Partners Seek New Generation of Multi-Sensor Smoke Alarms

The collaboration of the U.S. Fire Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working on ways to make home smoke alarms more effective.

A report has been issued summarizing the first phase of a research effort to devise more effective home smoke alarms. The project is a collaboration of the U.S. Fire Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Most U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, yet about 40 percent of all U.S. fire fatalities occur in homes without them and 23 percent of fire deaths (and average of 660 deaths per year) occur in homes where an alarm did not operate, according to USFA. "When smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected or dead," it says in a release announcing the report's availability. "Research has shown that people who remove or disconnect the batteries in their smoke alarms often do so because of nuisance alarm activations."

The project is looking at recent advances in microelectronics, sensors, and other technologies that might improve home smoke alarms. The agencies say new signal processing techniques to combine the output from multiple sensors probably will be included in the next generation of alarms.

Today's alarms typically detect smoke aerosol particles; the report notes that other combustion products, such as heat, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide, largely have been ignored in smoke alarm designs. In addition, the "Home Smoke Alarms - A Technology Roadmap" report says carbon monoxide sensors can serve the dual role of serving as sensors for fire detection and for toxic gas detection.

The partners are reviewing technologies that can produce a lower-frequency alert sound, which recent research showed was more effective at awakening sleeping children and older adults.

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