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What does a Fire Alarm Saying Evacuation Not Required Mean?

By Douglas Krantz | Life-Safety

What does a Fire Alarm Saying Evacuation Not Required Mean?

What does a Fire Alarm Saying Evacuation Not Required Mean?

Greetings Douglas,

I heard a strange alarm in my high-rise residential building the other day. It seemed to say something had been detected, but that evacuation was *not* required unless you hear a second alarm specific to your floor. At least I think that is what it was saying.

I didn't try to sort out the blah-blah, I just called 911. There was a monitoring company that called to confirm the alarm (I was the front desk attendant and confirmed the alarm).

But thinking about it later, and as a resident told me, the building was full of elderly and infirm people who would have had a hardship going down stairs if they did not need to. Make sense. Is that what the alarm was trying to convey?

Thank You, EK

When there's a fire, high rise buildings have a huge problem: how do the people close to a fire get away, when the escape routes (stairways) are already full of people? The stairways are narrow, and trying to get everyone out of the high-rise building at once takes a lot of time.

This "Lot-of-Time" is a problem. Like everyone else in the building, if the stairways are already full, people next to a fire just have to wait their turn getting into the escape stairs. Not a good idea.

A secondary problem shows up really soon. When the stairways are already blocked by people trying to escape a fire, how do the firefighters get to the fire? If the stairways are full of people, there's no room to go up. Again, not a good idea.

To solve both of the problems, and still provide safety for people who are close to a fire, the building is evacuated in stages; when the alarm first sounds off, those in greatest danger are told to evacuate the building. In essence, anyone on the floor of the fire, and those on the floors immediately above and below the floor of the fire, are told to evacuate the building. That's where the fire alarm sounds off saying "Evacuate Now".

Everyone else in the building is warned to be ready, but don't evacuate yet. That's where a message sounds off saying in essence "Be Alert".

The other day, you heard the message "Be Alert".

This Alarm/Alert type of messaging is called "Staged Evacuation"; people are evacuated in stages. The first stage is to evacuate those in immediate danger. When the firefighters arrive, they can decide who should be evacuated in the following stages.

You can assume that if you hear the alert message "Evacuation is Not Required", somewhere else in the building, people are hearing the alarm message "Evacuate Now".

When you are hearing either the alarm or alert message, many fire marshals recommend you immediately call 911. They appreciate the extra information they get from that emergency phone call. Just keep doing what you did.

Procedure Book

I have some suggestions to go into the procedure book at your desk.
  1. Because a fire alarm is an emergency situation, the instructions should be on the first page of the procedure book. During an emergency, no one can spend a lot of time looking through a book to figure out how to handle the emergency.

  2. When either the alert message or alarm message fire turns on, go over to the fire panel and read it. When you're hearing the alert, remember others are hearing a full fire alarm. At least know what floor is in alarm. This information is needed for the 911 call, and to answer residents when the phone starts ringing.

  3. Call 911. Get the firefighters coming right away. Once you know that help is on the way, you can deal with the phone callers.

  4. Answer the phone. Let the caller know whether the fire is on their floor.

  5. Remember, until the firefighters arrive, you're in charge.

Talk to your fire marshal. Your fire marshal would be glad to help improve these procedures.

Douglas Krantz
Life Safety
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