Overview of Installation Concepts for Fire Alarms at Educational Facilities

By Andrew Erickson

April 14, 2024

(This article continues from Part 1 of How to Install Fire Alarms in a School, College, or University Campus.)

Fire alarms are crucial for keeping students and staff safe in schools and universities. When a fire starts, a good fire alarm system quickly alerts everyone, giving them time to get out safely. It's not just about following rules (although the NFPA fire codes are certainly important). It's really about making sure everyone can leave a dangerous situation as quickly as possible.

Quick Review: Why Fire Alarms Matter in Schools

Fires in schools (obviously) cause a lot of harm. They can damage buildings and equipment and hurt or kill people.

Fire alarms help catch fires early, so everyone can leave the building before it's too late. Schools need to follow certain rules, called NFPA codes, to make sure their fire alarms work properly. These rules help make sure that the alarms are reliable and can help keep everyone safe.

Every School is Different

No two schools are exactly the same. They might have different sizes, old and new buildings, and special areas like science labs. That means each school needs a fire alarm system that fits its specific needs.

It's important for schools to look closely at their buildings and figure out what kind of fire alarm system is best for them. If you're reading this, that responsibility likely falls to you. You must be sure that your system is right for their school and follows all the safety rules.

The Elements of a Fire Alarm System

A good fire alarm system for a school has several parts that work together:

  1. Smoke Detectors and Heat Sensors: These are the system's eyes and ears. They notice smoke or a rise in temperature, which can mean there's a fire.
  2. Manual Pull Stations: These allow people to set off the fire alarm by hand if they see a fire. This means the alarm can start sounding even before the smoke detectors catch it. In a school context, we often think about pranksters who pull these handles when they shouldn't. In a real emergency, however, you've empowered students and faculty to accelerate the fire response.
  3. Alarms and Lights: When the system detects a fire, it sets off loud alarms and flashing lights. This makes sure everyone knows they need to leave, even if they're somewhere noisy or if someone can't hear well.
  4. Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP): This is the brain of the system. It gets information from the smoke detectors and decides to trigger alarms. It can also call for help from the fire department.
  5. Remote Notification: This function (varies based on your situation) sends a message to a monitoring center or directly to the fire department if there's a fire. This helps make sure firefighters come quickly, even if no one is around to call them. Many medium and large campuses decide to operate their own monitoring server to "act as their own central station."

By putting all these parts together, your school can have a fire alarm system that's ready to help keep everyone safe. It's not about buying a certain brand or technology. You must ensure that the system fits your school's specific needs and meets safety standards.

Working with Old and New Fire Alarm Technology

Schools often have a mix of old and new buildings, and that means their fire alarm systems might be a mix of old and new technology too. Some parts of the system might use very old methods, like telegraph signals or dedicated phone lines, to alert people or call for help.

While these older technologies have been reliable for years, schools are also adding newer, more advanced systems that can do more to keep people safe.

It's important for schools to use fire alarm systems that can work with both these old and new technologies. Here's why:

  • Budget: Schools often have to be very careful about how they spend money. Completely replacing an old fire alarm system with a new one can be very expensive. Even if the equipment itself isn't tremendously expensive, laying new lines or working out radio coverage can be. It's usually more cost-effective to find a solution that can add to the existing system, using both the old and new parts together.
  • Redundancy: Having more than one way to detect fires and alert people is a good thing. If one part of the system fails, the other part can still work. This means that old technology can serve as a backup to the new technology. It's also possible that old technology can satisfy fire code while your newer tech can be more flexible to give you extra alarm data in a cost-effective way.

Choose a System That Brings All Your Tech Together

When buying a fire alarm system for your campus, you should look for one that can bring all the different technologies together under one system. This kind of system can make sure that every part, old and new, works well together. Here's what to look for:

  • Compatibility: The system should be able to connect to both the old technology and the new devices. This means it can, for example, understand signals from old telegraph or dedicated-circuit systems and new digital sensors at the same time. Of course, the specific will vary based on your specific school site.
  • Central Control: It's helpful if the system has one central place where you can see what's happening with both the old and new parts of the system. This makes it easier to check on things and to respond if there's a fire.
  • Ease of Use: The system should be easy for people at the school to use, even if they're not experts in fire alarm technology. This way, they can quickly respond in an emergency, no matter which part of the system is alerting them.
  • Upgrade Path: The system should allow for gradual upgrades. As budget allows, you can replace older parts with newer technology. That's how you can eventually upgrade your alarm system across many budget cycles - instead of all at once.

Choosing a fire alarm system that can handle both old and new technology can help schools make the most of what they already have. This way, you can improve your fire safety without breaking the bank. You can also have peace of mind knowing that your system is as reliable and effective as possible.

You Must Make Fire Safety a Priority

Selecting the right fire alarm system is crucial for school safety. It should be compatible with both old and new technologies, comply with safety standards, and be easily upgradable.

By consulting fire safety experts, schools can develop and uphold a system that ensures everyone's protection.

Consistent maintenance and educating students and staff on fire safety are key to effectively responding to any fire incident.

Talk to Digitize for Help With Your Project

At Digitize, we manufacture fire alarm monitoring hardware that can help you ingest alarms from your FACP and set up a monitoring center on your campus. That gives us broad experience setting up fire alarms on college/university/school campuses.

No matter where you are in your project, a great next step is to speak with the experts at Digitize. We'll help you find the equipment you need - even when that means directing you to a different company if that's what's required. Also, we can connect you with our nationwide network of installers & maintenance/service companies.

Call Digitize now at 1-800-523-7232 or email us at info@digitize-inc.com

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More