The one with the alarm

by DaniGirl on October 29, 2007 · 23 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything

It’s just before 6 am on Saturday morning, and somebody’s car alarm goes off nearby. It squalls for two or three seconds, just enough to wake me up, then stops. I lie in bed, considering whether to get up or not, when it squalls again. Cursing the irresponsiblity of people who let their alarms ring unchecked at 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning, I roll over and pull the covers up over my head, just in time to hear the phone ring. It rings twice, and stops before I can pick it up.

“Mommy!” calls Tristan from downstairs. “What’s that noise?”

I go downstairs, and the alarm is louder. I follow the sound to the living room and pull the couch away from the wall, and the squalling becomes deafening. It’s not a car alarm, it’s our house alarm.

There are three problems with it being our house alarm:

  1. I’ve by now figured out that it’s being set off by the motion detectors, and every time we move through the main floor of the house, we trip off the wailing siren.
  2. I didn’t set the alarm. We don’t use the alarm. We haven’t used the alarm in three or four years, and I have no idea what the codes are anymore.
  3. It started acting oddly a few months ago, so Beloved went downstairs and took the battery out of the control panel, supposedly disabling it entirely.

In other words, it’s become a rogue alarm working on its own agenda – and power source – and we have no idea how to turn it off. (Maybe it was an act of vengeance for my laundered-to-death iPod?)

So with the now nearly-hysterical kids and dog running in circles around the main floor to the splitting wail of the siren, I go to call the alarm company to get them to shut the infernal thing off. Which is when I discover a previously unknown feature of our alarm system: apparently, when the burlar alarm gets tripped, it cuts off your telephone.

Let’s think about this for a minute. The alarm system. Cuts off. The phone.

Does anyone else see a flaw or two in this system?

So now it’s 6:05 am and the siren is wailing and the kids (and dog) are hysterical and I’m standing in the driveway in a T-shirt and underwear and nothing else, rooting around in the centre console of the car for my cell phone and praying with every fibre of my being that it has at least enough of a charge left in it that I can call the alarm company.

And I am Not Happy.

At least by this point I’ve had the brainwave to throw a towel over the motion detector so it stops whooping every time somebody moves. However, there is nothing I can do about the sensors on the doors, as I find out when Tristan goes to let the dog out into the yard and once again triggers the siren.

Since we haven’t used the alarm in who knows how long, I have no reason to keep their telephone number handy, and by the way, did you know that the phone company stopped issuing the white pages this year, so you can only use the yellow pages to find things and when an alarm is sounding and you’re frozen half to death with wet leaves stuck to your bare feet and the kids and the dog are hysterical, it’s not exactly easy to find things in the yellow pages because when you look up “TURN OFF THE GODDAMN ALARM” there aren’t any listings?

So I call information and the robotic voice gives me a toll-free number which I write down and dial, and another robotic voice tells me “The number you have dialed cannot be reached from your calling area.” While I gnash my teeth and plan a new QuakerLuddite lifestyle free of any electronic devices, Beloved starts flipping madly through various phone directories and finally gets a local number. I am so overwhelmed with joy when an actual person answers with a surprisingly chipper, “Oui, bonjour!” that I completely don’t bother to wonder why he has answered in French. It’s only after he spends the best part of 10 minutes looking for my file that we realize he is in Montreal and I am… not. Don’t even ask me how or why a locally-dialled number gets re-routed to Montreal. It’s the least of my worries at this point. So he gives me yet another number and tells me to follow the instructions to have an emergency page sent, and oh, sorry, but he can’t help me turn the alarm off. And I’d better call soon to let them know it’s a false alarm because the police are likely on the way.

Finally, fifteen minutes later a technician returns my page and walks Beloved through the process of disarming the system entirely by removing a wire or two. By now I’ve noticed that while all the other electronics in the house seem fine, the stove and coffee maker digital clocks are showing a power surge or interruption that happened, go figure, a few minutes before 6 am. The technician explains that since the battery had been removed, the power surge probably caused the alarm system to override whatever we programmed into it and default to its factory settings.

We finally get the kids and dog calmed down and Beloved trundles grumpily back to bed while I put on a pot of coffee and try to get our morning back on track. It’s been nearly 30 minutes and we never did hear from the police, which is mildly disheartening from one perspective, but a bit of a relief overall.

