New advancements in fire alarm technology has led to better protected occupants and property, while also reducing expenses and helping building management monitor and maintain their systems.
Together with fire protection engineers and technology providers, existing properties needing system upgrades are creating plans to phase-in new technology. A multi-phase project can run anywhere from one to five years, or even more, depending on the size and sophistication of the upgrade. By spreading it out over time, facility managers can better budget for material and labour costs, while minimizing any effects on business continuity.
Many of today’s fire alarm systems feature incredible backwards compatibility capabilities. This means that in many instances, the head-end fire alarm control panel can be replaced and tied into existing detection and notification devices using the existing wire.
Newer systems typically offer more capacity to accommodate facility growth and the addition of more field devices. Over time, the older field devices can be replaced, and facilities can then reap the benefits of modern multi-criteria detectors that compare a variety of elements — light, carbon monoxide (CO), heat and infrared — to quickly sense and verify the presence of smoke.
The multi-criteria detectors can be set to varying degrees of sensitivity, and be programmed to sound a local alert only. This lets management or security check the area before sounding a general evacuation alarm throughout the property. However, when several detectors within an area are triggered, the fire alarm system can be programmed to initiate a full evacuation.
There are also devices that monitor for both smoke and CO. Many nursing homes, schools with dormitories and other commercial sleep occupancies now require CO detection as well as traditional smoke detection.
Utilizing separate detectors means an installer must make four holes: two for the detectors and two for the sounders. Then each has to be wired, all of which means more billable labour.
A dual sensing unit requires only two boxes: one for the detector and one for the sounder. The sounders can tell the difference between a CO alarm and a smoke alarm, and will signal appropriately.
The dual fire and CO detectors reduce overall installation time and material costs, with minimal effects to room aesthetics. More importantly, they meet the detection coverage requirements surrounding CO that are being adopted by a growing number of Canadian provinces.
Voice alarms trumps bells
Numerous studies have found building occupants respond much more willingly to voice commands versus the traditional fire alarm bells or chimes. With this in mind, many properties, big and small, are opting for fire alarm systems with voice evacuation capabilities. Advancements in today’s fire alarms allow a large variety of pre-recorded messages to be customized to the needs of a building and its occupants.
Another technology trend that is rapidly growing in popularity, and can also be phased-in over time, is the addition of speakers to existing systems to support the addition of voice evacuation. The fidelity of today’s speakers is vastly improved over older technology. New speakers will mean increased audio clarity and a decrease in power consumption by the strobes.
With the capability to now send pre-recorded and live voice messages, more properties are leveraging their fire alarm systems with voice evacuation for mass notification. From multi-building universities and industrial complexes to shopping malls, theatres and high-rise facilities, mass notification systems are becoming increasingly prevalent to warn occupants of more than just fires. A major difference to note: fire alarm systems warn of smoke and fire threats. Mass notification systems are used to warn people of multiple threats, such as inclement weather, intruders and hazardous material spills.
Traditionally, fire alarm systems have used telephone lines to communicate system status, maintenance alerts and emergency alarms to central monitoring stations. This scenario tends to cost approximately $60 per phone line, at $120 a month.
Today’s systems can report alerts to the central station over the facility’s existing IP network. Online reporting can eliminate costly phone lines, reduce alert time and identify a connection problem between fire alarm system and central station much more quickly compared to phone lines.
Another new fire alarm communications alternative to phone lines is cellular GSM networks. There are devices that offer a choice of IP, GSM, or both, for fire alarm reporting. An installer can configure this product for IP or GSM as the sole communication path, or utilize IP as primary with GSM as backup. Most of these units can easily connect to virtually any fire alarm control panel, making them ideal for new installations or retrofit applications.
Upgrades to new fire alarm technology can reap huge benefits for properties in terms of improved detection and response times; ease of use and maintenance; reductions in nuisance alarms; cost-effectiveness; and the utmost goal — superior life safety.
Howard Diamond is national sales manager for Notifier Canada, a worldwide manufacturer of commercial fire alarm systems, emergency communication systems and mass notification systems.