UTPD officers respond to thousands of false alarm calls each year


Over 200 students evacuate the University Teaching Center after the activation of a fire alarm this morning. Officials said they smelled smoke on the third floor, but no threat was found.

More than 200 students and faculty lined the sidewalks outside the University Teaching Center on Wednesday morning, as UT police and Austin Fire Department officials searched the building for flames.

A Parking and Transportation Services officer directed traffic, while onlookers waited to hear what happened. Ultimately, the officers found nothing unusual — and that itself is not unusual. 

On campus and across the city, fire and police officers regularly respond to alarm calls that do not ultimately require emergency action. 

Last year, UTPD received 9,394 fire or intrusion calls for service, according to annual crime statistics. APD officers also respond to thousands of false alarm calls yearly, according to the APD Alarm Administration.

Austin City Council passed a resolution March 20 directing the city manager to review state law concerning penalties for false alarms, draft a relevant amendment to city code, examine the city’s internal practices regarding operation of alarms in city facilities and report back to the council with recommendations on how to reduce false alarms within 90 days.

“The City of Austin seeks to enhance safety for all of its citizens through the effective use of public safety resources and collaboration with residents and private businesses,” the resolution said.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Policy Director Michael McGill and City Manager Marc Ott were unavailable to comment on the resolution.

When campus police respond to alarm activations, officers check for signs of criminal activity and attempt to reset the alarm. If the individual who activated the alarm fails to contact police and report that the alarm was false, that constitutes a criminal offense of false report, according to UTPD policy.

The resolution cites the costs associated with false alarms and the high number of false alarm dispatches as reasons to reexamine the city’s alarm ordinance, which governs the amount of money a municipality can fine for false alarms.

“The city manager is directed to work with state-wide partners and the False Alarm Reduction Association to address the low cost recovery for municipal services of current fines and the high occurrence of false alarms,” the resolution said.

Madelyn Mattern, a management information systems senior, said she wished she had been better-informed about the circumstances regarding the UTC evacuation — even though the building was ultimately fine.

“We had just gotten started, so it didn’t really disrupt class that much,” Mattern said. “But I think everybody is a bit anxious because we weren’t told what was going on.”