School's in Session: Reducing K-12 Costs to Increase Profits

All K–2 schools are now in session for the 2018–2019 school year. Those of you who provide fire alarm systems for this occupancy have probably experienced the last-minute rush to get new systems installed, programmed and accepted. The crisis generally arises when the fire alarm supplier does not employ or train enough system programmers to configure installed systems. Now that the “crises installations” are completed, why not take a moment to evaluate how to approach the education marketplace and future fire alarm system installations?

You should already know that current building codes require an emergency voice/alarm communication system (EVACS) in all new educational occupancies. As a reminder, this requirement comes from the building codes—or Life Safety Code, where applicable—and not from the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

Specifically, since the 2012 edition of the International Building Code (IBC), the requirement has stated in Section 907.2.3 for Group E occupancies: “A manual fire alarm system that initiates the occupant notification signal utilizing an emergency voice/alarm communication system meeting the requirements of Section 907.5.2.2 and installed in accordance with Section 907.6 shall be installed in Group E occupancies. When automatic sprinkler systems or smoke detectors are installed, such systems or detectors shall be connected to the building fire alarm system.”

Furthermore, the IBC does not limit the use of the in-building fire EVACS solely for fire alarm purposes. As stated numerous times in previous articles, EVACS may also provide communications services such as a paging system and a mass notification system (MNS).

If you find yourself planning a retrofit in this market, also confirm whether the new system will be an in-building fire EVACS, or a combination MNS/EVACS. If the design combines these, you must communicate with the stakeholders to ensure you will provide a system that meets their needs. Of course, the fire inspector also cares about the type of system you intend to provide. So, keep up with all last-minute acceptance test requirements. Also, coordinate with the fire inspector to schedule enough time to complete the acceptance inspection and acceptance testing.

Keep in mind that NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, has different requirements for each of these important systems. You cannot simply state to the client that the EVACS can perform double duty as an MNS. Because the educational occupancy will use an MNS for different risks other than fire, someone must perform a risk analysis to ensure the MNS is properly designed for the risks.

Given the rise of gun violence at K–12 schools, consider what other protective systems the school intends to install. Such systems may include card access, security and camera systems. Determine what integration the school might require between those other protective systems and the fire alarm system.

Such integration can significantly reduce costs for the school. Using the same system to accomplish multiple purposes also simplifies the training of school personnel in the operation of the system. In this day of continued municipal budget cuts, pointing out these cost-saving idea will keep you at the top of the list as a trusted advisor. And, even though most systems must go out for bid, the information you provide to the school will help ensure they raise the bar for all bidders. As contractors, our professionalism requires us to review everything we do for cost savings.

As I mentioned, if your supplier does not have enough programmers to properly configure each system they sell, it likely causes your installation delays. Review current purchasing practices in order to tighten up the requirements for final on-site programing of the fire alarm system, EVACS, or MNS. Do you know how long the programming will take? If not, add appropriate language to the purchase order confirming that fact so you can plan the total installation timing.

Another way to avoid this kind of issue involves training a top technician to provide the system programming on all your systems. In many cases, the only way to accomplish this requires developing a closer partnership with the supplier. By investing in your technician’s training through the supplier, you could then reduce future purchasing costs from the supplier because they could reserve their programmer’s time and cost for use on their other customer’s projects.

Saving costs for your customer will enhance your reputation and result in positive recommendations, which will draw more customers. So, keeping your customers costs down can ultimately drive profits up.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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