Current Thinking on Security Fog Systems

Security fog systems received a bit of grief last month with the IAFC releaseing a statement discouraging their use, and a subsequent statement from a CSAA leader reiterating some of the same thoughts. To get to the meat of what this means for security installing dealers and for potential end-users, we got in touch with one potential dealer who has been following the issue closely for his own association, and with a vendor who is marketing such systems. The interviews with both gentleman appear below:

POINT: Installers and Security Users Need to Consult with Fire/Police

To discuss what dealers/installers should know about security fog systems, we turned to Ron Haner, the alarm response manager of the Washington Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.

SIW: What's the general thinking from the security/alarm community on the effectiveness of these systems?

Frankly, I don't know. They are not in wide use. Their effectiveness is probably not in question, but any such "peripheral" device that includes a significant price addition is typically difficult to market. There have been attempts to market this product off and on over the past decade. It seems to get a lot of attention at the shows, but I don't think they have had a significant market penetration.

Was there a serious event where this issue cropped up (such as a life safety incident)?

No incident of which I am aware. The company that is marketing the "SmokeCloak" product has been targeting NBFAA members recently with email promotions. I received several over a recent 10-day period, one of which was forwarded to me by a local law enforcement official expressing concerns about the use of this product and its potential negative impact on the safety of responding police officers or fire fighters. As you know, the IAFC has come out against the fog products, and CSAA has issued a statement against the use of the product as well.

Given all of this expressed concern about a product that, at best, has a very marginal market penetration, we deemed it prudent to advise our membership to consult with their local police and fire officials before employing the product in their jurisdictions. It is important that the alarm industry work in concert with fire and law enforcement officials whenever possible -- and if they are concerned about the safety of a product as it affects their responding officers, we need to heed that concern.

We do not know that this product represents a real threat to responding fire fighters or police officers, but fire and police officials have concerns and those concerns need to be addressed. I would think it incumbent upon those who attempt to market such products to educate and inform officials in the areas in which they work.

As a security solutions provider, do you worry about liability in delivering products that if not installed properly, could potentially impede egress?

As security solutions providers we are always concerned about potential liabilities in general. We need to be concerned about the potential negative impact on the safety of any individuals who may come into contact with that product. This is certainly particularly true for police officers or fire fighters who are responding to our alarms.

Should security solutions installers who have delivered these types of solutions be advising their clients to consider removing such systems?

They certainly should know what, if any, are the real and potential risks of using the product, and at the very least, consult with their local police and fire officials about continuing its use. There are burglar alarm ordinances currently in effect that ban the use of "protective/reactive" devices. See the excerpt below from the City of Olympia, WA ordinance. This provision clearly bans the use of a smoke barrier system in Olympia: "Protective/reactive alarm system means an alarm system that is rigged to produce any temporary disability or sensory deprivation through the use of chemical, electrical or sonic defense, or by any other means, including use of vision obscuring/disabling devices."

POINT: Security Foggers Work and Aren't a Hazard

To offer the counter-point and to share some details on how security foggers work and are designed, we turned to FogSHIELD CEO Jordan Frankel. FogSHIELD recently launched its product in the U.S., and Frankel participated in our Q&A to share some clarification from a vendor's perspective.

SIW: What was your first reaction to the IAFC comment?

Frankel: My first reaction was that their primary concern is with safety, and so is ours. I think they just need to be educated. Some of the information they had as to the technology of security foggers was inaccurate, and mainly because they had not been informed or seen demonstrations performed personally. The IAFC has a show in August called the First Responder Show that we have been invited to and to sit down and speak with them in terms of security foggers.

Was there a sentinel event you were aware that prompted the focus on this technology?

Not that we are aware of. But we were invited to do some press coverage when we launched, and this did come out 10 days after we officially launched our product. You have to remember that my exact product has been used in the UK for over 30 years, and there are 103,000 units installed, with virtually no incidents. When they were launched there, we had the same initial reaction, but eventually new rules and regulations were properly set up and we haven't had any problems.

