False Alarms and Automatic Fire Protection Systems

December 19, 2015

Around 30-50% of all brigade ‘turnouts’ are to monitored fire protection systems, and it is estimated that well over 90% of those turnouts are classified as false alarms.

Coupled with the increasing prevalence of monitored systems, there is significant impact on fire brigade operations and, as such, all fire authorities are placing an increasing priority on false alarm reduction. Irrespective of pressure from fire authorities, false alarms also have a number of direct impacts, such as:

  • Business interruption for building occupants.
  • Reduced occupant perception of system reliability encouraging complacency and reducing safety.
  • Unwanted release of suppression agents.
  • Unwanted shutdown of plant and equipment.

Combined with any fees and charges levied by the Fire Brigade, a false alarm can result in many thousands of dollars of both direct and indirect costs.

Due to the failsafe nature of automatic fire protection systems, false alarms can never be fully eliminated. They do, however, need to be reduced as far as practical through diligent management processes, to minimise the impact.

Causes of False Alarms

To help identify suitable ways to reduce the potential for false alarms, it is useful to understand what the primary causes are. While there are many possible causes, they can be classified into a number of broad categories as follows:

  • Failure or malfunction of fire protection equipment.
  • Inadequate ventilation of fumes or vapour.
  • Unsuitable system design / installation.
  • Inadequate / incorrect maintenance.Internal / External Environmental effects.
  • Operator error (accidental or malicious).
  • Mechanical Damage (accidental or malicious).

Reducing False Alarms

Strategies to minimise the potential for false alarms should comprise a combination of both engineering solutions and management solutions.

Engineering solutions can include:

  • Relocation or replacement of detectors.
  • Cleaning of detectors.
  • Alarm investigation / alarm acknowledgement.
  • Improve ventilation.
  • Detection referencing / dependency.
  • Retard chambers / jacking pump adjustment.

These solutions address technical causes of false alarms, however, many causes of false alarms are not technical related.

To address the risk of false alarms and help reduce any known false alarm problems, a false alarm management plan should also be developed.

The plan should include:

  • Review of historical events.
  • Regular building / system audit to identify potential issues.
  • Allocation of a responsible person.
  • Work permit and isolation / desolation procedures.
  • Training of personnel and occupants.
  • System maintenance management.
  • System modification / tuning.
  • Consideration of cost / benefit.

The extent and mix of these in a false alarm management plan will need to be tailored to the specific needs of the building.

This plan should be incorporated into the Building’s Fire Safety Systems Manual.

Additional Resources

MFB: http://www.mfb.vic.gov.au/FalseAlarms

FRNSW: http://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=26

QFES: http://www.fire.qld.gov.au/buildingsafety/unwanted

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