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Safe With Sound

Directional sounders reduce evacuation times by clearly defining immediate escape routes

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 System Sensor.

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.

Providing Accessibility

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 effectiveness.

“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 summer break.

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 impairment.

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 ease.

“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.”

About the Author

Christa Poss is a product marketing specialist of the ExitPoint for System Sensor. She received her bachelor's degree in marketing from Northern Illinois University.

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