When Fire Strikes
Physical security systems can assist First Responders at educational facilities
- By Bill Brennan
- August 01, 2021
Physical security systems such as access control, video surveillance
with analytics, and intrusion detection are primary
security solutions at K-12 and higher education campuses that
protect students, staff and assets. The roles these systems play
at education facilities have further expanded to provide
health-safety protections ranging from elevated body detection to
face mask detection to occupancy control.
What most people tend to overlook is that they also play an important
role in reinforcing life safety by providing an early warning of
smoke or fire. Not only can this information improve the response
times and tactics used to battle fires, but it can also help school officials
and first responders formulate a plan during other critical situations.
In an emergency, seconds count and minutes matter. A reliable
network infrastructure with ample bandwidth helps ensure quick
access to the vast amounts of information provided by a building’s
security system. The faster that information can be shared with first
responders, the greater the probability of a positive outcome.
How Security Systems Aid in Life Safety
The use of security systems can shorten the response time to a fire. At
a minimum, adding video surveillance to the picture allows responders
to observe the unfolding situation and make informed decisions. Additionally,
adding access control automates the release of secured doors
and turnstiles to allow fast and free egress during an evacuation and
provides an easy entrance for first responders arriving on the scene.
Video has been used for many years to detect the presence of smoke
and fire even without a smoke detector. With the later addition of analytics,
this technology has become even more precise. Video can now
convey initial information about the incident to security teams on site,
as well as provide continued updates to mobile response teams.
For example, a video-based assessment of a manual fire alarm pull
station could determine that the device was initiated as a prank. An
on-site security team could then stop the dispatch of the alarm, if
code allows, and inform the first responders entering the area that
lives are not at stake. In another example, a building’s addressable fire
alarm system indicates which fire sensor has been initiated and where
it is located. However, with video surveillance, responders can see the
nature of the fire or emergency — the source of the smoke or flames,
the size of the fire, and whether people can be seen in the vicinity of
the fire. With the right technology in place, this intelligence can be
shared with responders in real time. It could mean the difference
between life and death.
Following the incident, the video footage provides valuable documentation
that may be used to aid an investigation, improve future
training of first responders, or indicate where technology upgrades
Fire alarm systems, which are governed by local, state and national
codes and regulations, are often stand-alone systems. More frequently,
however, they are integrated with access control systems. The
access control system unlocks secured doors to allow emergency exits
during a fire and can be summoned to a specific occupied floor.
In life-safety situations, an access control system must perform in
the opposite manner of how it performs when used as a security system.
Instead of controlling areas and floors by restricting access to
only authorized people, it enables immediate egress through doors
and turnstiles for all occupants who need to evacuate, regardless of
their authorization level. Applicable fire codes determine the manner
that this is technically accomplished by controlling power to the locks
through direct wiring from the fire alarm system or a network connection.
Another benefit is that the user data from an access control
and visitor management system can be used to do a roll call following
Advantages of Integrated Systems
Whereas security and life-safety technologies, especially fire alarms,
once only addressed one type of event, today their ability to be integrated
makes the entire solution much more powerful. A recent trend
in the security industry is transitioning from being reactive to proactive;
integrated system solutions play a key role in this movement.
Integration streamlines responses. When a fire alarm initiating
device is activated, the video system provides visual confirmation of
the alarm. This is valuable information for on-site security personnel,
school administrators and mobile first responders.
Access controls can activate a lockdown in a security incident or
open secured doors for fast egress in a fire. Emergency communication
systems can automatically text status updates, broadcast evacuation
instructions and provide emergency meeting locations. The integration
of these four systems — fire alarm, access control, video
surveillance and emergency communication — results in a response
that is appropriate for the specific type of emergency or fire. An integrated
life-safety system delivers the tools to determine when alarms
are false and minimize their negative effect, while resolving valid
alarms swiftly and safely.
Today, fire alarm systems are not only integrated with video, access
control, visitor management and emergency communication but also
with building management systems, public address systems, weather-alert
systems and even gunshot-detection systems. By leveraging
these converged technologies, an integrated system addresses more
life-safety applications than just fire.
In addition, an integrated life-safety system can provide cost savings
by allowing a single central monitoring company or integrator to
be your point of contact for all maintenance and inspections.
Increased detection and surveillance, automated and incident-appropriate
actions, and real-time information for first responders all work
together to create a more secure environment for education facilities.
Having security technologies contribute to a methodical response in
a fire or other emergency is the pinnacle of how technology should be
utilized in all schools today.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.