Beyond the Basics

By Wayne D. Moore | Dec 15, 2003
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When considering the various financial institutions we personally deal with each day, such as banks and investment corporations, we immediately think of how much security is involved to protect the financial assets held in, or controlled by the institution. We rarely think about fire protection because the assumption is the building will be protected by a complete automatic fire sprinkler system and the “required” fire alarm system.

Typically, a building housing a bank or investment corporation is classified as a “business occupancy.” Building codes generally require only a manual fire alarm system with a connection from the automatic fire sprinkler system (if one is installed).

In today’s marketplace, corporate assets and financial stability of companies around the globe change rapidly. Any contractor facing a new installation or retrofit of a fire alarm system in one of these facilities should thoroughly review the owner’s needs before making the assumption that little more than basic code provisions are enough.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Quincy, Mass., based on national fire incident reporting systems (NFIRS), estimates an average of 400 bank fires over the 5-year period from 1994 to 1999 with losses in the range of $4.2 to $4.9 million. Unfortunately, investment companies and stock trading institutions are not differentiated in NFIRS data.

The safety director from a leading investment firm estimated that any incident, such as a fire, that takes their employees who perform the daily transactions away from their computer stations, results in tens of thousands in lost revenue each minute!

Early warnings

With this much at stake, the decision to provide more complete early warning fire detection becomes much easier and more important. Often it is not until an owner is asked to provide downtime cost estimates does he or she realize how important early warning and fire alarm system reliability can be.

The most obvious question a contractor should ask in addition to the downtime dollar amount is how the fire alarm system will interface with the protection of the computer rooms and telecommunications rooms that serve the financial operations. Without the equipment in these two rooms being well protected, the institution will be exposed to large losses from even small fires.

Often these rooms will be protected with active air sampling smoke detectors and gaseous suppression or water mist systems. As required by the National Fire Alarm Code, each of these systems must be integrated into the building fire alarm system. Obviously, if these rooms are not protected properly, there is an opportunity to provide the detection equipment and perform the electrical work necessary for the suppression systems.

Working together

In all financial institutions, there is a need for reliable security systems and this need presents yet another opportunity for the electrical contractor to provide value-added services. Even if the expertise for these systems does not reside in-house, a security contractor can be employed as a subcontractor to piggyback their technical expertise off that of the electrical contractor. Additionally, the security systems can be integrated with the fire alarm system to ensure that security is maintained under certain fire conditions and that life safety will not be adversely affected by the security system operation during a fire.

Typically, the owner of the investment trading firm desires more than the minimum protection required by the building codes. A wise electrical contractor will review all of the “normal” system requirements and then ask the owner to review his or her fire protection goals and whether the two meet. If the project is a design-build opportunity and the electrical contractor is unsure what to recommend to meet the owner’s goals, he or she should team up with other professionals who will work with the contractor to present the best system specification possible.

Stable and reliable

Experience has shown that the fire alarm systems installed in financial institutions must be stable and reliable. Again, the electrical contractor must use his or her good judgment and balance the need for a low equipment cost with the reliability of the equipment purchased and the technical expertise provided during the installation and start-up of the fire alarm system.

Typically a contractor looks at all fire alarm equipment as being equal, but in today’s high-tech marketplace the ability to provide reliable software programming is every bit as important as supplying the hardware on time and on budget.

Financial institutions provide the observant electrical contractor with multiple opportunities to increase the contract value and the opportunity to increase profits through value-added service. When reading your next specification for one of these types of institutions, remember to ask questions of the owner to ensure you don’t miss the opportunities.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.


About The Author

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, was a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is president of the Fire Protection Alliance in Jamestown, R.I. Reach him at [email protected]

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