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New York, NY (July 1, 2017) – American Fire and Life Safety, the maker of the Proactive Alarm Management System, has launched a new release 3.0.

The new release utilizes graphics visualizations and secure web technologies to protect large, complex and critical facilities from risks and potential damages resulting from emergency incidents.

To prepare incident command staff for any kind of emergency, the Proactive Alarm Management System takes on the role of single source of truth for all fire, water, emergency detection devices. The system facilitates day-to-day testing of the devices and maintains accurate profiles and test records of all devices.

In the event of an emergency, critical graphical visualization is used to pinpoint emergency locations on facility maps. As soon as an emergency is detected, critical information is automatically sent to the mobile phones of the incident commander and other incident command staff. This enables the incident commander to assess the fireground situation within the short possible amount of time.

The Proactive Alarm Management System is currently in use at the New York Kennedy Airport by American Airlines to protect the facilities, travelers and occupants at Terminal 8.

There are thousands of critical facilities in the U.S. alone. “With the Proactive Alarm Management System, critical facilities are now able to reduce risk and protect their investments by reacting to emergencies in the shortest amount of time”, said Tim Carter, the product manager of the American Fire and Life Safety.

American Fire and Life Safety is the owner of the Proactive product series. Its Proactive Alarm Management System is known for robust software and its versatility. The company’s mission is to help large, complex and critical facilities to reduce risk and compliance issues with graphical visualization and secure web technologies resulting in systematic fire alarm maintenance and incident management practices, and most importantly, less financial exposure from damage and fines. The company’s website at www.AmericanFLS.com contains additional information.


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A question we often get is “we are already using a service to monitor fire alarms, why do we still need an alarm management system?”. The short answer is fire alarm monitoring service only provides minimal protection; solid emergency preparedness and an alarm management system is ultimately what protects your site. To understand this, we first have to see what a commercial fire alarm monitoring company does and what it does not do for their customers.

Fire alarm management system provides main protection to large sites while Fire alarm monitoring services provides a backup strategy - americanFLS.com

“Fire alarm monitoring service only provides minimal protection; solid emergency preparedness and an alarm management system is ultimately what protects your site”

What commercial fire alarm monitoring companies do

Commercial fire alarm monitoring companies maintain a staff that monitors many properties. Their objective is to monitor and notify. When they get an alarm, they will try to notify the primary contact person of the property by phone. If the primary contact is not available, then they will escalate it and try to contact the secondary contact. If none of the contacts are available, they will notify the police/fire department.

If they are able to get in touch with a customer contact, they would read out the fire alarm message to the contact. After this, it’s the customer’s responsibility to take care of the alarm.

What the customer need to do

Once notified, the customer quickly pinpoints the exact emergency location and sends the incident commander over there to assess. The incident commander will determine if the situation is something they can handle. If not, the incident command staff will involve public services like the fire/police department or EMS appropriately.

In other words, it is critical for the incident commander to get to the emergency location quickly. If the emergency is time critical, what begins as a minor issue could become a devastating issue if the incident command staff is unable to get there quickly. For example, if a high pressure water pipe is broken, being able to quickly determine which water valve should be shutoff, where it is and how to get to there is critical in order to minimize water damages.

Without an alarm management system, pinpointing a location involves referencing static documentation including spreadsheets, PDF files, and facility map drawings. This is a time consuming manual and error prone process. For this reason, it is critical for large facilities sites to eliminate these manual steps with an automated alarm management system in order to provide maximum protection to the facilities.

How an Alarm Management System can help and monitoring services cannot

In order for the incident command staff to get to the emergency location in the shortest possible amount of time, the delivery of the fire alarm message to the first respond staff must be automated. All steps involving human manual interactions should be used as a safety net. Just in case if technology fails, this safety net ensures the emergency won’t go unnoticed. But relying on this last resort mechanism to protect your facilities will not enable your incident command staff sufficient time to react to situations.

An alarm management system automatically sends fire alarm messages directly to the incident commander’s phone within seconds. The emergency location is graphically located on the system console, and the dispatcher will be aware of the exact location. In our experience, by the time monitoring service got to handle a fire alarm and phoned the primary contact, the first respond staff already had the information minutes ago and was already well on his way.

Fire Alarm Monitoring Service is a only Safety net

When a fire detection system receives an alarm message, it automatically activates the fire bell and strobe lights throughout the facilities. This way, whoever is in the facilities should become aware of an emergency. In a 24/7 large and complex site where there are staff on duty all the time, the need for fire alarm monitoring services from a 3rd party is technically not needed. However, it is still good to have it from accountability perspective. It is also good to have it as a backup strategy in case if technology fails.

