1. What is the Alarm Program?
The Police and Fire Department will respond to alarm calls that originate from a residential or business alarm system; however, responding personnel do not know when an alarm is activated by an intruder, an actual fire, or by mistake (false alarm). Responding to false alarms takes time and resources away from responding to other emergency incidents. Each year, the Police and Fire Department respond to thousands of alarm calls where over 95% result in a false alarm.
In an effort to reduce the number of false alarms within the City of West Covina, revisions to the existing Alarm Program were needed through adoption of Ordinance No. 2335 (Police Alarm Systems) and Ordinance No. 2336 (Fire Alarm Systems) at the March 6, 2018 City Council Meeting. These revisions were necessary to increase safety and efficiency, reducing Police and Fire Department responses to false alarms through public education and training. The goal of the ordinances is to create a balance between the use of Police and Fire Department resources to respond to alarm calls while holding the alarm monitoring companies accountable for alarm system installations and the alarm system owners accountable for the operation and maintenance of their alarm system.
The revised Alarm Program requires both residential and commercial alarm system owners to register their Police Alarm System and Fire Alarm System by applying for an alarm permit ($10 per year). Alarm system owners with both a Police Alarm System and a Fire Alarm System are required to register each alarm system separately. To learn if you are required to register for an alarm permit, please review the section below ("Alarm Systems that require an Alarm Permit").
To accomplish the goal of reducing false alarms and educating the community, the City of West Covina has partnered with PM AM Corporation (PM AM) to manage the Alarm Program through their False Alarm Management and Reduction Solution (FAMS) platform. PM AM will be responsible for educating alarm owners on proper maintenance of their systems, facilitating the permit registration process, false alarm billing, appeals, and providing customer support.
Here is a document that provides helpful information about the Alarm System Program. Here is a letter explaining the legitimacy of correspondence mailed by PM AM to addresses that have registered a false alarm in the past.
2. What is a false alarm?
A false alarm occurs when a security system or fire alarm is activated when there is no emergency - whether it is activated willfully, unintentionally, negligently or inadvertently. It also includes an alarm system that is activated due to mechanical or electrical malfunction.
3. What are the most frequent errors that cause false alarms?
- Accidental activation by cleaning crews, new employees, children, house sitters.
- Failure by business to notify alarm monitoring company of unscheduled openings/closings.
- Failure to secure doors and windows once the alarm is turned on.
- Failure to train authorized users.
- Faulty equipment, keypads, batteries, panels, detectors.
- Improper installation of equipment.
- Not requiring the alarm monitoring company to notify persons on the contact list before calling the Police Department or Fire Department.
- Using incorrect keyboard codes.
- Wandering pets.
Police Alarm System: means a device or series of devices, which emit or transmit an audible or remote visual or electronic alarm signal, which is intended to summon a response from the Police Department. The term includes hardwired systems, surveillance cameras and systems interconnected with a radio frequency method such as cellular or private radio signals, and includes Local Alarm Systems, but does not include an alarm installed in a motor vehicle or a system which will not emit a signal either audible or visible from the outside of the building, residence or beyond, but is designed solely to alert the occupants of a building or residence.
Fire Alarm System: means a system or portion of a combination system consisting of components and circuits arranged to initiate fire alarm signals, annunciate these signals, provide monitoring (if required) of alarm and supervisory devices and to provide for automatic notification and response to these signals by the Fire Department.
5. Alarm Systems that require an Alarm Permit
An annual permit costs $10 per year. Annual permitting allows responding Police and Fire Department personnel to have a "complete picture" of the location they are responding to, by providing immediately accessible information on the location, the contacts that reside or work at the location, special characteristics of the location (pets, guard dogs, on-site hazardous waste or flammable materials, etc.). This type of information allows for a safer, more efficient response. In addition, alarm permits allow the Police and Fire Department to more effectively track the alarm history of a location so they can proactively reach out to provide educational information to prevent future false alarms. Alarm permits allow the resident or business owner to remain current when new residents move in or when commercial tenants change. As part of the alarm permit registration process, the alarm system owner will be required to list at least two responsible parties that can respond to the alarm site to secure it if the alarm system owner is unavailable.
