Fire Alarms as Urban Social Indicators

  • Robert K. Yin
Part of the Environment, Development, and Public Policy: Cities and Development book series (EDPC)


Fire alarms normally include three kinds of events: (1) calls to the fire department because of the need to extinguish fires, (2) calls because of the need for emergency or ambulance (but nonfire-related) aid, and (3) false alarms. In the aggregate, the alarms are a record of physical and social deterioration in the central city; the highest incidence of alarms in any large city is nearly always found in the neighborhoods with the lowest-income population and with buildings in the poorest condition. Moreover, the incidence of alarms often varies directly with other forms of urban disorder. The U.S. Riot Commission (1968), for instance, noted that fires, along with rock throwing or sniping at control forces and along with the looting of stores, were the most common events that characterized the urban riots of the mid-1960s. Thus the record of fire alarms constitutes a potentially valuable resource as an urban social indicator. The purpose of this chapter is to explore this possibility in greater detail by examining three types of alarm patterns: cross-city trends, seasonal (temporal) patterns, and neighborhood differences.


False Alarm Social Indicator Building Fire Neighborhood Change Fire Alarm 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert K. Yin
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.The Case Study InstituteUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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