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 also reduce the confidence of the general public in fire alarms. There is no single organisation responsible for investigating false alarms or providing guidance on reducing them.

This research project aimed to identify the fundamental causes of false fire alarms, utilising a fire alarm industry expert to investigate false alarms as they occurred in the field in the greater Glasgow area. A comprehensive online questionnaire containing 124 questions was developed by a stakeholder group to enable the fire alarm investigator to record all details of the false alarms attended. This form of ‘live’ investigation of false alarms has never previously been attempted. The fire alarm investigator assisted Scottish Fire and Rescue Service crews as they attended live callouts and, following a comprehensive investigation, completed online reports for each false alarm.

Live investigations of false fire alarms from BRE on Vimeo.

Data from his anecdotal accounts and from 65 false alarm reports, gathered from November 2014 to April 2015, have been analysed by BRE and reviewed by the stakeholder group. Together they proposed 35 recommendations that could significantly reduce false alarm occurrences, and contribute to the greater integrity and reliability of fire detection systems and management processes. Proposals have also been made for organisations that should take responsibility for implementing the recommendations.

The recommendations cover such issues as the greater use of covers and side impact protection for Manual Call Points, improving guidance to reduce false alarms from routine fire alarm testing, comprehensive recording and investigation of false alarm events, and the more effective use of existing technologies.

If false alarms from Manual Call Points and routine testing were prevented, this alone could reduce false alarms by approximately 20 percent. That equates to 58,000 false alarms a year, which in turn equates to annual cost savings in the UK of around 150 million pounds.

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