The Seeing Eye Upgrades Fire Evacuation System to Address Special Needs

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff March 1, 2007

In a fire emergency, timely evacuations may be challenging—especially at The Seeing Eye, North America’s premier guide dog school, located in Morristown, N. J. Because persons with visual impairment are unable to follow exit markings or signage, Bud Liptak, director of facilities at The Seeing Eye, met the challenge of finding an alternative to using traditional exit signs and egress markings.

The Seeing Eye has matched nearly 14,000 specially bred and trained Seeing Eye dogs with men and women across the United States and Canada since 1929. The school instructs people in the proper care of the dogs, and also breeds and raises the dogs, teaches instructors the science and technique of training the dogs, and educates the public on how guide dogs enable visually impaired people to live independently.

Because of the school’s unique mission and service, it requires a fire alarm system with the flexibility to address its special needs as well as the needs of its occupants. Liptak found the answer with Onyx ExitPoint, an audible exit technology from Notifier.

Frank Savino, president and CEO of United Fire Protection (UFP), brought the technology to Liptak’s attention. What Savino saw, and what Liptak implemented, was an audible technology that supplements visual exit markings, such as emergency lighting, signage and photo luminescent guidance strips, with interactive auditory guidance.

The system emits four different field selectable sound pulse patterns to help direct occupants to egress pathways and building exits. It defines an immediate escape route, especially for those who are visually impaired.

The system is installed at building exits or along egress routes. It is a compact sounder that produces broadband noises, acting as an audible exit sign, is triggered by a building’s fire alarm control panel, and guides building occupants toward the exits. Using changes in pitch, the device directs people. For example, a descending tone sound that goes from a high pitch to a low pitch may direct occupants from upper floors to exits on the ground floor.

The system is currently in place on The Seeing Eye’s main campus. There also are plans for expansion beyond the main campus. “We have a‘downtown lounge’ in downtown Morristown where students relax while their classmates are in training,” Liptak said. “We’re upgrading the lounge in the coming months and are encouraging the landlord to install the system.”