It’s been a far-from-peaceful time for Christopher Wisniewski.
The alarm in a Hawkins Street building started to go off at about 3 pm last Friday week, he said. On the Monday after, it was still going. “The last week was horrible, it was going off the whole day,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski, who works in the printing company PrintSave in a corner building near Burgh Quay, said it made business that bit harder to have the nearby building’s alarm incessantly sounding. But it wasn’t really clear what they could do.
What to Do
Fine Gael Councillor Naoise O’Muirí, who is the head of the city council’s Environment Strategic Policy Committee, said he wouldn’t single alarms out as a major issue of concern. But he did say that many people might not know alarms have anything to do with local authorities.
“I think you’d be surprised if you asked the public about this, most people wouldn’t know that DCC have any role to play in enforcing this,” he said.
There are indeed laws and regulations around the sounding of home alarms.
Under a set of standards adopted in 2006, they shouldn’t sound for more than 15 minutes before switching off. If you’re away and can’t get into the property, you should have a nominated key holder who can get to the alarm within 90 minutes of it being triggered.
Of the €867,426 that the council spent last year enforcing different pollution regulations, approximately €193,000 went on noise complaints, according to a spokesperson from Dublin City Council Press Office. Of 470 noise complaints, 44 of them, or 9.4 percent, were in relation to alarms.
If somebody is found to have broken the law on noise pollution, the city council does have the power to fine them. But it hasn’t taken any enforcement proceedings in relation to any of the alarm-related cases last year.
“In the majority of cases the complaints were about one-off incidents or the property owner rectified the situation when contacted,” the council spokesperson said by email.
Ciarán Cuffe, a Green Party councillor in the North Inner City, said that council resources to enforce regulations are poor.
People are often referred to the District Court instead of the local authority, which can be both time-consuming and expensive, he said. (That’s an option listed on the council’s website.)
It’s hard to get any detail on which city neighbourhoods might have issues with noise, and alarms.
The most recent data from the council is its Air Quality Monitoring and Noise Control Unit Annual Report 2014, which shows noise complaints by postcode. In the lead is Dublin 2, followed by Dublin 1, and Dublin 8. Alarms were the third most common type of noise pollution that people complained about citywide.
The council’s press office declined to provide us with specifics addresses that people had filed complaints about, which would have made it possible to identify particularly noisy neighbourhoods or streets, and specific alarms that were causing problems.
“Details regarding individual complaints is not available under the Data Protection Act,” a spokesperson said.
When asked, they didn’t say what section of the Act shielded this information. “You requested specific address information which we are not allowed to give out,” the spokesperson said.
In the city’s noisiest postcode, D2, on Camden Street, businesses’ burglar alarms sometimes sound for hours at a time after the business owners go home in the evenings and on weekends.
Edwin Scally works in an architecture firm in this area. The business’ alarm was going off for about 40 minutes on Saturday.
“There was no evidence of a break-in,” said Scally. But the premises has been burgled in the past, he said.
On Saturday, the owner, who lives nearby, was out of the city at the time, and unable to get to it. Scally, however, said he was as confused as anyone as to why it was going off for so long.
Assuming there hasn’t been a break-in, neither the council nor the Gardaí have the power to enter a property and turn off an alarm themselves.
But a Dublin City Council spokesperson said there are ways that the council’s job could be made easier when it comes to dealing with alarms.
“Resources are a continual challenge,” he said. But, also, if the national government brought in regulations under section 106 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act that would be useful, too. So would a dedicated Noise Act.
The last two programmes for government included a commitment to noise-related legislation. The current one doesn’t.
Cuffe of the Green Party recalls his party working on noise legislation during their time in government from 2007 to 2011, though it never saw the light of day.
Do They Even Work?
It’s unclear whether, and to what extent, alarms prevent burglaries.
Andrew Cunningham of Atom Alarm Systems says they are a deterrent. If a burglar sees an alarm installed on the outside of a house, they’re less likely to go for it in the first place, he says.
If it goes off once they’re inside, they’re move likely to make a speedy exit, he says. “They won’t spend too long in the house. They might just grab something and leave.”
Marguerite Cotter of PhoneWatch Ireland says: “We wouldn’t be able to claim that our alarms prevent break-ins.” It’s more about giving a sense of safety and assurance in the event that anything does happen, she said.
Home insurance companies offer discounts if customers get alarms fitted. So there’s a financial incentive to have them, whether they actually work or not.
In Dublin at least, there hasn’t been any appreciable rise or fall in the number of burglaries in recent years.
Central Statistics Office and Garda figures for the Dublin region going back to 2003 show a few peaks and troughs, most notably the recent high point of 3,939 burglaries in the fourth quarter of 2014. But it is worth bearing in mind that Garda crime statistics are in many cases known to be flawed.
Why Do They Go Off?
It’s not just burglaries that can cause an alarm to go off, though, says Cunningham of Atom Alarm Systems.
It could just be broken and older than the standards that mean they should turn off after 15 minutes, although he thinks that’s unlikely. “We’ve had those [standards] for years,” he said.
It could be turned on by the wind or an open window because they are overly sensitive, he said.
There has, at least, been something of a turn away from the model of alarms that blare out into the neighbourhood. Instead, some alarms just alert the company, which tells the occupant or friends and neighbours who have keys, and they work out what’s going on, said Cotton of PhoneWatch.
Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe think those alarms that don’t annoy neighbours with ineffectual sirens should be the model people install.
“I think they should be banned, the outside units,” he said. “With modern technology, you can easily let the owners know, let the guards know what’s going on.”