Fire & Life Safety

Prepared and Aware

New building construction facilities expansion and equipment upgrades frequently require the addition or centralization of fire alarm and life safety event monitoring management systems for multi-building campuses. That growth, coupled with changing regulations and new building codes, is challenging school district facilities managers to find solutions that will substantially improve their fire and life safety alarm response performance.

Preparedness and awareness are two critical attributes in achieving timely and accurate responses.

Preparedness — emergency notification, periodic inspection and maintenance

Monitoring systems often incorporate traditional fire alarms and now mass notification systems and hazardous materials release monitoring. The result is improved response by providing dispatchers and responders with faster, more accurate incident information.

Ensuring the viability of these systems requires periodic inspections and maintenance. Software and cloud-based systems are available to schedule, provide checklists and aggregate the information from inspections and maintenance, to enable the district campus management to assess the viability of its equipment and plan upgrades. Take time to asses the reliability of your alarm and life safety monitoring stations — are they providing information now expected by school site staff and off campus responders? Do your systems provide appropriate instructions for building occupants related to what the incident is and how to respond appropriately?

Awareness — all the necessary event information at a glance or a click of the mouse

What is it? A smoke detector, hazmat alert, activated panic button? Where is it? In the library, the science lab, a dorm? Which dorm? What do dispatchers need to know? Who to call? Who to send? What is unique to that site? The more available information, the more accurate the response.

Sophisticated software receiving systems and fire alarm control panels (FACPs) provide a wealth of information to the dispatcher to substantially raise the bar to improving awareness of fire and life safety events. The most useful receiving systems are capable of unifying multiple brands of FACPs into a single display.

Solutions — the most effective systems are reliable, cost-effective and scalable

The goal of a unified fire and life safety event management system can be challenging to achieve. Buildings often have different brands and models of control panels with incompatible protocols. Most stakeholders want to choose equipment that works best for their building, and for budgetary reasons, do not want to remove their existing functional equipment.

The communications infrastructures that carry data transmission may differ among buildings and some buildings may have no communications infrastructure. Many older signaling technologies are being phased out and are no longer code-compliant for primary signaling. Newer signaling technologies provide faster, more reliable transmission and are code-compliant for primary signaling.

The three key attributes for unified life safety event management are:

  • FACP compatibility — unifies multiple brands and models of addressable FACPs. Uses existing equipment investments.
  • Multiple signaling capacities — accepts signals from multiple communications methods. Enables phased transitions from legacy to new signaling technologies.
  • Software functionality — provides detailed dispatcher information that meets campus-specific requirements, historical data for mandatory reporting and overall system visibility for administrators and management personnel.

Benefits — detailed, pinpoint alarm information in a single, unified system

The primary value of an onsite, unified life safety event management system is that it improves response. Occupants are receiving accurate information on what the problem is and how to react. Emergency responders have greater details of the incident before they arrive. They know with pinpoint accuracy where the problem is, what the problem is and can prepare to protect themselves enroute.

So take time to look at the systems you have in place and ask if they still meet your growing needs. If not, now is the time to start budgeting and planning to upgrade equipment.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 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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