Study Recommends Revamping Special Education Facilities' Fire Alarm Systems

The findings identified three specific areas of concerns for special needs evacuations: strobe color and frequency, audible notification, and unpredictability for the students when the alarm would sound, as well as a lack of evacuation practice.

A recent study from the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation recommends revamping the fire alarm and notification systems that are used in special education facilities. Prepared by Oklahoma State University's Bryan L. Hoskins, Ph.D., and Duane C. Helmberger, the report note that current fire alarm and notification devices in facilities that house and educate students with special needs are designed the same way as systems for all other occupancies, even though these systems when activated can cause panic and fear for students in special education classrooms.

There are more and more individuals attending this type of classroom environment -- as of 2012, there were 36,429,431 students with a disability in the United States between the ages of 3 and 21, it says -- and their diagnoses and needs vary widely, the authors reported, adding that more difficulty in emergency evacuation has been recorded from this type of educational setting.

They administered an opinion survey to about 40 parents and educators of children with varying disabilities, with the primary focus on children with autism, epilepsy, and emotional/behavioral disorders in order to identify problem areas where existing fire alarms might hinder the evacuation of special education classrooms. The findings identified three specific areas of concerns for special needs evacuations: strobe color and frequency, audible notification, and unpredictability for the students when the alarm would sound, as well as a lack of evacuation practice.

The authors concluded fire alarm notifications will need to change in order to aid in more efficient evacuations for these at-risk populations and additional evaluation and field trials need to be conducted in order to obtain more data to recommend code changes.

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