• School Safety: New Approaches to Fire Alarm Systems

  • By: Todd Swymeler, SET, CTS – Technical Solutions Engineer

    School shootings have become too common of occurrences. These repeating and heartbreaking tragedies have almost become commonplace. The safety of our children should be our communities’ top priority. Watching the news coverage of these events, I see a clear pattern with regards to fire alarms systems. Many times, the affected schools appear to be utilizing a “horn strobe” fire alarm system. This technology has been around for many decades. The concept is simple; You hear a horn and you walk outside. Evacuation is now not the best solution, as an active shooter event (many times) can make students more exposed to the active shooter.

    Here are a few ideas that code and governmental communities could implement for positive change:

    Voice alarm evacuation:

    If it became required to have a supervised voice evacuation fire alarm system to be installed in public schools, it would allow school officials and first responders to play prerecorded (or live messages) when severe weather, an active shooter, or a fire event would occur.Voice evacuation systems could allow automatic prerecorded fire alarm messages to be played throughout the school and in each classroom.  The message could be repeated until a new message is played or an all clear is manually activated.

    An example of what this could be:

    (Signal tone) “Warning, Warning! A fire alarm pull station has been activated on the first floor, by room 101. Appropriate staff and faculty, please respond immediately.”

    Private mode style evacuation:

    Local and state building and fire codes could consider moving towards a private, mode evacuation system (instead of everyone leaving the building every time the fire alarm is active). This system where you “evacuate only when necessary”, has worked for years in hospitals all over the US, in which patients stay in place during certain events.

    To make this a possibility, a few changes come to my mind:

    • School building materials will need to meet more strict fire ratings
    • Additional smoke/fire partitions
    • Better smoke detection
    • Fully sprinkled buildings
    • Intelligent Fire Alarm Systems integrated with Video Surveillance Systems with First Responder Access to give Fire Responders a view of what is going on before they enter the building.
    • Staff response training to active shooter and fire events

    The NFPA has also released “NFPA 3000”, a new Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER Program). To learn more, please contact us to learn all aspects of the process.

    In closing, instead of evacuating the entire school into a bad situation, it may be a consideration to treat schools like we do certain hospital’s and how they respond. Ultimately, it’s about having the appropriate people respond immediately to a situation and update the remainder via radio. Contact ESCO today to discuss new approaches in keeping your school safe.