Fire & Life Safety (Focus on Preparation and Prevention)

Fire Safety Technology

Negative publicity from lack of timely response to recent life safety incidents has resulted in campuses revisiting their commitment and attention to ensure life safety in every way possible. The growing importance of mass notification, inspection reporting and fire protection systems technologies have facilities managers scrambling to keep pace.

Changes in technology and codes on college and university campuses can substantially impact the physical systems that protect students, staff and visitors from fire.

Technologies

Digital technology is creating a positive evolution in the campus fire and life safety industry. For many years, the focus of fire and life safety on campus has been on detection, suppression and evacuation, or the reaction to fire and life safety events.

Demands for reach, accuracy and speed require more detailed information through faster communications, and digital technologies are the best way to achieve them. Software-driven systems raise the bar to enable incident prevention through proactive fire protection response. Benefits of newer technologies include:

  • Accuracy – customizable operator information improves accuracy and response
  • Visibility – unified view for operators and management of multiple brands of fire systems
  • Ease-of-use – designed for users who also have non-monitoring responsibilities
  • Interoperability – interfaces with existing systems
  • Speed and reliability – newer transmission technologies improve overall performance
  • Scalability – expandable software enables growth and expansion

Major Impacts on Fire Protection

New technologies are having a major impact on campus fire protection, particularly in the realm of fire alarm monitoring and management. With life safety the most critical part of an overall campus safety program, most campuses continue to maintain onsite monitoring for optimal control and the fastest response.

An evolution in fire alarm monitoring equipment is being fueled by new technologies:

  1. Fire Alarm Systems. Fire alarm control panels where information from the building’s sensors is collected are constantly leveraging new technology. Where older panels and dispatch consoles only indicate the building where the issue is, newer “addressable” panels indicate specifically where in the building the issue is. This is true for fire alarms and also “troubles” and “supervisories” which indicate problems that, if not repaired, can impact notification to occupants and detection/reporting of fire.
  2. Communications. Legacy communications such as telephone lines, direct wires and coded signals can be unreliable, costly and not compliant with evolving fire protection codes. New communications technologies such as wireless radio and Ethernet are fast, reliable, code compliant and cost effective.
  3. Alarm Management Software. Older receivers provide incident information in codes that need translation and limit expansion. Modern, software-driven incident management systems provide dispatchers with easy-to-understand event descriptions and can direct maintenance issues to service personnel.

These feature-rich systems are proactive and scalable, designed specifically for multi-building campus environments.

Budgetary Considerations

Fire codes ensure equipment and service standards to reduce risk, liability and insurance costs. Evolving codes mean new equipment, more expense and more training. Unlimited funding to immediately replace all systems is not often available. A transitional approach is far more cost-effective and gets it done far faster than asking for a huge lump sum of money and time to change it all at once.

Fortunately, new technologies can substantially reduce costs for fire alarm signaling communications. Deciding to monitor and manage alarms on campus eliminates monthly monitoring company fees and localizes the response. Computers and software provide easy access to detailed event information, reducing stress on the dispatchers and administrators as well as increasing the effectiveness of the response. Code-compliant systems can combine new and existing investments in fire alarm panels and communications infrastructure into a single, unified campus-wide event management system to reduce costs while upgrading to take advantage of newer technologies.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of College 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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