Financial institutions require quality, reliable fire protection and timely information in order to maintain a profitable operation. That’s why life safety officers work to stay informed and to contract with reputable installation companies for the installation of code-compliant, false alarm-free fire detection systems.

Consider how the evacuation of key personnel can adversely affect a bank’s operation and its profitability. Whether an alarm condi-tion is related to an actual fire or a simple false alarm, when bank tellers, money counters and other support people are evacuated from a financial institution for even a short period of time, work stoppage causes a significant amount of money loss.

There are several things that can be done to minimize the likelihood of such a situation. Fire of any kind, even when it involves sup-port services outside a bank’s own building, can adversely affect a financial institution’s profits. The communication and data transport infrastructure that carries transactions between banking locations is especially vulnerable when proper fire detection and suppression are not provided.

For example, on March 1, 2007, a cable vault under a Philadelphia street caused enormous problems for the branch location of Sover-eign Bank. The fire took place in a manhole, damaging a grouping of AT&T fiber optic cables. The outage lasted for 19 hours, causing a disruption in services to Sovereign Bank clients.

According to Linda Rosencrance, a journalist with Network World Inc., Southborough, Mass., the outage affected Sovereign’s personal online banking, BillPay and telephone banking services.

“In addition, some branch offices outside the Philadelphia area were affected, [and] tellers in some branch offices were unable to provide customers with up-to-date account information,” Rosencrance said.

Incorporating a backup communication plan will reduce the likelihood of such an outage. When the bank is large enough, a higher level of fire protection, including fire suppression, should be insisted on where it involves one or more outlying communi-cation hubs.

Productivity depends on early fire detection

Because the evacuation of all banking personnel can mean huge monetary losses, it’s important that bank officials receive early warning of a fire, so maintenance personnel can have the time they need to deal with the situation while critical banking operations continue. Early warn-ing potentially can prevent premature evacuation or, if the fire is stopped fast enough, evacuation all together.

“One of the areas they look at is very early warning. The reason is they don’t want a disruption to their facility because of fire,” said Jeff Klein, business line leader, System Sensor, St. Charles, Ill. “What they want is early warning of smoke, so they can do something about it in time to prevent downtime.”

One way to accomplish this is to incorporate sophisticated detection systems that have the ability to detect even the faintest whiff of smoke. Of course, this is not an easy task when using conventional fire detection equipment because of the fine line that exists between early warning and false alarms.

“Early warning smoke detectors can detect a whiff of smoke, in which case the fire alarm system can notify someone that there’s a poten-tial problem with the equipment in that space. This warning gives them the time they need to take action,” Klein said.

The key to early smoke detection involves the use of a laser instead of a common light emitting diode (LED) in a photoelectric smoke de-tector’s smoke chamber. The use of laser light gives Klein’s early warning smoke detector the ability to achieve a sensitivity rating as low as 0.02 percent-per-foot and as high as 2 percent.

Intelligent multiple criteria fire detection also helpful

Another way to deal with early detection is through the use of smoke detectors that rely on multiple signatures, such as smoke with temperature detection and carbon monoxide detection.

“One of the most important developments in the last couple of years is intelligent sensing. Intelligent sensing uses the various sen-sors, the detection algorithm and the processor in the panel in make decisions in trending,” said Peter Ebersold, director of marketing with Notifier.

Trending technology enables the fire alarm panel to determine the presence of one or more elements that are commonly found in a fire situation. Carbon monoxide (CO), for example, signals the presence of fire because, even in the earliest stages, a fire produces CO.

“Even when the level of smoke in an area rises slowly but steadily over a period of time, today’s intelligent analog addressable pan-els can detect that and respond in a variety of ways,” Ebersold said. The most common way is for the panel to provide an early supervi-sory signal. This will allow bank personnel to deal with the situation before it results in an open fire, which would cause a valid evacuation signal.

Reliable banking depends on reliable installation

Poor installation practices and a general lack of code compliancy are other areas of great concern to financial institutions. When a smoke de-tector is positioned in an area that is considered hostile to sensitive electronic gear, false or missed alarms can occur. For example, automatic smoke detectors in elevator pits can cause problems because of the dust, dirt and oil found in these locations. A boiler room where the ambient temperature exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications is another example of an environment that can prove hostile to smoke detectors.

The code allows for the substitution of smoke detectors in such instances, in which case heat detectors can be used.

Section 5.7.1.7 of the National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72, 2002 Edition (Section 2-3.6.1, NFPA 72, 1999 Edition) reads, “The se-lection and placement of smoke detectors shall take into account both the performance characteristics of the detector and the areas into which the detectors are to be installed to prevent nuisance alarms or improper operation after installation.”

When maintenance, inspection and proper testing of fire alarm systems are not in the manner NFPA 72 prescribes, problems can occur. Section 10.2.1.1 states, “To ensure operational integrity, the fire alarm system shall have an inspection, testing, and maintenance program. Inspection, testing, and maintenance programs shall satisfy the requirements of this code, shall conform to the equipment manufacturer’s published instructions, and shall verify correct operation of the fire alarm system.”

Furthermore, Section 10.2.1.1, NFPA 72, states it is absolutely imperative that fire alarm technicians and other low-voltage con-tractors follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions when installing smoke detectors, manual pulls and other components in a fire alarm system. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of low-voltage/fire technicians do not.

Failure to read the manufacturer’s instruction manual when installing a new fire alarm system can result in immediate problems and can lead to problems down the road. The new multiple-criteria smoke detectors provide a good example. A general lack of code knowledge or not understanding the equipment to be installed can jeopardize the ongoing operation of the system. Technicians must know and understand any new requirements set forth by the manufacturer as well as any applicable codes.

NFPA 72 actually requires that all technicians read the manufacturer’s installation manual. The code recognizes that, in a fire alarm technician’s job, properly performing installations is vital because lives depend on the work.

The advent of new fire detection technologies combined with more stringent fire codes promise to reduce the number of false alarms and needless work stoppages in banking institutions. As always, technological advancements and code compliance reduce the chance for error and loss of product.

COLOMBO is a 32-year veteran in the security and life-safety markets. He is currently director with FireNetOnline.com and a nationally recognized trade journalist located in East Canton, Ohio.