Fire & Life Safety

Consider New Technology

Instant communications quickly turn the media spotlight on any newsworthy event. Negative publicity has resulted in school districts revisiting their commitment and attention to ensure life safety in every way possible. The growing importance of mass notification, inspection reporting and fire protection systems technologies have facilities managers scrambling to keep pace.

Changes in technology can substantially impact the physical systems that protect students, staff and visitors from fires in our schools.

Technologies

Digital technology is creating a positive evolution in the school fire and life safety industry. For many years, the focus of fire and life safety in our schools has been on detection, suppression and evacuation, or the reaction to fire and life safety events.

School district demands for reach, accuracy and speed require more detailed information through faster communications. Digital technologies are the best way to satisfy those demands. Software-driven systems raise the bar to enable incident prevention through proactive fire protection response. Benefits of newer technologies include:

  • accuracy — customizable operator information improves accuracy and response;
  • visibility — unified view for operators and management of multiple brands of fire systems;
  • ease-of-use — designed for users who also have non-monitoring responsibilities;
  • interoperability — interfaces with existing building protection systems;
  • speed and reliability — newer transmission technologies improve overall performance; and
  • scalability — expandable software enables growth and expansion.

Major Impacts on Fire Protection

New technologies are having a major impact on school fire protection, particularly in the realm of fire alarm monitoring and management. With life safety the most critical part of an overall school district safety program, many schools continue to maintain district centralized monitoring for optimal control and the fastest response.

An evolution in fire alarm monitoring equipment is being fueled by new technologies.

1. Fire Alarm Systems — Fire alarm control panels where information from the building’s sensors is collected are constantly leveraging new technology. Where older panels and dispatch consoles only indicate the building where the issue is, newer “addressable” panels indicate specifically where in the building the issue is.

2. Communications — Methods for communicating alarm signals to the dispatcher are also subject to new technologies. Legacy communications such as telephone lines, direct wires, and coded signals can be unreliable, costly and not compliant with evolving fire protection codes. New communications technologies such as wireless radio and Ethernet are fast, reliable, code compliant and cost-effective.

3. Alarm management software — Perhaps the most noticeable area influenced by new technology is the receiving and monitoring equipment. Older receivers provide incident information in codes that need translation. Modern, software-driven incident management systems provide dispatchers with easy-to-understand event descriptions and can direct maintenance issues to service personnel.

Important history information necessary to provide input for mandated campus reports is readily available. These feature-rich systems are proactive and scalable, designed specifically for multi-building, campus environments.

Budgetary Considerations

Facilities often fight a challenging battle for funding of critical equipment, staffing and technology upgrades.

Fire codes ensure equipment and service standards to reduce risk, liability and insurance costs. Evolving codes mean new equipment, more expense and more training.

Fortunately, new technologies can substantially reduce costs. Deciding to monitor and manage alarms at a centralized district level eliminates monthly monitoring company fees and localizes the response. Computers and software provide easy access to detailed event information. Code-compliant systems can combine new and existing investments in fire alarm panels and communications infrastructure into a single, unified district-wide event management system to reduce costs.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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