Voice Evacuation Systems: The Sounds That Lead To Safety

Oct. 27, 2008
Voice Evac systems are considered better alternatives to traditional audible

Voice evacuation systems are specially designed public address systems, typically used during fire situations, which the Life Safety Code requires for certain types of installations. Also referred to as Voice Evac systems, they are usually part of high-end fire alarm systems, primarily in places of assembly. The system uses spoken messages to evacuate public facilities in an orderly fashion during emergencies.

Voice Evac systems are considered better alternatives to traditional audible annunciators because a voice is typically less likely to instill panic, and the voice feature can be used to give specific instructions, for specific situations. Other justifications for Voice Evac are that, with so many devices making alarm-like sounds these days, people have become complacent to alarm sounds and signals. Combining an alarm signal with a voice message and instructing occupants as to what to do has proven to be much more effective in getting people to a safe area.

Voice Evac systems can also address security issues such as dealing with intruders or other emergencies within a facility. Voice Evac not only lets everyone know to get out, but it also informs them of where the danger is-so they can avoid it. Voice Evac systems can also be used during a crisis to more accurately deploy law enforcement, fire, or emergency services to the problem. A heightened public awareness of the need for orderly and safe evacuation is influencing municipalities and code writing agencies to write new regulations.

Although Voice Evac systems are not difficult to install, they do add to the cost of the traditional alarm system. Some manufacturers of Voice Evac systems endeavor to provide value-added features to their systems to help end-users better justify the additional costs.

Code requirements need to be complied with. NFPA 101 (National Fire Prevention Association, document 101) requires you to install Voice Evac systems in certain types of buildings. It defines assembly occupancy as including, but not limited to, "all buildings or portions of buildings used for gathering together 50 or more people for such purposes as deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, or awaiting transportation."

Multi Function Features
The SAFEPATH4 Multi-Function Facility Communications system from Wheelock is an all-in-one system that includes voice evacuation, commercial sound, paging and background music. The system is easily expandable, in addition to supporting a full product line that includes low profile speakers, strobes, combination speaker strobes and other appliances. With this product line Wheelock offers free application engineering assistance and computer based design tools.
Visit www.wheelockinc.com for more information.

Audio Evacuation System offers Customizable Messaging
Fire-Lite's newly distributed audio and zone splitter panels expand on the features and benefits of the ACC-25/50 and ACC-25/50ZS. The enhanced ACC-25/50DA audio panel increases the available wattage of the system to over 1500 watts of crystal-clear digital audio power, while the ACC-25/50ZS zone splitter panel increases the zone splitter capability up to a total of 24 separate audio circuits.

Fire-Lite's precise fully featured emergency communications systems are ideal for schools, auditoriums, dorms, theatres, restaurants, places of worship, lodging facilities, assisted living facilities, office buildings and factories. With significant technological enhancements, including full supervision in both active and standby conditions, the ACC25/50 Series provides up to five customizable messages. The system also features full manual paging to allow first responders to provide precise evacuation directions to occupants.
For more information visit www.firelite.com.

More specifically, Voice Evac applies only to Class A and Class B assembly facilities that house more than 300 people. NFPA 101, Sec. 8-3.4.1 states that all Class A and Class B assembly occupancies and art theaters with more than one audience-viewing room shall be equipped with an approved fire alarm system. Other requirements include:

  • Occupant notification shall be by means of voice announcements, either pre- recorded, or initiated by the person in the constantly attended location.
  • The announcement shall be made via an approved voice communications or public address system, provided with an emergency power source above the ambient noise level of the assembly occupancy.
  • The authority with jurisdiction determines if it's "impractical to have a constantly attended location" and allows installation of a manual pull station-type fire system.
  • Emergency voice alarm/communication systems are a requirement in high-rise buildings more than seven stories. In multi-story facilities, a zoned multi-channel Voice Evac system is preferred. For example, if a fire occurs on the third floor of a building, the system can direct third and fourth floor occupants to immediately exit via the nearest stairwell. Meanwhile, the fifth, sixth and seventh floor occupants can receive a voice message informing them of an emergency on the third floor and ask them to standby. Once the stairwell crowding has eased, the Voice Evac system will inform those floors to exit.

