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A Lesson in Life Safety for the Education Sector

With hundreds, sometimes thousands of students to account for during an emergency, education facilities need particular focus when it comes to life safety. To allow for the best possible outcome in a fire phenomenon, it is essential these buildings are equipped with the most appropriate safety systems. To help understand the specialised protection required, Richard Wharram, Regional Sales Manager at Hochiki Europe, provides his top considerations when specifying these at-risk environments.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the education system in England was already under a lot of pressure. Schools were taking on more pupils than they had ever done previously with average primary and secondary school catering for 282 and 965 students respectively. Schools can encompass a range of environments within them, such as laboratories and kitchens containing flammable materials or boarding and accommodation facilities, all within the same property. With this in mind, there are some key factors that installers and facilities managers should consider to create a safer environment.


Multi-layered protection


In highly populated spaces such as schools, regular fire drill training is successful in providing a faster and more effective evacuation should a real incident ever occur. However, repeated false alarms can negate this training as people begin to ignore the warning signals and develop ‘alarm fatigue’. Through their complex detection methods, multi-sensors are specifically designed to reduce unwanted alarms, helping to prevent this.


Chris Connor, Site Manager at the Campion School:


“Dealing with nearly 1,300 students means it’s an extensive task getting everyone evacuated as safely and quickly as possible. Our Hochiki FIREscape+ system helps make this possible. We carry out fire alarm drills three times a year at minimum, all at different times of the day to ensure the students are prepared for a range of situations and are not passive in their evacuation.”


For instance, the ACD is Hochiki’s latest multi-sensor that contains smoke, heat and CO sensing elements. The detector features a unique Suitable Moving AveRage Time (SMART) algorithm to determine the legitimacy of an alarm. By taking samples from the environment, the multi-sensor constantly monitors its surroundings to adjust its sensitivity. If any transient activity is detected, the sensor automatically switches to the maximum number of samples, to quickly determine whether the transient is the start of a real fire or a false alarm. This ensures the sensor remains as sensitive as it needs to be.


Additionally, multi-sensors are better at providing enhanced levels of protection due to their sophisticated hardware and software. With 24 EN approved modes of operation, the ACD-EN is the most advanced multi-sensor on the market and is able to detect multiple elements of fire individually or simultaneously, including combinations of smoke, fixed temperature, rate of rise of heat and CO. The CO sensing element can also measure levels of background CO over time and can trigger an alarm to warn of COHb threat (in a carbon monoxide toxicity warning mode).


We have devised a handy mode selector reference booklet and tool, so that installers can choose the best mode to suit the intended installation environment. This includes suggested pre-set settings for classrooms, college or university buildings and even student accommodation.


Cause and effect


Reducing false alarms can also be achieved through the innovative software within some control and indicating equipment - fire control panels. Some panels allow the engineer to program a “double-knock” cause and effect for a sensor. For example, the panel will require more than one sensing element within a single device (or more than one sensor in a location) to be activated to signal the alarm. Some panels can also be programmed so that an authorised person has to manually confirm the incident before the sounders are triggered. The HFP System from Hochiki is versatile and user friendly for these exact reasons.


Unfortunately, following recent events, a developing trend for educational facilities is the need for a lockdown function. Different coloured manual call points can be used to generate different reactions, such as initiating electromagnetic locks to prevent an intruder from entering certain parts of a building. Again, this comes down to the cause and effect programmed by the engineer as directed by the end user’s requirements.


Emergency response


The emergency response of a system is just as important as the detection itself. Emergency lighting helps guide people through a building and offers them the best chance of a safe exit. Hochiki’s FIREscape+ is a combined fire detection and emergency lighting system that features dynamic exit signs – the state of which can be determined by the location of the fire with clever cause and effect programming. In this scenario, if a route is safe to use then the illuminated signs will display the universally recognised green ‘running man’ icon. However, if a route is deemed unsafe due to nearby fire detection sensors being activated then a red cross will appear. By incorporating this feature into a school’s fire training, duty holders can add an additional layer of protection for their students. This can be especially useful for younger pupils who may not have the capacity to determine if an exit is safe to use by themselves.


David Brant, Contract Manager at Fisk Group:


“In education facilities, cost savings need to be considered as it is essential that as much funding as possible is used for student development. By installing FIREscape+ at the Campion School, we were able to deliver the most cost-effective and reliable life safety solution. The system is self-testing, which means it constantly monitors the state of each unit and alerts premises management of any problems. This equates to low running costs while preventing large replacement bills when it comes to annual testing.”


Understanding the environment


When specifying for the educational sector, it is important that you understand the functionality of the building. This may require installers to go beyond their traditional recommendations and advise how the system can be used in different ways. For instance, every school requires a class change signal. By connecting the addressable fire system to a time clock, you can assimilate these two functions. Expanding the use of the life safety system in this way improves the usability for the end user, making it a more justifiable investment. All the sounders within Hochiki Europe’s ESP Intelligent range contain a variety of EN approved tones that can be used for this very purpose.


Beyond the needs of protecting the building and its occupants from fire, it’s also important to consider how technology can mitigate other no less destructive elements. Water damage caused by failing pipework or vandalism, particularly outside school hours or term times, can be costly and disruptive. Here, intelligent leak detection systems such as Hochiki’s LEAKalarm are a worthwhile consideration. Using highly sensitive water detection probes and cables, the system can detect the location of a leak and alert maintenance teams through a local alarm or remotely, helping prevent costly damage to infrastructure, electronic equipment and furnishings.


With such a variation of life safety devices available, education facilities managers and installers using Hochiki Europe products, can be assured that the system they have in place is reliable, cost-effective, and able to minimise false alarms. Find more details about Hochiki Europe’s full range of products here.