Conclusion

For many large and complex sites, alarm management systems are critical. They provide incident command staff critical information instantaneously, enabling them to start reacting to situations in the shortest possible amount of time. Fire alarm monitoring companies monitor and notify. Although many fire alarm monitoring companies provide excellent services, they are meant to be backup solutions and provide minimum protection.

Fire alarm monitoring companies do not know their customers’ sites as well as the customers’ own incident command staff. They are not on site and they monitor their customers’ sites from their remote central stations. Ultimately it is the customers’ responsibilities to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible. But at the same time, it is good to have fire alarm monitoring companies looking after their back as a backup strategy.

Both alarm management systems and fire alarm monitoring companies have their specific purposes and provide for different needs. For that reason, they do not replace each other in the realm of fire alarm monitoring and response.


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Alarm Management Systems are ideal for large and complex sites

Facilities that may consider using their own graphical Alarm Management System to seriously beef up alarm maintenance and incident management protocols are likely to be very large, complex and critical facilities or sites. Many of them are millions of square feet in size, populated with heavy machinery, and 24/7 operations. Their purposes may be industrial, transportation, commercial or mixed use. Examples of such industrial or transportation sites are major airport terminals, parcel distribution hub, manufacturing plants, etc.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer these types of sites as “large and complex sites”.

Examples of large and complex sites

What commercial fire alarm monitoring services do and do not do

Commercial fire alarm companies have staff who monitors alarm messages from their customers’ facilities. When they receive an alarm, they call a designated person to notify the customer about the alarm. If the designated person does not pick up the call, they will escalate the situation to a secondary contact or the fire department. Once they are able to get in touch with the customer or fire department, they will read the information in the fire alarm message to the contact. Their objective is to ensure the customer is aware of any alarm.

For homes and small commercial properties, this business model works well. The information in the fire alarm message is typically sufficient for the customer contact to take remedial actions for the situation. But for large and complex sites, it is not possible to put enough information in a short alarm text message to sufficiently locate fire detection devices. Because of its sheer size and complexity nature, it requires looking up secondary documentation in order to pin point problem areas. Commercial alarm monitoring service providers will notify but they do not troubleshoot issues nor try to pinpoint problems on the map or determine how to handle problems. Those are the customer’s responsibilities.

Why commercial fire alarm monitoring services may not work for large and complex sites

Fire alarm monitoring service providers are suitable for residential, small to medium commercial properties, and even large and low complexity commercial properties (like office buildings). Most of them have a relatively small number and varieties of fire detection devices. Compliance requirements for them are relatively low. On the other hand, for many large and complex sites:

  • Looking up the emergency location from secondary documents takes time. The staff from commercial alarm monitoring services do not know the site intimately. Their staff takes care of many other customers and pinpointing problem areas on the map is just not something they can help with. Ultimately the responsibility falls on the customers to quickly locate the problem and have first response on the ground ASAP. This is why a graphical alarm management system is so essential.
  • keeping an in-house staff to maintain fire alarm devices and provide first response, often on a 24/7 basis, is more cost effective than using outside commercial services.
  • it takes a facility staff a long time to learn his or her way around sufficiently well so he or she can effectively provide maintenance and first response to emergency situations, and retaining the staff as a company asset would make more sense, from a knowledge retention perspective, than to use outside contractors.
  • they may require facility personnel to have security clearances, and using cleared outside contractors would be very cost prohibitive.
  • they may have worker’s unions that impose strict regulations on the use of outside service contractors.

In other words, fire alarm monitoring service providers and the makers of alarm management systems serve two very distinct markets. For large and complex sites, it makes sense to use an alarm management system. For other types of properties, it probably make sense to use a service provider.

Manual procedures introduce facility risks to large and complex sites

Unfortunately many large and complex sites today still use original fire detection equipment installed when the building was constructed decades ago. They are still following alarm maintenance and incident management protocols and procedures designed to work with those fire detection equipment. Most original fire detection equipment is not linked up with today’s communication infrastructure (like WiFi, mobile phones and internet). As a result these alarm maintenance and incident management protocols and procedures are mostly not automated and often rely on manual tasks to work. Because of this, many large and complex sites still rely on their own staff to monitor fire alarms.

Alarm Management System benefits

As explored in this article, performing manual tasks to pinpoint emergency locations in a fire alarm situation slows down first response. The manual tasks are error prone, and they can be totally automated by an Alarm Management System.

