Politicians are fond of telling the public that they are “looking out for the little guy.” Over the past few years, the fire alarm industry has actually been doing it. That’s because voice evacuation technology has been driven down to smaller and smaller installations; it is, in fact, one of the most significant trends in the fire alarm industry, and one that promises to continue for the foreseeable future.
However, voice evacuation technology is not relegated to fire incidents only. It can be used in the event of other hazardous conditions, including tornadoes, hurricanes, and even chemical spills. Consequently, its importance not only as a fire protection tool but as a general-hazard protection tool cannot be overstated.
What are the catalysts behind the trend in smaller installations? For one, there is a higher level of awareness about the overall value of voice evacuation technology, brought on, in large part, by specific incidents: fires in dormitories, restaurants, and other low-occupancy structures. What’s more, there have been several high-profile events that have captured the public’s attention and driven this process even faster. Ultimately, such episodes have served to highlight the simple fact that voice evacuation technology should be a valuable and integral element of any evacuation plan.
These incidents, while dramatic, don’t always influence people to utilize more effective fire protection tools. The real instrument for change is the codes that govern the fire alarm industry. At its core, the fire alarm industry is code-driven; people will sometimes only install the level of fire protection that local codes require. More to the point, it comes down to what the project team specifies for a particular installation. Its task is to specify the requirements to meet the codes that need to be met and, within a given budget, to get the best system to meet those requirements.
However, past incidents serve to convince those in charge that codes need to be revised. Accordingly, many local codes are being adjusted to require voice evacuation in lower-occupancy buildings and structures. There is increased awareness that horns beeping and sirens flashing can be supplemented by a more effective fire protection solution. The voice evacuation system leads people in an organized and orderly fashion through an exit plan that’s designed for the specific event that is taking place in the building, and local codes are starting to address it.
Of course, it’s not enough for a building to be equipped with a voice evacuation system; it’s critical that people understand what and how the system is communicating. As a result, intelligibility is going to become very important over the next few years, and local building codes are beginning to address this requirement.
Besides the move toward smaller installations, there is a growing need to fully integrate systems in multi-facility areas, particularly in college campuses. Traditionally, every major campus building has had its own system, but an event in one building was rarely connected to another. The new direction is to network all of these systems together so that an automated evacuation sequence can be activated while also providing live-voice instruction to other buildings from a centralized location.
John Weaver is director of marketing at Northford, CT-headquarterd Gamewell-FCI (www.gamewell-fci.com), a manufacturer of fire alarm systems for commercial and industrial facilities worldwide.