Calculating for the proper use of a facility's Voice Evac system will help to ensure that necessary information will reach the people on the premises during emergencies. As a general rule of thumb: provide 1 watt of speaker power for every 1500 sq. ft. in divided areas and 2000 sq. ft. in open areas. Speaker wattage should provide 15 dBA above ambient sound levels. To determine decibel levels, use a certified decibel meter and take readings throughout the building. Also bear in mind that wall-mount speakers are generally more efficient at delivering sound power than ceiling speakers; (ceiling speakers output about 3 dB less).

The requirements for the presence of Voice Evacuation Systems and certifications a dealer needs to install them vary throughout the country. (You should educate yourself on these issues.) After you survey your territory to determine whether this is a specialty worth getting in to you should also consider the benefits of value-added multi-use Voice Evac systems and the prestige that comes from being a full service provider. A general familiarity with Voice Evac and the codes and certifications associated with them will enable you to better advise customers and make good decisions regarding your own company's participation in this field.

To help better understand the Voice Evac market, the dealer's potential role in this market, and to provide insights into what the future of Voice Evac may hold, Security Dealer hit the airwaves tapping into experts Jeff Hendrickson of Silent Knight and Scott Schneider marketing manager, Facility Communications for Wheelock, Inc.

All-In-One Integrated Voice Evacuation System and Addressable Fire Panel
Silent Knight's Farenhyt IFP-100/1000 VIP (Voice Integration Panel) line offers all of the features of Silent Knight's well-known fire control panels, plus the added convenience and utility of a voice evacuation system. This all-in-one product includes 127 addressable devices that allow the user to determine precisely which device has been activated and/or needs attention. It also uses a distributed amplification scheme to enable power sources to be linked directly to appropriate areas of evacuation, rather than having to institute a complex wiring system.

The line is scalable from 50 to 400 watts to meet a variety of application needs, including small-to-mid size universities, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, shopping centers and other institutions. The integrated voice evacuation feature of the Farenhyt IFP-100/1000 VIP line offers built-in DMR supports playing 3 separate messages, field programmable voice prompts, a built-in microphone and ground fault detection to simplify troubleshooting of ground faults on the system.

The line also features single button reset and silence functions, a built-in digital communicator, a programmable zone or point reporting capability, an enhanced user interface, an integrated dead-front cabinet, a powerful 6 amp 24vdc power supply and programming capability from the on-board user interface or via the SKSS PC-based programming software.
For additional information, visit www.silentknight.com.

Security Dealer: Since this product group provides features of fire, intercom, public address and life safety, what certifications, licensing, and training are required for the dealer to sell and install them?

Jeff Hendrickson: These products all fall under low voltage regulations and require the appropriate licenses for the municipality of the installation. In some cases, the public address /intercom systems use 70.7 volt line transformers to run the speakers and this will generally require an electricians license as it is considered high voltage.

Scott Schneider: Most individuals supporting the sale and installation of these products have an in-depth knowledge of the codes and regulations existing within their geographic area. In addition, certification from the National Institute for Certified Engineering Technicians (NICET) can also prove very beneficial. There are more than 100,000 NICET-certified technicians in the United States, who have passed very rigorous testing procedures that require a thorough knowledge of the equipment, applications, and established state-of-the-art design and implementation methods in a particular engineering area.

Security Dealer: Does the customer elect to install this type of system, or are they code-mandated upgrades?

Jeff Hendrickson: In the case of new construction, the systems are generally code driven. On retrofits, the code requirements and the requirements of the building occupants are both factors.

Scott Schneider: In many cases, the installation of voice evacuation and related systems are code-driven.

Security Dealer: What percentage of structures currently has a system of this type? What is the projected market for this type of system?

Jeff Hendrickson: I am not sure of percentages, but the market is predominantly high-rise buildings at this time, with the places of public assembly (with occupancy rates of 300 or more) being another code-mandated segment with a great deal of activity.

