What happens when you push a panic button in South Africa?

Now, I’m home alone from time to time. Not often, but sometimes just the boys and I are at home. We have a pretty good security set-up, but we had ADT installed when we moved in. I don’t know why – as we’d previously had a bad incident in Observatory. In that case, 3 guys had gained access to our property while I was home alone. They ran off when they saw me, and as they ran I pressed the panic button three times, but nobody showed up or called. I phoned my husband and he got on the highway from town, and made it home to me before ADT had even arrived. In fact, I had to call them about 25 minutes later to ask why nobody had showed. Interestingly, the SAPS had showed up before they had. This is a business that had been taking about R425 of my money every month for three years, at a total of about R15 300. And nobody showed up, at all.

When we moved to the suburbs, we had a meeting with ADT and expressed our concerns. They promised a maximum 4 minute response time, as they have so many patrol cars and bicycles in this area. We also stipulated in our contract that in case of emergency, they have full access to the property and need to jump the front wall if necessary so that they could view the front and the back property – especially if we’re away, but in any case if there is an emergency: They have access. We signed our contracts and felt secure in the fact that this area is better managed, as promised.

This morning I was discussing security with Graeme, and I told him that I was going to test the panic button. We have them all over the house, and we’ve trained the kids to use them too. In case there’s a medical emergency, a fire or if something happens to mommy that they don’t know how to help with. At around 11am, I closed our front door, set my stopwatch, and pushed the panic. Sirens went nuts, and I waited.


The siren blared and eventually switched itself off after about a minute and a half. Nothing. When my stopwatch was at 2 minutes 42 seconds, my phone rang. By now I had checked a few emails and put some cartoons on for the boys. Or, been attacked by some sort of crowbar gang or something. I didn’t answer the call, because after all, I was in ‘distress’ and unable to take the call. This was an emergency.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.42.54 AM

These are screenshots from my phone. It appeared that nothing was really happening, and nobody was arriving. I made a cup of tea and checked more emails. Interestingly, the siren didn’t activate again. I would have thought that if a panic was pressed, then the siren would continue to alert neighbors and passers by. An alarm going off for a minute, then switching off would tell neighbors that it was activated accidentally. A siren that continually goes on and off might signal an erm, alarm of sorts. For me, this would show that someone is in distress. I took my tea and stood at the front door. We have these old school patterned windows next to our door where I can see our front garden and gate. Note that my car is in the driveway, showing that someone is home.


At 8 minutes, 8 seconds our gate bell rang. I stood next to the intercom but didn’t pick it up. After all, I was in serious distress and unable to answer. I had pushed a panic button, which should trigger every SOS signal in the books over at security headquarters. Nothing. I watched the ADT guy get back in his car. And then more nothing. Nobody called again, nobody jumped over the wall. I got concerned that he in fact WOULD jump over the wall because those guys are armed man. I also wondered if he was in his car calling the police for backup, in which case I had some serious explaining to do. But he was just sitting in his car. He didn’t ring the bell again, nobody phoned me again. It was like nothing was going on at all. From the time that I had pushed the panic, over 15 minutes had passed. I thought that even more concern would be raised as I hadn’t answered the phone, and I wasn’t answering the gate, and a car was parked outside. I have seen the ADT guys respond to alarms in our area, and they generally park, stand outside for a bit, then drive off, noting in their log books that they’d attended to the call-out. I am pretty sure that the guy would eventually just have driven off.

The carpenters that are doing our floors arrived that moment. The ADT guy quickly jumped out. I opened the gate for the carpenters, and the ADT guy followed. “Is everything okay ma’am?” he asked. He was a really nice, soft spoken man. I said I was fine, and he said “Okay!” and left. Didn’t even ask for my password. About 20 minutes later, a lady from ADT called to ask if response had arrived, about 35 to 40 minutes after I’d pressed the panic. I said I was fine. And that was the end of that. So there you have it, ladies and gents. This is what happens when you press a panic button in your home when you’re alone with your children. This post is not to defame ADT in particular, but to highlight security systems in general. I’m sure that ADT does a lot of good in their line of work, but I don’t feel very safe being in their ‘care’ right now. I thought you should know, and I urge you to test your systems too.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.44.27 AM

The doorbell rang at 8:08 and I opened the gate at 15:31. If I hadn’t opened the gate, I’m sure he would have driven off eventually. He didn’t even shout out. Nothing.

