I currently live in a modern apartment complex in Auckland, coming with lots of modern features including networked fire alarms, heat sensors and stupid varying sizes of non-energy efficent light bulbs.
The apartment alarm system is quite simple – if the alarms get triggered by a local source, they go off for the apartment, but not the complex. Opening the apartment door, will trigger the alarms for the entire complex, assuming the designers decided that someone running out of their apartment has created a fire big enough to cause others worry too.
Seems simple enough, however for whatever reason, the system has had some technical issues, and engineers have been onsite adjusting the system for one of the apartment blocks.
Which they do by triggering alarms without any notice that there is testing taking place….. so over the past month, I’ve had several incidents of the alarm going off without notice during the day, setting up a dangerous situation where tenant aren’t going to take the alarms seriously any more – I know that I don’t any more, if I ran outside on every alarm, I’d be spending a lot of time outside without cause.
The tests also isolated another issue that I had not considered though – when the alarm goes off, there is no way for me to tell whether it’s just for my apartment (ie: burnt toast) or for the entire complex.
Unless I actually see a fire in my apartment, I have no way of checking without going out into the common hallway to check if that’s going off. But opening the door to my apartment will trigger the building wide alarm, which will incur me high false-callout fees if there isn’t a legitimate fire.
So in the event of a fire, we’ve now trained tenants to a) never leave the apartment, least they get charged high callout fees for setting off building alarms b) ignore all alarms since they’re from some muppet testing without giving notice.
End result is that one day I’m going to overclock my Linux-powered-toaster one too many times and end up dying in a horrible fire and it’ll all be the fault of the so-called safety system.
So what’s the solution?
- Program the fire alarm system to alert and state whether it’s a local or complex-wide alarm – the alarm has voice capabilities, so they should make clear use of them. Sometimes during testing, the alarm would state that we should “evacuate the building”. But what does it mean when it’s *not* saying that? Does that mean we should remain? Clarity isn’t being provided. And why not state “heat alarm” or “smoke alarm”?
- Give proper notice for testing! Failing to give clear notice about alarm equipment tests leads to people not taking them seriously.
Really don’t know why these basic ideas are so hard for safety system implementers to get right. :-(