Fear the Fire, Not the Fire Alarm

Fear the Fire, Not the Fire Alarm

The first time an end user – a facility manager, security guard or building owner – is faced with operating a fire alarm control panel could easily be in an emergency situation. In the midst of such a crisis, it is not the best time to determine which of 20 or 30 different buttons to push. Fear the Fire, Not the Fire AlarmOverly complex fire alarm interfaces make users vulnerable to “floating finger syndrome” – their finger pauses in the air unsure which button to push, paralyzed by fear of selecting the wrong button with no guidance and no intuitive choices. In a time of high stress, the need to interface with complex fire alarm systems can undermine a user's confidence and work against rapid reaction that is critical to timely emergency response.

The problem becomes especially obvious if you listen to the “voice of the customer” and observe how end users react when tasked with operating a fire alarm panel. Even people supposedly trained to use a panel may not remember what they learned during training several years ago when the building first opened. More often than not, the trained individual is not in the vicinity when an emergency occurs, and those who remain are baffled by the complexity of the fire alarm panel.

Putting untrained individuals in front of a fire alarm panel can bring out their “fear of the fire alarm.” After all, everyone is conditioned not to touch a fire alarm system. Listening to customers and observing how they use fire equipment can provide insights into the challenges of designing an easy-to-use, intuitive fire alarm panel interface.

Many end users admit they haven't touched the fire alarm system in five years or more. But what happens if he or she is the only person around during an emergency? Security personnel, who are responsible for the safety of a building, may be shocked to learn how unprepared their people are in case of an emergency. A lag in response could have a precious cost in terms of time, lives and property.

An overarching and crippling, concern is: What might happen if I push the wrong button? One factor in the more complex interfaces is the emergence of fire alarm systems that offer additional features and functionalities, each controlled by a different series of buttons. Greater functionality should not be realized at the expense of usability.

Human Factors and Touch Screens

Today’s solution is to incorporate more human factors into fire alarm control panel design, including a more intuitive, touch-screen display. However, the industry has been slow to adopt new touch-screen technology, stalled by codes and standards that can stifle innovation. Touch screens have also emerged more rapidly on higher-end systems, although smaller and mid-market systems have just as much need for them - and just as much at stake.

Fear the Fire, Not the Fire AlarmWhy must fire alarm panels require a person using them to know exactly which button to press? A touch screen interface can help direct an end user to what's important in an emergency. A touch screen can help guide a user to the correct response, with no guessing. Users can operate touch screen panels with greater confidence – and even figure it out on the fly.

In an emergency situation, the end user typically needs to know several key pieces of information:

  • Where's the alarm?
  • What type of device is involved?
  • Who do I call?
  • How do I silence the buzzer?

They want to deal with the fire alarm panel and then move on to making other emergency decisions. Holding simulated emergency events can help end users pinpoint any problems they have interfacing with a fire alarm panel.

In the last few years, the codes and standards have changed to allow use of newer technologies like IP communications, wireless and Ethernet. With these technologies gaining acceptance, it allows the fire alarm industry to have more leeway to provide the end user a real-time assessment that offers more information than a simple report at the panel. Some areas of the country are still resisting change, but others are embracing the ability of fire alarm panels to offer additional information and functionality.

For dealers, a more intuitive fire alarm interface can eliminate nuisance calls and emergency service calls. No more calls in the middle of the night from people who are afraid to touch a fire alarm control panel when it goes into trouble. And hopefully, no need to send a service technician to a site just to reset the panel.

Use of an understandable interface with a familiar design increases the likelihood an end user will make the proper selection during an emergency.

Simplicity is Key

Just within the last several years, touch screens have emerged as a familiar part of everyday life. Customers see them on their smart phones and tablets, on GPS systems, at ATMs and movie rental kiosks. Car radios have transitioned to touch screens, as well. It's time that the fire alarm industry embraces these familiar new interfaces to eliminate uncertainty and ensure rapid end user response in emergency situations.

Fear of fire is understandable and well advised, but end users shouldn't be afraid of operating their fire alarm systems.

About the Author

Brian Carlson is the marketing manager at Gamewell-FCI.


  • 12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    Understanding crime statistics in your industry and area is crucial for making important decisions about your security budget. With so much information out there, how can you know which statistics to trust? Read Now

  • Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    In alignment with the state of Mississippi’s mission of “Empowering Mississippi citizens to stay connected and engaged with their government,” Salient's CompleteView VMS is being installed throughout more than 150 state boards, commissions and agencies in order to ensure safety for thousands of constituents who access state services daily. Read Now

  • Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    This year’s Live From GSX program was a rousing success! Again, we’d like to thank our partners, and IPVideo, for working with us and letting us broadcast their solutions to the industry. You can follow our Live From GSX 2023 page to keep up with post-show developments and announcements. And if you’re interested in working with us in 2024, please don’t hesitate to ask about our Live From programs for ISC West in March or next year’s GSX. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX
  • People Say the Funniest Things

    People Say the Funniest Things

    By all accounts, GSX version 2023 was completely successful. Apparently, there were plenty of mix-ups with the airlines and getting aircraft from the East Coast into Big D. I am all ears when I am in a gathering of people. You never know when a nugget of information might flip out. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX

Featured Cybersecurity


New Products

  • A8V MIND

    A8V MIND

    Hexagon’s Geosystems presents a portable version of its Accur8vision detection system. A rugged all-in-one solution, the A8V MIND (Mobile Intrusion Detection) is designed to provide flexible protection of critical outdoor infrastructure and objects. Hexagon’s Accur8vision is a volumetric detection system that employs LiDAR technology to safeguard entire areas. Whenever it detects movement in a specified zone, it automatically differentiates a threat from a nonthreat, and immediately notifies security staff if necessary. Person detection is carried out within a radius of 80 meters from this device. Connected remotely via a portable computer device, it enables remote surveillance and does not depend on security staff patrolling the area. 3

  • EasyGate SPT and SPD

    EasyGate SPT SPD

    Security solutions do not have to be ordinary, let alone unattractive. Having renewed their best-selling speed gates, Cominfo has once again demonstrated their Art of Security philosophy in practice — and confirmed their position as an industry-leading manufacturers of premium speed gates and turnstiles. 3

  • Camden CV-7600 High Security Card Readers

    Camden CV-7600 High Security Card Readers

    Camden Door Controls has relaunched its CV-7600 card readers in response to growing market demand for a more secure alternative to standard proximity credentials that can be easily cloned. CV-7600 readers support MIFARE DESFire EV1 & EV2 encryption technology credentials, making them virtually clone-proof and highly secure. 3