In addition, the emergency preparedness function of an Alarm Management System streamlines fire alarm testing activities. During testing, test records are automatically collected and saved in test log reports. This saves the fire alarm testing coordinator a lot of manual work for compiling test records into the required format for compliance reasons. Furthermore, facilities do not need to replace their existing fire detection systems in order to take advantage of the benefits.

Many large and complex sites are in fact critical facilities. Facility risks in large and complex sites, whether it is a critical facility or not, may jeopardize their missions. A smart alarm management system reduces facility risks and protect the sites.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is ideal for large and complex sites, like transportation hub, manufacturing plants and industrial complexes, to monitor fire alarms with a computerized system. Not only does it reduce risks for the sites, it also helps fire code compliance.


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Advances in Technology and Monitoring of Fire Detection Equipment and Automatic Fire Alarms Create Complacency

Many large scale commercial and industrial facilities built three or more decades ago are still using the original fire alarm detection equipment and fire alarm testing and response procedures. Fire alarm detection equipment is generally robust by design and lasts for a long time. A research done by ORR Protection Systems in 2008, which quality tested 3,986 fire detection systems, determined that they had a failure rate of 0.32%.

There is no doubt we should strive for a failure rate of zero. Any failure could mean devastating losses. However it remains factual that this 99+% pass rate indicates that fire detection systems are generally maintained properly and working.

In addition, it is increasingly common for facilities to utilize automatic fire alarms. In an emergency situation, automatic alarm notifies the fire department, resulting in dispatch of fire department resources to handle the situation.

The combination of seemingly robust fire detection equipment and the popular use of automatic fire alarms has created a wide spread complacency among facilities managers. As good as it sounds, this really is a double edged sword. This article will explore why this complacency results in unnecessary facility risks in many large facilities today.

The good news is that the Proactive Alarm Management System reduces facility risks and is a non-disruptive and cost effective solution to this problem.

Complacency leads to Outdated Equipment and Emergency Response Procedures Still in Use Today

Going back three decades, with the technology that was available then, it was a norm for a fire detection control panel to print fire alarm messages on a dot matrix line printer. If the facilities had an incident commander, he would determine the emergency location from the printout and other static reference documents. This was tedious and error prone. If the facilities did not have an incident commander, when the fire department arrived, the firemen would do this tedious and error prone lookup.

paper based fire alarm monitoring procedure creates risks - americanFLS.comBack then, that was a widely accepted practice. Today an alarm management system can automate the lookup and eliminate these manual steps. Yet many large scale facilities today still continue to use outdated equipment and procedures. The reason why large facilities have not upgraded is often due to the perceived robustness of the fire detection equipment.

Many facilities managers have the “If it hasn’t broken, why fix it?” mentality and that is hindering the modernization of fire alarm monitoring and response. After all upgrading a fire alarm detection system is often a big undertaking, in terms of cost and labor. Many organizations may find it challenging (if not prohibiting) to come up with the funding to finance such upgrades, especially when their fire detection systems have not broken yet.

 

Automatic Fire Alarms have our backs, or so it seems

In an emergency situation, an incident commander assess the situation and either let the facilities staff handle the situation or requests for help from the fire/police department. However many facilities do not have any incident commanders. Instead they utilize automatic fire alarms that notify the fire department for all emergencies. This unfortunately means the fire department has to respond to every minor incidents, including the ones the facilities could handle themselves. In sum, automatic fire alarms often results in unwarranted alarms.

According the National Fire Protection Agency Journal in June 2016, unwarranted alarms have been on the rise and has become a serious issue. In 2014, U.S. fire departments responded to almost 2.5 million unwarranted alarms, almost twice the total number of reported fires and five times the number of structure fires. It has taken an increasing toll on the nation’s fire service.

For large and complex sites, this all boils down to the need to have Incident Commanders at the sites to assess emergency situations before calling the fire department.

The Proactive Alarm Management System is a cost effective and non-disruptive solution for reducing facility risks

What many facilities managers need to realize is that upgrading their fire detection systems does not necessary. Adding a smart alarm management system to their existing fire detection infrastructure is a cost effective and non-disruption solution. It provides Incident Commanders what they need in order to respond to emergencies quickly. It can also save lives.

