Fire & Life Safety

Be Creative

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.

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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