Fire Side Chat: Providing Protection They Can Bank On

Proper fire detection is essential not only for life safety but also to avoid false alarms or system malfunctions that could cost the business a bundle. In particular, this holds true for financial institutions.

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 code-compliant, false alarm-free fire detection systems.

The evacuation of key personnel must be avoided if possible because the time lost can adversely affect bank operations, and hence profitability. This is true whether an alarm condition is related to an actual fire or a simple false alarm.

Fire equipment manufacturers have worked to create a number of fire detection technologies that hinge on false alarm prevention. One of them involves the use of smoke detectors that have the capability of detecting fires in their early incipient stage.

This month, we’ll explore some of the ways fire alarm technicians can reduce the likelihood of evacuation while providing effective fire detection within banks.

Prevention Critical to Operations

A fire of any kind, even when it involves support 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, a fire in a cable vault under a Philadelphia street caused enormous problems for the branch location of Sovereign Bank. The fire, which took place in a manhole, damaged a grouping of AT&T fiber-optic cables. The outage lasted for more than 19 hours, causing wide scale service disruptions for the bank’s clientele.

According to Linda Rosencrance of Network World Inc. in 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,” she says.

One way to reduce the likelihood of such an outage is for banks to incorporate a well thought-out backup communication plan and practice it on a regular basis. When the bank is large enough, a higher level of fire protection, including fire suppression, should be insisted upon where it involves one or more outlying communication hubs.

Importance of 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 in its initial combustion stage. This will give maintenance personnel time to deal with the developing situation while critical banking operations continue without unnecessary evacuation.

“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,” says 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.”

Klein’s company incorporates a sophisticated system that has the ability to detect the mere hint of smoke. This, of course, is not an easy task using conventional fire detection equipment.

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

The secret to very-early smoke detection hangs on the use of a laser instead of a LED (light emitting diode) in a photoelectric smoke detector’s smoke chamber. The use of laser light gives Klein’s very-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.

Systems Gain More Intelligence

Early detection is also possible through the use of smoke detectors equipped with more than one sensor capable of detecting multiple signatures. Possibilities include smoke with temperature, even carbon monoxide (CO). Thanks to microprocessor power, when more than one detection technology is used, the result is “very-early” detection.

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing allan@Tpromo.Com, call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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