Alarm system owners with both a Police Alarm System and a Fire Alarm System are required to register each alarm system separately. Regarding what types of alarm systems require an alarm permit, please see below:
Police Alarm System
- Residential home (single or multi-family) with a monitored Police Alarm System.
- Commercial business with a monitored Police Alarm System.
Fire Alarm System
- Commercial business with a monitored Fire Alarm System.
- Multi-family residential complex with a monitored Fire Alarm System (note: this applies to the building complex, not the individual units).
- Residential care facility or group home with a monitored Fire Alarm System (note: this applies to the facility and not the individuals who live within the facility).
- Residential (single-family or multi-family) smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that are not part of a required Fire alarm system (per the California Fire Code) are not required to register for an alarm permit.
6. Alarm Permit Information
To facilitate a smooth transition for alarm system owners, the City will provide a grace period until February 1, 2019 to allow alarm system owners time to register for an alarm permit for their Police Alarm System and/or Fire Alarm System. The mandates set forth by Ordinance No. 2335 (Police Alarm Systems) and Ordinance No. 2336 (Fire Alarm Systems) include registration requirements as well as fee and fine schedules. The fee and fine schedules for Police Alarm Systems and Fire Alarm Systems are found here.
For both Police Alarm Systems and Fire Alarm Systems, alarm permits cost $10 per year and are valid for 12-months from the issue date and must be renewed annually. This time period is considered the "12-month registration period." Alarm permits cannot be transferred from one location to another or from one person to another. For alarm system owners that register an alarm permit, the 1st false alarm fine will be waived if the alarm system owner completes an alarm awareness class within 30 days from the invoice date. To learn more about the alarm awareness class, please review the section below ("Alarm Awareness Class").
All false alarms will be accumulated and will be charged in the 12-month registration period. The false alarm counter will reset to zero at the end of each registration period. In case an alarm system owner does not register an alarm permit and is assessed a false alarm fine, the alarm system owner will have 30 days from the false alarm invoice date to register an alarm permit (which will reduce the fine amount from the unregistered fine schedule to the registered fine schedule). The alarm system owner will then have an additional 30 days from the date of registration to complete the alarm awareness class to receive a waiver of the 1st false alarm in the 12-month registration period.
7. How to Register an Alarm Permit
Alarm permits are not provided by the City. To register an alarm permit, an alarm system owner should contact PM AM online, over the phone, or by mailing an application. Below you will find more details about each option. Alarm system owners with both a Police Alarm System and a Fire Alarm System are required to register each alarm system separately.
The City has established websites for Police Alarm Systems and Fire Alarm Systems through the PM AM platform. Please visit the websites listed below to learn more information and to register for an alarm permit.
For Police Alarm Systems, please visit: www.famspermit.com/WestCovinaPolice
For Fire Alarm Systems, please visit: www.famspermit.com/WestCovinaFire
To register for an alarm permit over the phone, please contact PM AM Customer Support for assistance during their normal operating hours (Monday - Friday, 6:30am - 3:30pm Pacific Standard Time).
If you call either toll-free number outside of the normal operating hours, you will have the option to press 1 (to pay your bill) or press 2 (to leave a voicemail). When you leave a voicemail, please clearly state your name, call back number, and the reason for your call. Upon receiving your voicemail, a PM AM representative will contact you within 1-2 business days.
For Police Alarm Systems, please call the toll-free number: (888) 421-9155
For Fire Alarm Systems, please call the toll-free number: (888) 339-5538
To register for an alarm permit via the mail, please download, print, and mail the applicable application to PM AM:
In case you don't have access to a printer, please call PM AM Customer Support at one of the toll free numbers listed above and request that a paper application is mailed to your address.
After filling out the application, please follow the instructions on the application and return the completed application along with your payment to PM AM.
