Safe With Sound
Directional sounders reduce evacuation times by clearly defining immediate escape routes
- By Christa Poss
- Jan 01, 2012
Frank Savino, president and CEO of United Fire
Protection (UFP), knew his long-time cus tomer
The Seeing Eye was an obvious candidate for
ExitPoint directional sound technology from
Installed at building exits or along egress routes, directional sounders
produce broadband noise using locatable sound to guide building
occupants (to safety or outside of the building). Because it’s an auditory
system, directional sounders are ideal for helping visually
impaired people, as well as sighted people whose vision is obscured by
smoke, as during a fire.
The Seeing Eye’s school and training grounds sit on 60 acres just outside
of New York City. A residence hall with private rooms, a lounge
and fitness center houses students who train with their new dogs onsite
for almost a month. With facilities to train 120 dogs and a state-of-theart
veterinary medical center containing additional kennels, the campus
has a considerable population at all times. Many onsite visitors are
unfamiliar with the layout, which is another reason the school chose
directional sounders to reduce egress times.
Bud Liptak, director of facilities at The Seeing Eye, says the school
was looking to upgrade its life safety system. After learning about
ExitPoint and directional sound technology, he was convinced of its
“Rich Fischer from NOTIFIER gave us a presentation, and everyone
at the school was on board right from the start,” Liptak says. “We are
very excited to be pioneers in our field once again with this important
life safety upgrade at our facility.
“The system has been installed throughout the entire administration
building and has received favorable reviews from students, teachers,
the administration and local fire officials. Our students say the directional
sound system is extremely intuitive.
“Usually, when a class first enters the building, we hold an orientation
with a quick fire drill to help students get their bearings in the
building. We hold these practice drills about once a month when a new
class of students arrives,” Liptak said.
To meet the budgetary needs of the non-profit institution, the new
equipment was donated to the school. UFP designed and installed the
system at no charge. Both the design and installation phases went
smoothly, and UFP was able to integrate the product into the existing
system, completing the installation in one week during the school’s
Effectiveness of Directional Sound
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has published the
Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities for
developing plans to protect disabled individuals during emergencies.
This free guide can be downloaded as a Microsoft Word or Adobe
Acrobat PDF document at www.nfpa.org.
The guide brings various planning components for the disabled
community into one comprehensive evacuation planning strategy. It is
written for those in building management who are involved in life
safety decisions. Sections explore the egress requirements of individuals
with one or more mobility, visual, hearing, speech or cognitive
Chapter 3, “Building an Evacuation Plan for a Person with a Visual
Impairment,” highlights the capability of a device that uses directional
sound to lead people to a safe exit.
Directional sound is an audible signal that leads people to safety
in a way that conventional alarms cannot, by communicating the
location of exits using broadband noise. The varying tones and
intensities coming from directional sound devices offer easy-todiscern
cues for finding the way out. As soon as people hear the
devices, they intuitively follow them to get out quickly.
A directional sounder is an advanced egress device that can accelerate
evacuation times by as much as 75 percent. The device acts as
an audible exit sign, directing people to the nearest safe exit using
broadband sound. Some models can also use a recorded voice message
to provide verbal instructions in 15 field-selectable language
choices. The technology of exit-marking audible notification is referenced
in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, 2007 Edition.
A “Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Checklist” in the
guide prompts emergency planners to consider a full range of
appropriate devices and notification actions. References and links
are provided for applicable life safety codes and studies.
This NFPA guide is based on input from the disability community.
It will be updated annually, or when new ideas, concepts and
technologies become available. The NFPA is a nonprofit organization
that serves the fire, electrical and life-safety field with code
and standard writing, research, training and education.
Incorporating Directional Sound
Today’s fire alarm control panels are highly sophisticated. When
activated, they are capable of performing hundreds of preprogrammed
action sequences within a fraction of a second. Although
dependent on electrical capacity of the existing panel, directional
sounders can be added into existing fire alarm systems with relative
“Part of the beauty of the directional sound system is that it can be
easily retrofitted to existing notification circuits,” Savino said. “This
makes for fast installation. Also, the system draws an extremely low
amount of power due to the absence of strobes and other visual components.
In most cases, it can be connected directly to existing notification
circuits without any additional wiring. However, consideration
for power and load needs should always be evaluated.”
Because the installation on The Seeing Eye’s main campus
went so well and everyone is satisfied with the system, Liptak
says the school plans to use ExitPoint at other locations. “We
have a downtown lounge in Morristown where students can relax
while classmates are in training,” Liptak says. “We’re upgrading
the lounge in the coming months and are encouraging the landlord
to install the system.”