Incorporating Mass Notification Into New Fire Alarm Systems

Institutions looking to upgrade their fire alarm systems should be certain their old and new equipment can communicate with each other. New solutions should also include an audio component so campus officials can convey important public safety information to building occupants.

Because of the need for campus fire systems to address more than just fires, many experts anticipate that in the near future, the majority of new systems deployed on campuses will include audio.

“I think in the next five years, we will have very few horn/strobe-type systems being installed,” says Michael T. Madden, who is national sales manager for Gamewell FCI. “I think we’re going to move over to voice just for the simple reason that it does so much more.”

If a campus does decide to incorporate voice evacuation in its fire system, intelligibility becomes a key factor. After all, what’s the point of having an emergency public announcement system if building occupants can’t understand the information being conveyed?

The focus on intelligibility, both in practice, as well as in NFPA 72, 2010, means that the placement of fire system speakers will need to be revised.

“The days of spreading out your speakers to 75 feet and just cranking up the volume are behind us,” says T. Madden. “It’s more important now to design the system to be highly intelligible without rattling people’s ears. [Before,] fire alarms were very simple. We made a lot of noise to get people out of the building. But if we are going to use system to deal with more than just fire, the content of that message is the most important thing.”


Master Plans Guide the Procurement Process

The method of determining what should be installed or upgraded, however, should not be haphazard. An assessment and long-term plan are needed in order for a campus to select the most appropriate fire alarm system.

“They should take a step back and go through a process of master planning,” says J. Madden. “What do you want the system to do? What kind of information do you want? What do all of the other stakeholders in this process want?”

Jakubowski suggests that safety and security professionals use thei
r most polished political skills when approaching administrators and other stakeholders about a new fire system.

“Don’t ram it down people’s throats saying, ‘This is terrible. We need to do something about it immediately,’” he says.

Instead, he recommends a measured approach incorporating the upgrade in the institution’s five- or 10-year plan.

“Otherwise, 20-30 years from now, you are going to be facing a very large bill to upgrade your system to the current technology,” Jakubowski says. “At some point, the systems you have right now are going to start failing.”

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

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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