When a smart alarm management system detects a fire alarm, it automatically looks up all critical information about the device, like a pull station, smoke detector, heat sensor or water tamper. Without any human intervention, the dispatcher console automatically presents graphical information on the emergency location and all other critical information. In addition, the alarm management system sends the critical information to the mobile phones of the Incident Commander and other facility personnel. As a result, first response time is reduced significantly. The incident commander will start heading directly to the emergency as soon as it happens, and he will arrive informed and prepared.

This automation saves time and avoids human errors when handling emergency situations. Minutes saved could mean millions of dollars of damages avoided and lives saved.

Alarm Management System streamlines fire alarm testing

The Proactive Fire Alarm Monitoring System - simplify fire alarm testing and helps with facility compliance - americanFLS.comIn addition to reducing facility risks, a smart alarm management system also reduces workload of the facility maintenance team in fire alarm testing activities. During fire alarm testing, the alarm management system runs in a simulation mode, and it interprets test alarm messages and pinpoints test locations just like in real emergencies. Additionally, it records all test alarm messages in the Test Log Report. This saves the Fire Alarm Testing Coordinator a lot of time in compiling test results into reports as required by the local fire codes. Fire alarm test logs are available online and Test Log Reports. Whoever needs the test records in paper form can print the reports as needed.

ROI

If you wonder about the return on investment (ROI) of a smart alarm management system, just think about the financial ramification of fire and/or water damages caused by delayed first response, the potential fines for not having done fire alarm testing methodically and have all test records in order, and the hundreds of hours spent sifting through paper records for insurance claims because data in paper form is not easy to search. They will justify the cost of an alarm management system many times over.

Fire alarm system manufacturers often create proprietary monitoring software for their own hardware. Unfortunately many facilities utilize the manufacturer’s monitoring software and implement manual procedures around it for handling emergency responses. The article on “Choosing an Alarm Monitoring System for my facility” explores the advantages of using alarm management systems from third party software vendors over the fire alarm monitoring software from equipment manufacturer for alarm management.

Conclusion

In summary, a smart alarm management system is not a “nice to have” item, but a critical item in your facility maintenance budget. It reduces facility risks and helps your facility stay in compliant. It saves money, most important of all, it can save lives.

If you are not already using a smart alarm management system for your facility, take a proactive action now. Plan ahead and don’t wait till it happens.


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Some fire alarm system manufacturers also provide proprietary software solutions for alarm management. At the same time, some third party software vendors who are not affiliated with any equipment manufacturer offer alarm management solutions. In addition, some may consider using fire alarm monitoring services from alarm monitoring companies for alarm management.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of alarm management solutions from these different sources.

Fire Alarm Monitoring Services are off the table for Alarm Management

Some may think the fire alarm monitoring services from alarm monitoring companies will take care of alarm management for their facilities. Well hold on to that thought.

Most facilities use commercial fire alarm monitoring services to monitor fire alarms. Alarm monitoring companies’ objective is to monitor and notify. When they receive a fire alarm, they follow escalation protocols to notify the property owner, facilities management or the fire/police department. However because they monitor fire alarms from their remote central monitoring stations, they do not have incident commanders on the ground to assess emergency situations. As a result, they cannot go further than monitor and notify. Although their services is useful and it is certainly better than having nobody monitoring the fire alarms, fire alarm monitoring services can only provide minimal protection.

For many large, complex and critical sites, they need more than the minimum. They need their own incident command staff to assess emergencies on the ground and manage the fallout of incidents. In addition, it makes more sense financially to maintain their own facility staff for the doing year round fire alarm device testing and maintenance. Our article on “which facilities need an Alarm Management Systems” has an in depth analysis on this subject.

Therefore fire alarm monitoring services cannot be a replacement for alarm management, especially for large, complex and critical sites.

Using fire alarm monitoring software from a fire alarm system manufacturer for alarm management

Many fire alarm system manufacturers also provide their own alarm management solution as part of their own fire alarm monitoring system. There are certain advantages of using software systems from the same manufacturer. However alternative alarm management systems from independent software vendors often deliver critical capabilities that are unavailable in the equipment manufacturer’s solution.

“alternative alarm management systems from independent software vendors often deliver critical capabilities that are unavailable in the equipment manufacturer’s solution”

Advantages:

  • Most manufacturers provide services from engineers certified by the manufacturers to configure and implement data in the system. This may translate to some level assurance for some organizations.
  • The systems may come with set procedures for testing fire alarm devices and handling fire alarm situations. This can be helpful for some customers who are looking for guidance for setting up their alarm management practice.

