Silencing Alarms Too Quickly

Mhm, this is the same kind of behavior that probably got people killed on 9/11; when the first plane hit, people immediately started evacuating but were then told to go back to their places of work.

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The question of who is allowed to silence a fire alarm falls to each authority having jurisdiction. Some will allow “authorized building personnel” (i.e. building owner, trained staff, on-site security, etc) to silence the system, some require that no one but the fire department is allowed to silence the system.

In the case of only twenty seconds elapsing between the alarm going off and the alarm being silenced, is pretty suspicious but not completely unlikely. There may have been an administrator who was patrolling the halls, caught the prankster, and radioed to the front office that they saw the guy pull it. It may have been a pull station near the front office where staff could visually identify themselves (in my high school, the front entrance pull station was visible from the fire alarm panel).

I think comparing a school false alarm to 9/11 is a little extreme. While it is true that when the first plane hit the North Tower, people from the South Tower attempted to evacuate. Some were told to stay where they were (how could you predict multiple planes?), but some, who had experienced the 1993 bombing evacuated anyway because they knew that it may take up to eight hours to evacuate.

A single two or three story high school is not the same as two 110-floor high-rise buildings, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

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So today I did actually get some answers but it’s still a bit murky. So apparently my schools policy for pull stations being activated is to immediately silence and tell kids not to evacuate to “keep everyone contained while not risking the threat of fire doors being opened up again”. Very odd in my opinion. My school has a little over 4700 kids though. It’s 2 Notifier NFS2-3030 panels and multiple sub units and 6 annunciators. A mixture of system sensor remote horns, gentex remote strobes, and system sensor horn strobe devices. I learned that the alarm was activated by a pull station in the lecture hall because one of the projectors had caught fire. A custodian ran to an annunciator and silenced the system immediately. The fire was put out with a fire extinguisher and the monitoring company was called to not have the department come. No alarms went off later and we were never evacuated… planning on filing a report

The school’s policy should be to begin evacuation immediately (and NOT silence the alarm) unless and until the alarm is found to be false.

What your school is doing is a serious safety violation.

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Oh wow, that certainly is… something.

I don’t know the full story behind Dale’s school, but it sounds like a policy that many schools put in place in response to school shootings. Either way, telling students not to evacuate when there was an actual fire is quite baffling to me.

I don’t know the full story behind Dale’s school, but it sounds like a policy that many schools put in place in response to school shootings.

That policy is short-sighted and has many downsides. There are multiple other ways to cause a false alarm. (In fact, one of them - damaging a sprinkler head - would cause much more commotion, not to mention water damage.)

If a school (or other facility) wants to prevent false evacuations, here’s another option that still ensures proper evacuation during an actual fire.
This option (which would require permission from the local jurisdiction) is already used in some airport terminals, due to the massive disruption that false evacuations would cause. This option requires a voice-evacuation system.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Upon the initial alarm activation, a standby message plays to indicate that the alarm is being investigated.
  2. If the alarm is not silenced within X minutes, or if a second initiating device is activated, the evacuation message plays.

Here are examples of standby messages.

Notifier: Good morning las Vegas - YouTube
“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. An alarm has been activated. We are investigating the cause. Please remain calm and stand by near the speakers for further instructions.”

“May I have your attention please. The alarm you are hearing is being investigated. Please listen for additional information which will be provided as soon as possible. Thank you.”

EST (again): Emergency alarm at The Orleans Hotel , Las Vegas - YouTube
“May I have your attention please. The source of the alarm signal that you have heard is being investigated. You will be notified when the source of the alarm is identified. Thank you.”

"Your attention please. Your attention please. We are currently investigating the alarm signal you are hearing. Please remain calm. We will keep you apprised once we have determined the source of the alarm.”

In my book such a policy is downright stupid as it can get people killed during an actual emergency. A two-stage system is definitely the way to go.

Oh, I agree. But it’s hard to really find a good solution without diving nose-first into politics.

In regards to politics, here’s the forum’s semi-official stance:

I fully agree with this - no matter how well-intentioned, discussing politics online all too often turns into a flame war that even Novec 1230 could never put out.


Then I think we’re in agreement, until we know more about the situation, that the policy in Dale’s school needs to be reconsidered.

Good news! I brought over the policy with school leaders and it has been addressed and discarded. The new policy will involve the same steps of the previous one except will include the continued sounding of the alarms and a full evacuation until the fire department arrives. My school is also slowly adding more A/V devices to more classrooms. If interested, I would be willing to give a brief history of the system that dates from 1995-present, and I will also explain the old system with documents I obtained.

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They don’t necessarily need to wait for the fire department… if administrators are allowed to investigate alarms they should do so - but don’t silence unless and until it’s verified as being a false alarm.

Keep in mind the school’s previous risk analysis may have allowed such procedures to be followed. The fact that they are reviewing it is a good thing – they do need to be reviewed from time to time and make adjustments accordingly.

While I personally disagree with their previous plan, I wouldn’t put that out of the question.

(Deleted my next post to respond to BousaiGuy too)

My school never had a risk analysis. That plan had been put into place without ever being considered and seen by a fire Marshall. If the life safety system in a building goes off, the school has no business turning it off until it has been deemed safe by fire officials.

A few years ago, there was an AC fire at another school in my AHJ. When the alarm was pulled by a teacher because she saw smoke, the dampers were closed which stopped the spread of smoke. The schools deemed the alarm false though and starting letting kids back in as a room was being filled with smoke because the system was reset and didn’t have automatic detection in the ducts to re-alarm the building. That could’ve had devastating consequences.

All in all, I believe that if a fire alarm system goes off, it’s job is to contain smoke and flames. Frankly if it’s doing it’s job, your average person shouldn’t be able to easily walk by and know that there’s a fire. Let the alarm ring and have fire officials give a thorough investigation before turning it off.

As a side note, many panels have a “Silence Inhibit” feature that can be programmed to prevent silencing of the NACs for at least one minute after activation of the alarm, to prevent this kind of situations.

I’d imagine that be a real pain in the ass should another company take over and be unable to do walk tests because of panel codes

Where I live, most systems have an inhibit to prevent this. Also, the fire department here will ream you out if you silence the system before they arrive, so its best to leave it unless you call the FD off.

My school is extremely large so it isn’t monitored by a company. The schools climate control plant that’s on a mostly underground campus at my school is staffed 24/7 and monitors the system. They call for when any pre alarm happens and call security to investigate alarms. But they are supposed to also call the fire department but I don’t know if that actually happens.

As costly & annoying as it may be, they should call the fire department every single time there’s an alarm. After all, one of those alarms may turn out to be not-so-false, & of course the sooner the FD is alerted the sooner they can be on-scene & dealing with the situation.

Usually my school will wait for School Safety or FD to silence it, until they arrive it stays on and everyone evacuates.