HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – After a local woman's home security system went off one night, the alarm company had police dispatched. Over an hour later, an officer responded.
Chris Richardson knows what it's like to be scared out of her sleep in the middle of the night by her home security system.
"We didn't know if somebody tried to come in, if it was wind, what it was, but we realized our back door was open," she remembers.
"From one standpoint, I was pretty scared, we have a child upstairs sleeping and it's startling to be woken up by an alarm going off," she says. Her alarm company called the house within minutes.
"She asked me if I wanted police dispatched and I said 'absolutely,'" Richardson recalls. "I said 'Our back door is wide open.'"
Richardson and her husband waited for police to respond, but after a while decided to go back to bed when their house was quiet again. She was surprised when she got a call from Horry County dispatch 80 minutes later. They told her the responding officer couldn't get into her gated community and asked if she still wanted him to stop by.
"I think the biggest concern for us is if someone had actually come in and harmed someone in our family, it would have taken quite some time before police would've shown up," Richardson says.
Horry County Police Lt. Robert Kegler says the police response to Richardson's emergency is not typical, but he acknowledges most residential and commercial security system calls are false alarms.
"Very rarely is it an alarm and then you find out while en route that there's an actual burglary going on," Lt. Kegler says.
Popular alarm companies advertise their security systems as your direct link to police in scary situations, but that same system could actually hinder the response time.
Richardson called police the next day to question why it took more than an hour for someone to respond and she was surprised by what she heard.
"To me, it was very eye-opening to learn that when an alarm company calls them it's not always treated as the number one response, as if we hung up the phone and called back ourselves," she says.
Lt. Kegler says there are several reasons why police may not respond right away, but it's not because they're ignoring the security system call.
"There may be some type of delay with the alarm company getting it to dispatch. Not only that, but the police officer may be on another call when the alarm comes in," he says.
"I understand that, from the standpoint if there are a lot of false alarms that they need to check on and there's other things that need to take place, but in our situation, it could've been something worse," Richardson says.
Lt. Kegler says property crimes never get prioritized as high as crimes that threaten a life. For example, a security system dispatch calling with a possible burglary doesn't get the same attention as someone who calls 911 scared there's someone in their house.
"If the information is a residential alarm with no key holder information and nobody on scene, we're responding as such, as an alarm," Lt. Kegler says. "Now if we receive a phone call because someone hears screaming and gunfire or definite struggle, then yeah, things change."
Richardson is not planning on getting rid of her system because she likes the security of having a house alarm. She's just glad she now knows what to do in case a real emergency happens at her home.
"I don't know that I would necessarily trust the emergency call. I would still hang up and call myself," she says.
Lt. Kegler says that's your best bet.
"No matter what the situation is, if there's an emergency, 911's the way to go."