Key Trends in Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarm system technologies’ innovation has been slow compared to other high demand smart devices. Global manufacturers focus their major efforts on evolving high-return products, primarily the ones that connect consumers with rapidly changing lifestyle trends. While fire alarm systems being backend safety support systems aren’t exactly at the cutting-edge of social advancement, innovative companies are developing new methods for approaching fire and gas-related threats.

Artificial intelligence, connected systems, and smart city initiative-along with its promise to spark a creative revolution in fire alarm systems-will lead to more out-of-the-box technological innovation. Some of the major trends in the market are outlined below.

Fire Alarm Aspiration Detection: Where the highest level of accuracy is vital, aspiration detection can be the ideal solution for enhanced safety. Aspiration sensors are capable of detecting microscopic particles of smoke in the air for accurate and early detection. There are two types of aspiration sensing technologies in the market:

  • Point-based solution-System consists of enclosed detectors with a fan system, which draws air samples to check the potential threat.
  • Laser-based solution-Laser technology solutions detect smoke by drawing air into a laser chamber to identify a possible threat. It’s the fastest-growing detector type, because these systems are designed to detect fire and smoke activity in large and open spaces, where smoke dilution and stratification can occur. The challenge in the adoption of this technology is due to the lack of awareness of benefits offered by these technologies among end-users, but in the near future, we can expect to see a much higher demand for this technology.

IoT in Fire Safety Systems – Fire safety is among the various areas that can realize the extraordinary benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things has led to, much of the world becoming smarter and more connected. With IoT, now safety alerts can be sent to hundreds of people fast and effectively. Several leading fire safety companies have already launched IoT-enabled fire detectors.

  • IoT Enabled Connected Detectors – There is a variety of connected smoke & gas detectors for domestic & industrial applications. These connected detectors are able to communicate in real time with the other devices and can be programmed to take a limited judgemental call for a predecided action. The detectors can be accessed from anywhere using mobile apps & internet connectivity. In the event of an alarm, the detectors can sound a local alarm as well as send notifications on the mobile phones.
  • IoT Retrofitting – This Technology is also available today to add connectivity to existing detectors. With a monitor, users don’t have to change all detectors. The monitor listens for the specific frequency of these detectors and sends an alert to its app when it hears them. One single monitor can cover multiple detectors covering large area.

Integration of BMS & MNS – More and more facility owners and managers are realizing the benefits of integrating all the building systems, such as Mass Notification and Security systems (MNS) with the Building Management System (BMS). A unified MNS is defined as a platform to deliver a message to a small or large group of people. By integrating these systems together, users can improve the oversight and management of multiple systems from a single point of control.

Advancements in Fire Alarm System – Central Alarm System

In a central alarm system, all detectors are connected to a central controller and send the signal directly to this controller. The controller actively monitors multiple locations and when it receives alarm input from the detection devices, it activates notification devices such as horns, strobe lights, and speakers to alert the occupants. Now, more and more connected and smart features are also coming to central alarm and evacuation systems. Now, mass notification systems include a paging component to relay live audio instructions throughout the building in case of an emergency. Most mass notifications nowadays also include support for various types of emergency messages – such as inclement weather emergency, security alerts, amber alerts, etc. Advanced features in mass
notification systems include the capability to communicate alerts via SMS, text, email, popup, app message and push notification to targeted recipients, thus helping create quick and effective awareness.

With IIoT and other advanced technologies, improvements are also expected in emergency planning. Sensor and detector data along with other surveillance data can be combined with algorithms and analytics to help quickly prepare better emergency or evacuation plans. Analytics can consider various factors such as the number of people in the building, building maps, location of the fire, the rate at which fire is spreading, and the direction of the fire to come up with better evacuation plans. Analytics-based evacuation plans can prevent congestion, by guiding the crowd in different parts of the building to take the optimum route to ensure fast and effective evacuation.

