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Complacency leads to Outdated Equipment and Emergency Response Procedures Still in Use Today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.
Back 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 Yet many large scale facilities today still continue to use outdated equipment and procedures.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
In 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.
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.
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.