Providing intelligent solutions

The new stadia, currently under construction, for example at Islington, Wembley, and also planned for the forthcoming London Olympics 2012, generally go far beyond accommodating state-of-the-art football grounds and athletics facilities. Most now incorporate event and exhibition halls, conference suites, office space and dual function rooms that are used as hotel bedrooms overlooking the central event area, and convert to corporate hospitality boxes on event days. There are also likely to be fitness clubs, concessions, as well as community facilities and numerous bars and restaurants. Every one a veritable small town!

Fire detection and safety systems fortunately have developed to a level of sophistication that can not only accommodate all this, but also provide intelligent solutions to minimising false alarms, defining evacuation procedures, and providing clear, concise instructions to the public, increasingly more important with the heightened levels of terrorist threat that are now unfortunately becoming the norm.

The Department for Communities and Local Government now recommend further research into reducing delays in starting people moving in a safe direction when there is a potential or actual threat from a fire and/or crowd congestion. Hence, stadia fire systems now typically offer integrated PA/VA i.e. voice alarm messages, which advise people in particular areas to proceed to safety in specific directions. This organised phased evacuation can help avoid panic and congestion, ensuring those at highest risk are evacuated first. Fire panels can also provide interfaces with other systems, like access control and CCTV and can thus provide for even more comprehensive and sophisticated facilities.

The software in modern fire systems allows the network areas to be sectored to ‘evacuate’ or ‘alert’ status to allow a more manageable evacuation. The fire system can be configured with pre-set delays to alert key staff of potential fire conditions, while allowing them time for investigation before evacuating the entire site. Due to the nature and uses of buildings such as stadia, it is imperative that disruptions to events and evacuations are only carried out in the case of a genuine emergency. Systems should be configured to ensure that this is addressed, while guaranteeing that the safety of staff, competitors, teams, performers and members of the public is in no way compromised. A correctly set up system that incorporates time delays prior to evacuation not only complements the overall fire strategy of the stadium, but also allows the evacuation procedure to be managed more effectively.

As an example, should a false alarm sound during the middle of a game or concert, the needless evacuation of a vast number of people is undesirable, and in itself could constitute a danger. The unnecessary disruption of a key sporting event can also be avoided. When a system, therefore, receives a fire signal from one of its sensors, the key members of staff are immediately alerted and have a short pre-determined period of time to locate any threat and evaluate the situation effectively before the alarm/evacuation message is initiated over the PA/VA system. The evacuation message can be restricted to the area affected by the fire, while an alert message is played in other areas of the building.

Owing to the size of modern stadia and the different uses they are put to, complex cause and effect schedules can be simulated within the fire system, made possible by the power of the control panels and the flexibility of their software, a feature that can also prove crucial if the fire strategy has to be reconfigured during the life of the stadium. A graphical panel located in the control room can provide a site-wide view of the system and gives an immediate, at a glance indication of the location of any fire condition across the stadium complex. This can prove to be an invaluable aid in determining life safety management strategy for the stadium.

The latest fire systems ensure that false alarms are minimised, whilst still responding effectively and rapidly to fire detection. They achieve this with the aid of the system’s control panel, which has the ability to recognise real fire information as each of its sensors are continuously monitored and any variations reported and responded to within one second, allowing almost instantaneous analysis of the true risk of a fire being present. Minimising false alarms is also enhanced by improvements in sensor technology, with detectors now incorporating several methods of fire recognition in one detector head, with the requirement that all indicate positive before the detector signals an alert. In addition, they incidentally can now also incorporate several methods of sounding an alert; voice, sounder and strobe, the latter being particularly significant for compliance with new DDA requirements.

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