The biggest causes of false fire alarms are older technology and systems that are improperly designed and/or not maintained. Modern technology, proper design and regular maintenance can minimize false alarms. Systems over 15 to 20 years old do not have the technical means to handle deceptive phenomena.

Proper planning, design, installation, commissioning and maintenance should be provided by firms certified for such work as defined in the European Standard EN 16763 Services for fire alarm and security systems.

Preventing false alarms

False alarms and counterstrategies must be taken seriously by the planner from the beginning of the planning process in the fire protection plan. The prevention of false alarms is also the responsibility of the operators and site managers. There is still a lot of optimization potential.

These are some of the observations from the Euralarm False Alarm Study (2019), which looks at the situation in Germany, Austria (Vorarlberg), Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. To further the reduction of false fire alarms even more, better data is needed to outline and support any measures defined.To further the reduction of false fire alarms, better data is needed to outline and support any measures defined

The study also shows that, in some regions, approximately 30% of the false alarms are caused by 5% of the sites. “We have to optimize the planning and application processes,” says Dr. Sebastian Festag, who headed up the research.

Euralarm “False Fire Alarms” task group

The Euralarm “False Fire Alarms” task group completed a three-year study in 2018 that aimed to identify the actual state of the false alarm issue of fire detection and alarm systems (FDAS), their conditions, main causes and measurements to reduce them. The result of the work is the False Alarm Study (2019), which was the follow-up to a pre-study that led to an observation of the questionable quality and availability of data.

The lack of common data and terminologies – as seen in the first study – makes further analysis and the development of prevention strategies difficult. Reducing the incidence of false alarms requires an understanding of the phenomenon and the conditions (terms, data, transmission paths, standards and calculations). Differences and similarities among countries could be used to derive measures to influence the issue and its ratio, but the circumstances between countries are too varied to truly compare.

Systems over 15 to 20 years old do not have the technical means to handle deceptive phenomena

Comparisons between countries are not possible

In the countries that were visited, the Fire Services collected the data. “An observation here is that comparisons between countries is not possible; hence gaining a better understanding through this process today has limits,” says Lance Rütimann, Chairman of the Euralarm Fire Section and member of the Task Group.

In the context of fire safety engineering, a false alarm is a fire alarm with no conditions that motivates a fire interventionThe study differentiates between a “real” fire alarm and a false fire alarm. “Real” means that there is a fire alarm with a fire or other conditions that requires an intervention, either by someone in the building or the fire services. “False” alarms are defined as events in which experts establish that there is no real hazard existing. In the context of fire safety engineering, a false alarm is a fire alarm with no conditions that motivates a fire intervention (the alarm is not classified as a real fire alarm; a fire intervention is unjustified).

False Alarm Study Lists Counterstrategies

One chapter of the False Alarm Study lists an overview of counterstrategies. There are many well-known measures (e.g. two-detector dependency), and technical progress provides new opportunities (e. g. multisensory-detectors)

Founded in 1970, Euralarm is an organization representing over 5000 companies within the fire safety and security industry valued at 67 billion Euros. The organization provides leadership and expertise for industry, market, policy makers and standards bodies. Euralarm members make society safer and secure through systems and services for fire detection and extinguishing, intrusion detection, access control, video monitoring, alarm transmission and alarm receiving centers. Euralarm members are national associations and individual companies from across Europe.

Not all can be avoided

People get annoyed by false fire alarms, which pull them out of what they are doing and force them to evacuate a building. However, it is a misconception that all false fire alarms can be avoided. A fire detection and fire alarm system is constantly monitoring and evaluating the environment in a building. Sometimes what might be perceived as a false fire alarm is in fact an event that was caught in a very early stage. Clearly it is better to be safe than sorry, and to move people to a safe area whilst intervention forces are in action.It is a misconception that all false fire alarms can be avoided

False alarms should not be seen as purely negative. A lot can be learned from false alarms; for example, in dealing with vulnerabilities in the technical and organizational alerting process.

In general, the number of false alarms is falling, while the number of installed systems is rising, demonstrating that technology works and that false alarm reduction strategies are effective. The number of false fire alarms had declined in all countries in the last years/decades due to optimized technologies. The industry is focusing on the remaining false alarms, some of which are systems that are outdated, no longer meeting site conditions and/or are not professionally maintained.

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Larry Anderson Editor,, Notting Hill Media

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