Fire & Life Safety
- By Mike Halligan
- February 1st, 2017
Facility managers responsible
for the diverse life safety requirements
of school districts have to employ
creative measures to make the most of existing,
limited resources. Compromise isn’t an
option when it comes to ensuring the safety of
students, faculty and staff, so school facility
managers should consider the following
recommendations and resources for support with mission-critical
systems like fire and life-safety solutions.
Use technology to optimize resources
With advanced technology like addressable notification systems,
the days of long, disruptive fire alarm tests are in the past. Work that
used to take hours or even days can now be done in a matter of seconds,
thanks to the availability of self-testing capability for horns,
strobes and other notification appliances. Additionally, it’s the
addressability built into these systems that enables advanced testing
functionality, which can help to meet code requirements, reduce
disruption to students, faculty and staff, and lower operational costs.
In some addressable notification systems now available, each
appliance contains a light sensor and a sound sensor that can be
activated remotely from the host fire alarm panel. Once activated,
the self-test feature momentarily activates each appliance and
sends the results of the test back to the main panel for viewing and
archiving. If an appliance fails the test, it will be identified at the
panel. This self-testing process meets the testing requirements
specified in NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. (An
annual visual inspection is required to make sure the appliances
are not obstructed in any way.) It takes just seconds to complete
the self-test process for an entire notification system. The test can
be initiated manually or programmed via the fire alarm control
panel to run automatically. This allows testing to be done at a time
when it’s most convenient for the school, minimizing disruption
to students, eliminating the burden of after-hours testing, and
significantly reducing operational costs.
Remote diagnostics capabilities can also help facility managers
improve fire alarm system efficiency and performance. In some
school districts, proprietary supervising station monitoring is
typically used for fire alarm systems. When fire alarm panel issues
occur in the middle of the night under this scenario, an authorized
employee is alerted to the situation with a call, email or text that
describes only the event type. The appropriate facility representative
then has to go to the building where the panel is located to
read it in person. Remote diagnostics technology can improve this
process, by providing on-call employees with remote access to
device and system dashboards from any web-enabled device. This
advancement gives managers the ability to remotely view panel
information — just as if they were standing in front of it. With this
technology, managers can make quicker, more informed decisions
about the nature of the issue and how to respond in the best and
most efficient manner.
With technology advances like these, facilities team members can
accomplish more in any given day without the burden of needing to
physically view every device when a fire alarm system issue arises.
Leverage the extensive knowledge base of peers
Fire systems in some school buildings are complex, with various
products installed to meet different code and occupancy requirements.
Troubleshooting legacy systems without manufacturer
support and staying current on emerging regulations and updates
can be a time-consuming job. For support, managers can turn to the
expansive network of knowledgeable industry peers through trainings
and webinars, and through emerging online user communities
like Tyco’s free online Self-Maintainer Community, to connect with
peers and industry professionals for advice and best practices. Online
tech support is often a key feature of these communities, as well
as private groups that give access to panel programmers.
There are outside resources, such as NFPA, that offer educational
materials and regulation updates for fire protection through
online courses. These focused courses can assist in providing
facilities team members with knowledge and insight on a plethora
of topics like fire alarms, special hazards, fire science, project
management and code updates. At the same time, this type of
information can reduce the need to call in a contractor or engineer
to solve less complicated issues.
With the right technologies in place and supporting external
resources, school facility managers are better equipped to create
a safe, secure campus environment while balancing the many
demands of other systems and stakeholders.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.
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.