Could one of the potential concerns be that a person might see a building that appears to be full of "smoke" and will think fire, causing a response by the fire department, when in reality, a police response would be the appropriate choice?

Well, yes, but one of the things it that it's not smoke; it's fog. Smoke tends to be black and the fog is white. It resembles a cloudy day, and is not toxic. Also, there is signage that is placed on the outside of any building that has one of our units in it. There are also stickers, and the lighted units are brightly lit so it can be seen both in the day or the night, and it is triggered when the FogSHIELD unit is activated. It says something to the extent of "This property protected by a security fogger."

Before we even install a unit, the monitoring station is notified by certified mail, and the local police department and fire department are also each notified by certified mail that there is a unit that potentially is going to be installed. When I say potentially, we want to make sure the local ordinance, specifically the fire code, doesn't prohibit such a unit. There are some rare instances in the United States where you can't have a security fogger. We check with them before the installation and then all these parties are made aware when we do the installation.

Unfortunately, there is not a list of all the locations where these are prohibited. We actually have to contact each jurisdiction ahead of each install. You have to do your due diligence.

One of the things the IAFC mentioned were safety codes as related to egress. Do security foggers like your FogSHIELD system meet that code?

Most of the egress laws were provided many years ago before this technology even existed. They mainly pertained to lock system that could lock an intruder or user inside a residence or business, which would cause a potential hazard. In my opinion, they have not updated their rules and regulations for security fog systems as of yet, and that is why we are focused on education.

Our product is not a man trap. For example, we do a lot of rent-to-own systems. Typically these units are installed in the rear of the store or where the most expensive items are. For example, in a rental center, they would be installed near the high-value consumer electronics. We put the unit there, and it is attached to the alarm panel and to motion sensors so when the intruder approaches the area where the values are, then that is when the unit goes off. It doesn't go off immediately and fog the entire space and then create a mantrap or prevent egress.

What about in smaller stores, like jewelry retailers? How do you design those systems?

This is not for every type of business, and we will not install it in every type of business, because it may not work from a safety standpoint. If it's a very small store, hypothetically 750 to 1,200 square feet and which has merchandise cases everywhere that already make it hard to get out, then we will pass on that sale and we will explain why. If it's a larger store, we would install it in the rear, facing forward, so the fog rolls forward, and the intruder can see the fog and can turn around and exit the store via the same window or door they came in on. We want them to flee the store as quickly as possibly. We don't want them stuck in the store and are trying to get out, chances are they are going to damage a lot of things while trying to get out of the store.

Without them seeing an actual demonstration and how it is configured to an alarm system, they simply don't know the reality of the situation. We want to educate them not just with paperwork and bullet points, but with a physical demonstration in a store space where it is a real-life scenario.

How long does it take for the fog to dissipate? Is that a standard rate?

It's not a standard rate; if you talk to three companies, you'll have three different numbers. Ours last approximately 25 minutes, which is shorter than most. In 15 minutes, 80 percent of the fog has dissipated. In most areas, because police response time is so poor, when the police roll up, the fog is already gone. This is a good thing of course.

What about these units in relations to smoke/fire detection systems and false alarms?

The unit has a device that doesn't allow it to go off in the unlikely event that the business has a smoke detector, which is normal since most businesses are using sprinklers now. But if there was a smoke detector, the unit cannot deploy the fog and will be shut down. So, if the smoke detector is tripped by a fire, then the unit will not eject any additional fog to the space.

Can this fog mix of water and glycol trip a smoke detector?

If the smoke detector is directly over the unit, and the unit deploys for a very long time, then yes, however most units that are large do not use smoke detectors. Instead they use sprinkler systems. Additionally, when our installers first look at a project, they assess where the detectors are. Fortunately, many of the detectors are now in the duct work these days, and the fogger won't set them off because they aren't in close proximity. Quite frankly, we don't want to go back to businesses often and replace cartridges because of a false alarm. Our goal is to try to eliminate that.