Key Fobs: The Good and the Bad

By:  Ron Walters, SIAC Director

It hasn’t happened often, but at least twice in our industry what seemed like great ideas at the time turned very bad. Both of these issue involved silent alarms.

The first were panels that allowed a one-plus duress signal. This goes back several decades ago.  We’re still requiring in alarm ordinances that these systems be reprogrammed to eliminate this feature. Most panel manufacturers have eliminated it to comply with the ANSI SIA CP-01 panel standard.  A duress code should always be uniquely different than an arming code.

More recently the “good deed” was the use of wireless key fobs to arm and disarm alarm systems, a good idea, but it also included a panic button, a very bad idea.  This is particularly true when the panic alarm is silent.

A wireless single pushbutton device to trigger an alarm is a disaster waiting to happen. Young children love to play with keys. They make a rattling noise and fit nicely in a small mouth struggling with the teething process. Put that key fob in a pocket or purse and then grope around looking for it, well you get the idea. How many times has your car alarm gone off due to some inadvertent action that causes the button to be depressed while still in your pocket?

Given the fact that 99.999% of key fob activated alarms have no real emergency, we urge (even beg) you to NOT program this feature.  It’s a nice extra selling feature, but has no other practical use.  If you weigh that small plus against the number of law enforcement responders injured every year responding to unnecessary dispatches I hope you’ll agree – it’s just not worth it!

What are your views and how do you program key fobs?  Let us know by responding to this blog.

About justwrite15

Dave's column has run in multiple small town newspapers across the U.S., in Nebraska, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas,where Dave has been able to entice personal friends and editors to run his social commentary. His column has also been picked up by It has appeared in newspapers since 1998, and began in response to one of the school shootings so depressingly familiar in America. His commentary has morphed into a weekly offering of humor, insights and advice on how to find sanity in an insane world.
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One Response to Key Fobs: The Good and the Bad

  1. Not only do the keyfob panic buttons result in false alarms, they give the homeowner a false sense of security.

    It is a fact that police officers respond on hundreds of false alarms including silent panic or silent duress alarms. Many times when officers arrive at the scene of the silent panic alarm activation there is nothing visible or tangible for the officer to determine that a crime is in progress and prompt them to take action. The alarm may have been tripped when the user entered the duress alarm code or pressed the panic on the keyfob instead of the “arm” button by accident as they were leaving the premises. Just another false silent panic / duress alarm right??

    What happens when the officers are dispatched to another panic / duress alarm? This time the homeowner arrived home 15 minutes ago with their groceries, used the remote control to open the overhead garage door and pulled into the garage. The homeowner started unloading their groceries, shut the overhead garage door when they finished unloading the groceries and went inside the house to put them away. The homeowner did not notice the bad guy who snuck into the garage while the door was open because they were focused on getting the groceries and the kids inside the house. Let’s cut to the chase and say it was a bad day for the homeowner who pressed the silent panic button before getting knocked out by the bad guy.

    The officers that responded to the panic alarm call are now knocking on the homeowners door and looking inside the front windows because they can not see anything suspicious around the outside of the house. The officer looks around as best they can for clues, has the police dispatcher contact the alarm company for additional RP information and comes up with no additional information because none of the RP’s answer their phone. The neighbors are not home or do not have a key to let the officers inside to look around. The officers deem that it is another false alarm just like the hundreds others and leaves. What good did the panic button or duress alarm do for this homeowner?

    I have explained this over and over again to the people that come to the Phoenix Police Department False Alarm Prevention Program. The general population has been given the impression from Hollywood and the alarm salesman that the police officers will come crashing thru the front door Johnny on the spot to rescue them if they hit the panic alarm. That is not reality. Police department policy does not allow the officers to kick down the front door just because the panic alarm was activated. If that was the case, how many doors would have been kicked down for no reason and who gets sued for the damages?? The officers must have some tangible reasonable suspicion that a crime is in progress before kicking down a door. Now their question becomes about the integrity of the alarm company that used the “free” panic button teaser to close the deal.

    I explained to them that the first thing to consider is always personal safety, they need to keep their heads up looking around and be diligent to avoid getting ambushed. Formulate a “what if this happens” plan in their head before it ever happens. If this type of situation ever happens to them they had better dump the groceries on the ground, dump their purse contents on the ground while looking for their keys, do something, do anything to make a mess at the scene so that the responding officers can find a clue that criminal activity is occurring. Otherwise there is not much that the offices can do to help them.

    Detective Robinson
    Phoenix Police Department Alarm Inspections

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