8. Alarm Awareness Class
The alarm awareness class allows alarm system owners to learn about false alarm prevention strategies and complete a test to ensure the alarm system owner understands how to prevent future false alarms. Upon successful completion of the alarm awareness class, alarm system owners with a registered alarm permit will have their 1st false alarm fine waived in the 12-month registration period.
To access the alarm awareness class, alarm system owners can visit either of the websites listed above and select "Online Training" from the top toolbar.
9. What do the Alarm Program fees and fines pay for?
The Alarm Program fees and fines will provide a cost recovery mechanism for the reasonable costs of administering the program including: responding to alarm calls, educating alarm owners (online alarm school); a hosted online portal (to apply and pay for annual alarm permits); tracking false alarm calls by location; billing alarm service fines and fees; sending false alarm warnings; updating alarm user permit status; software development and maintenance; software hosting; managing accounts that go to collections; managing suspensions, reinstatement's, and appeals; provision of an agency administration portal (real-time access to incidents, permits, billings, and a variety of reports); a dedicated toll-free number staffed by the alarm vendor (PM AM) to answer questions from the public; postage costs; public awareness initiatives; document processing, and other related duties. The Police and Fire Department's goal is to significantly reduce the amount of false alarms while educating the alarm system owners about proper alarm maintenance. The fee and fine schedules for Police Alarm Systems and Fire Alarm Systems are found here.
10. Other Important Information
All commercial locations, multi-family residential complexes or residential care facilities that are required to have a Fire alarm system (per the California Fire Code) are required to maintain an alarm permit. This language applies to the building or facility owner and not to the individual tenants.
Residential (single-family or multi-family) smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that are not part of a required Fire alarm system (per the California Fire Code) are not required to register for an alarm permit.
The Police Alarm System ordinance offers a senior discount because the ordinance applies to single-family and multi-family residences where seniors may live. The Fire Alarm System ordinance does not offer a senior discount because the ordinance does not apply to "dwelling units" as defined by the California Building Code which includes single-family or multi-family residences except those that are required to have a separate Fire Alarm System per the California Fire Code.
11. How to prevent False Alarms
The goal of the Alarm Program is to reduce the number of false alarms to which the Police and Fire Department respond to, thereby freeing up limited resources to respond to other emergency and public safety calls. Since over 95% of alarm calls result in a false alarm, the most effective way to reduce false alarms is to educate alarm system owners how to prevent false alarms. Below are some tips how to prevent false alarms.
- Before activating your system:
- Lock all protected doors and windows.
- Keep pets, balloons, fans, heaters, plants, curtains, seasonal decorations, etc. away from any motion sensor areas.
- Know how to cancel the alarm if the system activates.
- Educate alarm system users:
- Ensure all users, key holders or any person with legal access to your property must be thoroughly trained in how to operate your alarm system, including knowledge of correct arming codes, pass codes, telephone numbers and procedures for canceling accidental alarm activation's.
- Have your security company check and service your system regularly (routine maintenance can help prevent many false alarms).
- Notify your alarm monitoring company if:
- Your alarm system is not working properly.
- You plan any remodeling, including replacing doors or windows, hanging drywall, sanding floors, installing attic flooring or basement ceiling, changing phone systems, installing intercoms, siding, ceiling fans or skylights, fumigating, installing wiring or cable or other electronics that may affect your alarm system.
- You hire help for your residence or business, get a new pet, plan to sell your house, or are testing your alarm system.
- Contact the Alarm Program if you have a phone service or name change, or if situations change, such as a disabled person now residing at the residence, etc.
- For Police Alarm Systems, please call the toll-free number: (888) 421-9155
- For Fire Alarm Systems, please call the toll-free number: (888) 339-5538
- Ensure your alarm monitoring company does not request a Police or Fire Department dispatch for power outages, low battery signals or loss of telephone connections.
- Upgrade old alarm system equipment to current equipment conforming to Security Industry Association (SIA) false alarm prevention standards.