SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month

Panama City Beach approves penalties for 'habitual' false alarms

Nathan Cobb
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY BEACH — With false alarms an ongoing problem on the Beach, officials have decided to take a strict approach by imposing fines to stop repeat offenders. 

At a Panama City Beach City Council meeting on Thursday, leaders finalized a new rule that allows penalties for residential and commercial false alarms. The ordinance was first discussed during a meeting in October. 

According to City Manager Tony O'Rourke, residents will receive three warnings before they are issued a $250 citation. Every false alarm after that will cost $500. Commercial and multifamily structures are allowed two warnings before being fined $500 and $1,000 for every false call thereafter.

He added that the fines provide "a clear financial incentive" for alarm companies to verify the nature and need of the call and also make sure systems are working properly. 

Previous coverage:Panama City Beach to possibly fine businesses and residents for false alarms

With false alarms an ongoing problem on Panama City Beach, officials have decided to take a strict approach by imposing fines to stop repeat offenders.

"That's not only (an) inherent risk for our first responders ... but also it is taking away valuable resources in true emergency situations," O'Rourke said about repeat false alarms. 

O'Rourke said PCB records more than 2,200 false police and fire alarms every year, something Mayor Mark Sheldon and other council members agreed was a serious problem. 

"When the chiefs are going out and their teams are going out, they don't know if it's a false alarm or not," Sheldon said. "They (respond) with the upmost urgency to every call, and 2,200 times this year, they got there for nothing. They put themselves in danger and everyone else that they passed along the way."

O'Rourke added that the ordinance is similar to laws in other areas of the country, where it's proven to be up to 90% effective. 

And:Panama City Beach survey shows traffic is main concern

Councilman Michael Jarman discusses false alarms during a Panama City Beach City Council meeting on Thursday.

"This will both keep the general public safer and reduce unnecessary false alarms in our community," he said. 

In regards to concerns from the public that elderly people with medical alert systems could be at risk for fines, Councilman Michael Jarman said manual activations aren't considered false alarms.  

Jarman said the city currently charges a permit fee for commercial fire alarm installations, which lets officials keep track of buildings equipped with the systems. The new ordinance also allows for a $40 installation fee on security systems for the same reason.

According to the meeting's agenda information, the false alarm problem stems from a "dramatic increase" in automated emergency calls as intrusion and fire alarms systems become more popular. 

"This ordinance is designed to stop habitual false alarms," Jarman said. "It doesn't kick in immediately with fines and things of that nature. It has to be a reoccurring issue of the same caliber. No one's going to get hit the first time an alarm goes off."