Your house alarm system is triggered in the middle of the
night, you’re home alone with your kids.
Quick. What do you do? 3…2…1…go.
It’s hard to know for sure until you find yourself in this situation, as I did last week.
But first, a little background: In high school, I took a course (NLS) to become a lifeguard in order to 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
Somehow this process – conjuring up crises and running through what-if scenarios – became so ingrained in my brain that I often do it as I go about my day. It’s kind of like I’m pretending I’m in the CIA, but not really at all.
So when my husband travels for work (which he doesn’t do a ton but when he does, can be gone for a week at a time), sometimes I find myself laying awake thinking of what could go wrong. Even though I never watch scary movies, I read enough of the news to scare the bejeezus out of myself – and my way of coping with those bad thoughts is to focus my energy
on evacuation routes from the house.
Ok, so now you understand the full nature of my craziness. It’s ok, I’ve already accepted it. At least I can see my own crazy.
The whole point is that I always assumed that if something were to happen in the middle of the night – I would be prepared with a plan for how to get myself and my three kids to safety. It might not actually work but at least I wouldn’t be spinning in circles panicking about what to do.
OR SO I THOUGHT!!!
Eddie was away for work when I was bolted awake last Tuesday night by a loud blaring noise. I jumped out of bed, half in a daze, and
started wondering what was making the noise.
I realized it was our house alarm (this is the spinning in circles) and 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 1:12 am.
I thought I was about
to die of a heart attack right at that moment.
Test Question #1: Should you use your code to turn off your
alarm right away in the night?
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 decided that if our house alarm ever went off at night, I would let it go until either the alarm
company calls me or the outside sirens were going, because surely that meant the
alarm event had registered with the alarm company.
I let the blaring go until the outside sirens went off 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 the police were on the way.
In the meantime I called my husband. Why? I have no idea, he
was in another country so that would have been no help; in fact, it was probably better that he didn’t
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 find yourself in this situation, let the
house alarm go until the alarm company calls you.
At this point, my alarm company still hadn’t called and I couldn’t find
their number in my phone. So I called my parents and said “Look, I’m 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.” Basically, 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, no questions asked?
Answer: This is not really an
answer, more of a suggestion. Since you can’t really think about it when all of this is going on in the middle of the night, it’s worth considering who that person would be now, while you
have your wits about you.
I have a dog and throughout all this, he was VERY VERY calm. He kept looking at me as if to say, “Hey, what are we doing? Why are we awake
right now?” which I think was the reason why I was scared but not completely
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 looked at him, kind of like, ok, I guess we better go see what’s up? I sent him downstairs first. He’s got a lot of protective fight in him and would do well scaring anyone off.
Along he went, and I tip-toed down behind him.
Test Question #4: You might think that I’m an idiot right about now and I should have already called 911, yes?
Answer: You might be right. And I
definitely would have, if my dog had 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 (Lesson #1 of emergency
planning protocol: I now have it programmed in my phone). The alarm company who
still hadn’t called me, by the way.
When I got through to them, they asked for my name, address
and password. At this point, I asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be calling me and
shouldn’t you have called the police?” The operator 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
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
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 really it’s someone working with the intruders so help never arrives?
YES? Me too! And that is what was going through my head. I’m
surprised I didn’t drop from my second heart attack of the night.
Two seconds later, my mom called on my cell phone to tell me that my dad was 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 that we had originally set it up with a two minute delay before
it would trigger the system at the alarm company. They hadn’t called because it never actually registered with their system. They
recommended that if it went off again, that I wait the two minutes. Right. (Lesson #2 of emergency protocol – no more delay setting).
My dad went through the house, inside, outside, looking
under cars across the street with a flashlight, in my car, everywhere. 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 three factors in all of this that made me think
everything was ok and the police weren’t needed:
1. My dog’s demeanor, as he has a history of hearing and freaking out over the
quietest noises and was unusually calm.
2. The door where the alarm was triggered has a
crazy secure locking system and looked completely untouched so I was pretty sure it hadn’t been opened.
3. My dad checked EVERYWHERE, there was no way
anyone was in the house.
But the whole thing made me realize that despite all my mental preparation, my planning was flawed by assuming certain things about how our alarm system worked, etc.
In a different situation, like for example, if my dog had freaked out, I would have bypassed all the alarm hoopla and just called 911 immediately. In fact, if it happens again, I might just do that anyway.
I’m not trying to freak anyone out, but these
are things we should all think about. I’m generally clear-headed in the
face of tense situations but the middle of the night, I realized, is a whole
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were
awoken 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
Dedication: I would like to thank the loyal companionship
and lord protector of our house, our dog, without whom I’m not sure I’d be able
to keep it together at night. You’re the
best, Roscoe P. Coltrane.