  • Multi-Sensor Detection: There is a major shift happening in the industry towards multiple criteria technology. Many companies are continuing to develop innovative products that have the ability to detect not only smoke but also heat, infrared light from flames and carbon monoxide as well. These sensors not only save money and time but also reduce the time involved with installing multiple sensors, but it also helps in eliminating nuisance alarms, because more than one criterion needs to be met before the alarm
    is triggered.
  • Wireless Technologies: Over the last 10 years, many innovations in wireless fire alarm equipment have been brought (new products) in the marketplace, including a full range of transmitters, initiating devices, and even notification appliances. However, this technology is still struggling to pick up because of the nature of the existing built environment and modern LEEDs certified construction techniques that present few challenges for wireless fire alarm technology. Fire-rated concrete walls, floors and ceilings, along with glass and steel construction, tend to block or weaken wireless signal strength, creating challenges in maintaining the required communication protocols. Although such challenges are getting overcome during the initial building designs, yet often problems of communication losses are only discovered during, or even after, the system commissioning takes place, thus creating a safety hazard. Currently, wireless fire alarm technology is only being used strategically, for very specific situations where the advantages of the wireless technology can be enhanced with a proper design of the location of transmitters and repeaterd without sacrificing the safety aspect. This also needs a robust, more frequent testing, inspection, and maintenance program so as to ensure that backup batteries are alive to maintain the signal strength.
  • Voice Alert Systems: Systems that announce danger with pre-recorded message have been in practice for quite long, however with development of newer technology many of these voice alert systems are getting smarter & better with placement of many detectors & sensors for assessing the safety conditions of surroundings and then paging pre-programmed messages. Voice alert system allows for providing specific life safety instructions and safety measures to evacuate. These systems are not only effective for fire events but also other emergencies as well such as a hazardous chemical spill, intruder and bad weather. In addition, in case of an incident, these systems are helpful in providing instructions to evacuate the building.
  • Limit Risks with Remote Monitoring: Modern fire alarm systems with IoT & IIoT  connectivity and cloud uploading of information can be set up to offer alarms on-site as well as at anywhere in the world and on multiple devices. Despite the cost being high, (which is dropping with time) the benefits of remote monitoring are huge. Facility managers can connect multiple facilities to one central monitoring station and ensure better monitoring of alarm systems, maintenance of records and reports, and scheduling of tests and maintenance activities.
  • Embrace Machine Learning: In the building segment, one of the fastest-growing applications for machine learning is improving maintenance. Machine learning applications are self-modifying, highly automated, and embedded. Machine learning algorithms are designed to continuously adopt and improve their performance with minimal human intervention. Machine learning algorithms are also embedded within a process or workflow such that they become seamlessly integrated into the process to the point where they are invisible to the user or operator. Machine learning technologies are used for swift maintenance of the fire alarm system.
  • Prescriptive Maintenance: This practice which as roots in TPM which is art of Toyota Production System (TPS) and also known as Total Productive Maintenance ensuring proactively by addressing maintenance issues before they become major problems and cause equipment downtime. It builds on simple condition monitoring to provide advanced notice of failure. Condition monitoring typically monitors a single variable per device – such as sensor failure. Prescriptive maintenance, in contrast, typically monitors multiple variables per system and uses sophisticated algorithms – such as machine learning. The aim is to give a longer-range prediction of failure, with a higher measure of confidence.


The Internet of Things will bring high volumes of fast-moving data. This, in turn, brings both challenges and opportunities for building organizations. One of the challenges is making sense of large complex data sets. Predictive analytics and machine learning approaches form a way to do that. The potential Return on Investment (ROI) is real, tangible, and relatively immediate. The IoT will bring more data, faster, from a greater variety of sources. Managing this data complexity to be able to respond to events in a timely manner will require a much more automated and frictionless approach to the analytics value chain. Maintenance applications that incorporate machine learning are a promising approach for capitalizing on IoT data.

Of course, the new technologies just described may not be applicable to every opportunity. Decisions about upgrades should be based on an analysis of the specific facility conditions and organizational objectives, while designers should keep their minds open to new technology that is available. …Concluded

Prabhat Khare
possesses a BE (Electrical) degree from IIT Roorkee (Gold Medalist). Now, he is the Director of KK Consultants.

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