Fire & Life Safety (Focus On Preparation and Prevention)
Maintaining Critical Systems
- By Mike Halligan
- February 1st, 2017
Facility managers across industries must balance a wide range
of roles, and those responsible for the
diverse requirements of campuses must employ
creative measures to make the most of existing,
limited resources. Compromise isn’t an option
when it comes to ensuring the safety of students,
faculty and staff, so college facility managers
should consider the following recommendations and resources for support
with mission-critical systems like fire and life-safety solutions.
Use Technology to Optimize Resources
With advanced technology like addressable notification systems,
the days of long, disruptive fire alarm tests are in the past.
Work that used to take hours or even days can now be done in a
matter of seconds, thanks to the availability of self-testing capability
for horns, strobes and other notification appliances. Additionally,
it’s the addressability built into these systems that enables
advanced testing functionality, which can help to meet code
requirements; reduce disruption to students, faculty and staff; and
lower operational costs.
In some addressable notification systems now available, each
appliance contains a light sensor and a sound sensor that can be
activated remotely from the host fire alarm panel. Once activated, the
self-test feature momentarily activates each appliance and sends the
results of the test back to the main panel for viewing and archiving. If
an appliance fails the test, it will be identified at the panel. This selftesting
process meets the testing requirements specified in NFPA 72:
National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. (An annual visual inspection
is required to make sure the appliances are not obstructed in
any way.) It takes just seconds to complete the self-test process for an
entire notification system. The test can be initiated manually or programmed
via the fire alarm control panel to run automatically. This
allows testing to be done at a time when it’s most convenient for the
campus, minimizing disruption to students, eliminating the burden
of after-hours testing and significantly reducing operational costs.
Remote diagnostics capabilities can also help facility managers
improve fire alarm system efficiency and performance. In colleges
and universities, proprietary supervising station monitoring is
typically used for campus fire alarm systems. When fire alarm
panel issues occur in the middle of the night under this scenario,
an authorized employee is alerted to the situation with a call, email
or text that describes only the event type. The appropriate facility
representative then must go to the building where the panel is
located to read it in person. Remote diagnostics technology can
improve this process by providing on-call employees with remote
access to device and system dashboards from any web-enabled
device. This advancement gives managers the ability to remotely
view panel information — just as if they were standing in front
of it. With this technology, managers can make quicker, more informed
decisions about the nature of the issue and how to respond
in the best and most efficient manner.
With technology advances like these, facilities team members can
accomplish more in any given day without the burden of needing to
physically view every device when a fire alarm system issue arises.
Leverage the Extensive Knowledge Base of Peers
Fire systems on campus are complex, with various products
installed to meet different code and occupancy requirements.
Troubleshooting legacy systems without manufacturer support and
staying current on emerging regulations and updates can be a time-consuming
job. For support, managers can turn to the expansive
network of knowledgeable industry peers through trainings and
webinars — and through emerging online user communities like
Tyco’s free online Self-Maintainer Community — to connect with
peers and industry professionals for advice and best practices. Online
tech support is often a key feature of these communities, as well
as private groups that give access to panel programmers.
There are outside resources, such as NFPA, that offer educational
materials and regulation updates for fire protection through
online courses. These focused courses can assist in providing
facilities team members with knowledge and insight on a plethora
of topics like fire alarms, special hazards, fire science, project
management and code updates. At the same time, this type of
information can reduce the need to call in a contractor or engineer
to solve less complicated issues.
With the right technologies in place and supporting external
resources, college facilities managers are better equipped to create
a safe, secure campus environment while balancing the many
demands of other systems and stakeholders.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.
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.