As our buildings and the way in which we put them to use become more complex, the challenges of safely evacuating occupants increase. The latest analogue addressable fire panels give fire engineers, specifiers and end users more control and peace of mind than ever, delivering unprecedented levels of performance and accuracy.
The latest panels’ capabilities stretch way beyond ‘detecting a possible fire and letting everyone know’, by making evacuations safer and faster, detecting earlier, operating well past the initial activation and integrating with third-party building management systems (BMS).
Better by design
Effective evacuation begins at fire-system design stage. Whether a new build or refurbishment, building use, escape routes, fire compartments and false-alarm minimization should all be considered as an integral part of the wider design and specification process.
An in-depth fire-risk assessment needs to be carried out and, in the case of larger or more complex buildings, this may include a more detailed evacuation strategy for the site. This should cover factors such as locations of indicating equipment, escape routes, safe areas and people at risk, as well as identifying and addressing any potential barriers to evacuation.
Avoiding unnecessary evacuations
Ideally, evacuation occurs only when a building is in genuine alarm, and recent innovations in false-alarm reduction aim to ensure this. The latest products offered by Advanced such as its Axis EN and Axis AX systems combine cause-and-effect programming with human interventions and intelligent detection to confirm alarm signals. Using complex algorithms in conjunction with an intelligent panel, detectors can operate in different sensitivity modes to confirm an activation, or in combination with other devices – commonly referred to as co-incidence, verification or double knock.
Straightforward programming of alarm verification and investigation delays
After the fire condition is displayed at the panel, the responsible person can physically check if an activated device is a genuine alarm. If no action is taken, the delay expires, or, if a pre-determined set of conditions are met, evacuation will commence. However, if the alarm was false and the signal has cleared, the responsible person can reset the panel, avoiding an unnecessary evacuation.
The responsible person is also able to receive pre-warning of potential alarms, notice of validation periods or investigation delays via a graphical package, building management system or paging product.
The system is the key
In a real emergency, the fire system may be managing all manner of devices with involved strategies. This means that the specification of a suitable fire panel and associated components is vital to an effective evacuation.
A fire system is mandated in a building and the best are highly intelligent, with the ability to control many operations vital to safely protecting occupants and infrastructure. The panel needs to remain operational for long periods in adverse conditions, even as cables degrade (due to fire) or ultimately fail, so that a safe and orderly evacuation can be completed.
Processing power is critical, particularly on larger sites where systems that can convey accurate information about the location of an alarm quickly can make use of valuable extra seconds for investigation, verification, evacuation and, ultimately, firefighting. Products that incorporate EN54-13 compliance will self-test components to ensure reliability, while also offering the assurance of fast and efficient operation to facilitate a rapid and efficient evacuation.
Get with the program
Sophisticated programming is the key to meeting the full potential of fire-system technology. Using powerful cause and effect, modern fire panels can be configured according to usage of the whole building, specific areas, or the needs of specific individuals.
A system should also have the programming capability to manage phased evacuation. By using cause-and-effect programming in conjunction with the latest warning devices that support recorded messages, or ‘alert’ and ‘evac’ tones, the people most in danger from a fire can be evacuated first. Meanwhile, the flow of other people in the building can also be kept at a manageable level and safe escape routes can be maintained.
Importantly, the panel and its programming must be able to manage this process dynamically as the fire spreads to multiple areas of the building simultaneously.
Managing the evacuation
All staff should be trained to operate and monitor the fire system, with regular update sessions and fire drills to ensure the effectiveness of the procedures in place.
Providing clear, precise information to those responding to a fire signal in a building is key, which is where graphical repeater panels such as Advanced’s TouchControl can help. These use touchscreen technology to display site maps dynamically. Many systems will also link with PC graphical systems including diagrammatic representations of the site to give information in control rooms. Furthermore, new technologies are allowing fire and rescue services to see this information before they arrive on site.
Some panels have provision for manual control of the system so that a firefighter or operator can take actions as the fire situation develops. For example, they may want to evacuate a particular area of a building, make live ‘voice’ announcements or manage the smoke-control system. This facility is particularly advantageous in large or high-rise buildings where there can be a multitude of processes all going on at once.
Consideration also needs to be given to modern-day threats at high-risk sites or that have specific criteria that need to be met. Traditional muster stations may be vulnerable to terror attack, so occupants are told to move away from the building and the traditional fire count is abandoned in favour of ‘clear floor’ surveys by marshals. Even the simple task of getting people out of the building can quickly become complicated, and the system configuration must be able to cope.
For larger buildings in particular, an evacuation situation can potentially lead to a great deal of confusion. The use of intelligent mass-notification warning devices is very important and can potentially avert life-threatening situations from occurring as messages become clearer and easier to understand. Such devices improve not only the clarity of communication but also the synchronization of those messages to ensure clear instruction during the evacuation process.
Research has identified that occupants of a building are more likely to react to the spoken word than a simple audible signal. As a result, these systems are becoming more widespread as they are more effective in attracting attention, as people hearing a voice message are less likely to automatically suspect a false alarm.
Smoke inhalation is often considered a greater risk than the fire itself. Therefore, many intelligent systems today incorporate smoke-management features to control fans and dampers. Such features allow the control of air and smoke movement around the building to ensure entry and exit points are kept clear for safe evacuation.
Advanced’s AdSpecials department designs and manufactures custom solutions for the most specific of fire-protection challenges. Bespoke firefighters’ damper-control panels, sprinkler indication panels and custom control interfaces offer a more tailored approach that is often the best way to integrate these critical but complicated systems.
Adequate emergency lighting is a vital aid to successful evacuation. Modern emergency lighting panels, such as LuxIntelligent from Advanced, can self-test each luminaire and ensure it works when it needs to. The range of luminaires, both traditional and LED, is now huge and environmental lighting can be converted to emergency use, delivering compliance and performance benefits.
In more complex or high-rise buildings, you may also need to provide standby or ‘stay-put’ lighting to allow for non-evacuation if it is not deemed the best course of action, or where occupants are marshalled on ‘refuge floors’ to await safe evacuation.
In all cases, the key to safe evacuation is planning. The fire-risk assessment, evacuation strategy and specification of a suitable fire system are crucial to success.