As well as being a massive inconvenience for those being evacuated, false alarms also cause ‘alarm fatigue’ which can have a dangerous effect. Often accidentally caused by someone simply burning the toast, these can sometimes also be malicious with someone activating a call point just to see what happens. They are even sometimes caused by a fault with the system.
In most workplaces and public buildings, these are unlikely to be a common occurrence. However, in schools, universities and accommodation blocks, they are likely to be far more regular and become more tiresome.
What is Alarm Fatigue?
When the fire alarm is falsely activated regularly, people soon become desensitised to the threat. As a result, people fail to react appropriately in an emergency situation. When every second counts, this is something which can prove fatal and becomes an additional barrier to fire safety measures.
When a fire broke out in Bolton at a private student hall in November 2019, students ignored a fire alarm because the fire alarm went off “almost every day”.
Resident Afnan Gohar told the BBC that she thought it was a “false alarm”. “We didn’t take notice of it until a girl came running and screamed, telling us to get out and we didn’t believe it at first.”
Luckily, in this particular situation, more than 100 residents were safely evacuated with only two students treated for minor injuries.
How To Prevent False Alarms
While you’ll never be able to fully prevent these types of false alarms due to the nature of keeping call points accessible to everyone, there are measures you can take. In fact, as recommended in BS 5839-1:2017, manual call points can be fitted with a protective cover. These stop people knocking them accidentally, and work to make malicious activation less appealing – especially if you choose an alarm version which sounds as soon as the cover is lifted.
It also helps to have the correct fire alarm detectors installed in the right locations. Heat detectors are ideal for kitchens as they’re unaffected by steam and cooking fumes, while multi-sensor and optical smoke detectors will stop false alarms caused by deodorant sprays in bedrooms.
Additionally, fire alarm systems should be regularly maintained by a qualified engineer to find any errors before they cause issues, and problems resolved as soon as possible.
However, one of the most effective ways to prevent accidental and malicious false alarms is to educate occupants, even with a simple leaflet which gives basic fire safety advice. Giving some consideration to the positioning on appliances, such as the oven, dishwasher, toaster and kettle is often all that is required.
Of course, carrying out a regular fire drill shouldn’t be avoided. Recommended by the fire service every six months, the drill will help to identify any problems with the procedure before it is too late and helps to familiarise everyone with the course of action they should take in an emergency.