Photo of fire alarm in shopping centre in Scotland

Scottish research provides fresh insight into false alarms

Estimated losses of around £1 billion a year have been attributed to false alarms, due largely to the disruption and loss of productivity in businesses. False alarms can also reduce the confidence of the general public in fire alarms.

A briefing paper has been produced by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) on behalf of the BRE Trust based on a research project concluded in 2015, aimed at the identification of the fundamental causes of false alarms as they occurred in the greater Glasgow area.

The City of Glasgow Division is one of 17 Local Senior Officer Command Areas in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS). This area contains 11 community fire stations providing services to approximately 600,000 people and an estimated 28,000 commercial premises. During the 2014/15 fiscal reporting period, fire crews responded to approximately 14,800 incidents of which nearly 40% (6000) were attributed to unwanted fire alarm signals.

The proposal for this innovative approach to false alarm investigation came jointly from the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Live investigation of false alarms has never been attempted until now and the findings could prompt advancement in fire detection. Fire and Rescue Services across Great Britain may consider the use of experienced fire alarm investigators in future.

When considering user attitudes to false alarms it was noted that there was a considerable amount of embarrassment and panic when a site was evacuated and the need to silence the alarm tended to take priority over identifying the zone or device failure. It is also recommended that as a part of carrying out fire risk assessments under the Fire (Scotland) Act (and equivalent legislation elsewhere in the UK), the fire risk assessor should ask about the occurrence of false alarms.

There was also acknowledgement of the benefits of an integrated approach to fire and security in that the use of protective covers over approved manual call points (MCP) with adequate signage and closed circuit television (CCTV) where required, could reduce false alarms by up to 16.7%.

A total of 35 recommendations have been made in the report, which as well as reducing false alarms, could improve the integrity and reliability of fire detection systems and management processes.

Download the full report on live investigation of false alarms here

Dominic Way
Associate Director
BEng Hon’s MIFireE