Most Virginians will tell you that the state motto, “Virginia is for lovers,” is just about as true as it gets. But this motto is not based on some strange romantic feel circulating in the air. It’s all about the landscape, beauty and history that can only be found in this state. Virginia is filled with amazing sights and sounds that are pretty hard to find anywhere else. There’s the majestic Shenandoah Valley and its picturesque partner, the Appalachian Mountains. There are the historic downtown streets in Charlottesville, Alexandria, Culpeper and Staunton. There are sunny beaches and dark, mysterious caverns to explore. Avoiding all smugness, Virginia really is a state that has it all. But even in a state with the best of everything, there’s still the human element. And with the human element comes the need for home security in Virginia.
Home Security Provider Requirements for Virginia
For Virginians looking to add a home security system, the search will be … interesting. There are some state-level laws that govern home security providers. But don’t wipe that nervous sweat from your brow just yet. While these laws are fairly open, straightforward and–most importantly–non-restrictive on homeowners, there are also a good amount of laws that do govern security system usage on a county-by-county basis.
To date, the state has four legally-specific codes for home security providers. Three of them (see here, here and here) are documents that define the terminology surrounding home security. The remaining code specifies what regulations exist for providers. In actuality, it doesn’t regulate what service providers can and cannot do. But it does add regulations on “installation and management”. The other, and somewhat more interesting nugget, explains that “police or firefighters are expected to respond.” This is good news for you. What it means is that, by law, the police or any other emergency responders are must respond if your alarm does go off for whatever (hopefully not frightening) reason.
Bad news. The county-by-county regulations can vary greatly. Take Fairfax County, for example. Of the 8.3 million of you living in the state of Virginia, 1.1 million of you live in Fairfax. That’s a whopping 13% of the entire state, packed like sardines right near the nation’s capital. And unfortunately, Fairfax County has decided that far too many of your alarms were going off without a real emergency situation. According to the Fairfax County government, 95-98% of all alarm system calls are false alarms. As such, the county has passed a law that fines customers who have too many false alarms. The fine is set at $0 for the first and second offense, but sits at a wallet-emptying $100 for the third offense, on up to a bank-account draining $3000 if you somehow manage 25 false alarms.
Now, we know that you are responsible homeowners, and that you won’t go pulling your alarm at every creak of the floorboard. But the reality is that sometimes your alarms do go off for various reasons that are completely beyond your control. You forget the code. Your kids forget the code. A power outage somehow trips the alarms. These things happen. Thankfully, Fairfax County allows you to contest false alarms charges, but that’s an uphill battle. Other counties are a bit more forgiving, but most do require you to, at the least, register your alarm system with the county and obtain a permit for installing one.
Standard consumer protection laws do exist, and Virginia has been fairly adamant about going after home security providers that attempt to deal dirty with their customers. In 2015, one company was sued for “bait and switch” practices, in which they tricked customers into signing 5 year contracts that were nearly impossible to get out of. Hopefully this doesn’t scare you away from home security. Just promise us you’ll read any contract that you’re itching to sign!
Using Security Cameras in Virginia
Thinking of placing an array of cameras around your home? Unless you’re trying to see your neighbor in the buff, you don’t have much to worry about. Virginia does not have any laws against putting up your own surveillance cameras. The only stipulation is that it is illegal to record any person in the nude without their consent. Virginia law follows standard right to privacy laws, in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are in a private or a compromising situation. The law can get murky if, say, someone comes to burglarize your home and decides to do it in the nude, but with all likelihood, the law would land on your side of such a situation.
Your safest bet here, however, is to stick to silent surveillance cameras if you have neighboring houses close by. In other words, use cameras that do not have audio pickup capabilities. The laws are significantly more restrictive when it comes to recording audio then when it comes to recording video. While you can easily avoid recording your neighbors accidentally by not pointing a camera toward their windows, you could inadvertently pick up private (and embarrassing!) conversations that would be otherwise private. Now, there’s no way they would likely know that you heard about their intimate life details, but why take the risk?
Safety During Virginia Natural Disasters
Virginia is blessed in that it is not prone to many natural disasters. While some of the most common disasters do occur in the state (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides and mudslides, floods, wildfires, extreme heat and cold), the majority of these that do occur are much more muted than what you might find in other parts of the country. However, the Virginia Department of Health does specifically provide guidance on how to deal with the disasters that do occur with a bit more regularity than the others.
Specifically, if you live in Virginia, the most common concern for you will be floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, extreme heat and extreme cold. You might not find that information to be particularly comforting. However, staying safe during all of these starts with preparedness.
For floods, you will always want to have an escape plan in place. While we know you’ll be tempted to pull out the boat and fishing rod (both popular pastimes in Virginia), flash flooding is a common problem and nothing to be trifled with. If the weather has been bone dry for some time, and a sudden, heavy rain occurs, flooding almost always follows somewhere. The same is true if the ground has been drenched for a while and another large rain comes. If you live in a lower elevation area or downhill, know that flooding may be a problem for you. Have emergency food and water ready, and have your car ready for quick evacuation. Be extra cautious when driving on the roads as well. What could look like a small puddle in the road could be much deeper. A few feet of water can cause a car to lose traction with the road.
Extreme heat (which should be expected in a state known for love) and cold are also common concern for Virginians. For cold, make sure to have emergency blankets. Know and understand the symptoms of hypothermia. If your home has a fireplace, make sure to have wood stockpiled that can be used for a fire. If you have an electric or gas fireplace, you’re sorely out of luck. Always having emergency food, water and clothing.
And although tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes are rare in the state, it’s important to know how to handle these situations. Note that for tornadoes, your best bet is to either retreat to an underground shelter or to take cover in a location without windows. Try to take cover in the center of the room, if possible. For hurricanes, try to treat it similar to a flood and a tornado. Both are possible during a hurricane. Finally, for earthquakes (when they do happen in Virginia, that is), try to take cover under heavy furniture, and try to do so on the first floor, if possible. If you are outside, stay away from walls, as these will tend to fall down during an earthquake.
Staying safe in Virginia is a much easier prospect than in many other states. For Virginians, home security is always going to be a concern, but you can rest easy. When problems do occur, you’re likely going to be ready for them. After all, you’re from Virginia. The fighting spirit has always been strong, especially against tyranny. Fighting against the tyranny of home invasion and burglaries and even natural disasters is almost certainly second nature in Virginia.