The results of Campus Safety magazine’s annual fire survey are in, and once again, false/nuisance alarms continue to be a thorn in the sides of university, school and hospital protection professionals. Nearly half (47 percent) of survey respondents indicated that false alarms are among their four biggest fire safety challenges.
Here’s how you can reduce the number of false and nuisance alarms on your campus.
1. Appropriately discipline pranksters: Because 8.5 percent of false U.S. fire alarm system are malicious or mischievous (NFPA 2008), addressing this matter can have a big impact on the overall number of false alarms. Having clear and fair discipline policies is the first step. During orientations, students should be informed of the penalties of malicious false alarms.
2. Apply peer pressure to discourage bad behavior: Martin says schools that are most successful at eliminating malicious false alarms are those that have rewards programs for students who self police. After all, it’s the students who suffer most as a result of these pranks – they are the ones who must evacuate class while taking an exam or are awakened in the middle of the night.
3. Conduct fire safety training programs: UMass Campus Fire Prevention Officer Mike Swain says malicious false alarms were a big problem for his institution when he first arrived, but that the number of alarms have decreased recently. He credits some of this improvement with his school’s fire education program.
4. Video surveillance, fire-pull covers can help: K-12 districts like the South Western City Schools, higher education campuses like Baker College and hospitals like Medical City Dallas have all deployed security cameras to reduce their malicious false alarms.
5. Place fire detector in the correct locations: Smoke detector that are placed too close to kitchens, cooking appliances, locker rooms or bathrooms will most likely be accidentally activated by the smoke or steam emitted by these sources. Detectors might need to be relocated.
6. Use the right detector: There have been remarkable advances in smoke detection technology in recent years that make these devices much less likely to go into nuisance alarm. Using a detector that senses heat and smoke might be one solution.
7. Maintain your fire system: Nuisance alarms and shoddy system upkeep go hand-in-hand, so it’s no surprise that Campus Safety Fire Survey respondents indicated that system maintenance was their No. 1 fire safety challenge.
According to Wayne Moore, a principal of Hughes Associates Inc. and chairman of the NFPA 72 Emergency Communications Systems technical committee, detectors should be cleaned regularly: devices in classrooms should be cleaned every 18 to 24 months, and the ones in dorms should be cleaned once a year. Of course, if your campus has a newer system, it will let you know when a device needs to be cleaned. Many of them also have LCDs and point ID annunciation that indicate the location of a problem.
Moore says campus staff needs to conduct regular visual inspections of their fire/smoke detectors and control panels. “If they don’t have [the control panels] reporting to one location, then maintenance should regularly look at the control panel [in each building] and see that it’s not in trouble.”