Just after 8 am after I’ve consumed the Saturday paper in its entirety, the doorbell rings, and with resignation I get up to answer it, wondering what fresh hell could be awaiting us on this already endless Saturday morning. It’s my friend Yvonne, on her way back from shuttling one of her boys from hockey practice and asking me how my morning has been so far with a bit of a knowing twinkle in her eye. Turns out she’s still on the alam company contract, signed somewhere back around 2001 or so, as our emergency contact. When the alarm went off, they called her to see if everything was okay, and since we hadn’t happened to be in touch in the last, oh, couple weeks or so, she truly had no idea.

So we had an impromptu playdate and coffee, and I am eternally grateful to have the kind of friends who don’t disown you after a 6 am false alarm and are concerned enough to drop by and make sure that everything is okay but know you well enough to figure it can wait until after hockey practice.

But I’m still considering that Quaker Luddite lifestyle. I just have to figure out a way to blog with a quill and ink, and we’re all set.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alison October 29, 2007 at 8:38 am

Well that’s a crappy way to spend a Saturday morning. I can see that happening to me. Your poor boys! Oh, and I know all about those ‘local’ numbers — when my car died on me last fall I called the local 613 CAA number. I was getting frustrated trying to describe my location to (on Carp Road, on the outskirts of Stittsville) someone who I figured should be at least familiar with the name ‘Hazeldean Road’, when it registered that he had a lovely southern drawl. I asked where he was. Orlando, Florida. Local, yeah.

2 UberGeek October 29, 2007 at 8:55 am

oh she may not have disowned you because she was already up taking boy 2 to hockey. I, however was not up. I was still snuggled in my bed warm and dreaming dreams on not being the one getting up at 6 to go to hockey. That is when the phone rings and I get the official “something is wrong ” voice at 6 am.

The voice that starts pumping adrenelin into your body with the force of a uncapped fire hydrant… Yeah that voice.

I am still waiting for payment of some sort.

3 Suz October 29, 2007 at 9:13 am

It turns off the phone…bwhahahaha.

We have two settings on ours – motion throughout the entire house and just motion on the doors. I have no idea who our emergency contact is, though, might want to check on that.

4 nancy October 29, 2007 at 9:14 am

Laffing AT you.

5 yvonne October 29, 2007 at 9:47 am

Nah, a good friend would have brought donuts. πŸ™‚

6 Barbara October 29, 2007 at 10:01 am

I can’t believe you were still asleep at 6:00. What about you pregnancy bladder? Don’t you need to get up early to give it a little relief?! And how can Tristan and Simon claim to be real boys, sleeping in like that on a weekend. I’m shocked, I tell you! I have an early-to-rise kid, though, and that makes me a bit mean on the mornings when I have stayed up late the night before editing digital pics :+)

7 Kathryn October 29, 2007 at 10:10 am

An alarm that goes off by itself without batteries? Does that sound scary to anyone else, or do I just watch too many movies?
What a crappy way to spend a Saturday morning. I hope Sunday was better.

8 DaniGirl October 29, 2007 at 10:15 am

Rats, Barbara, you just reminded me that I forgot to add the part about how everything up to leaving the page for the alarm company on the third telephone call, including the very cold excursion into the yard, was with me holding my very, very full bladder in a panicked abeyance. And, it just seems like divine retribution that this would all occur on one of the few mornings that the boys actually slept past 5:30 am!!

Yvonne, so true! How unthoughtful of you!

UberGeek – get over yerself, darlin’. You know damn well we stopped keeping track a LONG time ago, with good reason!

9 Sharon October 29, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Oh Poor You.


10 Valerie October 29, 2007 at 12:47 pm

This reminded me of another story you told us a few years ago about your smoke detector going off after you removed the battery – I was expecting a similar ending. I’m sure you feel somewhat better finding out that your house alarm was wired rather than that you removed the wrong battery. πŸ˜‰

11 Kellan October 29, 2007 at 1:55 pm

This was hysterical to me. Nicely written and funny story. See ya.

12 Karen October 29, 2007 at 7:36 pm

I was laughing (but not too hard; we actually have a neighbour with a freakin’ faulty car alarm which DOES do that every odd Saturday at 6 AM – don’t want that to happen to me again too soon.) We also have issues with our motion sensors. At least you got an early start on the weekend.
Glad too, that it was a false alarm.

13 patois October 29, 2007 at 7:38 pm

Perhaps you could enlist the help of some random non-Quaker to take dictation and continue with your blogging. How you will read other blogs is a question I cannot answer.

