Web Analytics Made Easy -
top of page

Introduction to Panic Alarms



The purpose of a panic alarm is to allow a person under duress to quickly and silently call for help in the event of an emergency. Panic alarms are also called "duress alarms", "hold-up alarms", or "panic buttons".


Panic alarms are used when it may be unsafe or uncomfortable to call for help in other ways. For example, if a belligerent person is standing in your lobby, it may be unwise to further escalate the situation by picking up a phone to call for assistance. A panic alarm can provide a quick and convenient way to summon help without drawing attention.


Silva Consultants feels that almost every business can benefit from the use of panic alarms. Places where panic alarms may be particularly beneficial include:

  • Receptionist's desks in building lobbies.

  • Security stations and checkpoints.

  • Shipping/receiving areas.

  • Customer service counters.

  • Check-out counters and cashier's stations.

  • Rooms where cash or other valuables are received, processed, or stored.

  • Interview rooms in Human Resources department.

  • Executive office suites.

  • Places where confrontations with the public are likely to occur.

Components of a Panic Alarm System

Panic alarms consist of two basic components:


Panic Button


The panic button is the device that the person activates when he or she needs help. There are many styles of panic buttons available. These can have a single pushbutton, two pushbuttons that must be pressed simultaneously, devices that must be squeezed, and devices that are activated by a foot or knee. There are also devices that can be covertly activated when cash or a product is removed at the request of a robber. Most panic buttons are specifically designed to resist accidental activation.


Panic buttons are normally installed in a location where they can easily be reached, yet out of view of the casual observer. In many cases, panic buttons are installed on the underside of a desk or counter-top.


Panic buttons can be the wired type or wireless type. Wired panic buttons are connected using cabling. Wired panic buttons are very reliable, but it can sometimes be difficult and costly to get cable to each panic button location.


Wireless panic buttons use a short-range radio transmitter, similar to that used with a garage door opener. Wireless panic buttons are easy to install and can be placed just about anywhere. Wireless panic buttons can also be carried around on the premises by employees if desired. Wireless panic buttons require batteries and need to be tested frequently to assure that they are operating properly.


Communications System


The communications system is the method that is used to summon help when a panic button is pressed. The type of communications system used depends largely on the resources available at the facility where the panic alarm is being installed and the level of security threat.


Types of communications systems used can include:


Communications to an off-site alarm monitoring center:

This method would typically be used at facilities that do not have an on-site security staff, such as at a small business. The panic buttons would be connected to an alarm control panel which sends a signal to the monitoring center when a panic button is pressed. The alarm monitoring center would then call the police or other appropriate people to respond to the site.


Communications to security control center:

Most large companies have some type of centralized security monitoring and control center, either on-site, or at a central location somewhere within their organization. When this type of resource exists, panic buttons are typically monitored at the control center. Most often, panic buttons are connected to the organization's access control and security management system, which transmits the alarm to the control center.


When a panic button is pressed, it sounds an alarm in the security control center. The center would then dispatch local security officers and/or the police to respond to the site.


Communications to non-security personnel:

Some organizations that do not have on-site security choose to notify non-security personnel when a panic button is pressed. Often, the organization will form a "response team" consisting of employees from multiple departments (Facilities, HR, etc.) and ask that these employees respond when a panic button is pressed.


There are various systems that can be used to notify the response team when a panic button has been pressed. These include can include overhead paging systems and devices that send voice messages, text messages, or email messages directly to smartphones.


Tips for Successfully Using Panic Alarms


  • Panic alarms are worthless unless people know how to use them. Provide frequent training and make employees practice using panic buttons, particularly at positions where there is high employee turnover.

  • When possible, provide a video surveillance camera that views each area where a panic button is installed. The panic alarm system should be interfaced to the video surveillance system to provide real-time recording when a panic button has been pressed. At facilities that have a security control center, the video surveillance system should automatically display the appropriate cameras at the control center whenever a panic button has been activated. This allows the center to assess the situation in order to send the proper response.


  • Facilities that use a response team to respond to panic alarms should have some method to assess the situation before personnel enter the scene. Cameras that view panic button locations should be remotely viewable by response team members. This can be done using a computer on the network that has video viewing software, or by providing one or more dedicated video monitors.


  • In some locations, different types of responses may be needed to handle different types of situations. For example, a drunk person in the lobby poses a different threat than an armed robber, yet employees may wish to have a method for discretely summoning help in either case. To handle this, it is possible to install what we call a "two-state" panic button. This button can be programmed so that two types of signals can be sent, one for true emergencies, and one for when help is needed but the situation doesn't require an emergency response.


If you have questions about panic alarms, or need help in designing a panic alarm system for your facility, please contact us.

Like this article?

Visit our Security Tips page for more than 75 additional articles on a variety of topics related to physical security

Follow us on Twitter to be notified when new Security Tips are published

  • Twitter

Did You Know?

Silva Consultants is an independent security consulting firm and does not sell security equipment or products

Need Help?

Silva Consultants can assist you in the design and planning of an effective security program and in the selection of security products and services

Please contact us for further assistance

Thinking about becoming an independent security consultant yourself?

Buy Michael A. Silva's book on Amazon


"Becoming an Independent Security Consultant – A Practical Guide to Starting and Running a Successful Security Consulting Practice"

Published May, 2016

bottom of page