Factors to Consider When Choosing a Fire-Alarm Annunciator

By Jim Kimpel, Product Manager, Fire Control Instruments April 5, 2006

A firefighter’s job is stressful enough without the additional challenge of trying to read, operate and silence a difficult-to-operate fire-alarm system. Unfortunately though, many face this dilemma every day.

Most of us have stood out in the weather during an alarm that has sounded in an office, school or apartment building, waiting anxiously for the fire department to come and silence it. We get frustrated, but imagine how the firefighters feel, trying to navigate through dozens of buttons and switches, with building managers and residents looking over their shoulders. Firefighters are experts at putting out fires and saving lives. They usually are not, nor should they have to be, computer scientists.

Fortunately, recent advancements in annunciator technology combine intelligence, interactivity and simplicity. These new systems leverage the most sophisticated technology while allowing fire-alarm control panels to remain functional and uncomplicated.

Factors to consider

When choosing an annunciator system, there are several factors to consider.

End users should consider choosing an annunciator that features a fully integrated graphic touch-screen interface in which options appear and disappear according to the situation. That way, when the firefighter walks in, he or she sees only the information and controls related to the situation, including location of the alarm and two buttons: acknowledge and silence; there’s nothing else to stand in the way.

Once the firefighter selects a button, it vanishes from the option screen, leaving only the controls and information necessary. With this system in place, a firefighter can get key information and control the alarm system in less time. That way, the firefighter can react quicker to an emergency situation and spend more time performing his or her primary job—putting out fires.

Also, the computer-driven nature of the touch screen allows adjustments to nearly every situation. The firefighter doesn’t need to get into all the intricacies of the system; he just needs a system that provides pertinent information. A good annunciator panel should do just this and on a situational basis. Depending on what’s going on, the screen should change its look. Ultimately, it is the control panel that should do all the footwork, and all research should be performed by the computer behind the scene. Then, the needed information should be presented in a large, easy-to-read display.

Specifiers should be careful of traditional fire systems, which often display up to 90 buttons, many of which are unnecessary to first responders. Especially important to keep an eye out for is a system where all of the buttons that are non-essential to the firefighter disappear, leaving only the location of the emergency and the few necessary buttons.

Sophistication when called for

When choosing an annunciator system, the needs of a building manager or technician who services the system should also be at the forefront. A superior panel will provide the service professional with a completely different set of menu options than those used by the firefighting professional. The ideal panel is detailed and technically advanced enough to meet a technician’s maintenance and service needs while maintaining the simplicity of operation required by non-technicians.

It’s got the look

There are other important flexible capabilities to take into consideration, including the ability to add a unique look with custom logos to address the aesthetic standards of architects while complementing a company’s corporate image. Such capabilities also allow the user to add custom response instructions tailored to best address a building’s safety needs, a feature that’s extremely appealing to building and facility managers for whom safety and speed of evacuation are primary concerns.

Clearly, it is imperative for a system to possess the capability to meet the specific needs of the people who actually use the product. Furthermore, an annunciator system that is proficient for a broad range of industries, including schools, prisons, high-rises, facility management and healthcare, is definitely a sound choice.

In general, the age-old axiom that “less is more”is a good rule to follow when choosing an annunciator. For today’s firefighter, less complexity and frustration equals more productivity and increased safety. It’s that simple.