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.

Featured

  • Survey: Less Than Half of IT Leaders are Confident in their IoT Security Plans

    Viakoo recently released findings from its 2024 IoT Security Crisis: By the Numbers. The survey uncovers insights from IT and security executives, exposes a dramatic surge in enterprise IoT security risks, and highlights a critical missing piece in the IoT security technology stack. The clarion call is clear: IT leaders urgently need to secure their IoT infrastructure one application at a time in an automated and expeditious fashion. Read Now

  • ASIS International and SIA Release “Complexities in the Global Security Market: 2024 Through 2026”

    ASIS International and the Security Industry Association (SIA) – the leading security associations for the security industry – have released ”Complexities in the Global Security Market: 2024 Through 2026”, a new research report that provides insights into the equipment, technologies, and employment of the global security industry, including regional market breakouts. SIA and ASIS partnered with global analytics and advisory firm Omdia to complete the research. Read Now

  • President Biden Issues Executive Order to Bolster U.S Port Cybersecurity

    On Wednesday, President Biden issued an Executive Order to bolster the security of the nation’s ports, alongside a series of additional actions that will strengthen maritime cybersecurity and more Read Now

  • Report: 15 Percent of All Emails Sent in 2023 Were Malicious

    VIPRE Security Group recently released its report titled “Email Security in 2024: An Expert Look at Email-Based Threats”. The 2024 predictions for email security in this report are based on an analysis of over 7 billion emails processed by VIPRE worldwide during 2023. This equates to almost one email for everyone on the planet. Of those, roughly 1 billion (or 15%) were malicious. Read Now

Featured Cybersecurity

Whitepapers

New Products

  • Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden Door Controls is pleased to announce that, in response to soaring customer demand, it has expanded its range of ValueWave™ no-touch switches to include a narrow (slimline) version with manual override. This override button is designed to provide additional assurance that the request to exit switch will open a door, even if the no-touch sensor fails to operate. This new slimline switch also features a heavy gauge stainless steel faceplate, a red/green illuminated light ring, and is IP65 rated, making it ideal for indoor or outdoor use as part of an automatic door or access control system. ValueWave™ no-touch switches are designed for easy installation and trouble-free service in high traffic applications. In addition to this narrow version, the CM-221 & CM-222 Series switches are available in a range of other models with single and double gang heavy-gauge stainless steel faceplates and include illuminated light rings. 3

  • Luma x20

    Luma x20

    Snap One has announced its popular Luma x20 family of surveillance products now offers even greater security and privacy for home and business owners across the globe by giving them full control over integrators’ system access to view live and recorded video. According to Snap One Product Manager Derek Webb, the new “customer handoff” feature provides enhanced user control after initial installation, allowing the owners to have total privacy while also making it easy to reinstate integrator access when maintenance or assistance is required. This new feature is now available to all Luma x20 users globally. “The Luma x20 family of surveillance solutions provides excellent image and audio capture, and with the new customer handoff feature, it now offers absolute privacy for camera feeds and recordings,” Webb said. “With notifications and integrator access controlled through the powerful OvrC remote system management platform, it’s easy for integrators to give their clients full control of their footage and then to get temporary access from the client for any troubleshooting needs.” 3

  • 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