By Chris Jelenewicz
Fire protection systems generally have long life cycles, but as with
all building systems, there comes a time when they need to be replaced.
Sometimes a code, standard, or other regulation may dictate this
replacement. Other circumstances may also determine that the system
needs to be replaced, such as when parts to keep the system up and
running are no longer available.
Recently, there have been a number of changes in fire systems. These
changes give facility managers a number of choices when it comes to
selecting functionality, so defining what a system does and does not
need to do can help make selections easier.
One of the first steps should be consulting a fire protection
engineer. Fire protection engineers understand the science and the
latest technologies that are used to protect people, property and the
environment from fire. A fire protection engineer can assist in
determining the appropriate system for the appropriate application and
assist in preparing the design, installation and maintenance
requirements involved in the various systems available.
Fire Alarm And Communication Systems
Traditionally, fire alarm systems provide early detection, warn
occupants, initiate evacuation, and notify the proper authorities.
Although this is still true, as a result of recent terrorist incidents,
school shootings, and natural disasters, the role of a building's fire
alarm system has expanded. These systems have evolved into emergency
communication systems that provide essential information that is needed
for occupants to respond during all types of emergencies.
In addition to generating a standard evacuation signal, fire alarm
and communication systems have the ability to have speakers that provide
voice messages. Because these voice alarm systems can clearly state the
problem and give specific instructions to the building occupants on how
to respond, people are more likely to take action. Moreover, these
systems can also instruct occupants to relocate to areas of refuge when
complete building evacuation is not feasible or necessary.
For these systems to be effective in providing information, it is
imperative that building occupants can hear and clearly understand the
messages. In the past, a lot of attention was focused on audibility.
Although audibility is important, audibility does not guarantee
intelligibility. Much time and effort has been devoted to finding ways
to design better speakers so people can clearly understand the voice
Moreover, building stakeholders are now asking these systems to do
more. This includes providing mass notification at a much larger scale
across multiple buildings and during all types of emergencies,
including, but not limited to, fire, terrorist incidents, domestic
violence incidents, weather emergencies, earthquakes, and hazardous
Information can now be provided to a campus of facilities through a
number of mediums such as audible notification appliances, visual
notification appliances, graphics displays, text messages, email,
outside speakers, smart phones and local television announcements.
Since these systems are more complex than a traditional fire alarm
system, a careful risk assessment is essential when planning and
designing mass notification systems. This includes getting all major
stakeholders to participate in this risk assessment.
Additionally, the fire protection engineering community has also been
making great strides in providing more reliable and faster responding
detection. One area worth noting is related to improvements in flame and
smoke video image detection (VID) technology. VID technology includes a
video camera that uses video-based analytical algorithms to detect
flames and smoke.
Typically, VID technology is used in areas that do not work well with
traditional spot-type smoke detection, such as large volume indoor
spaces, outside hazards, and tunnels. It has been successfully used in
electrical power plants, paper mills, nuclear research facilities,
automotive plants, warehouse/distribution centers, and oil platforms.
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