Disadvantages:

  • The equipment manufacturer’s system may not provide all the capabilities needed for the facilities. For example, a customer may like to have multiple web based graphical displays showing alarm locations and all related information throughout the site, but the equipment manufacturer’s software does not have that feature.
  • Most manufacturers require their certified engineers to configure and make all changes to the systems. This locks customers into using their services. They must use the manufacturer’s certified engineers even for the slightest changes in the system.
  • High service costs for setting up the system initially and ongoing maintenance for the system.
  • Any system customization required to satisfy the customers’ operating environment will have to involve using the manufacturer’s services. This further increases the set up and maintenance cost. See the section on customization later for examples of customization considerations.

Using an alarm management system made by an independent software vendor

Advantages:

  • For specific features the customers would like their alarm management system to have (like a web based graphical display that shows alarm locations and all related information in multiple locations) if the equipment manufacturer does not support those features, the customers can shop around and select an independent software vendor who provides those features.
  • Many software vendors provide training to the customer so they have the option to use their own staff or services from the software vendor for the initial setup and ongoing maintenance. This gives the customer more options for controlling their finances.
  • Relatively low service cost.
  • Most independent software vendors also provide set procedures for testing fire alarm devices and alarm management. In addition, some of them have built-in capabilities for customers to customize the system so it can adapt to the customers’ specific environment. See the section on customization later for examples of customization considerations.
  • For sites that are using older fire alarm systems whose manufacturers do not make alarm management systems, going with independent software vendors gives the customers the option to modernize their fire alarm testing and monitoring operations without upgrading the fire alarm systems.

Disadvantages:

  • When considering using an independent software provider, the customer should check if the independent software vendor has reputable reference implementations to back up their claims.

Customization Considerations

When adding an alarm management system to your operations, you may want to consider the following software customization so the system can work better in your environment. These customization are necessary whether the customer selects to use the software from the same equipment manufacturer or from an independent software vendor. As explained above, the difference is really in the associated service cost in implementing these customization.

Incident management

Many facilities departments follow good management practices to ensure proper handling of fire alarm incidents and other facilities related incidents. For fire alarm incidents, the handling staff should record all relevant information about the incident and reported all follow up activities for remedying the incident. The purpose of these good management practices is to ensure accountability, safety and risks are managed. For fire related incidents, local fire codes require proper reporting and follow ups.

Many organizations would like to integrate alarm management systems with an incident tracking system. This way when in a fire alarm situation, the system automatically creates an incident with all relevant information and triggers and tracks the appropriate follow up procedures. Such integration saves manual data entry work that otherwise would have to be done separately. Manual data entry is error prone and this integration eliminates these possible errors.

Different organizations handle incidents differently. Therefore it is inevitable that some customization of the alarm management system will be needed so it can interface with an existing or new incident tracking system.

Importing of device data and facility map

Organizations likely have different formats for keeping their fire alarm device data and facility map drawings. While some organizations may use Microsoft Excel for device data and AutoCAD for facilities map drawings, other may have their device data on paper and PDF for facilities map drawings.

In order to implement an alarm management system, data needs to be imported into the system. Some customization of the system may be necessary in order for it to successfully import the data.

Automatic formatting of test log data into the format required by local fire codes

Per local fire code requirements, fire alarm device test logs needs to be in certain formats. Many organizations would like to customize their  alarm management systems so test log data coming from the system are in the required format.

Alarm notification policy

In a fire alarm situation, an alarm management system must notify the incident command staff immediately. But the ways the notifications should be sent out may vary in different organizations. In most cases, some customization of the alarm management system configuration is necessary.

For some organizations, just showing the fire alarm message in one console computer would be enough. Some organizations may prefer a more robust notification procedure. For example, they may require sending emails and SMS messages to the incident commander’s phone. They may also require multiple consoles in different locations around the site so all relevant facilities personnel can see the graphical displays and be aware of the alarms.

Remote access

Many organizations would like to have their alarm management system to securely allow access to remote users. This way, in an alarm situation, facilities personnel at home will be able to access the system, be aware of the alarm and assist with the handling of situation.

Some customization in the alarm management system is likely needed in order to set up the necessary internet connection, user access and network configuration.

Conclusion

In conclusion, fire alarm monitoring services from alarm monitoring companies is not solution for alarm management. This leaves us with alarm management solutions provided by the fire alarm system manufacturer or other third party software vendors. While the equipment manufacturer’s own software solutions seem to provide higher assurance, solutions from independent software vendors often provide the same or more functionality at a much lower cost for both the initial set and ongoing maintenance.