Fire Survey: System Maintenance, False Alarm Concerns on the Rise

More than half of university, hospital and K-12 school district fire protection professionals rate system maintenance (57%) and false alarms (53%) as two of their top four campus fire protection concerns.

According to the December 2011 Campus Safety magazine and Center for Campus Fire Safety fire survey, more than half of university, hospital and K-12 school district fire protection professionals rate system maintenance (57%) and false alarms (53%) as two of their top four campus fire protection concerns. Respectively, those are nine and six percentage point increases from the 2010 survey. 

System maintenance is particularly troubling for 60% of hospital respondents. This finding correlates with their concerns about system design problems: 28% rate system design flaws as one of their top four concerns. Despite these challenges, only 18% of hospital respondents say they are currently evaluating fire detection systems for possible installations/upgrades at their facility(ies) in the next one to five years. More than one in four (28%) installed a new system in the past year, much like their K-12 brethren (29%).

By contrast, there has been quite a bit of activity in the university fire sector, with 41% of survey respondents saying they are evaluating fire detection systems for possible installations or upgrades. One in five say they are on the fence about new installations or upgrades, while 47% have installed a new system in the past year.

Stakeholder buy-in, however, continues to be a challenge for higher education protection professionals – much more so than K-12 and hospital respondents. Two in five university respondents (40%) indicate “convincing administration/stakeholders of the need for improved fire systems” is a top challenge for them (it’s 25% for hospitals and 24% for K-12 schools/districts). Lack of standardization among disparate types of systems is a significant concern for 26% of higher education respondents and 24% of K-12 respondents, compared to only 11% of hospital survey takers. Additionally, 5% of university respondents say they don’t know how to comply with the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act.

For K-12 respondents, smoke detection (16%), the potential for terrorism involving firebombs, incendiary devices, etc. (14%) and arson (11%) are much more troubling than they are for universities (9%, 5% and 2% respectively) or hospitals (7%, 9% and 2% respectively).

Top 4 Fire Protection Challenges

(Besides funding and availability of resources)

System maintenance 57%
False alarms 53%
Our current system(s) aren’t integrated with our other non-fire systems, such as mass notification 41%
Convincing administrators/stakeholders of the need for improved fire systems 34%
System design flaws 21%
We have many types of fire systems that are not standardized and don’t work well with each other 20%
Our facilities are old; doing retrofits will damage the decor 15%
Vandalism/pranks resulting in non-functioning or poorly functioning fire detection systems 15%
Smoke detection 10%
Finding the right integrator to install or upgrade our fire detection system 10%
System is not in compliance with fire code (NFPA) 9%
Potential for terrorism involving firebombs, incendiary devices, etc. 8%
Arson 4%


The vast majority of hospitals (64%) and universities (59%) have had between one and seven fires in the past three years, and only 20% have had no fires. Nearly half of K-12 schools/districts (47%), however, have had no fires, and another 28% have had one to three fires.

  Universities Hospitals K-12 Schools
We are currently evaluating fire detection systems for possible installation/upgrade at our facility(ies) in the next 1-5 years 41% 18% 21%
We have installed a fire detection system(s) in the past year 47% 28% 29%
We might or might not install a new fire system, depending on circumstances, such as budget, stakeholder buy-in, pending regulations, etc. 20% 9% 11%
We have no plans to install a new or upgraded fire system in the near future. 29% 50% 52%

Note: Respondents could check all answers that apply to them.


Additional Fire Survey Respondent Comments

About the survey: A short survey was E-mailed to Campus Safety magazine subscribers and members of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, and 513 individuals responded. The margin of error is approximately +4.3% at a 95% confidence level. Campus Safety magazine thanks all of the individuals who particpated in this poll, as well as the Center for Campus Fire Safety. For more information on the center, visit  

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Photo via Flickr, Young Einstein

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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