Your house alarm system is triggered in the middle of the night, you are home alone with your kids. Quick. What do you do? 3…2…1…go.
The answer is probably, it depends.
There is a decision process that happens in a matter of seconds and there are some things worth considering should you find yourself in this situation, as I did last week.
As a little background, I took a course (NLS) to become a lifeguard in high school so I could earn extra money. The majority of the training in the NLS course is presenting you with emergency scenarios and teaching you how to assess a situation and take action to help the individual in the crisis. Well somehow this process of conjuring up crises got engrained in my brain so I often find myself running through what-if scenarios as I go about my day. It is kind of like I’m pretending I’m in the CIA but not really at all.
Eddie travels for work, not a ton, but he can be gone for a week at a time. Even though I never watch scary movies, I read enough of the news and watch enough TV to have the bejesus scared out of me when I go to sleep sometimes. My way of coping with those bad thoughts is to focus my energy on evacuation routes from my house with my kids.
Alright, so we can fully just call me crazy right now, that’s ok. At least I can see my own crazy.
But, if something were to happen in the night then I have a whole plan of how I would get myself and my 3 kids to safety. I don’t actually know if it would work but at least I wouldn’t be spinning around in circles panicking about what I should do. OR SO I THOUGHT!!!
Eddie was away last week for work. I was bolted awake on Tuesday night by a loud blaring noise, I jumped out of bed half in a daze and started wondering what was making that noise. I realized it was our house alarm (this is where the spinning in circles happened), as I went to turn it off, I finally came to and thought holy crap our house alarm has been tripped, what time is it?! I looked at my phone and it was 1:12am.
I thought I was about to die of a heart attack right at that moment.
Test Question #1: Should you use your off code to turn off your alarm right away?
Answer: If you don’t know why it was tripped, then let it go until it registers with the alarm company.
In one of my emergency scenarios, I knew that if our house alarm ever went off at night that I would let it go until either the alarm company calls me or the outside sirens are going, because surely that means the alarm event has registered with the alarm company.
I let the blaring go until the outside sirens were going and then turned off the alarm. I grabbed my cell phone and the home phone and stood there anticipating a call from the alarm company telling me that 911 was on its way.
In the meantime I called my husband. Why? I have no idea. He was in another country so would have been no help; it was good that he didn’t answer.
Test Question #2: Do you know if you have a delay that gives you time to press the off code BEFORE it triggers the alarm company’s system?
Answer: If you don’t know, you might want to find out. If you forget to find out and this happens, let the house alarm go until the alarm company calls you.
My alarm company still had not called and I could not find their number on my phone so I called my parents and said look, I am just about to go and search the house because our house alarm was tripped so if I don’t call you back in two minutes please come over. I wanted someone to know what was going on before I went to investigate.
Test Question #3: Do you have someone you can call in the middle of the night for anything at all?
Answer: This is not really an answer, more of a suggestion that since you can’t really think when all of this is going on in the middle of the night, it is worth considering now, while you have your wits about you, who that person would be.
I have a dog and throughout all this he was VERY VERY calm and was looking at me as if to say, “Hey, what are we doing? Why are we awake right now?” Which I think was the reason that I was scared but not completely panicked.
My dog and I went into the hallway, I turned on the hall lights and checked all the kids rooms, they were all sound asleep and safe (this was only about 1-2 minutes after the alarm initially went off). We stood at the top of the stairs and I kind of looked at him and was like, okay, I guess we better go see what’s up? I sent him down first. He’s got a lot of protective fight in him and he would do well scaring anyone off.
He went down and I tip toed down behind him.
Test Question #4: You might think I’m an idiot right about now and think I should have called 911, yes?
Answer: You might be right. And I definitely would have, had my dog been the least bit agitated.
I needed to get to our kitchen door so I could get the alarm company’s phone number off the sticker on the door (fix #1 of emergency planning protocol: I now have it programmed in my phone), the alarm company who still had not called me by the way.
I got through to them and they asked for my name, address and password after which I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be calling me and shouldn’t you have called the police?” She said something about the alarm not having triggered their system. She could tell me that it was our kitchen door. I was standing at the kitchen door while I was talking to her and it looked fine to me.
Our alarm keypad is right by that door so she asked me to reset the alarm, by pushing our off code. While I was doing that I said well how do I know that someone didn’t come into the house when I turned off the alarm upstairs and when I go to reset it they will already be in the house? With that the phone went DEAD!
DEAD!!!! THE PHONE WENT DEAD!!!
Have you heard the urban legend about people cutting your phone line and then when you call 911 or hmmm…the alarm company!!, they take down all your information but it is really someone working with the intruders taking it down so help never arrives?
YES? Me too! And that is what was going through my head. I’m surprised I didn’t drop from a heart attack again.
Two seconds later my mom calls on my cell phone and says that my dad is on his way over, I had forgotten to call them back but I would have asked him to come anyway. They don’t live far so he was there in a couple of minutes.
I called the alarm company back and spoke with someone better, who explained to me that we had it set up with a two minute delay before it would trigger the system at the alarm company which is why they had not called me. It never actually registered with their system. So they recommended that if it went off again, that I wait the two minutes. Right. (fix #2 of emergency protocol – no more delay).
My dad went through the house, inside, outside, looking under cars across the street with a flashlight, in my car, everywhere anyone could be, he covered. By the time he left I was totally comfortable that if someone had been trying to break in, they were scared off, likely by the outside blaring of the alarm. They certainly weren’t anywhere in the house.
There were 3 factors in all of this that made me think everything was okay and the police were not needed:
- Number 1 and the one I put most of the weight in, was my dog’s demeanor. He has a history of hearing and freaking out over the quietest noises and he was unusually calm.
- The door where the alarm was triggered has a crazy secure locking system and was completely untouched from what I could tell so I was sure it had not been opened.
- My dad checked EVERYWHERE, there was no way anyone was in the house.
It made me realize, however, that for all my mental preparation, my plan was severely flawed by assuming certain things about how our alarm system worked. Now, in a different situation, if my dog had been freaked out, I would have just called 911 immediately and bypassed the alarm hoopla. In fact if it happens again, I might just call them anyway.
I’m not trying to freak the crap out of you, but I think these are things we all should all think about. I’m generally clear headed in tense situations but the middle of the night, I realized, is a whole different game.
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were woken up in the middle of the night by your house alarm going off? Have you had this happen to you? What did you do? Do you have an alarm? Do you use it?
Dedication: I would like to thank the loyal companion and lord protector of our house, our dog, without whom I’m not sure I would be able to keep it together at night. You’re the best, Roscoe P. Coltrane.