Technology and training combat false fire alarms

Sunday, June 1, 2008

While false alarms have been at the top of manufacturers’ list of concerns for decades, there’s been some increased focus on the issue in the industry of late. Onerous fire false alarm ordinances in some communities have prompted one industry group to get involved. In March the Security Industry Alarm Coalition announced that it will begin helping communities develop effective fire alarm ordinances. (Search “SIAC tackles fire alarm ordinances” for more information.)

So what do manufacturers do to address the issue of false alarms? In many ways, their efforts haven’t changed radically: They build safeguards into the panels and components and they insist on lots of training for those who install the systems, as well as for the building owner. What has changed is the level of sophistication in the safeguards and the training.

“Historically we’ve recognized false alarms as the number one issue ... false alarms cause disruption of business and it impacts our customers’ customers,” said Shawn Laskoski, marketing leader, fire and communications for GE Security. “It’s at the forefront of every thing we do, especially with sensor technology.”

He noted that “the only thing worse than a false alarm is to not detect a fire,” so manufacturers must “walk a fine line ... and ensure checks and balances through multiple technologies.”

The concerns about the potential negative effect of a false alarm is plain to see on a Las Vegas strip casino floor, where, he notes, GE has “greater than 80 percent of the [fire alarm]market ... Immunity to false alarm is our key focus.”

For training, GE requires that all of its strategic channel partners in the high end of the marketplace complete “a fairly intense week-long training” at the EST Institute, located at GE’s Sarasota Fla. headquarters. “Anyone installing our Signature detection line has to be certified,” he said.

The focus on fale alarm immunity is their “mindset with all levels, [from complex projects to the more routine], of the channel, and that goes for technology and training.”

Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing for Honeywell’s Silent Knight, said Silent Knight, like other manufacturers, has been tweaking its technology and its training over the past couple of decades. He said they “listen to what the building owners/end users are experiencing.

They’re not intereacting with the fire system on a daily basis.” Three basic components of Silent Knight system “really knock false alarms down.” He listed drift compensation--essentially adjusting a sensor’s sensitivity to environmental factors such as dust build-up over the life of the sensor; addressable control panels, without which a maintainence person could be charged with figuring out which one of 100 sensors is causing a false alarm: “it makes for a much easier maintenance situation”; and information on the system and sensors being available onsite or from a remote location.

“The fire alarm system needs to be maintained to reduce false alarms, and these are all tools to help with maintenance,” Hendrickson explained.

He echoed Laskoski on the importance of training, saying training is really a sales tool that’s useful “all through the channel.” When installers and end users “understand the capabilities, they use them,” he said.