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how to word contract to comply with alarm verification law
May 10, 2017
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how to word contract to comply with alarm verification law
    As written, does the language in our security alarm contract mean that we have to dispatch the police immediately before attempting to contact the subscriber, or does it allow for us to attempt to contact the subscriber or his designated representative before dispatching in order to determine if “there is just cause to assume that an emergency condition does not exist”?   If it does allow for us to attempt to contact the subscriber or his designated representative before dispatching, could we attempt to contact multiple telephone numbers supplied by the subscriber before dispatching if there were multiple numbers provided or just the first one?
    In view of the language in the Medford municipal code, should we have language in our contract that allows for instructions for the municipal code to supersede our dispatch instructions?
    Additionally, the municipal code, as written, specifically provides that we are to contact the premises telephone.  More and more locations are doing away with land line phones.  Is it appropriate to attempt to contact the subscriber or his designated representatives on cellular phones even thought they may not be at the premises?
    Here is the code requirement from the City of Medford municipal code:
8.625 Class III Alarm Systems
(1) Any agent receiving an indication of an alarm activation shall attempt to verify the alarm prior to reporting it to the police by either
(1) telephoning the premises where the alarm activation is located, 
(2) monitoring the location by audio devices or
(3) monitoring the location by video devices.
(a) Exceptions to this section are holdup and panic alarms.
(b) Failure to attempt to verify an alarm prior to notifying the police is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $250. 

    This is how our contract reads:
(a) CENTRAL STATION ALARM: S.O.S. Alarm or its designee, except where the system terminates at a police or fire department, shall without warranty, make every reasonable effort to do the following:
(1) Upon receipt of a burglar alarm signal, transmit the alarm to headquarters of the public police department unless there is just cause to assume that an emergency condition does not exist; if deemed necessary by S.O.S. Alarm notify the Subscriber or his designated representative by calling the telephone number supplied to S.O.S. Alarm in writing by the Subscribe
    Our goal is to provide our customers with the most efficient dispatch procedure while complying with the City of Medford's request to reduce false alarms.  Please review the two dispatch options outlined below to help us determine which one of the two reduces SOS Alarm's exposure/liability.
      Dispatch Procedure #1:
      1.  Upon an alarm, contact the premise via the land line or the customers cell number that he has designated as a premise number.  Verify the alarm activity and if police response is required.
      2.  If no one can be contacted at the premise, SOS Alarm will dispatch the police to the location.
      3.  SOS Alarm will proceed in trying to make contact with one of the customer's additional responsible parties to assist the police with entry to the premise.
      4.  SOS Alarm will continue communication with the police dispatch and our customer until we have a conclusion.

            My only concern with this Dispatch Procedure is when making contact via the cell number that the customer has designated as the premise phone.  It's possible that the customer could be outside the premise and not able to verify the alarm activity.  In this case SOS would dispatch unless the customer felt that the alarm was triggered in error.    
     Dispatch Procedure #2
      1.  Upon an alarm, contact the first Responsible Party as listed by the customer.  Verify the alarm activity and confirm if police response is required, SOS Alarm will proceed as customer direct us.              
      2.  If the first Responsible Party is not available, SOS Alarm will continue through the customers Responsible Party list, making one attempt to connect with one of the listed parties.  When making said contact, SOS Alarm will outline the details of the alarm signal received and ask if they would like SOS Alarm to dispatch the police.  SOS Alarm will proceed as customer's Responsible Party direct.
      3.  If the customer or the Responsible Parties can not be contacted, SOS Alarm will dispatch the police and inform them that we have no Responsible Party available to assist.
      4.  SOS Alarm will continue to communicate with the police dispatch and our customer until we have a conclusion.

            My concern with this Dispatch Procedure is having all the Responsible Parties able to cancel or decline the dispatch of the police.  I think having the Responsible Party making this decision could easily turn this into a greater liability issue.  As an example, having a maintenance man called to respond to an alarm is fine, but canceling the alarm has the potential of causing SOS Alarm reputable damage.  The one thing that I like with this procedure is it does reduce false alarms but unfortunately at the same time it does increase a greater rise of liability as well...In my opinion.
            While assisting us in this procedure and once we determine what is the best procedure for our customers, will we be able to make use of the Medford's Dispatch Procedure with all of our customers.  Because it's the procedure for Medford, will it only pertain to Medford? The other cities that we service do not have alarm ordinances and if they do, they are not as precise with the dispatch procedure.
    Your company is both dealer and central station, so it's your subscriber contract that has to specify how the central station monitoring will be handled.  Mandated alarm verification, whether by ECV [electronic call verification - telephone call to subscriber], video or audio confirmation, or runner service to verify the alarm condition, have been around for long time.  False alarm reduction to spare police resources is almost always the justification for the false alarm law.  A secondary purpose is collection of fines to offset police costs responding to false alarms.
    The Medford law is interesting because it recognizes that there are different ways to verify the alarm and it sanctions these ways.  If your subscriber does not have a landlines at the premises then this may be your opportunity to sell them video or audio so that you can comply with the verification law.  You are not using our Standard All in One Agreement so I have no idea if you pass along fines to the subscriber, but assuming you do then that is the subscriber's incentive to either maintain the land line or install other verification devices.  
    The Standard Residential All in OneCommercial All in One and the Commercial Fire All in One all detail how signals will be responded to, though also reference the central station's procedures which the subscriber is encouraged to request.  The All in One agreements also have a separate line item for alarm verification, for both charging and explanation purposes. I encourage you to get the All in One agreements which will handle the alarm verification better than both of your proposed options and, I have no doubt, handle many other issues essential to your business, better than you have in your agreement.
    Our clients don't appreciate that all words have meaning and purpose, and unintended consequences.  For example, both of your proposals have item 4,
    "4.  SOS Alarm will continue to communicate with the police dispatch and our customer until we have a conclusion."
    Can you tell me what that means?  When is there a conclusion?  When you reach your subscriber, when you reach the police dispatch, when the police arrive or when the police conclude their response and investigation?  As soon as you say "it means" you can stop talking.  What it means should be clear from the written provision.
    The Standard Form Agreements are called standard for lots of reasons, but one of those reasons is that the agreements are used by more alarm companies in the US than any other form, the forms are the compilation of feedback from hundreds of these companies and the forms undergo constant and continuous updating as necessary as a result of change in law or technology.  What are you waiting for?
PS.  Your central station response always needs to comply with AHJ requirements and your contract needs to be flexible enough to accommodate changes imposed by the AHJ.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
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