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University of Central Florida Streamlines Life Safety for New Dorms

Combo fire/CO detectors and voice evac system earn praise from University of Central Florida campus police, administration and students.

Life safety solutions are important on any college campus, but especially those that are virtually cities unto themselves. The University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando has 160 on-campus buildings and occupies more than 1.7 million square feet to serve its roughly 60,000 students, making it one of the largest universities in the United States.

To better accommodate the massive student population, UCF opened three new dormitories last fall to house 665 beds, as well as a fourth building for administration and maintenance. According to UCF Senior Maintenance Superintendent Richard Berwanger, the university stays on top of life safety standards and best practices – and he shared with Campus Safety some of the challenges, priorities and results of outfitting these new dorms.

CO/Fire Detectors Are in All Sleeping Rooms

Each of the new dormitories, which were constructed as part of the second phase of UCF’s Academic Village building project (AV-II), has its own standalone fire alarm system, monitored by the UCF campus police department. Each building is protected by its own E3 Series fire alarm and voice evacuation system from Gamewell-FCI by Honeywell, whose technology is also employed in 15 other UCF dorms with other buildings also being transitioned to it.

Fast reporting time and ease of use for the systems are among the reasons Gamewell-FCI equipment appeals to UCF, says Richie O’Rourke, president of Orlando-based Florida Fire & Sound, which maintains the fire alarm systems for much of the campus’ student housing and has been servicing the university since before Berwanger joined 15 years ago. Plus, standardizing and streamlining on one technology simplifies the maintenance and management of the system, Berwanger says.

Going beyond just smoke and fire detection, carbon monoxide (CO)/fire detectors are in all of the new dorms’ sleeping rooms, and integrated HVAC control will automatically shut down a building’s air handling equipment and activate strobes and voice announcements in the event of a fire. Berwanger notes that the E3 systems have been installed with plenty of backup, too, so if any pieces suffer damage the system will continue to operate seamlessly (for example, each building has four amplifiers so there’s backup should any fail).


Self-Tests Ensure System Works Properly

To ensure its dependability, the Gamewell-FCI E3 Series system is self-testing and re-evaluates and polls devices every 30 to 40 seconds, according to Berwanger. If there are system problems, reports go to the campus police department as UCF mandates all life-safety equipment be repaired immediately, and it won’t allow the fire alarm system to be put back online if it needs repairs, he adds.

Campus police are instrumental to the installation of life-security systems at UCF, along with other key stakeholders, as they are involved with the design team during construction and must approve of what’s being installed. Communication and agreed-upon processes with the appropriate personnel help foster a project’s success, says Berwanger. At UCF, those factors have bred high confidence from campus police and the university that the system is always performing as it should.

“It’s important to make sure the user and facilities’ design personnel are involved in the process early,” he says. “Make sure you vet everything in the design process. Make sure you review submittals and drawings, everything related to design. If you miss something, you may have to go back later and make a change.”

Berwanger notes that in the case of the sprawling University of Central Florida, the stakeholders along with the campus police include housing personnel, professors and deans. With a far-reaching life-safety solution for these dorms, stakeholders’ communication needed to extend to the university management’s construction team regarding not only life safety but also maintenance, HVAC, landscaping and other associated services.

Voice Alerts Replace Horns and Bells

In terms of designing the systems for UCF’s new dorms, “they are doing everything possible to stay up with the latest technology and up to code,” says O’Rourke. That required putting a fire/smoke detector in each dorm room, as well as the CO detectors in the sleeping areas of any building that burns fossil fuels (the new buildings have natural gas-burning water heaters).

The device of choice is a combination 4-Warn/CO detector from System Sensor, which saved the university on installation and maintenance compared with separate fire and CO detection units that would require additional attention as well as more wires and modules. All alarms are reported to the campus police department with the exact cause being identified as either fire or CO.

In addition to the fire/CO units, all of the dorms’ corridors contain smoke detectors, which are tied into door controls. If the system senses smoke, hallway doors are closed automatically to slow its spread.

Instead of using traditional horns or bells, the fire alarm system employs voice communication alerts. Pre-recorded audio messages notify the dorm residents and direct them to the nearest exits, and the microphone on each E3 Series control panel enables authorized personnel to broadcast voice messages in real-time. The nature of the system seems to have struck the right chord with those who live in the new buildings.

“We actually have residents commenting on the fire alarm system,” says Berwanger, noting that the students prefer the voice system to a high-decibel horn alternative. “They appreciate the system and how it operates; it’s very user-friendly and conversational.”

Florida Fire and Sound programmed the system in partitioned zones to reduce false alarms. Each of the suites in the new dorms has four bedrooms, and if a smoke detector is activated in any one of those rooms, the evacuation signals are sounded only in the single suite. However, if any initiating fire alarm device goes into alarm, either in the same suite or elsewhere in the building, the entire building is evacuated. Many of the dorms have kitchens, which creates additional possible fire hazards.

A remote annunciator outside each resident assistant (RA) quarters provides information on all fire alarm incidents to help RAs assist in appropriate response by building occupants. “It pinpoints the problem and allows them to report to it more accurately,” Berwanger says.

On the technical side, Berwanger says the construction of the new buildings and installation of the new alarm/life-safety systems provides Florida Fire and Sound further opportunity to demonstrate its integral relationship with UCF. The team is accessible, reliable and delivers strong vendor support, he notes, and “is always there to meet our needs, day or night.”


Beth Welch is a manager of public relations for at Honeywell Fire Systems.

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