Reducing false fire alarms

False alarms cost taxpayers money and divert firefighters from real emergencies. Given that most false alarms boil down to plain human error, and that a good number are repeat offenses, it only makes sense for local governments to do everything they can to discourage them. This usually means expressing disapproval of the number of false alarms and charging fees for excessive false fire alarms. 

How to reduce the risk of a false alarm?

In a small assignment for the fire department of the Dutch municipality of Apeldoorn, Reframing Studio was asked to explore the problem and to propose directions in which policy could be developed. Reframing Studio showed the fire department that expressing their disapproval  at the number of false alarms, almost a thousand a year, to the citizens of Apeldoorn sends a negative message that could potentially backfire. Conveying the idea that causing a false alarms is basically common practice inadvertently focuses the audience on the prevalence, rather than the undesirability, of the behavior.

 One of the recommendations Reframing Studio made to the fire department was to create a policy that highlights behavior that will prevent false alarms, rather than to only discourage and call attention to the behavior that causes alarms. For example, the fact is that people living in large buildings like retirement homes, nursing homes and community shelters are hardly ever aware of the presence of smoke detection systems, and that these systems can also be triggered by steam and cooking fumes. This raises the interesting question of how Inhabitants of these buildings could be reminded of the presence of a smoke alarm precisely at the time and place where risky behavior might occur.

Public design
Project kick-off: 
February 2010
Project delivered: 
April 2010
Service Design
Project size: 
Project developers: 
Femke de Boer
Roald Hoope
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