Within our parents' lifetimes, we've moved from fire alarm control panels (FACPs) using simple electrical relays to today's microprocessor-based units, able to integrate thousands of inputs.
To put this all in context, keep in mind that in 1959 the Integrated Circuit (IC) was invented. The first modern computer was the ENIAC, which weighed 30 tons. The ENIAC had 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 10,000 capacitors. All its processing was replaced with one small IC chip and microprocessors have been evolving ever since. Technology has driven our industry for the last 50 years. Did you realize that the cordless hand tools we use today to install fire alarm systems were invented in 1961? The ubiquitous LED was invented in 1962. The first residential smoke alarm wasn't invented until 1969 which was one year before engineers at Corning made a glass fiber that transmitted light well enough to be used for communication. The cell phone came along in 1973 but the CCD camera wasn't produced until 1980. Wireless networking (Wi-Fi) wasn't even available until 2002.
Today's fire alarm control panels use all of these technologies. Fire alarm control panels commonly send and receive digital signals and may be networked using fiber optic cables as well as copper wiring. For the purposes of this article and the focus on the education market, let's look at the ways we use fire alarm technology today to protect two typical school sites.
Elementary in action
The first example is a single story elementary school. In this example, initiation will be straight-forward with a conventional fire alarm control panel performing most of the high tech work. For other than a one-room school building, a manual fire alarm system is required for Educational (E) occupancies by virtually all building codes. Like most schools, our building is not equipped with sprinklers, therefore a single smoke detector must be used to protect the only fire alarm control unit that is at the heart of this school's fire alarm system. The electronics used in this detector were designed to help discriminate between spurious false signals and actual smoke. However, the FACP itself will employ its own microprocessor power to perform an alarm verification of the alarm signals from this detector. The FACP may also contain circuitry to keep track of dust/dirt buildup in the smoke detector and send a signal when cleaning is needed. Since there is no sleeping allowed in schools (not to say it doesn't happen), there is no requirement for additional smoke detection in any other rooms or spaces, unless coats are hung in the hallways on hooks.
Our school is a new facility and will use metal lockers in the halls for coat storage. For notification, the temporal-three signal, using horns will be deployed because the sound from the horns will be different from the bell sound traditionally used for classroom changes. Strobes will be installed in the hallways, restrooms, locker rooms, library, gym, cafeteria, office areas and other common use spaces. Strobes could also be added to supplement the horns in noisy areas like woodworking shops. The latest FACPs now provide synchronization protocols for strobe lights from various manufacturers, making add-on modules unnecessary. The public address (PA) system is permitted to serve as the source for other emergency announcements such as tornado warnings and security threats.