Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
May 27, 2022


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Guidance notes

FIA unveils new guidance note at FIREX 2022 for fire alarm considerations for people with sensory sensitivities

A new guidance note has been launched by the Fire Industry Association (FIA) regarding fire alarm considerations for people with sensory sensitivities.


Sonny White with the new FIA Guidance Note

Unveiled at FIREX 2022 at London’s ExCeL by Sonny White and James Jones, FIA Board Member and Managing Director at Vimpex, the guidance note was first initiated by Sonny, a 16-year old future fire detection and alarms expert.

With his GCSE exams imminent, Sonny presented via a pre-recorded video message, highlighting the need for fire alarm systems to cater for those with autism or sensory sensitivities, who may panic, hide or freeze when an alarm sounds. “This is the last thing you want in a fire drill,” explained Sonny, “especially if it is a real emergency.” Sonny went on to say that the impact of the alarm on some students with sensory sensitivities could last the rest of the day, causing them to miss out on learning.

In response to this, Sonny – who has built his own fire alarm lab in the garden of his family home – conducted a study of his own school and a special needs school and of others with autism, and also looked at the many fire alarm companies and what they had to offer.

His efforts come in the context of 700,000 people in the UK with autism spectrum disorder and suffering from sensory sensitivities to noise and light. The reaction to the fire alarm from some of these students, therefore, potentially impacts upon 1,500 special schools in the UK and on special needs units in mainstream schools and on child and adult day centres, or simply on individuals in mainstream schools or workplaces.

How has the Fire Industry Association responded?

The FIA was first contacted in mid-2021 regarding the suitability of fire alarm warnings in special schools by Sonny, who believed the topic had not been fully addressed in the Code of Practice for fire detection and fire alarm systems – BS 589-1.

It was highlighted hat while BS 5839-1 addresses the needs of those who have a hearing impairment and those with photosensitive epilepsy, the code does not address the needs of those with other sensory sensitivities who may not behave as designers anticipate during an evacuation.

A special interest group was consequently convened by the FIA to develop a guidance document to cover situations where fire alarm warnings are intended for people with sensory sensitives. The group consisted of people with a personal interest and experience in the matter, as well as experts in the fields of disability and fire safety, to ensure needs of individuals with sensory sensitivities could be better met.

The document is intended to provide guidance for those involved in the specification, design and application of fire alarm systems in premises where occupants have sensory sensitivities. It aims to identify the considerations that should be taken into account, but does not recommendations for specific solutions, which should “always be subject to a risk assessment by competent persons”.

Alternative solutions may include voice alarms (as part of a public address systems), Visual Beacon (BID) alarms in certain areas, or vibrating paging systems – though more detail is provided in the guidance document for how such solutions may be incorporated.

On the lighting front, which can be equally disturbing, the guidance note suggests using VIDS – Visual Indicating Devices – as opposed to VADS – Visual Alarm Device, which are very bright. VIDS cannot be used as a standalone alarm system, of course, whereas VADS can.

Read the guidance note, here.


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