  • Emy Clarke

    April 1, 2015 at 11:03 am Reply

    The company that I work for are with an armed response company. Note that Paternoster is TINY and that they should be able to get to you within minutes of your alarm going off. Nope, they take about 15 minutes to arrive at night, and the guy on duty won’t get out of his car if my bosses yorkie barks at him. I mean really, what is he going to do with an armed robber….

  • dominique

    April 1, 2015 at 11:30 am Reply

    That’s ridiculous! I am with City Bowl Armed Response and while we were renovating the painters had detached my alarm pad from the wall. My boyfriend tried to re-wire/reattach it and we got a call straight away saying there were signs our alarm was being tampered with.

    Our alarm also went off one morning and we were called. We told them we weren’t home, they went to the house, met my boyfriend there, looked around and then phoned 20 minutes later when we rearmed the house to check that it was us.

    That’s security!

  • Ange Hausner

    April 1, 2015 at 11:58 am Reply

    I live in the same area as you & can’t even count the times that we have had the same lacks response or complete lack of response from ADT…. & we just keep paying them. I have been hearing great things about Princeton in the Claremont area and our neighbourhood / community is pulling together with extra resident patrols & great forum communication, which is necessary and making a difference. I think it’s good for ADT to seriously take stock! This is not a small issue… our safety! Good post!

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 12:35 pm Reply

      I also heard good things about Princeton! I think we’re gonna switch, we have to! Also – what forum communication is this?

  • Andrea

    April 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm Reply

    Ugh. Frightening It really freaks me out. I have always doubted the use of these panic buttons – I have set the alarm off by mistake once or twice and noted how long it takes for someone to bother phoning/coming by, so this kind of doesn’t surprise me, but still. Its scary 🙁

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 12:34 pm Reply

      It’s so scary – also given the amount of money we pay them!

  • Steve Parkes

    April 1, 2015 at 12:44 pm Reply

    Wait until you try cancel a contract with ADT to move to another service provider… that is a whole new world of frustration.

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 12:49 pm Reply

      Oh no. Flip I hate admin!

    • Rene

      April 1, 2015 at 2:44 pm Reply

      We cancelled at ADT in December and have to say it was a painless process. No problems at all.

  • Tanya Jacobs

    April 1, 2015 at 12:47 pm Reply

    I am often home alone and one of those paranoid, ‘hear-every-noise-at-night’ kind of people. When home alone, my panic button shares a bed with me. I am with Blue Security in Durban.

    About a month ago, my dogs started barking at a high wall at the back of our house (which faces onto a quiet road) at around 9.45pm. I went cold and could barely move. The dogs have never done this so I pressed my panic button. Within three minutes, Blue Security was at my house, patrolling the property and I had already spoken to their control room.

    The guard completely checked the property and beyond the wall, and ensured I was back safe in the house with the doors locked.

    At times, we have triggered off the alarm and each time, they’ve made it out before four minutes. Very impressed and worth the money we pay each month. Sorry for your experience. Hopefully you find a company that can better protect you!

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 12:50 pm Reply

      They sound amazing! Do they have a Cape Town branch?

      • Cath

        April 1, 2015 at 12:56 pm Reply

        I recommend Blue too – they were very good to us! (We’ve swapped companies many times, over many moves!)

  • Alice Scott

    April 1, 2015 at 12:50 pm Reply

    You guys should try Chubb for size. Alarm goes off by mistake. I’m on my way out so I switch it off and figure they will call so I can let them know. 30 minutes later while I’m having a great time shopping I get the call. So now I’m not sure if the alarm went off again becuase this could NEVER be related to the mistake alarm right? I tell them to send someone. No follow up call from them. nothing. 2,5 hours later after I’ve returned from the shops, cooked dinner, slipped into comfys and am half way through a movie the doorbell
    Rings. It’s Chubb. “We received an alarm
    Activation.” It’s quicker flying to JHB in that time!

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 12:54 pm Reply

      OMG I laughed SO MUCH. I know it’s not funny. But man… it’s pretty ridiculous!!