Going forward, the market for these systems will see additional application in smaller places of assembly (under 300 persons). This is currently being driven by local code and AHJ requirements. The voice evacuation systems are also useful in cases where multi-lingual instruction is desired.

Scott Schneider: It is impossible to know exactly how many structures operate with some form of a voice evacuation system since codes and regulations, which drive their installation, vary from state to state and throughout the nation. Although several states have adopted codes stipulating the mandatory use of voice evacuation systems, the overall number of states is still under 10, nationwide.

As of now, the projected markets for these products include any areas of mass assembly such as retail outlets, municipal buildings, industrial plants, schools and warehouses. In recent years, the military market has also grown mightily. This has included a greater demand for systems based in the United States, as well as oversees.

Security Dealer: Are these systems being written into plans for new construction?

Jeff Hendrickson: Yes, they are required in high-rise buildings and places of assembly with occupancy rates of 300 or more persons. Typically, these systems are not in the plans for small commercial structures, low-rise buildings or places of public assembly with sub 300 person occupancy rates. There are some communities, however, that are enforcing voice systems in places of public assembly at occupancy levels of 50 or more persons.

Scott Schneider: Yes, but once again, usage is mandated by the particular codes representing a specific geographic region. While such products must be UL listed, or tested by an approved testing agency to UL standards, they must meet the specific mandates of the NFPA, OSHA and IBC, among other regulating bodies representing that state or municipality.

Two Alternatives to Integrated Solutions
Gamewell's fully digital and networkable audio evacuation systems are able to support up to six channels of digital audio, including line paging and two-way telephone communications, plus various control functions, all operating simultaneously on a single pair of wires or fiber optic cables. They are offered in two alternatives: integrated solutions and audio expansion solutions. Integrated solutions are those that are integrated directly within the panel, while audio expansion solutions are in addendum to the panel.

Gamewell's new technology allows them to provide an extensive portfolio of integrated fire safety solutions for low- to mid- rise buildings and general areas of assembly, in addition to digital audio solutions for high-rise and campus applications. They can also be custom-configured for unique buildings and floor plans, or to meet local requirements for voice evacuation systems.

Integrated solutions include the IF602VE and IF610VE alternatives, which are both available with SmartScan or XP-95 SLC protocols. The IF602VE Series features a built- in 25-Watt voice system, which can be further expanded to 150 Watts and distributed over 24 evacuation zones. The IF610VE Series features up to 200 Watts of voice evacuation power in a single cabinet.

Audio expansion systems range from the 25-Watt to 150-Watt Audio Command Center (GW-ACC) to the GV System, Gamewell's state-of-the-art networked multi- channel digital voice evacuation solution. The GV System supports up to 1,000 evacuation zones, 256 distributed audio panels and 200 Watts of voice evacuation power per panel. Gamewell's audio expansion solutions are compatible with all 600 Series fire alarm control panels.
For more information visit www.gamewell.com.

Voice Evacuation Systems for Areas of Assembly
A complete line of Voice Evacuation Systems from Bosch can facilitate automatic alert/alarm signals, spoken instructions for evacuation or other action, and manual paging. The systems are designed for areas of assembly and high-rise structures greater than 75 feet (Examples include churches, theaters, auditoriums, restaurants, bars, museums, schools, day care centers, and malls and shopping centers.).

More than 900 combinations of digitally recorded messages, with multi-lingual capability are possible. Messages may be up to four minutes long - and are overridden by the live microphone, so critical information can be conveyed immediately. (Only the fire department may use the paging system.)

System options range from 25 to 2,000 watts of audio power. Systems can be expanded and customized.

    Other features include:
  • Delay setting between message repeats for 4-, 8-, 12 or 16 second delays.
  • Message repeat function to one, two, or three plays or "continuous" play.
  • Integral Audio amplifier.
  • Integral Digital message repeater (DMR).
  • 120 VAC power transformer and battery charger.
  • Tone generator and paging microphone.
  • Surface- or semi-flush-mounting enclosure in gray or red.

For more information visit www.boschsecurity.us.