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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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