Replacing Fire Alarms in Existing High-rise Buildings

Know when replacement is necessary and how to comply economically.

What steps should we take?
When fire-alarm systems for high-rise buildings need to be upgraded or replaced, security and safety directors are often the messengers who bear the bad tidings to management. These professionals understand the management's concerns for safety, installation impact, and costs of a system replacement. They also understand the daily operation of their facility. The director will, however, need additional understanding to make a convincing case for the system replacement or enhancement. He or she must justify why such a project is required and provide a reasonable level of detail about the proposed system improvements. Adequate knowledge of the needed scope of the improvements helps in obtaining an adequate budget and full management support.

Usually an internal review of the costs and maintenance of the old system is the best starting point, because problems with operation, difficulty of maintenance or excessive cost can be the best justifications for a new system. If a facility has an effective system that is well-documented and -understood, some issues may still justify a system replacement or upgrade. These issues include maintenance of the equipment, changes in use of the facility, and enhancements for the benefit of occupants or responding personnel.

Sometimes an operational system has been cited by the authorities, or management has been advised that the current systems must be upgraded. While it can be beneficial to use the citation or advisory to generate support for the project, the building should not run out and find the first possible fix. The facility should work with the local authorities to develop a scheduled approach that includes developing design criteria that provides an effective solution.

The complexity and size of fire-alarm systems in high-rise buildings require that the design and life-cycle costs be considered in any system upgrade. Many high-rises are approaching the obsolescence of their current systems and will require the addition of voice notification, visual notification, expanded detection and enhanced technologies. To make these improvements, a planned, budgeted, team approach to design and installation is required. Such an approach will ensure that the fire-alarm systems in these grand structures remain as effective as possible.

Kenneth Gentile is a senior consultant with Rolf Jensen & Associates. Mr. Gentile specializes in the design, application and evaluation of fire protection and life safety systems. To learn more about RJA, please visit their Web site at .