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February 25, 2014

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Download: A Technical Guide to Fire Detection and Alarm Systems

False Alarms: Prevention Better than Cure

Emergency Services fire menWhether they emanate from security or fire-related systems, it’s fair to say that false alarms – or ‘nuisance’ alarms – are the scourge of the authorities.

Such alarms may cause unnecessary blind panic. That’s bad enough, of course, but they also have the potential to divert emergency services away from legitimate security or fire episodes.

The end result is disruption and unwanted expense. Ultimately, there could even be loss of life.

Focusing on false fire alarms, if they occur too often in, say, a commercial building may result in ‘cry wolf syndrome’. Eventually, there’s a danger that staff will become complacent and not act swiftly and responsibly whenever an alarm activation – genuine or not – occurs.

In addition, if the fire services are forced to travel through dense traffic at high speeds to attend what they believe to be a genuine emergency (but which in fact isn’t), members of the public – not to mention fire crews themselves – are subjected to unnecessary and possibly fatal risk.

Turning to security alarm systems, at times the actual percentage of false alarm calls initiated by end user error (still the most common cause) or alarm equipment itself has topped 92% of all alarm activations generated on a national basis.

Put simply, this isn’t acceptable. It’s a scenario that demands a satisfactory solution.

Addressing the problem

Back in 2000, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) published a policy entitled: ‘Police Response to Security Systems’. This was revised as recently as April 2012, and a further appendix added in January of last year.

The ACPO Security Systems Policy states the police service will only attend monitored intruder alarms that confirm activations. An alarm is confirmed when a second detection device is activated during the same intrusion event.

There are three levels of police response. Level 1 status is assigned to all monitored intruder alarm systems. Here, the police service acts immediately when an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) confirms activation. If the police respond to three false alarms at the same premises in a given 12-month window, there’s a drop to Level 3. At that juncture, police response is totally withdrawn and then insurance cover will be a major headache.

In terms of Level 2 designation, the police service will attend an alarm event as soon as possible after having been alerted by ARC staff (and taking into account available resources).

The police service will not attend the aforementioned Level 3 alarms unless someone (i.e. a member of the public) reports having witnessed a crime. Systems will remain at Level 3 status until they’ve been free from false call-outs for three consecutive months.

End users can take their own steps to reduce false intruder alarms. For example, all alarm systems should be regularly checked and maintained by qualified engineers.

In a similar vein, those same engineers must make sure that equipment like air conditioning units doesn’t impinge upon alarm system operations.

Harking back to end user error, all users have to be fully trained on system operation. If a false alarm does occur, investigate what happened and instigate measures for the avoidance of repeat scenarios.

From a practical perspective, the ARC must be informed if premises are being opened or closed outside of normal working hours. Similarly, security service providers should always be notified if any building work might affect alarm system operation.

Further, always check there’s nothing obstructing detection devices/sensors. Alarms must be deactivated within allocated times and before anyone visits secured areas.

Best practice

To help prevent false fire alarms – or ‘unwanted fire signals’ – it’s very much the case that safe working practices are paramount.

First, any fire risk assessment for the premises must be up-to-date. All fire alarm/detection systems have to be properly designed, installed, commissioned, managed and then maintained in accordance with accepted Best Practice.

Nominated staff (ie Fire Wardens) must be appointed and trained to deal with fire events. They should know how and where to safely evacuate employees.

As with security alarms, all false fire alarms should be investigated and remedial action taken to prevent recurrence. Incidents must be recorded in a designated log book.

Find out more at IFSEC International and FIREX International 2014

Raman Chagger, senior consultant at LPCB and BRE Global will take to the stage at FIREX International in June to discuss ‘The common causes of fire false alarms and strategies to reduce their occurrence’. 

Education is a major focus at IFSEC International – register here – and FIREX International – register here – the world’s premier security and fire exhibitions, with dedicated academies offering attendees best-practice advice combating false alarms and using the latest fire-prevention technology.

Taking place from 17-19 June, IFSEC International and FIREX International are part of the Protection & Management Series, which also includes the Facilities Show, Energy & Environment Expo, Safety & Health Expo and Service Management Expo.

Supported by the BSIA, ADS, ASIS and The Security Institute IFSEC International focuses on all aspects of intruder detection. At FIREX International, which is supported by the ASFP, FIA, FPA and LPCB, more than 170 solutions providers will showcase the latest technology in fire detection and prevention.

Free Download: A Technical Guide to Fire Detection and Alarm Systems

Fire legislation, which is written for the purpose of life safety, requires duty holders in non-domestic premises to assess fire risks and put in place arrangements for the prevention of fire and to protect people from fire when it occurs. This guide provides an overview of the need to know information for fire detection and alarm systems and your legal requirements, key actions, key terms and more.

Click here to download now

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4 Comments on "False Alarms: Prevention Better than Cure"

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The criminals love this. They trigger the alarm, run to a safe view point, wait for the police or security to leave and then trigger it again. They do this  afew times. At some stage there is no reaction. Voila, here we go. They break in, take their time and leave. No security or police reaction , and they are not disturbed. 
Pity the police have this attitude. The criminals know it and exploite it.
This is what the do in South Africa.

Hardly any of this is relevant to fire alarm systems, even though the opening lines of the article imply this link. Although the root of the CFOA policy was derived from ACPO frame, there is very little overlap in causes of false alarms or procedural aspects. Mainly a technical link of them both being a panel with sensors and alarm devices steers some thinking to them being similar. I see the seminar link at Firex is related to fire alarms, not security. Most fire services do not respond to unconfirmed alarms, unless in residential buildings which have a small share… Read more »

And that is where ‘visual verification’ comes into action… The police and infact all law enforcement services have less and less resources these days so i dont think we should be blaming them for their approach.

Watch this space!  Xtralis have something coming in time for the Firex and Ifsec show in June….

The difference in approach which has the potential to help with many fire false alarms is the acceptance of a confirmation by second detector activation. I believe intruder alarms are usually set up this way. Only a few F&RS accept this could be used by an alarm receiving centre to pass on and get a response when no-one is in the premises. Unfortunately, it would probably be difficult without an addressable panel. As for resources, since a few England F&RS do respond to most calls, notably Bucks plus the whole of Scotland, there seems a different priority in management by… Read more »