So much of the discussion around business alarm systems centers around the “security” side of the coin. While it’s true that burglars, employee theft, water damage, and more are very real threats to businesses, the single greatest threat to both life and property is fire. The presence of a functional fire alarm system in a business is so essential to the safety of employees that jurisdictions require their use in commercial properties.
The components of the standard fire alarm system may look familiar—smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, hand pulls, strobe lights and sirens—because with minor exceptions, the function of said systems have remained the same for decades: detect heat or smoke, alert people in the area to the emergency, and send an alarm signal to dispatch emergency services. Because it’s impossible to predict fires or carbon monoxide leaks before they happen, advances in life safety technology were largely focused on the earliest possible detection.
Recently, however, the game has changed. Traditional fire alarm systems have provided businesses with excellent protection for decades, but there is always room for improvement. In recent years, the traditional “sights and sounds” approach to fire alarms has been challenged by a more intuitive and efficient alternative–the voice evacuation system.
“Traditional” fire alarms vs. voice evacuation
Voice evacuation systems are part of a wider classification known as emergency communication systems (ECS). A voice evacuation system, often shortened to “voice evac,” functions similarly to a fire alarm system, with a few notable exceptions. Voice evac systems utilize similar field equipment—smoke and heat detectors, hand pulls, etc.—but instead of using horns and strobes to alert occupants to a fire, it annunciates the notification through speakers. Specific commands can be given to evacuees in specific emergency situations—even those that extend beyond the scope of a “conventional fire.”
Voice evac systems haven’t entered the public awareness to the same degree that standard fire alarms have, and yet more and more businesses are upgrading their existing fire alarms or installing brand new systems specifically to utilize their advanced technologies. What’s more, some businesses are required by law to use voice evac systems in their facilities.
Is your business legally required to have a voice evacuation system installed? Would upgrading your current setup provide better protection for you and your employees? While the benefits systems are plentiful, here are five primary reasons for why you should consider a voice evac system for your business:
1. You’re legally required to have one.
Whether you need a voice evacuation system in your business may be out of your hands. According to the International/Michigan Building Code, Voice Evacuation Systems are required to be installed in all new assembly occupancies with occupant loads of more than 1,000 people, all educational occupancies with an occupant load of more than 100, and all “high-rise” occupancies. Additionally, the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requires voice evacuation installation in assembly occupancies with more than 300 occupants or theaters with more than one audience viewing room.
It’s a common trope in action movies for the hero to trigger a hand pull in the hopes of clearing a business out before a disaster befalls it. Real-life businesses might operate a bit less dramatically, but businesses carry their own unique risks. If your business deals in volatile chemicals or combustible fuels, a voice evacuation system can be far more useful than less-intuitive conventional fire alarms. Where standard fire alarms lack a method for alerting people to emergencies beyond the cope of fire, pre-recorded messages—CHEMICAL LEAK! ACTIVE SHOOTER!–can alert people to the threat so they can respond with the appropriate evacuation procedure.
3. You want to tell your employees how to safely evacuate.
Even in a “normal” fire emergency, a standard alarm system does not announce to employees where the fire broke out. In a small business, the location may be quickly evident, but in high-rises, manufacturing plants, or any large industrial complex, those attempting to flee could accidentally run toward the fire when left without guidance. Alternatively, in some emergencies, you do not want your employees to evacuate. In the event of a tornado, pulling the fire alarm would send people scurrying out the doors and into danger.
Voice evacuation systems can use their pre-recorded messaging to announce the nature of the threat—TORNADO! FIRE!—so employees can maneuver appropriately. Furthermore, voice evacuation systems can also be commandeered by designated safety personnel to add additional “live” commentary to evacuation procedures. This feature can be used to steer evacuating employees away from an emergency instead of running them into it.
4. False alarms and fire drills have lessened the urgency of your current fire alarm.
Say it with us: “THIS. IS. NOT. A. DRILL.”
Those five words serve as an incredible motivator for skeptics jaded by annual fire alarm system tests and routine company fire drills. The last thing you want in an emergency situation is for your employees to waste precious time arguing as to whether the threat is “real” or not. Having an authoritative voice blare that the threat should indeed be taken seriously is an efficient way to instill urgency in anyone within earshot.
One of the greatest benefits of a voice evacuation system is the ability for first responders to commandeer the system. While it allows for firefighters to dictate instructions and give live updates to those still evacuating/sheltering, it also allows for them to update emergency personnel scattered throughout the building to coordinate expedient rescue efforts and warn them of changing situations or imminent danger.
The next best thing
The simple fact is that voice evacuation systems provide superior means of protecting your employees over standard alarm systems. Even if it’s not legally required in your business, choosing voice evacuation as your notification method can save employees precious time during emergency situations in which every second counts. Because a functional alarm system is vital in the protection of both your facilities and the lives of your employees, choosing what kind of system works best for your needs is just as important as deciding who is going to help you design and install your system. For your fire alarm and voice evacuation system needs, consider EPS Security, Michigan’s largest family-owned security provider. Our consultants, engineers, and technicians have been rigorously trained to implement the knowledge we’ve accrued as West Michigan’s leading provider of fire alarm systems for more than six decades.
It doesn’t pay to gamble on life safety. Choose EPS Security as your strategic life safety partner and arm yourselves with a life safety solution crafted especially for you.