and data centers, as well as in colleges and universities.

However, false alarms are happening every day in the United States in not only these but many other types of facilities. Further, they are taking a huge toll on staff and building administrators, as well as costing U.S. organizations – such as police and fire departments – thousands if not millions of dollars annually.

But before exploring this topic further, let us define what a nuisance or false alarm is.

A nuisance or false alarm is the result of someone or something triggering an alarm that is unwarranted. In other words, there is no reason for the alarm.

In commercial facilities, some of the most common causes of these false alarms are the following:

  • Smoke alarms are placed too near heating vents.
  • Smoke alarms are installed in place of heat detectors.
  • Dust alarms may trigger an alarm just because an HVAC filter has recently been changed.
  • The wrong type of wiring and cable is used for some electronic devices; for instance, burglar alarm cable may have been installed instead of cable designed specifically for fire alarm systems.
  • Lack of electronic maintenance, service, or supervision.
  • Manual fire alarms are pulled by accident or intentionally.

The toll of alarm fatigue has even been documented in a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics. While the study was focused on pediatrics, it is relevant to all departments in a medical setting. In fact, it can apply to all types of facilities.

It referenced findings that found “frequent false alarms lead to reduced attention or response to alarms when they occur.”

In a hospital setting, this means that nurses and staffers begin to ignore the alarms. “Nurses likely develop the expectation that most … alarms are not important and prioritize other routine care tasks above responding to alarms.”

This can be the worst impact of all and have serious repercussions. What we are discussing here not only may be a nuisance issue but can be a building security issue as well. What if a false alarm is ignored when a serious event – a break-in, a theft, a fire – is occurring?

What can happen is that false alarms create a “mindset” that every alarm is a nuisance alarm; when this happens, an entire array of challenges can materialize that can and often do threaten entire organizations as the mindset builds.

To help prevent this, here is what we suggest:

  • Develop an alarm response program. Know what steps to take – and who is to take them – when an alarm is heard.
  • Remind staffers to never assume an alarm is “nothing.”
  • Always assume some type of intrusion or condition has materialized that threatens the facility until prove otherwise.
  • Make sure administrators have an “emergency call list” and “call-out” lists. These would include local police and fire departments, hired security services, as well as top administrators.
  • Designate certain staffers to have access to building passwords and security codes.
  • Use common sense. Overreaction to an alarm can be just as bad as no reaction. Treat an alarm as something that must be attended to carefully, methodically, and thoroughly to ensure the safety of the entire facility.

Finally, it may be necessary to call in corporate security professionals to evaluate the facility and the situation. False alarms can be serious, dangerous, and costly. Let us help you put an end to them. Talk to Us.

As always, we value your feedback, which helps us shape our perspective on recent events, security, and the services we offer.

Stay safe,


Johnathan Tal
Chief Executive Officer
TAL Global
O: 1-408-993-1300

© TAL Global, 2019