  • Rachelle

    April 1, 2015 at 12:53 pm Reply

    This story does not surprise me at all. ADT once called me at the office to say my alarm was going off, would I like them to go and check. I said yes and waited for some feedback. Nothing. I left the office and went home myself. I was in my house when they called to say they were at my house RIGHT THEN and were walking around but no one is there and all is fine. I was of course in the house so I said I find that amazing as I’m there and no one else is. Panic (a word they do not understand) set in and they said they’d get back to me. Of course they didn’t. Eventually after endless calls from me they said they had gone to the wrong house.

    This was probably the 5th bad experience I had had with them (including no response to a panic button in the middle of the night) and I had had enough. Through a close contact I managed to get the owner of ADT’s cell number and called him. He was more (in fact, highly) irate by the fact that I had called him on his cell and concerned with where I got his number than he was concerned or cared at all that his company had repeatedly let me down around something that is SO fundamental to our well being in this country. This is not just a case of bad service with no repercussions – this is bad (or rather NO) service that can lead to death or severe trauma and injury. Sadly I do not believe that they care.

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm Reply

      This is SHOCKING! I can’t believe this. I was really hoping for some GOOD stories about this company to set me at ease and not one person has anything nice to say. Think it’s time to switch!

  • Cath

    April 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm Reply

    I’ve ranted about this a lot before (as you know). Our experiences with that company have been horrible to downright disgusting. Including the time I had a hijacking take place outside my house and our armed response said “Oh but it wasn’t you that was hijacked so we don’t need to come” (and I could see the hijackers from my bedroom window still). We’ve also had other issues.

    In our home now, we have a small, neighbourhood-based AR company. They’re efficient, come out when I call them (even when I am home alone and just hear a weird noise, they will come) and always pleasant. Remarkably, I we pay less for their services than we did for the other company.

    • Natasha Clark

      April 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm Reply

      In it for the money, not the people. Worst.

  • Cath

    April 1, 2015 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Oh, and Chubb (you can tell, I’ve been through the lot of them)…I pressed the panic button once, and they responded. 4 days later.

    Also, same hijacking I spoke of, there was a Chubb car ACROSS THE ROAD from where the hijacking was (I lived on an intersection). When the victims ran towards the Chubb car and away from the guys with guns, the CHUBB CAR DROVE AWAY at speed. The hijackers actually sat there, chose a CD and then drove away.

  • Sue Dunham

    April 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm Reply

    ADT are awful. Their awfulness has in fact created an entire niche for smaller companies who offer better service and faster response times. Cancel your contract with them as soon as you can. It’s not worth taking a chance when your household security and personal safety are at stake.

  • Anneri Kelderman

    April 2, 2015 at 6:48 am Reply

    ADT is a disgrace. I have caught one of their skivvies trying to break into my grandparents home at three in the morning. When asked what on earth he was up to he shrugged, claiming to be responding to an alarm. Considering I was at home alone, I would have known if I triggered the alarm.

    In Alberton on the farm I worked at as Stable Manager, I had to walk into a pitch black stable, where I heard people running around and rummaging 10 minutes before, because mister ADT response guy, with his posh flashlight and gun, refused to go in. So a 23 year old girl with a pitchfork had to do his job while he stood outside, scared of the dark. We have also had incidents where the panic button was pressed where they just never arrived, but charged my boss for a call out fee. Keep in mind their patrol car was parked between the two farm entrances about 200m up the road from the stable yard and house.

    In Moreleta park I have almost been run over by their cars speeding up and down Hesketh drive. I was also stopped and had rather explicit sexual comments made towards me while out on a walk in the area. This was in broad daylight.

    With all these complaints nobody from ADT ever came back to me. Not even a cut and paste apology.

    If you want quality, go for a smaller company. In Moreleta Park we have Bull Security. Gentleman with work ethic, good manners and a sense of pride in what they do. They have stopped to escort me into the complex grounds in the middle of the night, and followed my friends 2km home to make sure the ladies arrive safely. They have stopped next to the road to make sure I am okay when out on a walk, and they have always been friendly and showed real concern. Best part? I’m not even one of their clients! We need more people like this in the world, not companies who are more concerned with their monthly fee than their actual service and client interaction.

  • frank clary

    December 16, 2015 at 6:37 am Reply

    My wife and I have an apartment here in Toronto. My job demands me to keep travelling most of the time. This leaves me a little paranoid as home invasions are too common these days. We have Think pro 1 in our place and their app installed on my phone. Trigger, they are at your service!! Phew!! Peace of mind!! Sorry for your experience, Hope you find the right one for you 🙂

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