Fire & Life Safety (Focus on Preparation and Prevention)

Monitoring and Management Systems

New building construction, facilities expansion and equipment upgrades frequently require the addition or centralization of fire alarm and life-safety event monitoring management systems for multi-building campuses. That growth, coupled with changing regulations and new building codes, is challenging facilities managers to find solutions that will substantially improve their school’s fire and life-safety alarm response performance.

Preparedness and awareness are two critical attributes in achieving timely and accurate response to fire and life-safety incidents on college and university campuses.

Preparedness: Emergency notification, periodic inspection and maintenance. Monitoring systems often incorporate traditional fire alarms, mass notification systems and hazardous materials release monitoring. The result is an improved quality of response by providing dispatchers and responders with faster, more accurate incident information.

Ensuring the viability of these systems requires periodic inspections and maintenance by qualified personnel. Software and cloud-based systems are available to schedule, provide checklists and aggregate the information from inspections and maintenance to enable campus management to assess the viability of its equipment and plan upgrades. Solid preparation ensures that equipment functions as required. As budget season approaches, take time to asses the reliability of your alarm and life-safety monitoring stations.

Awareness: All the necessary event information at a glance or a click of the mouse. What is it? A smoke detector? A hazmat alert? An activated panic button? Where is it? In the library? In the science lab? In a dorm? Which one? What do dispatchers need to know? Who to call? Who to send? What is unique to that site? The more available information, the more accurate the response.

Today’s sophisticated software receiving systems and fire alarm control panels (FACPs) provide a wealth of information to the dispatcher or system operator to substantially raise the bar on the path to improving awareness of fire and life-safety events. The most useful receiving systems are capable of unifying multiple brands of FACPs into a single display. Significant advantages include:

  • Accuracy — Customizable operator information improves accuracy and response.
  • Visibility — Provides administrators and management a unified view of system activity.
  • Reporting — Includes historical information necessary for campus transparency.

Solutions: The most effective systems are reliable, cost effective and scalable. The goal of a unified fire and life-safety event management system can be challenging to achieve. Campus buildings often have different brands and models of fire alarm control panels with incompatible protocols that are difficult to combine into a single system. Most campus stakeholders want to choose equipment that works best for their campus and for budgetary reasons, do not want to remove their existing functional equipment.

The communications infrastructures that carry data transmission may differ among buildings and some buildings may have no communications infrastructure. Many older signaling technologies such as direct wire and telephone lines are being phased out and are no longer code-compliant for primary signaling. Newer signaling technologies such as IP and radio provide faster, more reliable transmission and are code-compliant for primary signaling.

Benefits: Detailed, pinpoint alarm information in a single, unified system. As with all fire and life-safety equipment, the primary value of an on-site, unified life-safety event management system is that it improves response to fire and life-safety incidents on college and university campuses. Occupants are receiving accurate information on what the problem is and how to react. On- and off-campus emergency responders have greater details of the incident before they arrive. They know with pinpoint accuracy where the problem is, what the problem is — and if it’s a chemical release, they will know what kind and can prepare to protect themselves en route.

Take time to look at the systems you have in place now and ask if they still meet the growing needs of information gathering and sharing for incidents. If not, now is the time to start budgeting and planning to upgrade equipment to meet the ever-changing needs for incident information.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 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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