Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
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How Are False Alarms Dangerous?

False alarms do not equal alarms
The actions people are supposed to take are the same for a false alarm as the actions for a true alarm... but are false alarms the same as true alarms?


By Douglas Krantz

Each false fire alarm increases the severity of a real fire.

The increased severity from false alarms comes from the greater chance of loss of life or a greater chance of injury. This is a progression - with no false alarms everyone acts as safely as possible, but eventually, with enough false alarms, no one pays any attention to the alarms.

False Alarm Progression

When there were never any false fire alarms, and the alarms only sound off with a real fire, people do pay attention take immediate action. This is noticeable as people go out into the parking lot in their pajamas at 3:00 AM.

Once everyone discovers it was a false alarm, the next time the fire alarm sounds a few people are less likely to take the necessary action. Some won't leave their apartments, and the rest just hang out in the lobby waiting to find out if the fire is real or not. The likelihood of injury has increased because of the false alarm; the severity of a fire, because of the false alarm, has increased.

The severity increases with each false alarm. As the false alarms go off at random times, more people are less likely to take necessary action, and the likelihood of injury is therefore even greater.

This progression is not good.

People Have Died Thinking a Real Fire was Another False Alarm

As more and more false alarms occur, more and more people are reluctant to take action in case of fire. With enough false alarms, unless they smell the smoke, almost no one is willing to take any more action.

In places that have received numerous false alarms, multiple people have died in a single fire simply because they ignored the real fire alarm; when the alarms sounded they could not tell the difference between a false fire alarm and the real fire alarm.

Long Term Damage from False Alarms

What's even worse, even after the false alarms quit happening, many years will have passed before this damage wears off.

Some people are reluctant to ever take necessary action again because they remember the false alarms. They're so callused they ignore the fire alarm under any circumstance. Sometimes they don't want to be bothered with another false alarm, so they disconnect the fire alarm system wherever they are, including in hotels, apartment buildings, offices, etc.

Stopping False Alarms

With each false alarm, the dangers of injury and death increase when a real fire occurs.

What can we in the fire alarm industry do to reduce and hopefully eliminate false alarms?
Learn about how Life Safety Concerns are woven into every fire alarm system, both conventional and addressable. Get the book Make It Work - Conventional Fire Alarms. This book explains the basic building wide electronics of the Conventional Fire Alarm System, and shows how Life Safety and internal supervision affects all fire alarm systems.

Douglas Krantz -- Fire Alarm Engineering Technician, Electronic Designer, Electronic Technician, Writer

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