Very, very funny post. A laugh a minute!

14 Mac and Cheese October 29, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I want to laugh, but I also feel your pain. That’s a pretty sucky start to your day.

15 Sue October 29, 2007 at 7:47 pm

What an awful way to start the day! Even minus the donuts, yvonne is a pretty awesome friend.

16 Batman October 29, 2007 at 9:55 pm

I hate to say it but I’ve been there. I didn’t go through the trouble of calling the alarm company though. I was a little too annoyed at the blaring siren so I found some wire cutters and cut the wire to it. Oh, I phoned them afterwards…after I calmed down a bit that is.

I have also been on the other end of someone’s calling tree. This was for work and, to be more specific, at an office where I hadn’t worked for a few months. The alarm company was phoning me at three and four in the morning for a week or so and every time I explained that I no longer worked there. Take me off your list. Finally, I had to call them back and explain it to them in small enough words so that they finally understood. I might have been a wee bit ticked at the time too. That seemed to work.

Sorry to hear about your alarming situation. Hehe

17 Eric Jacksch October 29, 2007 at 11:08 pm

Unfortunately residential alarm systems haven’t changed all that much in the last 15 or 20 years. While other appliances have become much more intelligent, most alarm systems still dial the monitoring center and report every time a senor is tripped. So if it gets armed when you’re at home, and a motion sensor is being tripped, it will faithfully report each hit on the motion sensor as a separate “signal”…often calling the monitoring center over, and over, and over again. (Nice use of “computer” technology, eh?)

They theory behind the phone interruption is that the alarm has to be able to “seize” the phone line. If someone is on it, or a criminal takes the phone off the hook, the alarm needs to be able to dial out. So it is essentially installed between your phone line and all of your phones. Unfortunately that theory doesn’t take into account that during an emergency, real or imagined, you might actually want to use your phone line…

If you want to disable your alarm for good, there should be a special phone jack where the alarm hooks in to your phone system. If the installer did the job right, unplugging the alarm from that special jack will automatically connect your phones to the line bypassing the alarm system. On the other hand, if you unplug your alarm from the phone line and all your phones are dead (or there isn’t a jack), you’ll know that the installer was cutting corners, in which case you need connect the appropriate two wires that were going into to the alarm with the two wires that go to all your phones.

And yes, they should have told you about that when you called. The whole point of that jack is so that the home owner can disconnect the alarm from the phone line if it goes stupid.

The power failure issue does make sense — many alarms are programmed to come up as armed when power is restored. Again, the theory is that if you are out of town and the power is off so long that the backup battery drains, you’d usually want the system to be armed when the power comes back on.

Once you have it disconnected from the phone line you can safely kill both line and battery power to the alarm with all due prejudice πŸ™‚

18 DaniGirl October 30, 2007 at 7:04 am

Batman, “alarming situation.” Snicker.

Eric, I always think of photography when I think of you, but of course you’re a security expert too, aren’t you? Good to know, next time we have a 6-am-on-a-Saturday alarm crisis, I’ll bypass the alarm company completely and call you instead!! πŸ˜‰

19 Brent Bill October 30, 2007 at 7:11 am

“a new Quaker lifestyle free of any electronic devices” — well, actually, you might mean Amish, as we Quakers tend to be somewhat with the times. I blog, have a TV, computer, stereo, hybrid car (though it is black, which may fit with you image of Quakes!), geothermal heating in our house (controlled by the Motherboard, if not a Mothership), and all sorts of other electronics.

The Quaker lifestyle does try to use silence a lot (see my book Holy Silence (at Amazon, et al)) — but I don’t know that that would help your alarm situation. πŸ˜‰

20 DaniGirl October 30, 2007 at 7:16 am

Hey Brent, I stand corrected — thanks for the education! Hmm, I was basing my comment on what I remembered from a Quaker church where we considered being married, but we were told that no “mechanical” music (as in, no guitars or violins or anything except the human voice) would be allowed, and I extrapolated from there – apparently incorrectly! I guess I should go back to my tried and true references to Luddites in situations like this.

21 Mad Hatter October 30, 2007 at 10:51 am

This was hilarious, Dani. A story well-told.

22 Eric Jacksch October 31, 2007 at 7:12 am

Yeah, photography doesn’t pay that well πŸ™‚

I’m not much of a morning person, so you’d be better off luring me over one evening to help you drive a stake through the heart of your possessed alarm system. You know, the ounce of prevention thing…:)

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